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MARTY RACINE

Former Bulletin editor is on air with ‘Cross City Blues’

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Former Las Cruces Bulletin editor Martin Racine has begun a new music program called Cross City Blues.

Here’s a Q&A about Marty, his love of music and his new show, which started Sept. 26.

Bulletin: When will the show air?

MR: 9 p.m.-midnight Saturdays on NPR stations throughout southern New Mexico. The flagship station is KRWG, 90.7 FM, Las Cruces, at New Mexico State University. Their programming is also carried on 89.5 FM, Alamogordo; 93.5 FM, Deming; 91.3 FM, Silver City; 91.9 FM, Truth or Consequences; and 91.9 FM, Lordsburg.

Bulletin: Where did the name “Cross City Blues” come from?

MR: My first choice was “Key to the Highway,” named after a well-traveled blues song, but that might have invited a copyright issue. Cross City Blues relates to the City of Crosses, Las Cruces, and connotes the mythical “Crossroads” in Mississippi – actually, highways 49 and 61 – where Robert Johnson supposedly made a Faustian pact with the Devil in return for mastering the guitar.

Bulletin: Talk about your music background and your interest in the blues.

MR: I got my music DNA from my mother, who played piano and whose father was a concert pianist in Russia until the Bolshevik Revolution, when the family fled to China before emigrating to Los Angeles.

I got my radio DNA from my father, who emceed vaudeville shows from Hollywood theaters over Los Angeles radio stations.

When I was 9-10 years old, my dad owned a string of jukeboxes in northern California, and I began advising him on the hits of the day, as I was avidly following Top 40 radio. I’m just old enough to remember a time before rock ‘n’ roll, so when Sun Records of Memphis (Elvis, etc.) and the New Orleans sound (Fats Domino, etc.) came along, that music had a profound effect on me.

By the time we early Boomers were high school seniors, pop music and puppy-love songs were no longer doing it for us. Luckily, the British Invasion swept us up, and most of those bands were influenced by American blues. The music was irresistible, even if I didn’t fully understand it. But the blues really hit hard when a high school classmate, Alan Rising, who was the lead guitarist in the Paragons, a teen band in Vallejo, California, turned me on to vocalist/guitarist/harmonica player Jimmy Reed.

“Listen to this guy,” he said one day after school as he dropped the needle on a 45. It was as if we had discovered a secret cache of music, a pathway to adulthood through a sound so sensual and all-knowing that it seemed barely legal. It was surely under the radar in suburban America. I needed to hear more and not long after I found John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and others.

At Arizona State University I majored in radio-TV and did a fair amount of writing, filling binders and notebooks with stream-of-consciousness poetry. As happened after graduation, I was able to combine my flair for phrasing with a musical ear into a durable career, beginning with concert reviews for the Bugle American, an alternative (hippie) weekly in Milwaukee, and the Milwaukee Sentinel. I also published a monthly music paper, Xpress, out of my living room – writing, layout, advertising, distribution. That led to the Houston Chronicle, where I was hired as the rock critic in 1981. I remained for 22 years.

In Houston, I was the proverbial kid in the candy store. From the East came all the Louisiana bands. From the West – Austin groups like Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. From Fort Worth/Dallas – the Juke Jumpers and Bugs Henderson. Post-modern blues bands were coming from California, Chicago, the Northeast and Georgia, and they were all playing clubs, where I could see them up-close virtually any night of the week.

Then there was Jerry Lightfoot, a great white guitarist from Houston who was helping to bring all the older local black artists to wider audiences (www.houstonpress.com/music/a-lighter-shade-of-blue-6545416). He took me across the tracks to hang out with Big Walter, Joe Hughes, Pete Mayes, Grady Gaines (who played sax with Little Richard), Pee Wee Stephens, Johnny Copeland, Texas Johnny Brown, LaVelle White and so many others. It was an education learned after dark, on the streets.

Coincidentally, everywhere I’ve worked in newspapers I’ve also had a radio gig (the papers paid a lot more): In Milwaukee I was a rock DJ at WZMF-FM; In Houston, KPFT-FM; Ruidoso, the Ruidoso News and KEDU-FM; in Las Cruces, the Bulletin and KTAL-FM (The Cosmic Troubadours, 7-9 p.m. Thursdays) and, now, KRWG-FM.

Bulletin: What else do you want people to know about the show?

MR: Right now, it’s all music cemented by background information on the artists and/or the type of music they play. The ratio of music to talk is roughly 3-1. The goal is to place these artists into historical context.

Each show will revolve around a theme – whether by artist, style of music, birthdays/death days, holidays, record label, geography, etc. So far, I’ve recorded six shows, using the audio software Audacity and converting the files to mp3s, with the following themes, in order: Alligator Records, Jump Blues, Harmonica Masters, Newport Folk Festival/Blues Revival of the early ‘60s and Slide Guitar (two shows). Under current conditions, there won’t be any guests.

Marty Racine