Marty Falle: Virgin on the Bluegrass
by Stephen Pitalo
Marty Falle is a free spirit and a kind soul. At his home near the ocean in South Carolina, he has a sign in the kitchen that reads, “My home is the open sea where stars shine bright, and my soul is free,” which Marty said kind of sums it up.
“Music is my first memory,” Falle said. “I was with my mom, at my childhood home in Parma, Ohio. The instrumental ‘Love is Blue’ was playing on an old Zenith radio in the living room while rays of sunlight lit up the room. My mom was cleaning and humming along. Whenever I hear that song, I am instantly there.”
Falle’s father had records that included decidedly un-country tunes, specifically Burt Bacharach, Frank Sinatra, and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. He recalls his parents dancing to “This Guy’s in Love with You” in the living room, and Falle filled his days playing 45s repeatedly, everything from “American Pie” by Don McClean to “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” by Lynn Anderson.
“And then there’s Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline,'” he said. “I eventually saved enough for a stereo, blaring Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, and Rush, much to the chagrin of the neighbors.”
Everyone in Falle’s childhood home was required to choose an instrument, take lessons, and practice. Falle chose the viola in second grade, then tenor saxophone in 4th grade, and then in 9th grade added bass, guitar, and piano. Then he got the itch to join a rock band with some other football players at school.
“I told them I played bass, even though I did not have a clue. I remember taking my paper route money and putting ten dollars down on a Kay bass from Parma Music, and I paid it monthly until it was paid off. I could not afford a bass speaker, so I made one from scratch. I used to play high school dances, and I remember my speaker cabinets shaking violently, so much so that I tried to keep it from falling off the stage riser with one leg while I tried to sing and play ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Gimme Three Steps.’ At one dance, it all came crashing down, smashing on the dance floor.”
As much as the musicianship and playing were there, the singing did not develop in the same manner, as Falle had joined the choir in high school to get out of detention but learned that his voice could be an asset as well, once his choir director helped him embrace his vocal range.
“We did ‘Messiah’ by George Frideric Handel, and ‘Magnificat in D Major’ by Johann Sebastian Bach,” Falle said. “I performed in musicals like ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ and I joined the barbershop quartet, pop ensemble, and orchestra. The best part was getting an ‘A’ for just showing up. In 10th grade, we put together a 50s rock and roll doo-wop group and did Dion’s ‘Teenager in Love’ and the Silhouettes’ ‘Get a Job.’ The next year I did ‘Suite Judy Blue Eyes’ with my friends Ron and Lenny. I learned the Stephen Stills guitar parts when I was home with mononucleosis for a month.”
Things got more serious when Falle moved on to Ohio University when he became enamored with Appalachian music, and soon he embraced a cappella and rock band opportunities. However, country and bluegrass were like bolts of lightning striking full force once Falle moved to Eastern Kentucky Coal Country.
“I got a dog, a pick-up truck, and a job as a traveling salesman for a Lawbook Company. The locals welcomed me and turned me on to Maker’s Mark bourbon, bluegrass music at the Renfro Valley, Dwight Yoakum, and a bunch of other fun stuff. My truck stereo blared out Steve Earle, Keith Whitley, Bill Monroe in places like Harlan, Pikeville, and Pineville. It was strange and beautiful at the same time. Over the years, I have lived in Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, and now South Carolina. The ‘real’ Appalachia influences my songwriting to this day.”
“I started fronting cover bands as a singer and guitar player. It was fun for a while, but deep down, I wanted to be 100 percent Marty, whatever that was. I finally went all-in with my first record, ‘Ohio,’ and have done originals ever since. One day, I decided to film a video of my song ‘Hoochie Coochie Gal from the Buckeye State’ with some friends and a talented line dance group.”
The video quickly went viral and soared to 3M views. Then CMT reached out to Marty and started playing the song in heavy rotation during prime time.
