Hearing Aide: Marty Wendell’s ‘Rock and Roll Days’

The result is something of a sonic scrapbook- a photo album composed of songs in lieu of pictures which serve as aural windows to the past through the scope of one man's experience. It is a joy to be invited down this hall of memories.

Ticonderoga native Marty Wendall has been a local superstar since the 1960’s, sharing the stage and touring with musical titans such as Carl Perkins, Arlo Guthrie and Johnny Cash. Drawing from a rich and storied career, nearly sixty years in the making, Wendell returns triumphantly in 2019 with Rock and Roll Days: A Celebration of Sun Records – a stalwart tribute to the early days of rock, and ultimately, a retrospective on the music that shaped his own career.

On a surface level, Rock and Roll Days stands as a straightforward rockabilly jaunt, full of groove and levity. The occasional solo troubadour, Wendell comes fully backed by his touring band this time around and delivers a clear, strong and confident performance. Subtitled “A Celebration of Sun Records,” Rock and Roll Days was crafted to pay homage to the legendary record company famously considered to have fostered the early development of Rock and Roll in the Mid to late 1950’s.

Originally founded in Memphis, TN, Sun Records was the support system that helped launch the careers of Sam Philips, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, among many others. Like young musicians of the time, it was this monumental moment in music history- the birth of rock and roll- that captured Wendell’s imagination like no other, inspiring him to pursue a career in music that would last the rest of his life. Returning to those early days with song, it is that same feeling of youthful inspiration that Wendell tries to preserve on the new album.

Combining a tasteful blend of new originals and time-honored standards, Rock and Roll Days plays like a love letter. Tracked “old school” in the recording studio (that is to say, live, with the recording musicians all together at the same time), Wendell and his tour band have seen to every detail in creating an album which would speak directly to the history from which is was inspired. The result is something of a sonic scrapbook- a photo album composed of songs in lieu of pictures which serve as aural windows to the past through the scope of one man’s experience. It is a joy to be invited down this hall of memories. Yet we are invited to look forward just as much as we look back thanks to the spattering of new tunes written specifically for the record and the refreshing sincerity of Wendell’s earnest delivery.

As a young man, Wendell first got his start playing for his church congregation in the 1950’s. Cementing his desire to pursue performance, Wendell went on to continue performing all through his college years. Venturing out of upstate New York in the mid 1960’s and heading into Greenwich Village, Wendell began working with producers who brought him into the recording studio for the first time. Here he produced hits such as “Hey Hey Mama,” “An Ode to Burtis Dean,” and “Bring the Circus Back to Town.” Since that time, Wendell has toured with John Anderson, Lacy J. Dalton, The Hager Twins, Bluesman, T. Graham Brown, The Statler Brothers, and The Carter Family. He has produced more than 10 albums to date and is one of a select few artists to have recorded music in Memphis’ historically renowned Sun Studios.

Those previously familiar with his work will delight in the re-recorded rockabilly version of “Hey Hey Mama,” arguably Wendell’s biggest hit and the one that gained him a supporting role on Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison album tour. Cash had remained a tremendous influence on Wendell throughout his entire life. This sentiment is later addressed during the latter half of the album on the heart felt single “Teardrops of Gold,” which is preceded by the story of how Cash came to Wendell in a dream to inspire the writing of that song. The album then closes with a recorded conversation between Cash and Wendell taken from the Folsom Prison tour in 1968.

With a life-long career to reflect upon, Wendell’s youthful enthusiasm for this music has lost none of its luster in his late adulthood. With timeless authenticity, Rock and Roll Days brings a wholesome and charming facet of one man’s life as a musician, from inspired young man to seasoned veteran, into sparking clarity.

Key Tracks: Rock and Roll Days, Blue Suede Shoes, Hey Hey Mama.