Marty Falle talks songwriting and love for bluegrass

Like many people, singer/songwriter Marty Falle initially became interested in bluegrass while watching re-runs of The Andy Griffith Show, especially those episodes that featured the music of a fictional band called the Darlings, who were, in truth, that now-revered ensemble better known as The Dillards. His fascination with the form grew from there.  

“I became more interested in bluegrass while living in Athens, Ohio,” he recalls. “I would listen to guys playing banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and dobro at a music store called Blue Eagle Music. Country and bluegrass music hit me harder shortly after I was transferred to Eastern Kentucky coal country following my graduation from Ohio University. I was a traveling law book salesman, and the locals took me in and introduced me to bourbon and bluegrass in Renfro Valley. I wore out my CDs of Dwight Yoakum, Steve Earle, Keith Whitley, and Bill Monroe as I drove my pick-up truck to places like Pikeville, Harlan, Hazard, and Paintsville.”

Those experiences made a lingering impression. “Over the years, I have lived in Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, and now South Carolina,”  he recalls. “Real Appalachia influences my songwriting to this day.”

Nevertheless, his incentive to start singing began much earlier. “I was a football player in high school, and also earned my share of detentions,” he muses. “One day, the choir director walked into the detention room, trying to recruit males to join the choir, and he told us would get us out of detention if we joined. It was like a get out of jail free card. He taught me how to sing, and it became a passion. We did Messiah by George Frederic Handel and Magnificat in D Major by Johann Sebastian Bach. I performed in musicals like Fiddler on the Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar, joined a barbershop quartet, the pop ensemble, and orchestra. The best part was getting an A for just showing up! In 10th grade, we put together a ’50s rock and roll doo-wop group, and did Dion’s Teenager in Love and the Silhouettes’ Get a Job. The next year, I sang Suite Judy Blue Eyes with my friends Ron and Lenny. I learned the Stephen Stills guitar parts when I was home with mononucleosis for a month. CSN, Eagles, Everly Brothers, and Three Dog Night were all big influences.”

Nevertheless, Falle insists he never really intended to pursue music. “Music always had a strong hold of me,” he says. “But I have no interest in making it ‘big,’ whatever that really means. I never did. I have met plenty of A-list artists who are miserable. My dreams came true a long time ago. I have a loving and supporting family. I am blessed to have five original records. I have worked with many of Nashville’s best and brightest. I’ve made a ton of friends. I have a great big smile on my face. My goals have been achieved. The rest is gravy. My philosophy has always been the same — God gave me a talent. A gift. My goal is to actualize that gift.”

A history major in college, Falle enjoys writing songs that have a connection to historical events. In fact, many of the songs on his impressive new album, Kentucky Bluestar, are inspired by true life situations.

“My song Renfro Valley Barn Dance is a tribute to Lily May Ledford, a clawhammer banjo and fiddle player from the late 1930s,”  he says. “Lily May and the Coon Creek Girls were one of the first all-female string bands to appear on radio.” He quotes a lyric that underscores it all. 

Going down to Renfro to the bluegrass Holy Land
Lily May Ledford’s got an all-girl fiddle band
No need to worry pretty Baby, just take me by the hand
We’re going down to Renfro to the bluegrass Holy Land…

Another of his songs, Appalachian River Song, is about the Prestonsburg, Kentucky bus crash in 1958. In addition, he claims his composition, Bloody Coal, was largely inspired by the Harlan County Coal War in the 1930s. 

That thematic consistency continues with his striking new album, Kentucky Blue Star. A track titled Cherokee was inspired by the plight of Native Americans forced to march what became known as The Trail of Tears. 

Before you judge me for my skin,
Walk a mile in my moccasins…walk a mile in my moccasins
I’ll sing my death song when it’s time to go
And die like a hero going home…die like I’m goin’ home

“I recently wrote a song called Daytona after going to the Daytona 500,” Falle notes. “I’m also inspired to write songs about my life experiences and relationship with God. I wrote Fire Angel about asking the Holy Spirit to guide me through life challenges.” 

The lyrics make that clear. “Fire Angel take me down this highway, ’cause without faith I cannot dare to dream that far…”

Happily then, Falle’s producer, Jonathan Yudkin, was able to recruit an exceptional cast of supporting musicians to help with the project. Falle himself sang lead and backing vocals and played guitars. The other musicians include guitarist Carl Miner, bassist Mike Bub, Grammy winner Rob Ickes on dobro, Matt Menefee on banjo, Yudkin on fiddle and mandolin, and Marty Slayton and Kim Parent suppling backing vocals. The album cover was created by Disney artist, TJ Matousek, an award-winning artist from Northern California.

The music lives up to the effort that went into it. The songs are rousing, flush with enthusiasm and down-home authenticity. Falle is clearly committed to making music that evokes both the style and the spirit of bluegrass basics while putting his own stamp on the sound as well.

That said, while Kentucky Blue Star marks Falle’s fifth album overall, it’s his second effort devoted entirely to bluegrass. As such, it’s a sequel of sorts to his last LP, Virgin on the Bluegrass. That album,in turn, provided a follow-up to his earlier albums, Ohio, Long, Long Road and Bloody Coal

“There is something special when wood, strings and voice unite in song,” Falle maintains. “There is an authenticity that digital effects can’t cover up. It’s simple, plain, pure and perfect. Over the years I have played in full-on electric rock bands and country bands, but I always had an acoustic set in the middle with just wood, strings, and harmony vocals. I learned from my heroes. There was nothing quite like when Led Zeppelin would play acoustic versions of The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, and Bron-Yr-Aur in the middle of their show.”

Meanwhile, Falle has done quite well for himself, although he does occasionally find that performing live can be a mixed blessing. “Over the years, I have played for the rowdies at highway honky-tonks, thousands at festival events, and everything in between,” he explains. “Every gig has a story. Performing live has always been a love/hate relationship with me. While I love the 90 minutes on stage, I do not enjoy the preparation, the tear down at 2:00 a.m., and the endless roadwork. Robbie Robertson of The Band said it best — ‘The road is an impossible place.’ I prefer to write and record my original music. My last live performance was a live TV taping for Europe at SIR Studios in Nashville in February 2020. I plan on performing my entire new record live with a taping on a soundstage in the fall.”

In addition to making music, Falle can also be considered a successful entrepreneur. “Truthfully, there are two sides to me — the corporate guy and the singer-songwriter guy,” he maintains. “I could never get rid of either one. I started as a paper boy when I was nine years old, and worked my way up to being VP of a Fortune 500 company. It’s been a crazy ride. I remember the feeling of having enough money to buy a pair of snakeskin boots and a new set of Goodyear Wranglers with the raised white lettering for my truck. Music and love do not pay the rent, so I am always working.”

Happily, the work has paid off.  Aside from his critical kudos — one of his songs, Superman Jimmie, even got him coverage in a NASCAR publication — he’s been featured on CMT Prime Time Country courtesy of his song, Hootchie Coochie Gal from the Buckeye State, which in turn garnered over three million views on YouTube and became a certified internet sensation. His first single from the new album, Ridin’, seems likely to repeat that success.

With ten of the eleven songs on Kentucky Blue Star penned by Falle himself — the sole non-original is a spirited cover of the traditional instrumental, Whiskey Before Breakfast —  it appears Falle is fully committed to maintaining his ever-prolific trajectory through both quality and consistency. Suffice it to say, he’s an artist well worth the attention.

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.