“It was not long after this that I made the big leap to Nashville is where I met Jonathan Yudkin and Billy Decker and learned how to record and mix the right way. Jonathan is an essential partner in producing my re-issue of ‘Ohio,’ ‘Long, Long Road,’ ‘Bloody Coal,’ and ‘Virgin on the Bluegrass.’ Billy has mixed over 50 of my tunes. County Q and Westwood are like family to me, and I am grateful for the friends I have made and the music we create.”
Falle’s bluegrass record evolved from his love of the genre and the dream team he assembled. The group included legendary producer Jonathan Yudkin, Grammy-winner/Dobro player Rob Ickes; acoustic bassist Michael Bub of the Del McCoury Band; and David Grier, guitarist for Corey Walker, the 2014 IBMA Momentum Award for Instrumentalist of the year recipient.
“Marty Slayton personifies what makes harmony vocals special,” said Falle about his secret “vocal” weapon. “She has become as important as anybody to my songs, and Marty has recorded 50 original songs with me at Warner Bros, Mix Dream, County Q, Westwood, and Omni Studio. I marvel at her abilities, plus she is a great person.”
Yudkin is a fan of Falle and said he is a seeker who is full of surprises. “He seeks stories, history, legends, and paths in creativity,” Yudkin said. “If you tell Marty a local legend about Bigfoot, then a week later, he will have a song called ‘Midnight at Bigfoot Ridge.’ Also, His fresh sound comes from the fact that he is not trying to emulate bluegrass bands of the past or present. Instead, he is creating his songs out of his love of music and not influenced by other artists, which I enjoy the most about working with him. His songs are always unpredictable and surprising.”
Falle’s new country version of ‘Superman Jimmie,’ featured on his new album, got the attention of NASCAR and requested to use it on broadcasts.
“Truthfully, there are two sides to me, the corporate guy and the singer-songwriter guy. I could never get rid of either one. I remember the feeling of having enough money to buy a pair of snake-skinned boots and a new set of Goodyear Wranglers (with the raised white lettering) for my truck.”
His recordings ‘Ohio,’ ‘Dingtown,’ ‘Bloody Coal,’ and others help track the journey of a lifeline bluegrass musician with a steadfast devotion to the music, with some hard lessons learned in the process.
“A lot has changed since I wrote ‘Ohio’ and recorded the original demos with Keith Whitley’s guitar player Lou Toomey in Kentucky,” Falle said. “I wanted to do a full album, so I worked with some talented bandmates at the time, including Vince Ruby, Russ Hagler, Mark Matthews, and Adam Mercer in a studio in Akron. It was there we made ‘Hoochie Coochie Gal from the Buckeye State’ (which made it on CMT), ‘I am a Cowboy,’ and ‘Moving Day.’ After that, Vince and I started cutting corners, and it reflected in the recordings.”
Falle met producer Jonathan Yudkin, who had worked with Mutt Lange, Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Keith Urban. Yudkin took an interest in helping Falle develop as an artist. After long hours at studio County Q, Falle changed how he wrote and recorded. The studio’s motto was, “We make two things here at County Q: music and friends.” Yudkin became Falle’s producer, and the two recorded more than 60 songs with Paul Scholton, Sam Hunter, and Jay Vern filling out the roster for production.
“Lastly, the process is never complete until Billy Decker mixes. Billy’s mixes have appeared in over 50M albums sold and billions of streams, including 15 #1 singles. Billy is a generous man, and we have become close friends over our ten years together. I look forward to the final mix day at Westwood, sitting at the board with Billy and Jonathan, listening to the full record.” When finished, it’s like Christmas morning.
When asked how Falle and his family kept their health and sanity during the pandemic, Falle said, “I feel terrible and pray for those who have lost family and friends due to Covid. We have been fortunate to this point. My wife Amber and my 9-year-old son Macklin get through with a strong faith in God, Lego building, and Amazon — who knew you never had to go inside a store? I am blessed to have a talented wife that homeschools our son. Macklin plays tennis and piano and routinely beats me in Chess, Stratego, and a variety of card games.”
As much as Falle is excited about his new album, he’s already written the songs for his next record.
“I can’t wait to get back to Nashville. We are also planning to perform the album Virgin on the bluegrass live for TV taping at SIR Nashville Soundstage.”