Obo Martin is one of a rare breed – that of the native San Franciscan. Born in a hospital next to Golden Gate Park, Obo has traveled here, there and everywhere, weaving tales of adventure into music that blends American and Irish folk music with a little bit of rock to create a sound and voice distinctly Obo’s, and still very music a part of what makes San Francisco so lively and fun.
Once you see or meet Obo Martin, it’s very nearly impossible to forget him. He can usually be found with a green hat atop his long and very orange dreadlocked hair, tilted precariously to one side in a position that makes one wonder how the hat doesn’t fall off his head. In fact, it does fall sometimes – we captured that during the conclusion of our interview. But I digress…
Beyond wearing the appearance of San Francisco’s very own leprechaun of joy and adventure, Obo Martin has a striking personality that’s also impossible to forget. My very first encounter with Obo occurred last year at a premier for Bart Davenport’s episode of the monthly Chasing The Moon video podcast. Obo’s set was by far the liveliest of the three that happened that night, and that alone would have made him stick out in my mind. However, following the screening, Obo became so excited that he effectively took over the proceedings, speaking out of turn and successfully persuading Bart to break tradition and play a short acoustic set at his own premier (tradition dictates that the artists featured in a Chasing The Moon episode never perform at their own premier).
Since that memorable introduction to the man and his music, I have run into Obo many times, learning along the way that, although sometimes one might think he was born in Ireland, he was indeed born in San Francisco. He did spend a short time living in Ireland, however, and it certainly shows in his music. His song “Cabin in the Woods,” included on the 2008 album Outstanding In The Field, was covered by The Be Good Tanyas in 1999, who named themselves after Obo’s song “Be Good Tanya.” “Cabin” was a favorite of Jolie Holland’s, who was in the band at the time.
Also, as Obo mentions in our interview, he leads two bands now. The band that backs him when he performs simply as Obo Martin plays his mostly American indie folk/rock style of tunes, including some semi-psychedelic instrumentals and an occasional dip into his Irish tunes. But the full-on Irish folk rock experience happens when Obo performs with Shameless Seamus and the Aimless Amos’s, a band that carries on in the spirit of the Dubliners and the Pogues.
About the performance:
Although Obo began to have second thoughts about his song choice for the performance, it became clear to Garrett and I that Obo’s first choice couldn’t have been more appropriate. Given the personal journey Obo had described in the interview, and especially later when we captured Obo’s expertly executed landing down the concrete slide just a short drive from his home, “Lucky Bones” was by far the best choice he could have made.
Sometimes when Obo performs, he experiences wardrobe malfunctions, such as when his trousers come undone and fall to the ground mid-song. He was sitting for this performance, so there was no risk of that happening. However, he apparently had a hole in his pocket through which his guitar pick escaped down into his boot. It was yet another case of Obo gracefully turning a potentially embarrassing situation into lighthearted entertainment.
Obo Martin, “Lucky Bones”