Barney Martin

I like surprises of all kinds, and this week’s column features a recent chat I had with one Barney Martin, who was ready to give me a few good surprises in the 42-minute conversation from his home in Scarborough. I had learned that he would be putting on a livestreaming concert for Johnson Hall from Mike Miclon a couple of weeks ago, so I requested a telephone interview with Mr. Martin and discovered that I was already aware of him — but not in the way I expected. It seems that he was in a trio cover band called Coos Canyon and was also a part of another trio, a comedy one, called The Maine Hysterical Society for 12 years and who appeared on TV a number of years ago, and those were the first of the unexpected things I learned about the man a lot of people may know in a lot of different ways. After the phone connection was made, I was serenaded by the opening riff from “Fire And Rain” that Martin was performing on his acoustic guitar.

Martin: There you go, a little James Taylor for you, I was just going over my stuff!

Q: Now when we were talking the other day setting this interview up, you were giving me a little history about your musical endeavors. That was in the mid to late ’70s — do I remember that correctly?
Martin: Well, yeah, I was with a band but in the ’80s I was on my own and into the ’90s, and then, as soon as I hit the ’90s, I would say somewhere in ’94 or ’95, I think, is when I started to get involved with trios: my Maine Hysterical and my Coos Canyon trios began, as well as my family (chuckle). So, I started doing less of my stuff and going into a cover band and then the comedy of the Maine Hysterical Society.

Q: How long were you involved with those groups?
Martin: Well, the Coos Canyon ended a year and a half ago.

Q: And that’s when you got out of the music end of things and went into a day job-type of thing?
Martin: I always had the day job. I had the IT career that supported my life, and I was doing this on the side, but it was really almost like going through college as a double-major, you know? I’d be doing the corporate thing during the day but as soon as I got out I was off either going into a studio or I’d be out performing somewhere three or four times a week at night in various clubs down in Boston. I could burn the candle like that — I was young, ya know? I got married in ’93 and soon after I bought a house and started having kids, but I still burned the candle — I was still able to be a dad, a guy who owned a house and had to do maintenance things around it, be a good husband … none of that was sacrificed.

Q: That’s a rather full plate, Barney.
Martin: Oh, and then I did this stint, in the early 2000s to late 2000s, where I was doing film industry advocacy because I also did a lot of on-camera acting and voice-over work.

Q: Good grief! So what are you doing now, getting back into the music end of things?
Martin: Yup, I’m getting back into the solo thing and now that I know I can do a James Taylor show, I’m going back to trying to put one together, and I’ve got other friends of mine that are also interested in maybe jumping in and being part of a band perspective with that, which would be interesting, to say the least, if that could happen. But at least to get this thing going is to get a reasonable hour-and-fifteen-minute show or so and be able to talk about his life and times, and his music. It would be his earlier stuff because his later stuff with jazz isn’t something I really got into, but I love his story and a love his earlier stuff. So I think for people who like James Taylor, which I tend to find a lot in my boomer generation, a lot of people like him, I’m hoping for good things and I’m certainly going to do a piece of that as part of this show coming up at Johnson Hall.

Q: So, I guess the best way to summarize that Gardiner gig would be to say that this concert will be you performing music from the person who inspired you.

Martin: Yeah, Lucky, I like that, music by people who have inspired me, because I plan on doing just that. I’m going through my song catalogue right now and I’m figuring on half the time being that of James Taylor music, but then the other half pulling out songs that have been a big part of my life, like the John Denver song, “Back Home Again” … and songs like that.

Q: Would you consider doing one or two of your own songs?
Martin: That’s a good question, I think yes, I will.

Q: And I think that that’s a real good idea. I mean, you’re doing songs that had an impact on your musical life, so doing one of your own that reflects your influences would give folks a deeper glimpse into who you are, you know?
Martin: You’re absolutely right and I know just the song; it’s called “Life of a Fisherman” and it’s probably the best song I’ve written in my life (chuckle). I should sing that song, you’re right.

Q: Honestly, it’ll bring people into you, you’re hitting nostalgia with music by people your audience probably knows but if you can incorporate yourself into your show, that’ll be a good element to have in your performance.
Martin: (Laughter) You talked me into it, Lucky, I will do it!

Q: Now, you obviously accompany yourself on guitar, right?
Martin: Yes.

Q: Have you ever done anything with keyboards or anything like that or is it just basically guitar?
Martin: All guitar.

Q: Well, then, is there anything that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article, Barney?
Martin: Well, it’s kind of an interesting dichotomy about who I am as an artist because of the Maine Hysterical Society.

Q: How come that sounds so familiar to me?
Martin: A lot of people would recognize me from that group. It hasn’t been on TV for quite a while, but when it was I was all over it everywhere. I just went to whatever audition I could and I was able to land quite a few things, from Hannaford to Megabucks, and Handyman Tools was one I did a series out of, not because they had planned it, but because the first one that came out was so successful they wound up doing a couple more. Those were a lot of fun and those spots were very humorous, so if you said, “He’s the Handyman Tool guy!” they would say, “What? He sings?!?” (Laughter)

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add before we bring this conversation to an end?
Martin: Just that I’ve had a lot of cool experiences and I’ve been out there doing it for a while, and so the people who’s tuning in, if they don’t catch who I am through the Handyman Tool Guy, the Coos Canyon guy or what not, they will at least be able to tune in and have a pleasurable hour’s worth of entertainment to enjoy. That’s all.

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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