Today’s edition of Under The Street Light with Dave McMahon comes from Martin Cummins, better known as The Stonecold Hobo. The Stone Cold Hobo's will release their debut album in the very near future so I decided to get to know Martin more before the launch.
When did you first realise that you wanted to be a musician?
I have always been a musician but I decided to become full time and give it a real go in 2012 after a stint in hospital, and a near death experience involving alcohol!
How did you get started?
Picked up guitar at age 5. There was always a guitar in the house, two of my older brothers played and I would be encouraged to learn backing chords of songs so that they could practice. I have fond memories of playing a 12 bar blues riff in A over and over and over! Also I am told that I used to sing myself to sleep (while keeping the rest of the house awake)
Who did you listen to when you were growing up?
Anything that I could get my hands on. My first record purchase was ‘Doo Doo Doo, Daa Daa Daa by The Police. Loved The Police but that record is not their best, I didn’t know that then. I would listen to records that my brothers had. I remember Alice Cooper, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, lots of punk. Later I got into Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Jethro Tull, Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher, lots of folky stuff too and a load of Muddy Waters. Just before I left for England, my boss at the 24 hour garage where I worked gave me a tape of Grand Funk Railroad and I played it to death.
How did you get the name “The Stonecold Hobo”?
Two answers. ‘Stonecold’ because I am an alcoholic who no longer imbibes. I have been sober since Feb 7th 2012; and ‘Hobo’ because when I returned to Ireland in 2010, the government refused to recognise me as an Irish citizen. They effectively made me homeless and told me that I didn't exist on the system. I actually had to register myself at the local Homeless Aid shelter in order to prove ‘habitual residency’. The word Hobo is defined as a travelling or migrant worker, and a homeless person. As a gigging musician, It is an accurate description although I do live with my sister in her house!.
How did The Hobo's form?
When I came home I tried to restart my old band Nightflight (circa 1985 1987) but I was drinking heavily. It lasted for only two practice sessions before the band quit and reformed without me under a new name and on the same day! It was funny being sacked from my own band. Eventually, after my stint in hospital and then Rehab, I decided to go out on my own as The Stonecold Hobo, just playing acoustic slide blues. I could not get anyone to play with me at first, nobody in town was into it. Cover bands ruled the local scene. I hooked up with a double bassist and drummer and we did a few gigs as a three piece called ‘The Stonecold Hobo and The Mojos’. The gigs were very well received, but their work commitments prevented them and therefore me, from doing gigs. The crunch came when I was offered a bunch of gigs that we couldn't do because the guys were working or on holidays so I had to let them go. Funnily enough, it was the rhythm section from the band that sacked me that I eventually ended up with. Now both bands are doing well and we often gig together. They are called Dead Mans Foot. My older brother ‘Zap’ joined full-time at around this stage too on harmonica. Mac Thedrummer is my old drummer from Nightflight and Shane O’Brien is on bass. I shortened the name to The Stonecold Hobos because it was too long for fitting on posters.There also was a band in town called ‘The Mojos’ causing confusion.
When and where did you play your first gig?
I think it was in Skerries at some Biker rally when I was fifteen. I remember being more scared on the bus on the way up as it was full of drunken hairy bikers! We did a half hour set of Jethro Tull type stuff and I think they had mercy on us as we were so young! As the Hobo, it was a support slot for Dead Mans Foot (Irony) at The Well in Drogheda. I wore a straw hat and braces on my jeans finished off with the biggest, cheapest pair of sunglasses I could find. It was awesome!
What has been your favourite venue to play?
That's a tough one. In the UK it has to be the Hippodrome in Bristol. I once did a benefit concert for a friend who was training to become an actor. World class venue and I was in my twenties so a memorable experience. In Ireland I would have to say the Spirit Store in Dundalk. It’s been done up and extended in the last few years and it really has a great vibe going on. The sound engineer is first class and the staff are very friendly. Gypsy Rose in Dublin is another favourite. A great spot for blues/rock music right in the middle of Dublin.
What was your favourite concert that you went to see?
I haven’t been to many. ZZ Top was my first major event, Dublin around 1985. I was 15 and traveled up on my own. It was a great experience but I was so far away from the front I could only just about make them out on stage. Paul Weller in Cardiff was a good one, not quite blues but I love most of his stuff. I went to the Electric Picnic last year and was blown away by Sinead O’Connor, Blondie, Robert Plant, and lots of others. I think the ticket prices are a bit much and it has become more of a rave than a music concert so I won’t be going back unless I’m playing at it, which is also unlikely!
