Neo-soul, from rock ‘n’ roll
February 15, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Martin Sexton recently went on a celebrity cruise hosted by John Mayer – and he doesn’t seem to think that is a weird thing to do.
On the phone from Western Massachusetts, Sexton said he’s never heard Mayercraft 2008 referred to that way (as a “celebrity cruise”). He said the trip around the Bahamas isn’t so different from any other chance to perform.
“It’s a gig,” he said, chalking Mayer up as a longtime listener and a particularly famous fan.
At this point, anyone who has heard Mayer and encounters Sexton for the first time probably will think the two musicians are similar. After all, if you take Mayer’s good qualities – the usually impressive blues guitar, the definite Otis Redding influence – and throw out everything that annoys you about the kid, you get Martin Sexton.
On his latest record, “Seeds,” Sexton proves he can be comfortably all over the place, shifting from gospel to groove and folk to funk on each track. On Thursday, he’ll bring that versatility to Steamboat Mountain Theater.
Sexton talked to 4 Points about the importance of variety, his bare-bones music education and being on a big boat with John Mayer.
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4 Points: So, how do you end up on a celebrity cruise with John Mayer?
Martin Sexton: John’s listened to me for years. He first heard me way back when, and he was actually at a gig one time in Atlanta and handed me a record hoping he could open for me – this was in the late 1990s.
And of course he went on to fame and fortune, and next thing I knew, I was opening for him.
He’s been a listener and a supportive dude, so when he got this cruise, he picked some artists he wanted to have on it.
4 Points: What do you do on something like that? Was it fun?
MS: It was like a paid vacation. I got to play some music with John and got to hear some really awesome music from people like Brandi Carlile.
4 Points: Before I realized that you had gone on this cruise, I was going to ask about how on this record, “Seeds,” you can’t really tell what’s coming next. It’s all over the place from track to track.
MS: That’s intentional – I like to make records that way. It’s sort of my stock in trade, like any record I’ve ever made goes from one thing to another.
4 Points: Where does that come from?
MS: It’s probably because I just really love Beatles records.
You can have a song like “Blackbird,” which is just Paul McCartney playing guitar and singing, and then you have a song like “Helter Skelter,” which is just a bashing rocker – those are on the same record. And then a cowboy ballad like “Rocky Raccoon,” with some crazy freakout like “Revolution 9.”
Beatles records sort of gave me a green light to making records in that fashion.
4 Points: Does it get boring if you don’t make records like that?
MS: For me, it does. People used to say early on, “You have to make records where each song sounds like the next.”
I let the songs dictate how they’re going to be produced. So if I hear a song that sounds like a boogie-woogie tune, I give it a boogie-woogie spin.
4 Points: Are there a lot of different influences that inform that diversity?
MS: It’s definitely informed by, you know, the greats. Nothing too obscure, but Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin – classic meat and potatoes rock ‘n’ roll.
Oddly enough, I don’t have a big jazz collection or a big R&B or soul collection.
4 Points: That’s kind of surprising that you don’t have much of a soul collection. I kind of consider you a soul singer. Where do you get it from, if you aren’t really into it?
MS: I think it’s because the relatively little that I’ve heard just sort of stuck in me and grew like a virus.
I tended to get all my music secondhand. I didn’t even know who Willie Dixon was – I learned “Bring It on Home” from a Led Zeppelin record. I cover a Ray Charles song that I actually learned off an Eric Clapton record.
Because I was raised in Syracuse, N.Y., in an Irish Catholic family, I didn’t really get anything more than the meat and potatoes, rock ‘n’ roll stuff.
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