Rodge Martin - Lovin' Machine
This is all about footnotes. Not in the literal sense (I’ll drop a PS, or maybe even a PSS now and again, but you’ll never see an actual footnote here), but rather in the “historical footnote” sense. By that I mean a person or event who’s fame and fortune is interesting, yet relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The determination of “significance” is of course subjective, and may or may not be true depending on who you’re talking to. Today’s footnote is actually two or three, which added up may amount to something significant, but I’ll leave that up to the reader. Back in the day – some 20 years ago...cough...cough...wheeeze.. – I was heavily involved in the 60’s revival scene in NY/NJ (there are other names for the scene, but that seems to be the simplest). I’m speaking of the people involved in bands, record collecting and the Mod/mod* lifestyle who were grooving on the sound of 65/66 in 85/86. More than a mere nostalgia movement (can people be nostalgic for something they never experienced first-hand?), this phenomenon was composed of a wide variety of people who’s interests intersected with the sounds of 1960’s garage punk, British beat, psychedelic and soul. Spiraling out of that intersection were pockets of people who were mostly record collectors, folks that were in bands recreating the sounds, and people who were living a Mod/mod lifestyle and strove to recreate the fashions of that era (some folks were all three). It was truly an exciting time, and there were pockets of like minded individuals all over the world, dedicated to digging up and digging the obscure (and not so obscure) sounds of that era via compilation LPs, fanzines, new sounds in the old style and social interaction based in all of those elements. One of the great NY area bands of that time was the Secret Service. Though there were other great Mod bands in the area (especially the mighty Mod Fun, who worked more on the Pop Art side of things), The Secret Service brought back the sounds of UK R&B circa 1964. They were a shit-hot live band and had extremely good taste in covers. One of those covers was a tune called ‘Lovin’ Machine’. That in and of itself opens up another, smaller can of worms. Back in that very same day, there was amongst collectors/aficionados etc a brisk trade in bootleg video of 1960’s TV music performances. One of the videos making the rounds was of the Australian band the Easybeats (if they are unknown to you, I suggest picking up any greatest hits collection you can find by them. They were a great band) performing ‘Lovin’ Machine’. For most of us (ranging in age then from mid teens to mid 20’s), the lineage stopped there and we assumed that the Secret Service were covering an Easybeats tune (this is true in the respect that I believe that they – the band - thought it was an Easybeats song as well). Keeping in min that these were the olden days, i.e. pre-internet, the buck (as they say) stopped there. So...years later (circa 2003) I’m out at a record show – my days of pageboy haircuts and ill-fitting Beatle boots long gone – and I pull a record out of a box by a guy I’d never heard of before, i.e. Rodge Martin. It was the title that caught my eye, i.e. ‘Lovin’ Machine’. “Hmmmmm...”, I thought to myself. “I wonder.” I opened up my trusty Columbia GP3 portable record player, placed the 45 on the turntable, dropped the needle and.... “VOILA!” All was immediately revealed, i.e. there, spinning before me was the Ur ‘Lovin’ Machine’. This of course raised another question being, how did the Easybeats get their hands on an obscure soul 45 from Nashville, Tennessee? I don’t have the slightest idea. I’d like to know but I won’t belabor the point here. If any of you know, drop me a line. Anyway.... I got home, listened to Rodge Martin’s version a dozen or so times, and e-mailed some of my compadres from the old days to let them know what I’d found (shades of when we discovered that ‘I Feel Good’ which we’d seen as Mod Fun covering the Artwoods, was in fact a Benny Spellman 45). So...I start digging around for info on Rodge Martin and found little other than he’d recorded a few other 45s for different labels. Then, earlier this year I found out that Bear Family records in Germany were issuing DVDs of the 1966/67 syndicated TV show ‘The Beat’. A creation of Nashville DJ/entrepreneur Hoss Allen, the Beat was a truly amazing artifact, having featured performances (live and lip-synch) by a wide variety of soul, blues and R&B artists, filmed in color, many of whom were never captured on film anywhere else. The cost per DVD was initially prohibitive, until I went to the Bear Family web site and discovered that two volumes featured performances by Maurice and the Radiants (blogged here previously) and none other than Rodge Martin. When I received the volumes I ordered (from Dusty Groove, God bless them...) I was satisfied beyond my wildest dreams. In addition to the amazingly well preserved performances, there were (at least for me) a bunch of new discoveries, as well as comprehensive liner notes. It was in these notes that I read the short, sad story of Rodge Martin. When Hoss Allen put together ‘The Beat’, he built the house band around several Nashville based performers including Johnny Jones (of the King Casuals) and the Jimmy Church Revue. One member of said revue was Rodge Martin. Martin recorded his first 45, ‘Lovin’ Machine’ b/w ‘ When She Touches Me’ in 1966 for the Bragg label. Allen eventually became Martin’s manager. Martin recorded two more 45s (one for Dot and one for Newark) before succumbing to a heart attack at age 27 in 1967. There are several Martin performances on ‘The Beat’, and the best is a live version of ‘Lovin’ Machine’. My first impression of Rodge Martin harkens back to that old saw about Jackie Gleason having been very "light on his feet" (aka a good dancer) for a heavy guy. Martin, who had to be operating in the vicinity of 300 lbs was a mover and a stone groover, gyrating so fast and sweating so hard it looked like he might explode out of his suit. He appeared to be just barely keeping his breath through the number, which was absolute dynamite. His performance of the ballad ‘When She Touches Me’ showed he could work the slow stuff too. When I found out that Martin expired less than a year after this performance was filmed, I couldn’t help but be a little sad. Not only because he was a young guy, but because of all the great records he never got to make. I recommend highly that you grab at least one of the available volumes of ‘The Beat’. It’s a great slice of history and a footnote well worth exploring.
So there you have your footnote(s). For now, enjoy Rodge Martin. * I make a distinction here between Mod, i.e. the UK based style movement that started in the early 60’s, with stylish young Brits who were hooked on US soul and jazz, as well as sundry chemical accelerants, and “little m” mod, i.e. the mid-to-late 60’s style movement that included everyone from Mary Quant to Peter Max and all points in between. The two Mods are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they are most definitely not the same thing.