John Martyn: 1948-2009

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Beloved John Martyn died January 29 at the age of 60. He was an incredibly talented musician who played acoustic and electric guitar with equal skill. He was also one of the greatest singers of the 20th century. His solo debut, London Conversation, was released in 1967 on Island Records, and along with Richard Thompson and Nick Drake, Martyn was associated with the late-’60s folk boom in England. During that time, he also made a couple of lovely recordings (Stormbringer and Road To Ruin) with his then-wife Beverly.

Martyn’s music evolved greatly, moving from delicate acoustic folk to shimmering folk jazz and even blistering psychedelic rock. His compositions have been covered by the likes of Eric Clapton, Beth Orton, Dr. John, Beck, Richie Havens, Morcheeba and the Black Crowes. Throughout his life, Martyn struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, suffered numerous injuries and endured other tragedies including the amputation of his right leg just below the knee.

“Solid Air” from 1973’s Solid Air:

There’s a 2006 documentary called Johnny Too Bad and there are many live DVDs documenting amazing concert performances from all points of his career. His music has graced numerous film soundtracks, including Scrapple, Titanic Town and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Martyn was recently awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC (presented by his friend Phil Collins), the Les Paul award from Mojo and was appointed an OBE (Order of the British Empire) earlier this year. His last studio album, On The Cobbles, was released in 2004, and there’s a new four-CD retrospective loaded with rarities entitled Ain’t No Saint.

I wrote this profile for MAGNET more than a decade ago. The piece focused on one of Martyn’s many comebacks and identified some of his greatest recordings, including Bless The Weather, Solid Air and One World. Looking back, I can see that I barely scratched the surface of an amazing career.

—Mitch Myers