Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chance Martin's In Search: A Lost Missive From The Other Side Of Nashville

Chance with Johnny Cash
Chance Martin has lived many lives, and goes by many names. He has been, variously, Mr Freedom Man, The Stoned Ranger, Johnny Chainsaw, Captain Quick Tour and Orson Green. Currently, Martin is professionally known as Alamo Jones, sidekick to “Cowboy” Jack Clement on Sirius XM, a Nashville-based satellite radio station.  But in 1981, working as Chance, he released the uncategorisable In Search, which went unnoticed, because it was out of tune with the disco era. Actually, the album exists in an era of its own, though the Paradise of Bachelors label has defined it as countrydelic. It sounds, at times, like Isaac Hayes doing the watusi with Captain Beefheart. (Chance, bemused by this comparison, will admit to a fondness for Bob Seger and the Rolling Stones). 
Chance Martin's In Search Of is the kind of totally warped holy grail artifact that I wish Nashville in the golden era had produced more of," says Nashville guitarist William Tyler. “It's hard to imagine a record both so intentionally psychedelic and unintentionally cosmic.
Chance's first proper job was cue-card man on The Johnny Cash TV show. He graduated to lighting and stage design on the Man In Black’s world tours. The Cash connection was a matter of luck and chutzpah.  “I was at a radio station here in Nashville, hanging out with some top disc jockeys,” says Chance, “and I got a call from my mother. My dad was downtown at the hotel where the Johnny Cash Show had set up their headquarters. They were getting ready to do a show, and they had hired several people to take over this cue card business. They didn’t last long. They went through about 10 people trying to find someone. My daddy was down at the hotel, and he overheard the producers talking about it, and told ’em he had the right man for ’em. They told me to come down the hotel and audition. I was 23 years old, I went down, and I didn’t get home for three weeks. They gave me a room at the hotel, and another room for an office. And that was it! I never turned back. I worked in every department. When 58 shows were over, after three seasons, I moved out to Hendersonville. John gave me a place to live. I worked in his publishing house. Eventually I went to work redesigning his bicentennial tour, and was his lighting director and stage manager. I redid his souvenir book, shot an album cover, and totally changed the look of his show.”
Musically, Chance’s influences were diverse. He cites the Alllman Brothers as an influence, while also suggesting that the presence of Jimi Hendrix in Nashville may have had some significance. “I liked the Allmans a lot. They were around here in the Sixties when I was in high school, and I used to go and see ‘em every night at the Briar Patch. They were called the Allman Joys at that time, with Duane and Greg.
“Greg Allman went to school out in Wilson County, where I live, in Mt Juliet. I went to see them in high school, and I was in a band, and we played private parties and skating rinks. When I got out of high school I went to radio school, and I ended up going straight to work for Johnny Cash. So I really put my dream to the side cos I was working with these legends, travelling the world. And one day, in 1977, I said: 'I’m 31, I gotta stop and do this thing.' I took five years and I did it.”
Chance’s recording career was, by necessity, a stop-start affair, with sessions taking place in a spare room above the garage in his parents’ house in South Nashville, nicknamed The Dead End (it was in a cul de sac). “We put a stage in there, we had a bar area and a waterbed where we could crash. It was a good-sized room and we recorded all out rehearsals on a reel to reel, before we’d go to a recording studio and cut one here in Nashville. We always recorded at midnight on a full moon night. We wasn’t in any hurry. I was producing this, and publishing it, and writing songs. We played together for five years and we were real tight, and we enjoyed what we did. We’d perfect the sound that we wanted for each song before we’d go in a studio. And when we did, we usually did one-take stuff. We would go in, and the first hour that we were on the clock at $150 an hour, we’d just sit around and let our instruments breathe, have a few beers and relax and kinda chill, and talk to the engineer, and have some fun, and then when we’d get ready, we’d get up, they would roll tape and we would do it.”
Chance’s tales of the Dead End, as detailed in the album’s sleevenotes, are the stuff of screenplays (and may soon become one). There were 15 foot marijuana plants growing in the garden outside. Chance’s neighbours, he says, were a cop and a pharmacist. Famous musicians would show up – Rosanne Cash came, as did Carl Perkins, who ended the night at a local disco. Tanya Tucker dropped by, and, according to Chance: “She just got her some new boobs and couldn’t wait to show 'em off. Then she started on me with karate!” When Tucker leaves, she drives her jeep straight through the garden fence.
The record sounds like nothing else on earth. “When I recorded it, country music was 90% of the things that were being done in Nashville. What really keyed all this in, for me as a writer, was my lead guitar player Don Mooney. He was a nobody, and he’d never been in a recording studio, but I thought he was a genius. He’d say, ‘Chance, I hear something here we could do backwards’, and they hadn’t been doing that here, except perhaps Hendrix.”
Just 1000 copies were pressed. “Disco hurt me,” says Chance. “I didn’t sell any, I kept them to myself.” A sequel, The Search Is Over, was equally ill-starred, due a few artistic differences with some Miami mobsters.
Still, Chance is encouraged that his original vision has emerged intact after 32 eventful years. “I’ve been on world tours with Johnny Cash,” he says, “and the most fun I’ve had in my life was the five years I spent working on this album.” 
Where does it fit in today? William Tyler says this: “A fully integral sonic rest stop of gratuitous guitar fuzz, wandering beat poetry, nightclub moves, and hi-tech studio possibility, it's an album for the stoned midnight cowboy, the final port of call for the wild and weird era of the Music Row outlaws.”