How much do other musicians influence your music?
All music has an influence on all music. I love what Jack White is doing. Gary Cooper Clarke is also an influence, Sea-sick Steve is an obvious comparison but I am influenced by lots of stuff. I incorporate a few Led Zep riffs into my own songs as an homage to them, but at the moment I am smothering my ears with Muddy Waters and Elmore James etc. I have collected a lot of compilation blues CD’s and over the years would listen to them without really knowing who was singing what song. So they have all collectively influenced my music.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Recently I supported CrowBlackChicken at the Gypsy Rose. That was an awesome gig, and at the end I was invited to join the band for the last number. It was ‘John The Revelator’ by Blind Willie Johnson and we rocked it. Some chemistry took place on the stage that night and the whole room knew it. Last year (2014) the whole band took part in The Blackstairs Blues Festival in Enniscorthy. We played three full shows, but the final one went on for four hours. The band on after us failed to turn up and it was the last gig of the festival. We obliged the crowd and the organisers by agreeing to play on, and that gig is now part of local folklore.
You’ve recently finished working on the debut album, can you tell us the title and release date?
No title, just The Stonecold Hobos. I suppose it should be Volume One or something.
What can people expect from the album?
It’s a collection of our favourite songs to perform at gigs. There are three original compositions and the rest are re-interpretations of old blues songs. We decided to make it because people kept asking us at gigs, ‘Do you have a CD?’. Well we do now. I am studying Music and Audio Production in Dundalk at the moment, so you can expect plenty more releases in the near future. The next one will feature more original material. I also plan to make a solo album.
You have been described before as “A mix of Gallagher and Zeppelin with a bit of Muddy Waters on the side”. How would you describe your music?
That rings true for the band. We do play loud and fast. There aren't many slow songs in the set. My solo set is a bit more laid back. You can only do so much with a cutlery box and a suitcase!
How did you go about building your own instruments?
The idea for the Cutlery Box Guitar came when the fireplace in my sisters house was being replaced. They ripped out the mantelpiece which was a solid piece of mahogany. I thought to myself that would make a good guitar. It has been in the house for over fifty years and has seen my whole family grow up, it would have been rude to dump it. The cutlery box was donated by my lady friend Joanne Burns, and the electricals I salvaged from an old Kay guitar that was busted. I had help from a luthier friend, Martin Levins and Mac Thedrummer was involved in the build. You can see photos at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.499781336788792.1073741854.292119257555002&type=3
The Rhythm n Blues Suitcase idea I borrowed from my old mate Eddie Martin. A fine Blues-man who is very busy these days in Europe. We used to live next to each other in Bristol and became good friends over the years. He is a master harmonica player as well as a skilled guitarist and he has many albums under his belt. His one man band show is amazing.
Do you think your music appeals to an older generation or are you seeing more and more young people at your gigs?
Yes, most definitely. I think the blues has largely been forgotten, but it will never go away. every 10 years or so there is a revival, so we are overdue at this point. I am seeing a younger audience at gigs but still mainly over 25s. These days there is a fine line between Rock and Blues so we get a lot of Rock fans too. The Strypes are introducing youngsters to the music of the 60s beat era so I think that maybe in the next few years we'll see more young people delving deeper and finding the origins in the blues.
Who do you currently listen to?
I’m listening to a lot of pre-war blues. My good lady friend gets me a Blues calendar every year for Christmas. There is a CD accompanying it. Most of the recording quality is bad but the songs are great. There is usually a blues compilation in the CD player so thats always on. I browse YouTube a lot and listen to other peoples suggestions. Mac Thedrummer posts a bizarre collection of his favs and he’s never disappointed me with his choices.
What are your top 5 albums of all time and why?
I wouldn't know where to begin!
Whats the best advice you have been given in your career?
Get a good lawyer! Be true to yourself. Be thankful for opportunities.
What do you have lined up for the future?
Who knows what’s ahead. I hope I can keep playing live and write and record lots of albums. I’ve always wanted to travel so now could be my chance. If I had a camper-van I’d be off! I gave up the boyhood dream of becoming a rock star a long time ago. I’ll be happy as long as people keep coming to gigs.