I was born in 1970, the year Jimi Hendrix died. If this has a special meaning, you gotta find out for yourself.
I grew up in a small village in Germany with my parents, 2 brothers and one sister. I got interested in music at a very early age, inspired by tapes given as a birthday present to me from my cousin. One of my first records was “Let There Be Rock” from AC/DC, bought for me by my grandmother (thanks, grandma!).
At the age of 12 I got a guitar for Christmas and started taking classical guitar lessons at the local music school (not exactly what I had in mind, but it got me started). With 15 I bought my first electric guitar for 50 DM (approximately 25 €), discovered the power chord and distortion and never looked back …
My first band was a punk band, first called ZNS and later Pleasure In Pain. I had spiked hair, dressed in black, moved powerchords up and down the neck, drank beer with my bandmates and had a lot of fun. We played 3 shows (you can’t call that commercial success, but I wouldn’t want to miss a second of it) and then split up in 1988.
I soon found some other guys to play with. The band was called Marvel’s Rosary and played music inspired by The Cure, The Velvet Underground and a German band called Element Of Crime. We recorded a few tapes (a long time before computer recording, the internet and MP3s), played local shows (this time more than three) and some festivals. We also were the support act for the “Fenton Weills”, a cool sixties band from Cologne, Germany and I heard surf and sixties instrumentals for the first time in my life. I didn’t know how important this night would be for the rest of my life …
After two years, our singer went different ways to join a “more commercial” project (didn’t turn out too well) and we continued under a new name Zig Zag Wanderer with a girl singer.
Our music was now a strange mixture of 60s stuff like The Velvet Underground and Jefferson Airplane and 80s independent a la Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr. We also had some surfy instrumentals (Peter Gunn, Hawaii Five O) and Jimi Hendrix songs in the set list. Strange mixture? You bet, but pretty cool. We released several tapes, played the first gigs far from home an split up in 1993.
After finishing school in 1989, I worked in an old people’s home instead of going to the army. I soon found out that “real” work isn’t the right thing for me and decided to focus on a “career” in the music business.
I started taking lessons from an American jazz guitarist, practiced for hours and finally started studying music at the FMW (Frankfurter Musikwerkstatt), a private jazz school in 1991. I spent five years there and earned a degree in 1996.
During this time I learned a lot about music theory, played jazz and fusion with the bands Bumpin On Sunset and Subtone, practiced every free minute of the day and also made a not too successful attempt to play in two cover bands. Soulfood and Join The Q played other people’s songs, but didn’t get paid well, so the bands folded quickly.
To support myself financially, I started teaching guitar in 1991, something I do till today and that has saved me from playing with cover bands to make a living.
After concentrating on jazz and bebop for some years, listening to Wes Montgomery, George Benson and Miles Davis and playing a semiacoustic guitar, I grew a little tired of all this jazz and noodling around stuff and decided it was time to rock again.
Inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan I founded the band Dr. Blues & The Hip Replacements that played straight ahead blues rock. We recorded a CD and played a lot of shows in Germany from 1995 to 2001. To be honest, we were still noodling around a lot, but louder and more distorted than before.
In 1997 I also started my own instrumental project, first under the name Martin Schmidt Band, then later as The Incredible Mr. Smith.
We started out as a very improvisation-orientated band, influenced by Jimi Hendrix, The Allman Brothers and Jeff Beck. Our first CD “The Blues & Some Other Stuff” shows this side of my playing. After hearing Dave Wronski and his band Slacktone in 2000, I fell totally in love with surf music and got more interested in sixties/soundtrack stuff. You can hear the result of these influences on our 2002 release “The Incredible Strange Sounds Of Mr. Smith”.
In 2000, I got into writing and started working for a lot of guitar and music magazines. After doing some stuff for free or very little money in 2001, I started working for the SOUNDCHECK magazine in 2002 and finally made money as a music-journalist. Wonderful! Since then I contributed to a lot of magazines ( see THE JOURNALIST for details) and could reduce my guitar students to a reasonable amount.
But playing and recording music was still my main focus. In 2002 I found some likeminded lunatics (among them my little brother Stefan, who was one of my guitar students, no I didn’t plan to use him as a rhythm guitarist back then …) and we started The Razorblades, one of Europe’s hardest rocking surf bands.
The original lineup didn’t last for long, but The Razorblades are still going strong till today. So far we released 5 CDs, and toured in Germany, Europe and the USA. We were featured on tons of compilations and have fans all over the world. Ain’t that cool? My most successful band and my main focus till today. And yes, we don’t noodle around too much, so now we manage to play 25 songs in 70 minutes. Seems like I’ve come a long way…
Between 2001 and 2007 I also worked as a sideman for the bands Lily Of The Valley, Doug Adkins & One More Ride, Sarah Brendel and Electa Winter. I played shows at the “Internationaler Frauentag”, in fake Western Cities and even at Christian festivals (no repeat planned). A lot of interesting experiences, but I finally decided that I’m better off doing my own thing along MY lines of thinking …
So in 2006 I talked my favorite drummer and friend Dusty Watson (who played with Dick Dale, Agent Orange, The Supersuckers and Slacktone among others) into flying over to Germany and record my album “Adventures In The Land Of Twang” with me. It was released in 2007 and got good reviews in Germany, Europe and the USA. Among all the albums I did, it’s the one I like the most. No compromises and a lot of different styles … that’s the way I like it!
The same year saw the release of my first book, an encyclopedia of surf music called „Surf Beat“, which I wrote for the Ventil Verlag.
I even did public readings on a few occasions…quite different than rocking in front of an audience …
Since then I continued doing what I’m doing.
- I’m on the road in Germany, Europe and the USA with The Razorblades, which trimmed down to a three piece in 2008 and now play 50 – 70 shows a year.
- I contributed songs to music libraries, TV shows and movies and work as an editor and writer.
- Yes, I still teach guitar two days a week.
- No, I don’t do cover bands. The idea of playing mediocre versions of worn out rock and pop classics doesn’t seem very appealing to me and as long as I can stay away from that thing, I’ll be a happy guy.
Sometimes even I don’t play, teach or write about music. What I do then? Well…
- I grease my hair and get tattooed.
- I enjoy reading crime novels or biographies of rock musicians.
- I collect vinyl records.
- I like cooking meals and drinking Espresso (Alfonso Bialetti is one of my heroes).
- I ride my mountain bike, push some weights at the gym or go for a run in the park.
- I read the paper or watch a movie…. „The Godfather“ is my all time favorite.
Recently I enjoyed „Only Lovers left Alive“ a lot. Great Soundtrack!
If you want to know more, do an interview with me :-)