Arts & Entertainment

Martin Garrish’s musical journey told in new CD

Editor’s note: Wilmington musician John Golden has a longtime interest in and knowledge of coastal Carolina history, reflected in his original songs about coastal life. He is a frequent island visitor and musical collaborator with island musicians and will appear at the Ocrafolk Festival this weekend June 1 to 3. He, Gary Mitchell and Martin Garrish co-produced Martin’s new album described below.  To read more about John Golden and hear “The Pioneer Bounty,” written with Philip Howard and recorded with Molasses Creek, click here

By John Golden

Martin Garrish, our island-grown master guitar player, fondly remembers the influence that the music from Jake’s jukebox had on his desire to play guitar as a young boy in the late 1950s. 

Jim Wynn, whose father, C. F. Boyette, managed the Wahab Inn, also has fond memories of playing guitar on the porch of the inn while listening to nearby Jake’s jukebox.  Jim later had a major influence on Martin’s guitar playing styles in the late 1960s.
A small variety store faced the Wahab Inn (now Blackbeard’s Lodge) from across Back Road in the early 1950s to around 1967.  It was the hub of music on the island for Martin and his friends through the ‘50s.  The left side of the store (see photo) was half of a war surplus metal Quonset hut and the right side was a conventional stick-built dance hall with a colorful Wurlitzer jukebox against the far wall (see Primrose sketch). 

A sketch of the interior of the dance hall with the jukebox and a pair of young local dancers is in Carl Goerch’s book, “Ocracoke,” on pages 176-77.  The store was called “Old Jake’s Place” by the youngsters who played around it, but the owner, Jake Alligood, had posted the name “Channel Bass Inn” on a sign above the front steps.  Jake and his wife, Myra, and their son “Little” Jake operated the store and its adjacent garage. The garage serviced automobiles and trucks and was the base for Jake’s towing service when vehicles got stuck in sand on the beach and on some of the island’s sand roads.
On his new album (two-disc CD) titled “Old Jake’s Place,” Martin (born in 1951) talks about his boyhood days on the island learning to play guitar and listening to music from a variety of sources. 

Junior Garrish, his uncle, played beautiful Hawaiian music on steel guitar in the late ‘50s.  Junior’s son, Lee, formed a rock-n-roll band in the early ‘60s that had a huge influence on Martin. 

When Martin learned to play electric guitar in 1963 he formed his own band with three of his cousins (aptly naming the band “The Cousins”), i.e. Jackie Willis (bass), Ronnie O’Neal (guitar) and Kenny Garrish (drums). 

Several older musicians lived on the island, such as Maurice Ballance (guitar), Walter Howard (guitar), Edgar Howard (banjo), Junius Bryant (guitar), Jule Garrish (guitar) and Powers Garrish (guitar), Martin’s father, who gave him his first guitar (an acoustic Kay) in 1961.  They all gave Martin playing tips and encouragement.  In two interviews on the album, Martin and Jim Wynn share fascinating stories of music on the island during the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Martin selected and arranged the songs and instrumentals on the album from among his favorites that he heard playing on Jake’s jukebox. 

This writer sings lead vocals with harmonies by Gary Mitchell, Jamie Carter, April Trueblood and Katy Mitchell.  Lou Castro plays dobro, steel guitar and bass while Jubal Creech adds drums and percussion instruments.  Geoffrey Morris plays guitar with Martin on the two interview sessions; both are master guitar players. 

Equally proficient on acoustic and electric guitar, Martin plays a variety of guitars on each song in the styles of his guitar heroes.  In total, the album contains 24 songs and two interviews.
Some of Martin’s favorite songs on the album are:
        “Shrimp boats Are A-Comin'” was on a family record worn out from being played over and over by his cousins.
        “Sleep Walk” has the steel guitar sound that Martin remembers from Lee Garrish’s playing.
        “‘Zat You, Myrtle?” was the favorite jukebox song of Jake’s wife, Myra.
        “Just Because” was a country standard by the mid-50s and has since been recorded by more than 100 artists.
        “Chains” was the first song learned by “The Cousins” band (from the Beatles’ version).
        “Can’t Judge A Book By Lookin’ At The Cover” was a big R&B hit in the late ’50s for Bo Diddley (who, incidentally once played on Ocracoke. This song features one of the rhythms that inspired Martin when he was learning electric guitar.

“Old Jake’s Place” was recorded at Soundside Studio on Ocracoke Island by recording engineer Gary Mitchell.  Gary also mixed and mastered the two-CD album, which is available through Martin.

Martin shares his music and stories of Ocracoke on Friday nights in the Coyote Den at Community Square from April through October.  

A sketch by “Primrose” of the interior of the dance hall with the jukebox and a pair of young local dancers is in Carl Goerch’s 1956 book, “Ocracoke,” pages 176-77, in the chapter titled “Big Jake and Little Jake.”