Off the Road with Tony Martin – A Concert Review by Christopher Alo
On Friday November 29th, 2013, ex-Black Sabbath singer Tony Martin played a rare concert appearance in the United States in Middletown, NY, but nobody seems to have heard about it. It started for me with a phone call from a good friend of mine, Steve Keeler, of Rock Fantasy. Rock Fantasy, which is based in Middletown, NY, is one of the last great metal record stores on the east coast and as a result, Steve knows everyone in the local rock scene. I actually write the monthly heavy metal column for the newspaper More Sugar Magazine, so I’m no slouch in that department either, but if it’s happening in Middletown, Steve Keeler knows about it.
The story that Steve told me was that a band called Off The Road, which featured an ex bass player from Alice Cooper (Greg Smith) would be playing a barbeque restaurant, Brian’s Backyard BBQ in Middletown on Black Friday. Admission was free, there was no cover and Tony Martin of Black Sabbath fame was to be a “special guest” and sit in on a few songs. It was really hard to believe and I really didn’t want to go, but the prospect of seeing Tony Martin in concert again, was too good to pass up.
Brian’s Backyard BBQ is a small roadhouse style barbeque joint that serves as a bar, restaurant and live music venue all in one. My wife Denise and I got there early to eat dinner so we could score a seat as close to the stage as possible. Upon arrival, I immediately looked around and to my surprise; a few tables away sat Tony “The Cat” Martin! It was a relief to see him there since that proved this was not some kind of weird internet hoax. I really wanted to talk to him, but since Mr. Martin was seated with people and not really walking around or mingling; I didn’t want to bother him.
The wife and I ate dinner (food at Brian’s Backyard BBQ was excellent) and about 9:30PM the band started. Off The Road played covers of “Rock and Roll Fantasy” from Bad Company, a great cover of “Radar Love” by Golden Earring and “Be My Lover” from Alice Cooper, which bassist Greg Smith dedicated to his former employee, Alice Cooper and others.
Tony Martin was finally called to the stage to a big round of applause from the audience of maybe 75. He wore his wide brimmed black cowboy hat (as expected) and looked and sounded fantastic. He played harmonica as an intro to the Sabbath standard “The Wizard”. Greg Smith had an ipad fastened to the microphone stand for reading lyrics, but “The Cat” barely needed them.
Next up was yet another Sabbath classic, “Iron Man”. Again, Tony didn’t need the lyrics at all and he sounded spot on, at least to my ears. He smiled and grooved a bit back and forth on stage and snapped his fingers often. He never resorted to the hand/wave “sign of the cross” thing that I remember him doing often on the Sabbath tours back in the day.
The audience was eating it up and more than a few people yelled out for “Headless Cross” and “The Shining”. Surprisingly, Off The Road launched into the Aerosmith hit, “Sweet Emotion” with Tony Martin again taking the reins. “The Cat” was all smiles; he really seemed to enjoy not singing a Sabbath number. He then left the stage and immediately sat down to the table he was at earlier while Off The Road played several more covers.
The band then announced they would take a “short break” and so Steve from Rock Fantasy and me approached Tony Martin. Steve asked what songs he was going to do in the second set, to which he said he had no idea. Tony mentioned that he almost felt he was being a bit unprofessional by just jumping up on stage for a few unrehearsed songs, but obviously, the fans in attendance loved it.
We asked what he was doing in Middletown, NY, so he explained it to us. Tony was on vacation in the U.S. and decided to meet up with a friend of his, Greg Smith. They had done some shows in Russia or something, I forget. Tony spent Thanksgiving at Greg’s house, Off The Road already had the gig scheduled for Black Friday, so the idea (at the 11th hour) was to have Tony stay over and do a few numbers with the band.
I had to tell Tony it was great to see him again live and that I had seen him 7 times with Sabbath on the Headless Cross, Cross Purposes and Forbidden tours over here. Then I told Tony that Steve and I were planning a trip to Buffalo, NY a few years ago for his “Headless Cross” 2009 tour that was canceled. Tony said that was the promoters fault and the he was an asshole. Of course I asked if he would ever attempt something like that again, he said he didn’t know. We snapped a few pictures with Tony, shook hands and left.
For whatever reason, OTR’s short break turned into almost an hour. The venue (which had maybe 75 people at the end of the first set) now had maybe 25. People just kept filing out. The wife and I sat through a few more covers of Badfinger and others before the Sabbath singer was brought back up. “All Right Now” from Free was up next and I have to say, Tony sounded just fantastic, more than ably covering Paul Rodgers vocals. Unfortunately though, the end of the song was a total train wreck. Tony went for the last verse too early and for some reason the band decided not to follow him.
Last number we saw the ex Sabbs front man tackle was “Tie Your Mother Down” from Queen. I’m not the biggest Queen fan, but it came off well and everyone was on point this time. Off The Road thanked Tony and he sat right back down to the table he was at all night. By this time, most of the Middletown metal faithful had already left, but we stuck around just a bit longer. But since the wife and I had a three hour drive each way for a Megadeth concert in the morning, and it didn’t appear that Tony would get up a third time, we decided we would head out. I’m not sure if “The Cat” did anymore songs with Off The Road, but since the show was free anyway, I definitely got my money’s worth.
Over the years I’ve been very lucky to meet and interview many members of the Black Sabbath family (Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio, etc.). But getting to meet Tony Martin in a barbeque restaurant and watch him perform Queen and Aerosmith songs for free is something I won’t soon forget!