WESTERLY — Layng Martine Jr. — the 81-year-old Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame songwriter who’s written songs for Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Reba McEntire and the Pointer Sisters — sat in a booth inside Kelley’s Deli one morning last week, sipping coffee and talking — with his usual charm, warmth and humility — about his family, his music and the making of his new album, “Music Man.”
“Music Man,” said Martine, began as “a family project” — a Christmas gift from his middle son, Tucker, a Grammy-nominated producer, engineer and musician.
Tucker, who also plays drums on the album, is well known for his production work with My Morning Jacket, Sufjan Stevens, Neko Case, The Decemberists and First Aid Kit as well as for the new Grammy-winning Madison Cunningham album.
“We did it strictly for the family, for the fun of it,” said Layng, as he described the time spent recording “Music Man” at Tucker’s Portland, Oregon-based music studio, Flora Recording and Playback.
“One Christmas Tucker gave me five days in his studio,” recalled Layng, “and he chose all the songs from the hundreds I’ve written since 1964, he also chose the musicians. I just shut up and sang!”
Layng, who got hooked on writing music when he was a young man and enchanted by the songs of Nat King Cole, Perry Como and Tony Bennett, has had a number of hits, including Elvis’ golden single, “Way Down;” The Pointer Sisters’ top ten “Should I Do it” and Trisha Yearwood’s “I Wanna Go Too Far.”
His song “Rub It In” was a number one country hit for Billy “Crash” Craddock in 1974 and became the long-running TV commercial “Plug It In, Plug It In.”
Layng was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1993 for co-writing Reba McEntire’s “The Greatest Man I Never Knew,” and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013.
The 12 songs Tucker chose for the album — including “Little Bit of Magic,” “Love you Back to Georgia” and “Summertime Lovin'” were all written by his dad between 1963 and 2016. The musicians he assembled include Peter Buck of R.E.M. fame; Bill Frisell, Laura Veirs and K.D. Lang.
The best part of making the album, “was being together,” said a smiling Layng who talks about his wife Linda (or, “my true north,” he calls his wife of 58 years) their three sons; Layng, Tucker and Mac; and their four grandchildren with a mix of awe and wonder.
“They’re all curious,” he said, “and Linda … well, she knows what matters.”
“She has endless courage, and perfect judgement in everything,” he said, still smiling. “She’s my compass.”
Layng’s 2019 memoir, “Permission to Fly,” was inspired by the enormous response he received to an love story he wrote about his relationship with Linda for the New York Times’ “Modern Love” section which became one of the most shared “Modern Love” columns ever.
A few years after they made the album, Layng said, Tucker played it for a friend who owns a small-but-storied record company.
“He loved it,” said Layng, “and he said, ‘I want to put that out.'”
“The next thing I knew there was a video team coming to Nashville and there were articles in Forbes and the Wall Street Journal,” said Layng with a laugh.
The album has been extremely well-received and has been getting a healthy amount of positive national attention.
American Songwriter called it “a fun, frisky, breezy listen” and gave it a “4 1/2 out of 5 stars.
Musician Patterson Hood called “Music Man” a “wonderful new album,” and a “damned fine record.”
“Their joyousness about the project translates into the sound of the record,” Hood wrote, “as it literally sounds like a wonderful time occurring and being captured onto tape.”
Critic Barry Mazor who reviewed “Music Man” recently in the Wall Street Journal said while Layng may have “mostly stayed behind the scenes during his decades-long career,” he sings his own songs “with felicitous country style” on the album.
Gary Stoller, a founding journalist for Conde Nast Traveler magazine, wrote a lengthy piece about Layng last month for Forbes in which he asks if “vibrant” might be the best word “to describe an 81-year-old songwriter and adventurer now releasing his first record album?”
Podcaster and musician Rhett Miller, lead singer of the country rock band Old 97’s, calls Layng “the real deal” and pleads with a new generation of music writers to listen to the interview he conducted with Layng last May.
“There’s just something about the way he approaches life,” Miller said, “and how he’s decided to have this beautiful life … there’s something about the way he’s approached six decades .. he’s a happy, sweet, fulfilled, human being and he’s my new hero.”
Next week, local audiences will be able to meet the Martines for themselves when the father-and-son team make their way to the United for a program called “An Evening with Layng and Tucker Martine,” which will serve as a benefit for Literacy Volunteers of Washington County.
The two plan to play a bit of the album, talk about the fun of working with one another, and give a sense of what a day is like in their very different music business roles: songwriter and record producer.
“It will be an intimate look into the process of writing songs and producing records for a living,” said the literacy group’s executive director Mary Carol Kendzia in a statement about the event.
“Layng will talk about how a song can evolve from a songwriter’s musings and strummings at the kitchen table to a song heard all over the world by a famous artist,” Kendzia added. “Tucker will talk about choosing artists to work with, choosing what songs to record for an album, how he envisions what the finished recording of a given song should sound like, the high interpersonal drama that often comes with recording a band, and many other hidden subtleties of his job.”
The event will be “a rare opportunity to hear Layng play and sing a song or two in its simple guitar/vocal form,” she said, “then hear the demos made of the songs, then hear the records resulting from the demos so you can see all the steps as the songs become finished products.”
“Tucker will expand on the role of a record producer,” she added, “and that of an engineer in the making of a record.”
A reception will follow the presentation, Kendzia said where wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served and copies of “Music Man” along with Layng’s memoir, “Permission to Fly” will be available for purchase.
“It’ll be “a little music and a little talk,” said Layng. “I’ll play a song or two on guitar so people can hear what a song sounds like just working ‘at the kitchen table’, we’ll talk about the songs on the album, play a few, and allow for questions and answers.”
“We’re not really entertainers,” Layng said, “so we wondered what else we could do that would be of interest to people.”
They hit upon their job descriptions.
“That’s what we’ll talk about,” he said. “… what does a record producer do? What’s the full role of a songwriter? We’ll tell what everyday life is like earning a living as a record producer and as a songwriter.'”
Plus, he said, “Every dollar from any CD or album sales go to the literacy volunteers.”
Twenty-two year-old Westerly native Maggie Richins has known the Martine family for most of her life and is quite familiar with the literacy organization and its mission.
Her grandfather — the late Robert W. Richins — was a friend of Layng’s and a Literacy Volunteers of Washington County board member.
Her “Grandpa” said, rented space from Layng for his business in the Watch Hill building where the Martines have spent their summers for decades.
“Layng knows how to put people at ease,” said Richins. “It comes naturally to him.”
“He also knows how to make other people feel good,” she added. “He does a good job of making people feel special and he appreciates the tiniest things.”
For instance, said Richins, who is now a chemist at Pfizer working on a breast cancer drug, when she was a seventh-grader at Westerly Middle School she accompanied her grandfather to Nashville for Layng’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“It was a black tie event,” Richins said, recalling the ceremony that took place at the Grand Ole Opry House. “Layng’s family and friends were there … and so was Taylor Swift.”
“Layng looked at me and knew that I was eyeing her,” Richins said with a laugh. “And he was nice enough to walk me over and introduce me to her.”
“It was so amazing,” she said. “And so very Layng.”
“An Evening with Layng and Tucker Martine,” will take place Wednesday, July 26 at 6 p.m. at the United. A reception will follow the presentation with wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served and where copies of “Music Man” along with Layng’s memoir, “Permission to Fly” will be available for purchase. Tickets are $75 at www.unitedtheatre.org.