Some musicians rest on their laurels once they reach 70 years old.
Not Marty Wendell. The Rockabilly Hall of Fame member recently released a new album of original songs called “A Real Good Run.” And as the name suggests, the 13 songs on the album find Wendell looking back upon his life and coming to terms with his age.
“There’s some reflections on the aging process itself, and I don’t think there are too many albums out there that are dealing with those issues and emotions,” said Wendell, who lives in northern Rensselaer County.
The song that started Wendell down his road of reflection is “Windin’ Down,” which he wrote in 2011.
“We were actually unloading the bus after a concert, and you know, I had that sobering thought that the road doesn’t go on and that all things end,” said Wendell. “I started writing down the words to this … song, and it seemed once I did that, the other songs started coming rather quickly.”
Though the subject matter is heavy, the album is not loaded with ballads. Tracks such as “Roar Again” and “When It’s Time to Say Goodbye” offer some old-school country swagger, while “Pushin’ the Envelope” brings back some early rock and roll style. Still, the arrangements are sparse with plenty of acoustic guitar, dobro and piano.
Three people influenced the direction of Wendell’s new album – multi-instrumentalist Jefferson Thomas, who worked with Wendell on several earlier albums; creative consultant Kelly Bird, who added her backing vocals on several songs; and Wendell’s son Sean, who co-produced the album with Thomas and created the arrangements.
“I often tell people he keeps me going because he always challenges me both in the studio, in writing and in concerts,” Marty said of Sean, who is also his bandleader in live shows. “And he’s always trying to help me adapt to the new technology, which is always a challenge. He’s really a great blessing in my life.”
Steel guitarist Robby Turner is also featured prominently on Wendell’s album. Turner – who’s played with country music legend Waylon Jennings and the supergroup The Highwaymen with Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson – also wrote some of the liner notes on the CD.
“It was a privilege to work with Marty and Sean Wendell on this record and I look forward to future sessions with them,” Turner wrote. “These songs are real and reality seems harder to find in today’s modern music.”
Turner is one of a myriad of classic country musicians Wendell has met and played with during his 50-year career. Along his path, Wendell has met and toured with Cash, the Statler Brothers and the Carter Family.
“It was just a wonderful thing, and they treated you like you were no different,” said Wendell. “It wasn’t like, ‘You’re kind of a very minor artist, so we don’t give you any time.’ You’re just one of the gang, and that’s how they always treated me.”
Cash was a big influence in Wendell’s career. Wendell said he learned to play the guitar by listening and playing along to Cash’s first album. Then, when Wendell got to meet “The Man in Black” backstage at a 1963 concert, the two of them hit it off so well that Cash missed his cue to take the stage three times while they were playing music together.
Wendell continues to tour – though these days, it’s usually during the summer months, when he and his band can play community stages and organization halls such as the Elks Club around the Northeast. Wendell also recently performed a solo acoustic show at legendary folk coffeehouse Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, and he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a performer at WAMC’s Linda Norris Auditorium in Albany.
Though Wendell concentrates his touring efforts close to home, his music is being discovered worldwide, thanks to digital outlets such as iTunes and Spotify. And while he may not be a devotee of digital downloading himself, Wendell said he appreciates what it has done for him.
“It’s certainly a way to reach people that we never had before,” said Wendell. “The big advantage is that around the world, people can access that. I’ve had albums that have sold as far away as Norway and China.”
And as long as people continue discovering his music, Marty Wendell will continue to write and perform it.
“I’ve really kept with it,” said Wendell. “Through it all, it’s something I’ve never let go of, and as long as I’m blessed with the good health to be able to keep doing it, we don’t have any retirement plans at present.”