I met GARY MARTIN through mutual friend John Watkins over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and glad I did. Gary had come down from his home base of Edmonton in Canada to visit friends and family from his true home of Chicago. I quickly came to admire this energetic, gregarious and friendly man who had learned guitar under the tutelage of one of the greatest of all time, his Uncle Hubert, HUBERT SUMLIN of Howlin’ Wolf fame. Doesn’t get much bluesier than that.

Martin took his Chicago Blues to Canada in the late ’70s and joined and cultivated a vital scene for other bluesmen to visit on their way across the blues circuit among our friends up north. A new young friend and fantastic player, JOSEPH J. SAYE JR. (more about Joey in the next column) was debuting his chops with his trio at Nick’s Beer Garden in Wicker Park.* (“His trio” includes the great nonagenarian BOB STROGER on bass, by the way.) 

Towards the end of Joey’s first set, he generously asked Gary up on stage though they had never met. Gary lit the house up with his master shownship, trading vocals and guitar work with Joey. One of those stage-sharing memorable cross-generational musical exchanges that bluesmen provide for each other so generously and memorably.

Gary’s tribute to Sumlin and Wolf, “Killing Floor,” and a Martin original titled “Good News Blues” recorded in Baton Rouge with KENNY NEAL will be included on a compilation cd; more info about that will be forthcoming when release date is set. 

Info below culled from Gary’s ABOUT page on his website:

Musical director, arranger, bandleader, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, Gary Martin is a master showman. Born in Chicago, and considered a child protege, Martin started his musical training under the tutelage of legendary bluesman and uncle, Hubert Sumlin. While in his early teens, Gary had competed with the Jackson Five at the famous Regal Theatre, shared the stage with Howlin Wolf, recorded for “Chess”, and was played on Chicago radio.  His association with many of Chicago’s jazz masters provided this young guitarist with a sound foundation in jazz. Miles Davis once stated “Gary will be a man of all seasons because of all the styles he has mastered.”

Gary’s love of Detroit’s “motor city sound” known to the world as “Motown” afforded this young guitarist a unique opportunity to work with Walter “Choker” Campbell, the father of Motown along with the famous Joe Hunter, who provided Berry Gordy with his first studio musicians who we know today as the “Funk Brothers.” Martin eventually became band leader for both these men at various times in his career.

In the mid 80’s Canada’s top funk/show band Canadian Express and Juno nominee Something Extra hired Martin as band leader and musical director.  This versatile performer, has been musical director for many top touring musicians, a session player across North America, and has performed for numerous radio and television specials.

Known as the “Prince of Blues” by his peers, Martin, an ethnomusicologist, is a true ambassador of Chicago blues, lecturing, performing, providing workshops at schools, colleges and universities.

*Nick’s features blues bands on weekend nights. But whatever you do, don’t park on Milwaukee Ave. after 10 pm. Tow trucks are in abundance and a rude awakening awaits after enjoying a night of solid blues.  

Photo taken by Peter M. Hurley @ Nick’sBeer Gardenon the night mentioned above, NOV 2021. 
© Peter M. Hurley


– Peter M. Hurley

Mr. Hurley is a contributing photographer and writer for Living Blues Magazine and the staff photographer for Chicago Blues Network. His recent book Blues Legacy: Tradition and Innovation in Chicago, in collaboration with Blues historian and author David Whiteis, showcases his work in the field. His passion for blues music began with a 6th grade dance party discovery of Bo Diddley which led to Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and so on. It continues to this day. VISIT PETER’S WEBSITE HERE.