Forty years in the music business is a long, long time. In honesty, most young, aspiring musicians today would be absolutely delighted to make it to half of that, forging a successful career in the industry. Or in other words, being able to survive without getting a ‘real’ job.
Actually forty years is a life-time. That’s longer than Metallica have been running. And Bon Jovi. Heck, even Motley Crue. To still be performing today, no matter the audience size, is one hell of an achievement and one that should be celebrated appropriately. And we feel coming to Belfast fits that perfectly.
You may know Eric Martin from a number of different acts over the years. Undoubtedly, most would know him as the soft, beautiful face of Mr. Big. You may know him from his own Eric Martin Band. Or you could be that fond of him you will remember that he was the first person to open for AC/DC on their first ever American tour. There is many a feat and mystery behind the man and I was excited about the opportunity of speaking with him.
“I am one lucky man to do a job that I love. I love performing in all those countries,” he explains, “I know where the best restaurants and the secret hole in the wall bars are. I’ve gone to the museums, the zoos, the laundry mats, the 5-Star and No-Star hotels. The sights, the sounds and the good and bad smells of everywhere.” Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine. It’s easy to forget that ‘To Be With You’ was a number one hit in 15 countries around the world. Travel comes with the success of that.
But Martin remains upbeat. “It’s worth it all with those hours cramped in your seat on the plane, changing planes, work visa problems, standing in line at immigration sometimes for hours.” Looking from the outside-in as a fan of music, we can look up to our idols as they walk on stage, looking cool and collected addressing the room as if they have been sleeping well, rested appropriately and fed and watered with the acceptable number of nutrients and the finest flavoured water. But as most musicians would tell you, it is a lot of airports, hotels and travelling in buses. But you can judge Martin’s character by the end of his reply. “Would I trade this circus life for anything else? Hell no!”
While his biggest success came about with Mr. Big, I was keen to find out his life growing up and how he got into music in the first place. His father was a jazz drummer and he admits being drawn to that instrument as a means of staying close to his military father. “My father was stationed in Germany & Italy in the late 60’s when I was a young kid. I played in this band called The Buzzzzz with some neighborhood boys and this older bass player who was stationed there as well. The singer didn’t show up to practice so I stepped up. I was never afraid of the spot light challenge that goes with this job.” He talks like it was no big deal, not knowing how far this would take him.
“My first taste of music was Big Band, usually a large group of musicians playing jazz, and awesome singers like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Otis Redding….The Rolling Stones. I wanted to be Jagger. When I was younger, my girl pals thought I looked like him.” He goes on to list further influences, referencing Dylan, Hendrix, The Beatles and on. Not many acts are left out and it’s refreshing when he continues onto current musicians. “Foo Fighters, John Mayer, Rival Sons, Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeshi…” An ever-evolving appetite and love for music that continues to drive the beast inside.
As I mentioned earlier, the Eric Martin Band [also known as 415] had their own successes and remarkable ones at that. The band performed hundreds of shows in clubs and school dances and their reputation continued to grow when they signed to Elektra/Asylum Records leading to becoming opening acts on massive arena tours with acts like ZZ Top and Journey. While he enjoyed his time with his band mates, Eric recalls, “I just missed playing in a hard rock band. I had been writing on my own for too long throughout the late 80’s.”
“Billy [Sheehan] and I were just getting to know each other through a hook up from our friend, producer and record mogul Mike Varney. I had an electric piano set up in the middle of the room. I had written “Big Love” and “Rock & Roll Over” on the keys for this special occasion. Billy had these gigantic amps and plugging in his famous Yamaha bass. Paul [Gilbert] comes in with these day-glow orange & green colored amps, skinny as a teenager and cranking it to 11. To be honest, it scared the crap out of me, I was looking for the exit sign.” But he remained and jammed with his new bandmates with Patrick Torpey joining on drums. “We spent a year playing showcases for every record company on the planet. We worked hard…but it paid off when Atlantic Records signed us in 1988/89.We made our first record at Fantasy Recording studios in Berkeley, California. It was a magical time for us.”
Mr. Big have released nine studio albums to date – granted, the last three have been since the band reunited in 2011 for What If. I asked him what kept the band going over the years. “The love of playing live has held us together. We put on a good rockin’ show and we were proud of that! We have respect for each other and a brotherhood bond probably because of the years we spent together on the road…we went through a lot to make this happen.” His honesty is refreshing but still surprises me. “A few marriages went down the drain, the record business had a shake up and the musical climate dried up. Hell, we broke up but a handful of years later we dusted the demons off our backs and kept going like nothing ever ever happened.”
I questioned the break-up of the band in the first place and his feelings on it today. “There was all kinds of misplaced emotions from Billy & I. We lost our focus and our friendship took a swan dive. The fact that Paul packed up without a warning shot in ‘96 was a punch in the chest. Bloody shame, we were so good together. Looking back on it, maybe if I played the dutiful singer and didn’t stir the pot so much, we wouldn’t have disappeared into the mist for 8 years or you could blame it on the stars… they just didn’t line up.”
The music will never be forgotten though. For many, their music was the soundtrack of their lives and that will never be lost over a fall-out. “Our fans are like a family. We all grew up together and they know everything.” He recalls certain concerts and highlights from his career, reminiscing those moments that will live on. “Those sold out shows at Budokan arena in Tokyo are pretty memorable. Last year was magical, headlining that festival on Santos beach in Sao Paulo for 100,000 fans – pretty great! Opening back to back tours for RUSH at stadiums and arenas. Making a live album [Live at the Warfield] in my hometown of San Francisco in front of all my family and friends. My mother was on the second balcony first row. I could see her eyes, she was beaming.”
It’s in moments like those you realise what this is all about. This man is still a boy living his dreams. He is still in that moment of stepping out from behind the kit and walking to the front of the stage to address the audience. Each one like new friends with his family in the balcony. He turns 60 in a few years time. I ask him what advice he would give his teenage self and aside from the enemy he has made out of Jack Daniels, he replies with “When you least expect it, big things will happen for you…trust me.”
Eric Martin will perform at the Belfast Empire on Friday, October 26th 2018. For tickets, click here.