Last week saw the loss of one of the more recognizable personalities at bluegrass festivals in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. Bobby Martin, known to jammers across the south as “The Bluegrass Drummer,” passed away shortly after receiving a diagnosis of cancer from his doctors. He was 59 years of age and died at the Novant Health Rowan Medical Center in Salisbury, NC near his home on April 13, the day after his birthday.
Despite the conflict of terms, Bobby was indeed a bluegrass drummer, but one welcomed at jam sessions by both bluegrass and old time musicians at Galax, Mt Airy and other similar festivals and competitions in the area. He didn’t bring along a drum kit, but simply a cajon-style drum, a wooden box that he sat on and played judiciously with his hands or brushes.
Though he started his career as a professional drummer on a full kit, Bobby has more recently found a fondness for the smaller and much more portable cajon, an instrument of Peruvian origin now quite common in Americana and folk configurations. Skilled players use the box’s various surfaces to accentuate different percussive tones, with some designed with a snare apparatus as well.
A serious student of the music, his way was never to interfere with the subtle rhythmic interplay between acoustic instruments in bluegrass, or overpower the other players with percussive flourishes or showy dynamics. Bobby’s goal was always to help the band keep a steady beat, and enjoy the camaraderie of the jam.
Over the years at regional events Martin has developed a large group of friends who know him by name, or as The Bluegrass Drummer. A glad hand and a hearty laugh was his stock in trade, and jammers of every kind can recall the large, gregarious man who would plop down with his drum and, before you knew it, a new friendship was born.
North Carolina hand drum manufacturer Bonham Cajons even make a Bobby Martin Ancient Tones Bluegrass Cajon model.
Here’s video of Martin on stage with Kripple Krunk, an adventurous North Carolina string band that features Rex McGee, Nate Leath, Danny Knicely, John Garris, Dennis Lee, and John Marler.
He also performed often with The Kruger Brothers.
Bobby’s family will receive friends tonight (4/18) from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at the Summersett Funeral Home in Salisbury. A funeral is scheduled for Tuesday, April 19 at the First Baptist Church of Salisbury at 2:00 p.m., followed by entombment at Rowan Memorial Park Lakeside Mausoleum.
In keeping with Bobby’s special fondness for young people, the family requests that memorial donations be made to:
Feed the Children
333 N. Meridian
Oklahoma City, OK 73107
R.I.P., Bobby Martin.