See what one of Cobb’s favorite musical sons does when the Zac Brown Band has some down time
“If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?”
Jimmy De Martini doesn’t hesitate on his answer. If he weren’t playing violin in one of the biggest musical acts on the planet right now, he’d most likely be slugging his way through the Mixed Martial Arts circuit.
“So, if you weren’t a member of the Zac Brown Band, which has nine hit singles, two platinum-selling records and a critically acclaimed new CD, Uncaged, which recently debuted at No. 1 on Billboard 200, you’d be mixing it up in one of those ‘ground and pound’ MMA matches?”
“The guys at my gym who I have worked out with and sparred for the past 12 years are always trying to talk me into taking on a professional fight,” says De Martini, who has religiously practiced Muy Thai, a combat sport from Thailand that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques, the past 12 years. “I think I might be a little too old for that right now. But who know, back in the day, I probably could have been a starving fighter.”
Zac Brown, the band’s charismatic and soulful leader, says that De Martini’s martial arts side is no secret. “Jimmy’s the most laid back dude in the world. But he also goes to the gym four, five days a week to train. So, you don’t mess with Jimmy, you know.”
As one of the key parts in the signature sound of the Zac Brown Band (listen to him tear up the violin on “The Wind,” the first hit single from its new CD), you might not want to mess with De Martini on stage or in the studio either. “Jimmy’s just got an amazing sense of melody,” Brown says. “He’s a great musician. Man, he has been playing with me for so long, I just couldn’t imagine not playing with him.”
A mutual friend introduced Brown and De Martini in December 2004. De Martini was playing in small bars and restaurants around the Atlanta when Wyatt Durrette asked him if he had heard of Brown, who was crafting his sound in and around the metro area. A phone call led to an invitation to play with Brown at the Sidelines sports bar in Kennesaw. “I was just blown away by Zac’s performance,” De Martini recalls. “The gig changed my life – it really did.”
But before you add the “rest is history” line here. Before you factor in the millions of lives the band has touched with its music and performances over the past few years. Before you do all that, you have to go back to the beginning. Back to when a small boy would dance around his parent’s house listening to The Beatles, The Police, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. “Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” De Martini says. “My parents didn’t play any instruments, but they’d always have it blaring around the house or when we were in the car. I can remember my Mom singing me to sleep.”
His itch to perform music didn’t hit until he was 12. By then, his musical taste shifted to the likes of Bon Jovi, Metallica, Mötley Crüe and Guns N Roses. While attending his middle school orientation, De Martini was introduced to the violin, where he quickly learned to read sheet music and play classically.
“But I didn’t want to be an orchestra, I wanted to be in a band,” he says.
So he taught himself how to play guitar (he also plays the mandolin, bass and piano). After high school he moved to Athens to attend college. Longing for the stage, he left school and joined his first band, The Hill, a rock/jam band that played original music. The experience introduced him to the recording process, touring and writing music.
The Hill gig led to a stint with a Dave Matthews cover band. After the cover band split up, De Martini began looking for his next opportunity. “That’s when I met my wife, Stacey,” he says. “She has been the rock of my life ever since.”
Several years ago, the De Martini’s moved back home to East Cobb, where they raise their two boys, James, 4, and Joseph, 1 ½. “The road is great, and we’re comfortable on it these days. But when I get home I’m just dad. I change diapers, make breakfast and take the kids to the park.”
Ask him, and Jimmy De Martini will tell you that the blessing in all of this is that he has two families. “From the beginning, Zac has made this a family. He stresses that in everything that we do. We are all great friends, and we really enjoy being around each other and our families. We even hang out together when we’re off the road. You can’t ask for anything better than that.”
One-on-One with Jimmy De Martini
Favorite Zac Brown Song: Free
Favorite Musical Moment: Playing with James Taylor
Favorite Celebrity Moment: Meeting Kid Rock
Favorite Artists: Black Crowes
Who Would You Like to Meet: Pearl Jam
Favorite Cities to Play: The Gorge (Washington State), Hyde Park (London)
Best Fans: Atlanta, Red Rock (Jefferson, Colo.), Jazz Fest (New Orleans)
One Thing Everybody Should Know About Zac Brown Band: We also play live; we never use a track