Martin Sexton speaks in a slow, sleepy drawl. His hushed voice trails off in soft-spoken phrases like a raspy whisper. It isn't until he laughs that you hear the deep guttural hack, the jagged guffaw that more closely recalls his singing voice. He has soul in his voice, his music and his lyrics. Although not apparent in his somnolent conversation, it is immediately obvious when he sings. He bends notes, drawing out color, sustaining words with dips and growls, yanking out emotion with arresting punch and cocky swagger. Soul music is at the root of his voice. It figures large in his vocal equation, the current sum of which is a "folk" singer in rock, soul and blues clothing.
Although he hails from Syracuse, New York, he sings like he was raised
deep in the Mississippi delta, his vocal technique honed by his love for
soul music. His songs are autobiographical and tell tales of self discovery
and personal reflections. As one of twelve children, Sexton claims to be
the black sheep of the family, heading down his own path, content to believe
that he is right, so don't confuse him with the facts. His distinct stage
personna and inimitable vocal style have garnered him a significant following
and a developing artist publishing agreement with Sony Publishing Corporation
who help pay for his demos and studio time while he shops for a label. In
the meantime he plays to coffeehouse audiences who are collectively wowed
by his entrancing performance.
"When I go onstage I am a different person and I get this kind of drawl
in my voice so that people think I am from the South. I didn't develop that
on purpose it just came to me probably because of the kind of music I like,"
Growing up in the '70s, Sexton was influenced by Stevie Wonder and other
soul singers from the era. Singing became a natural extension of his personality.
It was a way to distinguish himself from others. "I loved to sing in the
shower and I used to sing on the playground as a kid. All the other kids
would gather around me during recess in elementary school and I would sing
Stevie Wonder songs. He was my first real influence. Talking Book and Songs
In The Key Of Life where my two favorite albums," recalls Sexton.
His vocal style came came after he developed as a guitarist in high school,
playing in psychedelic bands. "We were really into the music of the '60s
and '70s, that nobody else liked at the time, which, of course, was part
of the appeal. We really liked the stuff by Led Zepplin, Hendrix, The Doors
and The Beatles because everybody else was listening to The Police and The
Cars," he continues, laughing. "I couldn't really sing and people would
come up to me after the gigs and say, 'You play nice guitar but you really
should get someone else to sing for you.'"
It wasn't until he answered an advertisement for a lead singer for a Top-40
band that he developed the style he has today. "The band I auditioned with
was playing this Huey Lewis and The News and Chaka Khan stuff that was popular
at the time and I passed the audition. It was great opportunity to develop
a stage personna and style because all I did was sing," he recalls, but quickly
adds, laughing "But I don't know if I could do it again without a guitar."
Recalling the saucy delivery of John Hiatt, the hypnotic meanderings of
Van Morrison, or even the tough-guy sex appeal of John Cougar, Sexton is
a vocal stylist with an obvious and unabashed debt to the hard driving delivery
of others equally influenced by soul music.
He hardly fits the profile of a folk singer and is on the folk scene
He has a well-established following in venues he knew nothing about prior
to coming to Boston. "I had no idea what a coffeehouse was or folk music
really," relates Sexton. "I came to Boston looking to join a band as a singer,
but when I got here I saw all these people playing their songs right in the
streets and subways, so I took it up myself."