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Published: 2012/11/30
by Glenn H Roth

Jimmy De Martini and the Zac Brown Band’s Country Jam

Jimmy De Martini, who is is a little bit country and a little bit jamband, has shared the stage with with Gregg Allman, Robert Randolph and Warren Haynes. The violinist is a member of the Zac Brown Band, the popular country group that also has strong ties to the jamband scene.

“I think everybody in the band grew up listening to jambands,” De Martini said, “and it helps us on stage and not get stuck playing song after song after song.”

The Zac Brown Band played roughly 80 shows in 2012 in support of its latest release Uncaged. Along with De Martini on violin and the group’ s namesake on guitar and lead vocals, the ZBB also features bassist John Driskell Hopkins, percussionist Daniel de los Reyes, guitarists Coy Bowles and Clay Cook and drummer Chris Fryar reached De Martini by cell phone as he was riding on the tour bus.

Let’s begin by talking about your development on the violin.

I started off playing classical music. I learned that way through public school. And when I graduated from high school I moved to Athens. There was a little jam scene going on, so I would sit-in with bands and learn how try to improvise because I didn’t know how to at the time since I was just reading sheet music. I would just try to bring my violin and sit-in with different bands and learn from guitarists. I never learned how to play the violin from violinists from that point on. I kind of learned how to solo on it like a guitarist. I joined the band The Hill and we played from 1996 to 1999. We would travel around the Southeast and that’s where I fell in love with playing music, traveling and playing music every night.

Can you talk about the night in the sports bar when you played with Zac for the first time.

I had never seen anyone capture a crowd like that and certainly never played with anyone that had. It was kind of a gig where you’re playing a bunch of cover songs just to get by before you have a song on the radio or have a huge following. And Zac was doing it and he was great on his covers and once in awhile he would play an original song and the crowd would be up their feet and be more into it than his cover songs. He has an incredible voice. That was the first night he had met me and he let me do a 5-minute solo. He’s really generous with the spotlight and he’s still that way today.

How did you two leave things after that performance?

He was kind of like, “I have another gig in 2 days,” and, I was like “Cool.” And it kept going. At the time I was playing with Francisco Vidal Band . . . but eventually I had to go with Zac.

It’s a dream come true to be able to play for a lot of people every night that want to hear your music. It’s also great that Zac allows you as a musician to stand out. A lot of country music acts, the band has to wear black and they don’t put any lights on them. They just stand in the back of the stage and the star stands in the spotlight. Zac gives everyone a chance to shine.

How has the band evolved since the release of the 2008 debut album Foundation ?

We’ve gone through a couple members of the band. We had a different drummer and guitarist when we recorded Foundation. For the second and third albums, we had the band that we have right now and established the sound that we have now. The first album we were just trying to get our names out there. We were traveling around for four years but once we got a hit on the radio, a bunch of people started coming to watch us play from all over.

On the latest album, you co-wrote “Uncaged,” and “Last But Not Least.” Can you talk about those two songs.

The title track was kind of a verse that I wrote – an off-time (guitar) riff that I wrote in seven-eighths. It’s a cool rift and I was playing it for Zac one day and he started singing over it. The timing was all weird and off, but he was like, “I like that.” So I played it again and he sang right over it. It was pretty crazy and it became a verse in the song. With “Last But Not Least,” it wasn’t quite finished yet because we didn’t really have a bridge. I was sitting around with Coy and Wyatt Durrette, a good friend of ours, and wrote the bridge.

In terms of songwriting, how has your role changed over the years?

I don’t show my songs to people and Zac’s been really encouraging me to play my songs. I’m kind of shy about it and he’s really positive about it. When you show him a song, he’s like “That’s amazing, you should write more.” He’s been big on teaching me to write and encouraging me to write more with each new album.

How did Trombone Shorty and Amos Lee end up on the new record?

We’re big fans of Trombone Shorty and we asked them to open for us. That’s how we met them and we jammed with them on stage. We had a song that was kind of R&B-ish and we thought it would be really cool to get Trombone Shorty to do it. And Amos Lee, we’ve been huge fans of his forever. He sat in with us at Jazz Fest and a CMA Fest. It was a no-brainer to get him to sing on that song.

On the 2010 record, You Get What You Give, Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett each sang on a track.

We love to collaborate – it’s one of our favorite things. One of our biggest inspirations was The Band and play with as many musicians as you can. If you have the power to play with your favorite musicians you should do it.

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