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Asa Martin

Old-time Kentucky singer Asa Martin made many records during the '20s and '30s and was closely associated with the famed fiddler Doc Roberts, for whom he played rhythm guitar. In turn, Roberts frequently played mandolin on Martin's recordings; Roberts' son James even sang duets with Martin under the name Martin and Roberts.

Martin was born in Clark County, Kentucky and grew up listening to the traditional music presented in minstrel shows and vaudeville productions. Inspired to become a performer, he joined a traveling show or two and learned to play guitar. It was during this time that he met Doc Roberts, who had him sit in on a recording session in Richmond, Indiana. His first solo songs were mostly parodies, such as "The Virginia Bootlegger" and "There's No Place like Home (For a Married Man)." Martin moved to more traditional ballads after he teamed up with James Roberts in the late 1920s, including "Knoxville Girl," "Lilly Dale," and "Give My Love to Nell." Occasionally, the two also sang contemporary old-time style songs, such as "The Little Box of Pine on the 7:29." They continued to record together until 1934, when Martin became the host of the Morning Roundup in Lexington. He returned to recording in 1938, again focusing on comedy songs with the occasional ballad, like the haunting "Harlan Town Tragedy."

Martin quit music after the outbreak of World War II, initially working for a munitions factory in Middletown, Ohio. He retired in 1965 and moved to Kentucky, where he founded the Cumberland Rangers. In 1968, his early contributions were unearthed by music scholars Archie Green and Norm Cohen, who helped arrange a reunion concert between Martin and Roberts. In 1974, Martin and the Cumberland Rangers recorded an old-time music album, Dr. Ginger Blue. ~ Sandra Brennan
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