There was the kid from Maceo who inherited his love of country music from his mom and dad. “My dad wanted to be a superstar like Johnny Cash. My mom sang like Loretta Lynn,” he said.
There was the young boy who fell in love with the guitar when he played his first “D” chord.
Then there was the teenager who began writing songs and playing them for the guys he worked with during dinner breaks.
That was followed by the young man who signed up for every talent show he could; performed at Goldie’s as often as they would let him; played and sang at the barbecue festival; and once got kicked out of the Big “E” parking lot for playing songs for tips in his upturned cowboy hat.
Then, due to sheer grit and determination, there was the man who heard “You need to get to Nashville” enough times to finally get the nerve to venture to Music City, USA. The story goes that Marty walked into the 8-Ball with his guitar in his hand, hoping to earn enough tips to earn gas money to Nashville.
After a song or two, one of the men in the 8-Ball that night was so impressed he agreed to drive Marty down to Music Row. To this day, Marty said in this interview, he has no idea what that man’s name is. “But if you’re out there, I’d like to thank you,” he said.
Then there was the hopeful dreamer, who – like so many others who flock to Nashville seeking fame – literally walked up and down Broadway knocking on doors until someone – anyone – would give him a chance.
That lucky day came on a Friday in 1988 when Marty finally found an open door. Kurt Denny at BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) took a chance and let Marty into his office to play a song or two. Which turned into three or four. Which turned into five or six phone calls to set up meetings for Marty on Monday morning.
“Here’s $100. Come back here first thing Monday morning. Don’t leave town!” he said, setting Marty up with a motel room for the weekend.
The short version of that incredible part of the story is that one of those meetings resulted in a 1991 recording contract with MCA, which led to a ten-year span of life on the road as a national recording artist, sharing the stage with country music royalty like Garth Brooks, Alabama and just about every other country artist you can name from the ‘90s.
Marty’s life as a recording artist lead to eight radio singles, including “Every Now and Then,” “High & Dry,” “Wildest Dreams,” “Cryin, Lovin, Leavin” and “It Must Be the Rain,” which reached #62 on the country charts.
But that life ran its course and enough was enough. Tired of being “too country for country,” Marty started wanting a simpler life. He then moved back to Kentucky, planted roots on a farm in Ohio County and went back to being just a boy from Maceo who loved strumming his guitar and writing songs.
Off the stage and out of the spotlight, the music was still coursing through Marty’s veins. And that’s where he found the inspiration for the song that launched him into his next musical life as a songwriter.
“I knew I had a hit,” he said, so he went to see his old friend Kurt Denny at BMI, and once again played him a song in his office.
But it was only one song that time…which turned into a phone call, just like last time…which turned into a #3 hit for Tracy Byrd in 1998 called “I’m From the Country and I Like it That Way.”
Then there were hard times. And questions about whether this was the end of the musical road for the boy from Maceo.
Years went by. Marty was remarried to a teacher named Shellie, and they settled in Franklin, Kentucky. “That way I could still be close to Nashville, she could still teach and we could live in the country,” he said.
But thanks to Shellie, it would not be the end of the road for Marty. Nobody expected what came next!
His next musical life – this time as a reality show contestant – came to light when Shellie signed Marty up for an audition on America’s Got Talent without him knowing. “It’s’ time for America to hear him sing,” she said.
The judges sent him through, and Marty was featured on season eight, where he made it to the semi-final round. His performance of Bob Dylan’s “To Make you Feel My Love” from that audition was viewed 6.1 million times on YouTube.
Because of that, multiple-CMA, ACM and Grammy-award-winning producer, Keith Stegall, believes Marty might still have another musical life in him yet – and wants to put him back on the radio. (Editor’s note: Stegall has worked with Alan Jackson, Zac Brown Band, Darius Rucker, and many others.)
On October 7, Marty recorded “To Make You Feel My Love” with Stegall at the Sound Emporium in Nashville. The single is set to release to country radio in December.
It will be interesting to see how Marty-on-the-radio works out this time. Is he still “too country for country?” Or will his social media following help push him up the charts? Before Marty met Shellie, he didn’t even have a Facebook account or YouTube channel.
Time will tell if this radio single turns into Marty’s next musical life.
Have things come full circle?
Or is this an entirely new circle?
Either way, I can tell you this: the guy who walked into the Owensboro Living office for this interview still has that just-a-country-boy-with-a-guitar look to him. But he’s also the guy who has “been there and done that.” He’s a little older, and a lot wiser. But he still has that same passion for music that he discovered as a boy in Maceo playing his first “D” chord.
Whatever happens, “I really feel blessed. I really feel fortunate. I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity and I’m going to go for it,” he said.
After telling me his real life story that could have been a Behind the Music episode, Marty closed out this interview with a final thought, professing his thanks and admiration for Shellie. “Johnny Cash had June Carter. Loretta Lynn had Mooney. And Marty’s got Shellie. Without her, I wouldn’t be sitting here in this interview. She saved me in every way a man can be saved and every way a man can be loved.”