When the global pandemic hit last March, Vancouver guitarist Dave Martone was doing pretty well financially. He wasn’t living in a mansion like the guy from Nickelback, mind you, but he was busy as hell, playing an average of 35 gigs a month.
With six different agents booking him into local casinos and high-end lounges like Gotham and the Fairmont Pacific Rim, he actually played 48 gigs one month.
“That was a lot of gigs,” Martone recalls, almost wistfully, from his home in Coquitlam, “and it was a lot of income! So then that all stopped. And at this point, right now, I am only doing about 12 gigs a month. So that’s a far cry from what it used to be.”
Martone counts himself lucky, though, compared to some of the other musicians he knows who rely solely on live performances to pay the bills. For them, the loss of potential stages has been devastating.
“If you keep all your eggs in one basket,” he posits, “then what are you gonna do? Fortunately, I’ve spread myself around where I can record, I can produce, I can perform, I can educate. All those little avenues bring me different income streams.”
As well as recording a full-length album for a client at his home studio, Brainworks, Martone has managed to pay the bills through his role as an instructor at Douglas College in its music-technology and contemporary-guitar departments. Although he’s lost about two-thirds of his previous income, the 50-year-old believes that things are getting “better and better”. He’s adapted well to the techniques of online education and stays positive about the restrictions COVID-19 has wrought.
“It’s nicer to [teach] in person,” he says, “but there are benefits from being online. Just certain video things, file-sharing, and documentation. And there’s also travel time that’s kind of erased for both parties. You normally gotta drive, you gotta park, it’s raining all the time. If you can cut that right out, it’s worth its weight in gold sometimes.”
One job that’s kept the upbeat picker busy of late was recording a guitar solo for his friend, mentor, and former tourmate Joe Satriani. The Bay Area guitar god’s latest project, Stripped x Three, collects the music from three Satriani albums but with all the guitar solos removed so players can add their own to the full backing tracks. Martone chose to solo over “Premonition”, the opening cut from 2010’s Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards, because that was the album Satriani was promoting when he and Martone first toured together.
Another reason was that it was in the key of C-sharp minor. Martone notes: “That’s just a beautiful key that I love.”
Besides Satriani, Martone has managed to work with such acclaimed six-string slingers as Yngwie Malmsteen, Jennifer Batten, Tosin Abasi, Greg Howe, Paul Gilbert, and Marty Friedman. There was one other guitar hero that he had always wanted to meet one day, but cancer ruined any hope of that .
“I was fucked up for three or four days,” Martone says of the effect Eddie Van Halen’s October death had on him. “I’m even emotional thinkin’ about it right now. He was such, such.... He was so influential to me—and so many other people—because he epitomized fun in playing amazing stuff. He was always smiling. Always. He wasn’t like all these metal guys, doom ’n’ gloom, lookin’ like they’re gonna rip each other’s arms off.
“He was smilin’, he was happy, he had cool hair. You know, he had a wicked sound. He wrote cool pop songs; he played his ass off. And he made me want to play. So when I heard of his passing, it left a massive hole in my heart.”
While Van Halen’s death was a terrible blow to his fans, guitar freaks can take solace in the fact that Martone is doing his best to keep incredibly fast playing (“shredding”) alive and well. He has written two books on it—Shredding the Blues: Heavy Metal Guitar Meets the Blues and Serious Shred: Advanced Scales—and was voted among the top four underground shredders in North America by Guitar One magazine. He also put his shredding abilities to good use on a cover of the late Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" that he recorded with Nickelback, and which was released as an animated video on YouTube in August.
Would he say that shredding is his forte?
“I would say that, as adolescent boys, it was something that we all wanted to do. We all wanted to have the fastest car and drive as fast as we could and burn the tires up and do the craziest things that we could. People say you slow down when you get older, and it could be that. Or sometimes you realize that there’s more to music than the virtuosity and speed—that it’s just one of the parts of the equation.
“[Shredding] was what put me on the map, I would say, but I equally love playing something with a clean guitar, slow or just melancholy. I have so many loves of different styles of music, from Allan Holdsworth—which is just chordal, atmospheric sounds—to insane amounts of virtuosity, like the song I wrote called ‘Dinky Pinky’, which almost blows my hands off every time I try and play it.
“And anywhere in between.”