The partnership between Joe Martinez and Gus Guthrie began in 2004 when Joe was invited to sit in on drums with a local Northern Virginia band, in which Gus is the singer and guitar player. After a Friday night of music, a few beers and a lot of talk, Joe left and began imagining the possibilities of bringing Gus's voice to his collection of original tunes. A conversation turned into collaboration, and the project that became Martinez and Guthrie's "Gathering Change" began.
In his spare time from his public school teaching job, Joe laid down track after track of guitars, drums, bass, accordion, mandolin, and meticulous percussion to create the instrumental foundation for Gus's vocals. With his portable recording rig, they met where they could find time and space….a spare bedroom, a basement corner…trying to get an honest, direct sound. A couple of years in the making, "Gathering Change" was released on a self-created music label, NeZ Records, in December 2006. It quickly got airplay on XM Satellite Radio and the internet's Radio Paradise, as well as many smaller college and local radio stations from Alaska, to Arizona, to Maine. Starting in '08 Sirius began playing the song "Home" twice a day and featured Martinez and Guthrie on their Coffee House Live show. In 2009 a song was placed in the film Solitary Man, starring Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Danny Devito, and Mary-Louise Parker. Songs from "Gathering Change" have also found their way in to a show on the CW Network, promos on NBC, an award-winning bank commercial campaign and a small film by Outside Magazine.
The Puerto Rican born, Northern Virginia raised Martinez spent his teens writing, arranging and playing straight ahead rock and roll with his brother. Several original acoustic projects with other artists followed as he continued to hone and develop his passion for composing, collaborating, and recording. It has been the 'usual suspects' from the world of rock and acoustic/folk music that have set the foundation of influences for Martinez while the music, artists and rhythms of Jamaica, Africa, Cuba and Puerto Rico continue to come to the surface.
Guthrie, a middle school art teacher by day, has played guitar and sung for better than 30 years. He fronts the casual acoustic roots band NoBetterOff which plays blues, bluegrass, alt- country covers and originals. His musical heroes include Ry Cooder, Steve Earle, and Buddy Miller. In addition to making music, Gus is teaching himself to build musical instruments, and plays a mandolin he built himself.
Duo/Acoustic set up:
Joe Martinez - Guitars and mandolin
Gus Guthrie - Vocal, guitars and mandolin
With Backing Band:
Depending on the performance, other musicians added would include at least a drummer, guitar player, and a bass player.
Album release: Still Here (Spring 2011), Gathering Change (2006)
Airplay: Sirius and XM (pre and post merger), RadioParadise.com, and many small/independent radio stations throughout the country. Songs can be heard on all major sites for example iTunes, Pandora, Amazon, and Rhapsody.
Martinez and Guthrie
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"After listening to it I decided it fit perfectly into what we do at the XM Café. Gus has a beautifu..."After listening to it I decided it fit perfectly into what we do at the XM Café. Gus has a beautiful voice and Joe's sense of arrangement is equal."
- Bill Evans, XMCafe Program Director
Self-educated: Acoustic duo learn to navigate music business
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Written by Jordan Edwards Three years ago, Joe Martinez and Gus Guthrie were just a couple of Fai...Written by Jordan Edwards
Three years ago, Joe Martinez and Gus Guthrie were just a couple of Fairfax County school teachers. The duo made a debut album, "Gathering Change," in December 2006, but lacked the connections to expand beyond Northern Virginia. Then, at a Jonah Smith show at Vienna's Jammin' Java, Martinez seized an opportunity.
"[Smith] thanked some people in the audience from XM radio," he recalls. "There weren't many people there, so I thought I could pick them out."
Martinez targeted the wrong guys, but his wife Nalini asked Smith to locate the ones they sought.
"He pointed them out to her, and she handed them a CD," Martinez says. "That was it."
Nalini laughs off her persistence.
"It wouldn't have worked if the music wasn't great," she says. "Joe's very kind to give me credit, but it's all him."
Regardless of who deserves the credit, Martinez and Guthrie were on the air within weeks of the encounter. They wouldn't have known if a former student hadn't tipped Guthrie off.
"We had no idea they were playing it," Guthrie says. "I had XM at the time. I turned it on, and one of our songs came on. You never get tired of that."
The Takoma Park Folk Festival Web site claims the band sounds like "Jackson Browne and Paul Simon meet Jack Johnson." With tender, introspective lyrics and world beat percussion reminiscent of Simon's "Graceland" period, the description isn't far off.
"We moved to the States when I was 1, but the music continued," says the Puerto Rican-born Martinez. "It was the music I liked and it found its way into what we do."
Soon after satellite radio started spinning tunes like "Home," Martinez, 33, backed away from his sixth-grade teaching job to concentrate on music. Many spouses would question such a decision, but not Nalini.
"I think it's fantastic," she says. "He loves kids, but he didn't have time for his music. I had a stable job, so I encouraged him to do it. When his songs started to get played on satellite radio, it was vindication. I'm very proud of him."
It helps that the couple have yet to start a family, but Martinez and Nalini have no intentions of packing up for Los Angeles or Nashville.
"Our big goal is to get into film and TV," Martinez says. "We're not in our early 20s, so we can't just drop everything and go."
At 54, Guthrie sings with the smooth indie rasp of a much younger man. He can't quite pin down the duo's style, admitting that his country and Americana background adds a Western tinge to their sound. Married with three children, he can't see himself giving up his post as an art teacher at Glasgow Middle School. Still, the Arlington resident is excited to make his mark after decades of garage bands.
"It's a gas," he says. "I've always been someone who makes stuff. To me, music is the same thing [as art]. You're creating something that wasn't there before."
Each of the musicians may be at a different point in life, but they intend to stick together.
"I don't think I'll ever go solo," Martinez says. "Gus can't make a full-time commitment to music right now. I could see myself producing or being a part of other projects to help further a career in music for myself. I know Gus would be very supportive of that."
Guthrie is the voice of the outfit, but Martinez is the primary songwriter and producer. He often disappears into his basement recording studio for eight hours at a time, tweaking tracks and laying down new ideas. After he's satisfied, Martinez takes his creations to producer-engineer Mike Fisher at Northern Virginia's Bias Studios for mixing.
"It's emotional stuff," Fisher says. "The lyrics are very poetic. Musically, it has a nice, simple edge that's really accessible to a lot of people."
Though multi-talented, Martinez knows his limitations.
"Joe has a unique ability to listen to a song and put in what he needs," Fisher remarks. "He plays a lot of instruments, but he knows when to go get somebody else."
Sunday will mark Martinez and Guthrie's first appearance at TPFF. They often play as a duo, but Guthrie is looking forward to hitting the Grove Stage with a full band.
"It gets much more danceable," he explains. "It's a totally different thing. When you have a drummer and bass player behind you, it's a lot of fun."
The words aren't bad, either.
Martinez and Guthrie will perform on the Grove Stage at the Takoma Park Folk Festival at noon on Sunday.
We can play up to an hour and a half both as an acoustic duo and as a band.
A set list would include all of our original songs from our "Gathering Change" release as well as songs from our 2011 release, "Still Here". Some covers we do include, Tracks of My Tears and The Wind Cries Mary.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.