About The Artist
Mac Martin (born William Dermot Colleran) was "Mr. Bluegrass" in the greater Pittsburgh area for well over sixty years. The son of Irish immigrants from County Galway, he absorbed the hillbilly sounds from WWVA and WSM along with Irish jigs. Although he very seldom ventured far from the Pittsburgh area, preferring to keep his day job as an accountant, Mac and his Dixie Travelers were well known and highly respected to a much wider bluegrass community and his numerous recordings were treasured musical items.
A Pittsburgh native, Bill Colleran (he did not become Mac Martin until later), grew up and learned to love country music via radio and phonograph records. He got his first guitar at fifteen, and after high school went into military service, serving in Okinawa in 1945. Out of the army, Bill began to play locally and about 1947 or 1948, formed a band with fiddler Bill Higgins and bass man Bill Wagner and had a radio show at WHJB Greensburg. It was at this time that he took a stage name; otherwise, all the band members were named "Bill." He later added a fourth band member, Tennessee mandolin picker Earl Banner, and they shifted to WDOD in Homestead and also did some club work.
About 1954, Mac formed a full bluegrass band with Banner, a fiddler ‐ Mike Carson (born June 27, 1937) — who had earlier played with Jimmy Walker, a banjo picker Billy Bryant (May 4, 1938-March 31, 1994), and various bass players. In 1957, they began a twenty-year weekly association with a club in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh. By the time they made their first recordings in 1963, they had taken on Slim Jones as a regular bass player. Ed Brozi, another musician that worked with Mac, made no recordings with him until later. The first recordings were on Gateway, different from the Cincinnati label of the same name. They did one album and two singles for that label over a two year period.
Then between 1968 and 1971 they recorded four LPs for Rural Rhythm, a firm that specialized in older music and about twenty songs per album (some rather abbreviated in length) with a third of the cuts instrumentals. Actually, all of the Dixie Travelers first effort, Travelin' Blues (RR 201) were instrumental. Although Banner's photo was on the cover, he had left the band by the time of the sessions. Frank Basista had already replaced Jones on bass, so only Martin, Bryant, Carson, and Basista were on the LP. By the time of the second album, Bob Artis had joined the band as mandolinist. This quintet remained the band for several years. They recorded Going Down the Country (RR 214), Just Like Old Times (RR232), Backtrackin' (RR237), and Dixie Bound (County 743).
Mac took leave for a couple of years during which time Basista departed and was replaced by Norm Azinger. Bob Artis became the nominal leader when the Dixie Travelers recorded Free Wheeling (Revonah 914). When Mac returned, Artis left soon afterward to form his own group and Edgar Bud Smith replaced him on mandolin. In 1977, the Travelers completed their stay at Walsh's and began a six-year stay at Gustine's, a club owned by Frank Gustine, a former third-baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates. They were based there when the band waxed their next album, Travelin' On, in 1978. In 1984, they became the live band at the Elizabeth Moose Lodge, playing once or twice monthly. They also began working periodically at Jamboree USA at the 50,000 watt WWVA in Wheeling as well as working an occasional bluegrass festival.
After several years away from the recording studios, Mac and the Dixie Travelers recorded a new album Basic Bluegrass (Old Homestead OHS 90178). At that time personnel consisted of Martin, Carson, Bryant, Smith and Azinger. As usual, the album was well received by critics. The next album, Traveler's Portrait (OHS 90195) in 1989, was also praised. By that time, Smith ran into shift work problems and was gradually replaced by Charles "Buzz" Matheson on mandolin who sang tenor on half of this album. These additional musicians included Mac's son Bob Martin on lead guitar, Ron Mesing on Dobro, and Larry Zierath on rhythm mandolin. In 1990, Buzz and Mac recorded a cassette, Duets, for the local label Rosewood. Some years later White Oak records with additional cuts released this on CD as Echoes of the Past. White Oak also released a cassette of Mac with banjo legend Don Stover, Live at the Moose. The last Dixie Traveler studio album, Venango, was released on Copper Creek in 2005. It was cut after Billy Bryant's demise and included Keith Little on banjo.
Mac began to slow down by the new century although he and the Dixie Travelers did make a trip to Owensboro, Kentucky where they were recognized among first generation bluegrass pioneers. (This is the last time I saw them but had done an article on them for Bluegrass Unlimited in 1987 and was on his Christmas card list for many years). As he slowly withdrew from musical endeavors, Mac became involved in charity work at his local Roman Catholic Church. He was honored with a card shower on his 95th birthday, receiving cards from fans all over the world.
Mac passed on two months prior to reaching his 97th birthday.
Credits & Sources
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