BY NATHAN RIZZO // Renowned session guitarist is one of Portland's best kept secrets
Hailing from New York City, guitarist Eddie Martinez spent decades as one of rock’s premier session and touring players, lending an emotive blues-inflected touch to several broadly successful records by the likes of Patti LaBelle, Steve Winwood, David Lee Roth and Robert Palmer [Duran Duran]. Martinez was also paired with fusion legend Jeff Beck to back Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger on 1985’s She’s the Boss, Jagger’s first solo effort.
Now a tenured Portland resident – and one of the city’s best-kept secrets – Martinez balances his time in the studio by performing regularly at local clubs and by writing incidental music for film and television, including a Pepsi Super Bowl ad featuring pop singer Britney Spears.
Interviewed in advance of his June 27 performance at the Lake Oswego Arts Festival, Martinez speaks to the close family bond inspiring his discovery of music and his playing career. Martinez also touches on the essential qualities of successful studio musicians before closing with the announcement of an upcoming EP.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. You’re from New York, right? Was your family pretty musical?
I was born in Queens, but grew up in the south Bronx for the most part. My family’s quite interesting. My mom and dad are from Puerto Rico, and my father moved to New York when he was around nine, and my mom came in 1941 – before Pearl Harbor.
There was a lot of music in the house. I was the only one who was really musical, but I’m convinced I got my musical side from my mom. She had a song for each one of her children – and she had seven children. Each one of us has a little ditty that she composed and sings. It’s a trip – she still remembers them to this day!
How were you able to break into doing session work?
I connected with a great bassist named Bernard Edwards, who was a co-founder of Chic. At that point, he and Nile Rodgers had a kind of parting of ways and disbanded, and they were both looking to do other things as producers. I started working with Bernard and worked on a lot of records and some scores with him for several years – everybody from Air Supply to Robert Palmer. He [Edwards] produced Riptide – with Addicted to Love and Didn’t Mean to Turn You On.
For me, that was a real turning point as a guitarist and a quote-unquote studio player. I was able to really define my style in a way that fit Robert’s music. Robert just let me do my thing on the record. It was wonderful working with him.
In the span of less than a year, I did three records that really put me on the map in terms of a sonic direction. Those were: Riptide, Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life, and then I played on David Lee Roth’s EP Crazy From the Heat, with California Girls and Just a Gigolo.
I also worked on Mick Jagger’s album, She’s the Boss, around that time. So there were some pretty interesting and seminal records that happened within that cluster of time – it was like a little nova.
That’s amazing. What was the studio dynamic like? Were you interfacing with Mick at all?
Yeah, Mick was there all the time. He was quite involved.
I was the glue between Sly [Dunbar] and Robbie [Shakespeare and Jeff Beck. Jeff Beck was just a genius. I loved working with him and collaborating with him. I just tried to stay out of his way, because his train of thought was so absolutely brilliant. He’s really one of my favorite, favorite, favorite guitarists. I can’t stress it enough.
What makes a good session or backing player?
What I tell people is that you’ve got to serve the song. Serving the song means what’s playing best for the song, and not necessarily playing what’s best for you. Some people can do that, and some people refuse to do that. I think there’s a way of doing both.
So it’s a very interesting dance – there’s a pragmatism that you have to approach things with. Being able to please everybody and also please yourself is a really wonderful experience. But every situation is different. I tell everybody that there are no absolutes. The one absolute is to get it done, get it done quickly, and really enhance the music.
Do you still get calls for studio work? Where’s your focus at now?
The studio work still exists but it exists in an entirely different way. The way records are made is entirely different – the budgets are nowhere near what they used to be. Composers and artists are really suffering because the digital download mechanicals are nowhere near what they would be if somebody were to buy a CD or buy a single – a physical item. Hopefully it’s going to be restructured soon. It really needs to be.
Otherwise, I’m planning to record a solo effort sometime this summer. I hope to cut a couple of tunes and make an EP of some sort. I also have a collaboration with Jimi Hazel from 24-7 Spyz, Ronny Drayton, Vernon Reid from Living Colour, and Jesse Johnson, who’s out with D’Angelo and formerly of The Time.