Highland Lakes singer-songwriter John Arthur Martinez was awarded Western Swing Song of the Year by the Academy of Western Artists for “For the Love of Western Swing.” A songwriter friend accepted the academy’s famed cowboy statuette in his stead as Martinez had a performance elsewhere at the time. The event, which was rescheduled several times due to COVID-19, was finally held Aug. 12-13 in Fort Worth.
The Cottonwood Shores resident’s winning song — the title track off of his 14th and latest album, “For the Love of Western Swing & Other Love Songs” — tells a true story, one he says is close to his heart.
“Most of my better songs are that way,” Martinez said. “My best material are the songs that have some sort of emotional and biographic connection.”
“For the Love of Western Swing” tells the story of a road trip he took to a gig with fellow musicians some years ago. As he picked up the drummer and then his guitarist on the way, the traveling troubadours realized how close they were to Turkey, Texas, home of the Bob Wills Museum. The Western swing legend was one of the main influences in Martinez’s musical education growing up.
“The first verse describes that journey. The second is about how we went across the south plains of the Texas Panhandle,” Martinez said. “Bob crossed some of those same highways many times.”
Martinez is currently working on his 15th album, which he hopes to tour behind in 2021 along with the Western swing album released in 2019. That tour had to be canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The new album will be more acoustic by nature of the current situation,” he said. “I’ll record it with a click track and others will play their parts in their own studios.”
“For the Love of Western Swing” was recorded live in a studio with all the musicians present. Without the click track, Martinez said the music has an authentic sound that fits into the genre perfectly.
“There is a subtle relationship between the upright bass guitar, the drummer, and the rhythm guitar that locks in better when something is being recorded live as opposed to virtually,” Martinez said. “Sometimes, click tracks become a little too mechanical, a little too perfect. Whereas, if you look up the definition of swing, it’s a groove thing.”
Martinez fell into that groove as a youngster, sneaking into Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin to hear Asleep at the Wheel and other Western swing greats of the time.
“I fell in love with that sound,” he said. “I probably didn’t know at the time that their music was influenced by Bob Wills and Milton Brown, two of the all-time greats.”
Wills and Brown brought their unique local twang into the swing music they were hearing on pop radio from bands such as the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Early in his career, another great who came along years later, George Strait, picked up on the sound as well.
Western swing is part of Martinez’s musical makeup. It’s in his DNA and is the foundation of his latest album and now award-winning song.
“This was an album that brought all those influences together,” Martinez said. “That focus on Western swing songs is what attracted the attention of the disc jockeys.”
Lubbock radio DJ Billy Bowles was the first to take notice. From there, the song found its way to airwaves across the state and eventually to the Academy of Western Artists.
“I don’t know who nominated that song, but I would love to meet them,” Martinez said. “I was surprised to hear I was nominated.”