You might be surprised to learn that formerly local musical mainstay Josh Martin moved to Los Angeles in 2017 after his wife was offered a job with the ACLU out there. Yes, Martin still maintains a regular local presence. And after graduating from the long-defunct College of Santa Fe (and working at SFR as business manager) followed by years playing with acts like Mary & Mars, Joe West and many others, why shouldn’t he? Mainly a bassist, the multi-instrumentalist badass returns to town again this week to kick out the Grateful Dead covers with his band Detroit Lightning alongside local heavyweights Ben Wright, Paul Feathericci and Kevin Zoernig (7:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 10. $15. Tumbleroot Brewery & Distillery, 2791 Agua Fría St., (505) 308-3808). This interview has been edited for length and clarity. (Alex De Vore)
What have you been up to lately, musically, in California?
Oh, man, that might be one to skip. I’ve had some difficulty jumping into a music scene in my situation—having two teenagers…and being a bit of a shy person. It’s been tough for me to jump into a scene. But I think it was more of a pandemic thing. I’ve been working on my solo act. It’s not like I play out with it, but I’ve been working on it long term. I’m teaching myself to play the chromatic harmonica while I accompany myself on the guitar, like a guitar and harmonica kind of thing. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do with it, but that’s been my main focus. I’m not much of a songwriter, but I’m definitely adapting a lot of standard and classic songs to what I do. I’m working on more jazzy stuff because it’s the chromatic harmonica and you can play it almost like a saxophone. My last covers I was working on were a song by The Weeknd, a song by Sia, and I guess what I’m trying to do is adapt current music, pop music and jazz to the folkiness of the guitar and harmonica. I’m picturing it more like a live thing, a performance thing in maybe a restaurant or a cruise ship.
What’s with you and the Grateful Dead and what about Detroit Lightning makes it worth it to return so often?
When I was a young…let’s say hippie kid on the East Coast growing up in New Jersey, it seemed like people like me—the people who dressed like me and talked like me and wanted to do the same drugs I wanted to do—all went to see the Grateful Dead, including my older brother and some kids I looked up to…when I was in marching band. The coolest kid in the marching band asked if I wanted to go see the Grateful Dead my freshman year in high school, and I was blown away by the experience. And my parents, strangely enough, because they were pretty conservative, somehow allowed me to go to these Dead shows with sketchier older high school kids.
It took me a little bit to jive with the music because I was more of a Beatles/Tom Petty/rock ‘n’ roll kid; like classic rock. So it took me a bit to get to know the songs and all the different sounds that the Grateful Dead could make, but once I got into the scene and found out I could meet girls…go to this endless party, I was completely signed up. Ben and Paul...were from Connecticut…and they had kind of the same experience. When we all came together at the College of Santa Fe, the Dead were a common musical language.
In 2012, Josh Johns, who was managing the Second Street Railyard, asked us to put together a night of Dylan and the Dead, but we had so much fun with the Grateful Dead material that we tossed the Dylan stuff to the side. And the New Mexico Deadheads came down from the mountains. Word spread. We hadn’t even come up with the name Detroit Lightning yet. Now, usually every time we announce a show at Tumbleroot—which has kind of become our home over the past six or seven years—believe it or not, a lot of these shows are sellouts.
Do you ever miss being part of the Santa Fe scene on the regular?
I miss being there for all the concerts and my friends’ shows and art openings. Now I see all these events on Facebook, and it just makes me real sad that I’m not there as an active everyday member of the community. But as it happens, in September I produced a music festival in Madrid based around the whole Dead thing, and I was around for two weeks; I do that enough…come out for a week or so, so it still feels like I’m a member of the community even though I can’t be there every day.
Definitely the weather in California softens the blow, but after [my kids] finish high school I could absolutely see moving back to Santa Fe, and that’s kind of the plan in the back of my head. I’ve always thought the size of the fishbowl is perfect.