1960s Pat Martino always had a proper balance of soul and swing: Photos, Videos

- in ARTISTS, BOOKS, VIDEOS

Guitarist Pat Martino cooked, especially in clubs. He’s probably best known for his version of Sunny, recorded at New York’s Folk City on his Live! album in 1972.

Back in 2014, High Tone Records came into possession of previously unreleased live recordings made between 1968 and ’69 at Club 118 in Louisville, Ky. Entitled Young Guns, the album featured Gene Ludwig (org), Pat Martino (g) and Randy Gelispie (d). These guys sounded like a suddenly lit pack of matches.

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Back in the ’60s and beyond, Martino always had a proper balance of soul and swing needed to play in organ combos authentically. Born in Philadelphia, he recorded during this early period with organists Don Patterson, Brother Jack McDuff and Richard “Groove” Holmes as well as saxophonists Willis Jackson, John Handy, Sonny Stitt, Charles McPherson, Eric Kloss and Junior Cook. All of these guys could burn.

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Placed in a club, though, Martino easily caught fire. He used his guitar as a swinging whip, cracking it as he tore into blues and standards. As Young Guns demonstrates, Martino could stir up the scene with long, impeccable runs and give the organ a run for its money in the funky grease department.

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Ludwig and Gelispie were both veterans of club circuits, where they had to bring their A-game when soloing and keep the temperature high when backing the soloist. You sense that studio recordings for all three musicians helped pay the bills while clubs were about passion and a free fall into another realm. Each track on this album has an energy level that raises hairs. [Publicity photo above of Gene Ludwig, right, and Brother Jack McDuff]

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The album’s fidelity is short on studio quality, but the microphone and tape recorder used were certainly good enough to capture the magic these guys were regularly capable of in public. They treat the three standards—Who Can I Turn To, Watch What Happens and Close Your Eyes—as a contact sport. The solos are extraordinary. [Photo above of Randy Gelispie]

John Coltrane’s Mr. P.C. and Wes Montgomery’s Road Song are loaded with groove and equally thrilling. The same goes for the remaining two songs—Sam Sack and Colossus. Martino digs in on solos and swings with a muscular snap.

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Martino had two careers. In 1980, he suffered a brain aneurysm. After the successful surgery, he emerged with amnesia and zero recollection of his career or how to play guitar. He spent the years ahead re-learning the instrument that had built his early reputation. Which is remarkable on so many levels. Since 2018, he has been sidelined with health issues.

Martino’s red-hot ambition and feel are unmistakably great on his pre- and post-surgery recordings. But on Young Guns, one senses he’s playing without realizing he’s being recorded, or he forgot along the way. What results are three guys tearing into a night’s work and spreading joy along the way. What a lucky audience.

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Mr. P.C….

Martino’s Sunny in 1972…

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