Benny Martin was one of bluegrass music's premiere fiddlers and the inventor of the eight-string fiddle. Born to a musical family in Sparta, Tennessee, he made his debut on a local radio station when he was only eight. He played in a local band for a while and when he was 13 went to Nashville to work with Big Jeff & the Radio Playboys at WLAC. He remained with the group for nearly ten years, and also began working as a session man for Dot Records. Martin also recorded a solo album on the Pioneer label; one of his early singles, "Me and My Fiddle," became his signature song.
Frequently, Martin worked as a sideman for such performers as Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, Kitty Wells, and Flatt & Scruggs. He founded his own band in 1954 and also briefly joined the Grand Ole Opry. During the mid-'50s he was managed by Col. Tom Parker and opened for Elvis Presley 35 times. This was not a great time to be a country performer, and Martin began doing more session and sideman work than solo recording. In 1963 he had his only chart hit, "Rosebuds and You." In the mid-'60s, he briefly teamed with Don Reno and recorded a gospel album. Martin continued working behind others, performing at festivals and recording frequently on various labels through the early '80s, when his health began failing. Suffering from a condition known as spasmodic dysphonia, Martin remained retired for many years but re-emerged in 1999 with The Big Tiger Roars Again, Pt. 1, a star-studded tribute to the fiddler and his myriad contributions to bluegrass music through the years. The Big Tiger Roars Again, Pt. 2 appeared in 2001; Benny Martin died on March 13 of that year at the age of 72. ~ Sandra Brennan