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AVON PARK, Fla. – Feb. 15, 2018 – Growing up, Adam Martin, SFSC business professor, loved music and played it on vinyl, cassettes, and CDs. After battling post-traumatic stress (PTS), music would restore balance to his life and lead him to write and record his first album of original songs.
At the beginning of 2003, Martin’s Army Reserve unit was activated and deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“When I came home from Iraq, it was a struggle reintegrating,” Martin said. “I was there for 15 months, and we were in combat situations. I struggled with relationships, sleep, all those things that come to people who experience post-traumatic stress. You go from an environment where survival and mission completion is on your mind 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for over a year. Then you come back to an environment that is none of those things. I had readjustment difficulties and struggled with it for a while.”
When he finally recognized the PTS and acknowledged it, he went for help.
“I got some great counseling and help from the VA,” Martin said. Although he didn’t sing or play an instrument, his counselor at the VA focused on his love of music. She suggested he learn to play an instrument. So Martin borrowed a guitar, locked himself in a room, watched YouTube videos, and taught himself how to play.
“For the longest time, it was just me in my bedroom, learning how to play,” Martin said. “I was bad at first. It was like somebody was torturing cats or something. But one day, it just kind of clicked. I started learning how to play, what chords were, what song structure was.”
In time, Martin decided that he wanted to try to perform in front of an audience. The first show he played was at a restaurant inside Eagle Ridge Mall in Lake Wales. “I didn’t get paid, but I got a free dinner out of it. I didn’t care. It was just me and an acoustic guitar. That’s how it all started,” he said.
One day, Martin ran into work colleague and fellow musician David Hale. Hale offered to back him up on bass and that began Hale’s musical mentorship of Martin.
“I knew nothing about music theory and how some of it worked,” Martin said. “Dave took me under his wing. I started writing songs and learning song structure, lyrics, and it steamrolled from there.”
“It was just us playing together for a little while,” he said. “Then we brought in a drummer, and we’ve been as much as a five-piece band at one time or another—me, drummer, bass player, electric guitar player, and a harmony vocalist.”
“We’ve played almost everywhere locally,” he said. “But we’ve also played at House of Blues in Orlando and Fun Spot-Orlando. We played at the big CountryFlo, a camping and music festival at River Ranch, and we played at the Runaway Country Music Festival in Kissimmee,” he said. Martin also continues to play solo performances.
Over time, Martin decided not to bill himself as Adam Martin but as Blackbird Anthem. The name comes from Martin’s love of Johnny Cash and the band Counting Crows. Cash was known for dressing in black and often called the Dark Bird of country music. “I thought, if I can take the songwriting and rebelliousness that Johnny Cash had doing his own thing, if I could embody even a fraction of that, and if I could take the performance and audience connection side of Counting Crows, and merge those in some way, then I think that kind of music is what people crave today. That idea became like an anthem, like a rally cry. That’s what we need to get back to. That’s what music, to me, is about.”
Martin recently cut his first full-length album, “Southern Ground,” that he recorded in a Fort Myers studio. The album, which features eight original songs written by Martin, hit the streets on Feb. 16.
“I released a four-track extended play record called ‘Stories I’ve Never Told’ about two years ago when I was first starting out,” Martin said. “It’s very much country. I knew I was in that realm but didn’t know exactly who I was as an artist yet.”
“This new album is very much who I am as an artist,” he said. “It’s a southern rock-style album, with driving guitars and strong drumbeats. The lyrics are gritty, and the songs all tell stories. It’s got songs about loss, love, whiskey and tattoos, and things about the South that make it special.”
At SFSC, Martin has been able to integrate his music into the business courses he teaches. “I run my band like a business,” he said. “All my songs are copyright protected, I do my taxes as a business, and I track all my expenses. It’s a small business, so I use those examples in the classroom. It’s cool because I have students who come to my show and students who buy my records. They see me not just as a professor but as a person. Music is something they understand, and they connect with it pretty easily.”
In his Introduction to Business and marketing classes, his band becomes a case study. “I discuss consistent branding, the message of the branding, and social media marketing. I use a lot of social media marketing and consistent branding across all platforms in promoting my band. It’s also a selling process because I’m reaching out to a venue, and I’m trying to sell them on hiring my band and having us come play.”
Given Martin’s background in business, it’s no surprise that his band has as its mission statement: Blackbird Anthem is on a mission to revive original southern music while giving back to the veteran community. “And that’s what I do,” he said.
In fact, Martin donates many of his performances to veterans’ organizations. However, he’s primarily involved with the Houston-based Lone Survivor Foundation that helps veterans across the country.
“I went through their veteran program, and it was life changing,” Martin said. “They provide retreat-type therapy for veterans who suffer from PTS, traumatic brain injury, and they have a separate section where they also help female vets who have suffered from military sexual trauma. It’s an intense five days. They offer individual sessions, group sessions, brain mapping, activities, equine therapy, and yoga. It’s a holistic approach, and you go through this with a group of seven or eight vets who are experiencing the same issues that you are. I’m involved because I believe in that organization so much and what it’s attempting to do.”
Martin is the only musician member of the Anteris Alliance, a consortium of 50 plus veteran-owned companies. The organization hosted an event in Las Vegas in January 2018 and had asked Martin to perform.
While in the studio finishing up recordings for “Southern Ground,” he received a phone call from a Special Operations Charity Network board member. “They’re a veteran non-profit that provides funding and help to Special Operations warriors and military veterans that may need special assistance with health care, counseling, getting their vehicle remodeled if they’re an amputee, and so forth,” Martin said.
Special Operations Charity Network was hosting a concert at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas at the same time as Anteris Alliance’s event and asked Martin to perform. It was a benefit for both Special Operations Charity Network and for Vegas Strong, an organization that offers assistance to the victims and families of those killed and hurt on Oct. 1, 2017 when a man fired 1,100 rounds into a crowd from his Mandalay Bay hotel suite, killing 58 people and injuring 851.
Although Special Operations Charity Network said they couldn’t pay him, Martin didn’t care. He said, “I’m already there. I want to help.”
So, Martin found himself performing for more than 400 people on the Las Vegas Strip, as one of the opening acts for headliner, country music artist Mark Wills. Wills is known for the songs “Jacob’s Ladder” and “19 Somethin’” All proceeds from the fundraiser went to Special Operations Charity Network and Vegas Strong.
Martin quoted a staggering statistic: “On average, 22 veterans a day take their lives, die by suicide. That’s one about every 65 minutes. As a vet, it hurts and deeply saddens me. We can reach them. And that’s one of reasons that I do so much to help out my brothers and sisters.”
He considered that statistic and was moved to write a song called “22.” “There are people who write songs for the war heroes and for the guys that fall in combat and don’t come home,” he said. “No one writes the song about the guys who go to war and survive that war, come home, and lose the battle at home. The song is from the soldier’s perspective once they’ve made that decision to take their own life. It’s a sad song but one I felt needed to be written.”
The song can be found on iTunes and Amazon. All proceeds from “22” go to Lone Survivor Foundation in perpetuity.
“I know that music helped me,” Martin said. “For someone else, it might be woodcarving or whatever. I found a new mission and way to bring balance to my life. Now, I use it to help other veterans.”