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Horses and country music go hand-in-hand for area resident

J.D. "Jimmy" Martin's photo unveiling will be held Jan. 9 at the Legion breakfast in Kelliher.

"I wrote music back in the 1940s and early '50s," he said.

"I have a lot of history on my album that I made down in Nashville. I was and still am thinking of writing a book but I can't write... but I still think about it, maybe I will put it on tapes."

The "he" would be local resident, singer, songwriter, bus driver, heavy equipment operator and "horse whisperer" J.D. "Jimmy" Martin.

Martin has led a good life so far, has many fond memories about his life -- most of which revolve around his horses and his music.

His love of horses began when he was five. It was love at first sight.

"I was five years old," he said. "I lived with grandpa and grandma and they had a horse by the name of Nelly," Martin said. "They would go to town from out there into Kelliher with their cream and groceries in the buggy with old Nelly. Grandpa would sit me on the horse and let me ride her until I got tired then he would take me off," he said.

"I started doing that and one thing led to another and I got to watching my aunt and uncle when I started living with them after my grandpa and grandma died," Martin said. "I had an uncle, Ole, and he was a carpenter and I learned a lot of carpenter work too but I rode horses a lot. I went to work on the farm with them - driving them - working horses and then I started skidding."

Martin recalled that when he went into the service, he didn't do anything with horses. "I was in the service for three years," he said. "When I got out, I went back to the old place and of course it was mine then and anyway my dad was in the Army and he got out and I bought the old place."

Martin worked out in the Washington State for two years with his father before they bought the old home place.

"And then I thought... I have to have me a team of horses," he said with a laugh, "So I went out to North Dakota. My cousin lived out there and I had some other relatives living in Page, where I was born, he said.

"I went to an auction sale and there was this big team, a young team - one roan and one bay, being sold. They were three and four years old. I bought them for $100! Then there was a new set of harnesses that went with them and they had never been out of the box and I saw all that and my half brother, Tiny, decided I got a good deal."

Martin said his grandfather taught him a lot about horses. "Then I got that team and well, I sold them and I started buying horses and I bought a team from right across the road from me and they had spoiled these horses and it took me three days but I never had to holler at them," he recalled.

"One would be way ahead and one would be way behind. They drove them at a tandem. They were mother and son," he explained. "I got them so they went real good. At first I had to get them to know what I wanted them to. I would whistle and they wouldn't listen. So I tapped them a little more and whistled again and then they would perk their ears up where they were listening for that whistle. I never had to get after them. You wouldn't believe how horses and dogs can understand you."

Martin said that the one big white horse was a one man horse. "I never babied him or his mother," he said. "I got one out at Dick Leonhardt's now that won't let anyone else ride him. I have had about four horses like that.

Martin has worked with horses most of his life. "I've been thrown off a lot," he said. "I took this thoroughbred one time out into the field and she stared bucking with me then she had got her head down and I was pulling her head up and she got down to the other end of the field and she put her head down next to her knees and that saddle went right down her legs and I slid off her onto my knees and then she ran back. I had to carry that big heavy saddle 80 rods back."

After walking back to his horse, Martin said he went and got her, saddled her again and "she never bucked again - at least not while I owned her," he laughed.

"All the kids from town would come out and she would buck them off. Westy was her name," Martin said. "Danby took her home and was gonna ride her. He was going to fix her for bucking and she bucked him off and bucked until the saddle tore off and broke his ribs, arm, busted his pelvis and he was in the hospital for six months," he said.

Then he recalled that Danny Cornell bought her, then someone else and then someone else brought her out at the RCA rodeo.

"She was one heck of a bucking horse cause that's how that got started," he explained. "I always tell people if you're gonna buy a horse for kids, buy an older one."

Martin's love of music has been a constant as he recalled his childhood. "I wrote and started playing music when I was 10 years old. Sang songs in school. Sang to the kids on the school bus. And their kids all have kids now. I was known as the best damn bus driver Saum ever had," he laughed.

"I used to sing to the kids on the bus. I'd sing all the way to Bemidji. I remember once when me, Leona Nyberg, Mrs. Bowe and Mrs. Sutton took the kids, a bunch of sixth graders, down to Bemidji to the Shriner's Circus and I was the driver and we first started at Kelliher.

I sang all the way to Bemidji. Mrs. Sutton waited until everyone got off and she said, 'You know Jimmy, that was the nicest bus ride I ever had with a bunch of kids.' Mrs. Bowe never forgot it either." he said.

With the 100th anniversary of the Saum School coming up in 2012, Martin recalled that even though he never went to Saum he was a bus driver for a year.

"They wouldn't hire me anymore because they figured anyone the kids loved that much didn't keep very good control of the kids," he laughed. "I thought that was the craziest thing I ever heard."

Martin was working for the state and was running grader and heavy equipment for the state of Minnesota forestry.

"I was asked to grade the township roads and I said yeah. I was working for Vesty Poxleitner on the weekends so he said I could grade the roads so I did. I graded up Gemmill Ridge, Pine Island, Decker Lake in Blackduck, Tomy Williams way pp by Baudette. I was all over. Lost River in Waskish -- all in there. I graded all them roads -- 30 years of it. I loved that grader," he said.

Martin worked eight years for the federal forestry down in Blackduck.

How did he get involved in the whole Nashville scene?

"That's another part of the story," he said with a laugh. "Beverly, my second wife, Beverly Swanson, told me, 'Did you see in the Music City News, that Little Jimmy Dickens wants anyone to sing a song and send it in and they would get a recording contract in Nashville.'

"I said, no I didn't know that and she said I should sing."

Martin laughs at the memory of how he got started.

"She got me to sing a song and I didn't know that she had sent it off to that place and one night we were sitting there at the supper table and the telephone rang.

The gentleman on the other end of the phone told Martin that he was in Nashville and had looked over his song and they wanted him to come down to Nashville and make a 45 demo.

"I was shocked! I sat there a minute. Bev knew who it was. I said, 'Yeah, what it would cost me?'"

The man told him that the demo with a band and everything, a big name band, would be about $2,500 for the 45.

"So Bev said we can make that," he said. "We'll go and borrow some money. So I went down to the bank in Blackduck," he said.

"Anderson, he was running the bank in Blackduck back then, he looked at me and laughed and said, 'You want to borrow money to make a record? We all do!' I said go to hell and walked out."

Martin then told him that he wanted all his money transferred to Kelliher.

"I got up to Kelliher and I said to Oliver Latterell, 'I suppose your gonna laugh at me too. I want to borrow $1,000' and Oliver said, 'Yeah, well what's it for?' And I said, 'I want to go to Nashville and make a record.' He said, 'Awww, you gotta have more than that. Your trip and everything. How about we make it out for $2,500? I know ya -- I know darn well you can make it. I've got kids you've hauled on the school bus and they said you were one of the best singers they'd ever heard!'"

So Martin went down to Nashville and cut that 45. His song never got on the charts but he said he sold a lot of 45s.

"They called me back and said I needed to come back to make an album. I asked how much would it cost and they said about $10,000."

The band to be used had to have $300 for each member because George Jones would have the same band and lot of the other guys.

"They were the Nashville Super Pickers," Martin recalled. "I went back to the bank to Oliver and he asked how much do I would need and he said it was no problem. I got the whole thing!"

So Martin made the album.

"My producer, his wife and my musical director said let's go down to Tootsie's Bar and Grill right down next to the Grand Ol' Opry building," Martin said. "So we went down and they said we could meet a lot of stars in there. There was a lot of them in there drinking, talking, singing songs.

"Dottie West was sitting in the booth and I looked over at her and I said, 'Oh my goodness! Dottie West.' And I said, 'Everyone in here is singing tonight so I am gonna sing to you, Dottie' and I sang You're the Only Star in My Blue Heaven and she said, 'J.D. you wanna go on the road with me? I'm leaving in the morning at 5 o'clock.'

"I said I could never do that. I have to call my wife. I didn't and Beverly never knew about it. I thought it was just drunken talk,' he said. "I told her I had to get things straightened around at home before I could do that and she said they were gonna be in Iowa doing a show."

Martin said West told him that she would be there in the middle of the week and that if he still wanted go, to come on down and meet them there.

"I'd like to have you in my show. You're good!" she said.

"I didn't go and never went and I never did tell Bev. Never did take and do anything with it."

He was selling albums for awhile and said he was able to pay the bank off in six months and bought himself a new pickup.

One thing he never got to do was to meet Gene Autry.

"But I got one of his songs on my album," he said. "I called Singletree Music in Nashville --that's where Gene was -- Singletree Music. And they give me a number to call his office in Los Angeles and I talked with him on the phone because I had to get his clearance on the song to do it on the album.

Autry told him that he could use it and if he could make a hit out of the song, he would put lumps in both their wallets.

Martin and his wife took a load of horses to Colorado and had met up with a horse trainer there who took a bunch of his albums to sell.

Selling that music had helped but his life always seemed to come back to his love of horses.

"The secret to communicating with horses - they gotta love them! They gotta have a love for an animal. Dogs too. You gotta have that certain love. Like with people. That's' the whole key to the whole thing and there's another thing too," Martin explained.

Some people like animals alot they can't train them, he said.

"The training -- you have to do like you do with kids. You can't get rough with them. If you do, they start fighting you back. You have to be strict in a way but in a way, you aren't strict. I've had horses do silly things but I turn my back so they can't see. Like kids."

Martin pondered on the what his life would have been like without horses.

"I don't know what it would have been like without horses, he said. "I just never was without them."

The two horses that he has on his album were both out west with him. "I roped calves and cattle with those horses. I broke both of them from the ground up," he said.

Martin wrote two songs on the album -- The Legend of Jimmie Rodgers and Angel Without Wings.

"I was backstage at the Opry and talked to Bev on the phone and when she hung up the phone, she said, 'You have a good night, Angel.' And I thought, 'My God! There's a song - Angel without Wings!'

"I wrote it and my musical director helped me arrange it and everything. And she never did know that I wrote that song about her. I never told her. Cause we divorced then and I never did tell her. We had a lot of fun together," he remembered fondly.

Martin laughed remembering the birthday party held for him last February at the school.

"Everything was all cowboy style. I come in there and my record was playing and Jeannie Jean had a CD that I had given her and she put that on and it was playing all day long. All the kids were dressed as cowboys and cowgirls. I had no idea that they were gonna do that. Lorraine made me a birthday cake with a horse and green and chocolate frosting on it. I sat for the longest time before I cut the cake cause it was so cute," he said with a smile.

"I have a lady over in Dora Lake who makes the CDs for me. She's a horse lady and I help her with her horses. She made me about 20 of them. I sold them all at the school! Teachers were buying them and everything. I had her make up a bunch more. I never charged much for them. Just enough to make them. They have really been buying them."

Martin's photo unveiling will be held Jan. 9 at the Legion breakfast in Kelliher. Everyone is welcome to attend.