Left: Martin Fierro, photo by Robert Minkin, from Dead.net.
Music fans and Deadheads everywhere have suffered a great loss, with the passing of mighty saxophonist Martin Fierro. He died of cancer yesterday, surrounded by family and friends in Marin County, California.
Martin is known to Deadheads primarily for playing flute and saxophone on the 1973 Grateful Dead album Wake of the Flood. He also played with several of Jerry Garcia's side projects, including the Legion of Mary.
Martin was born in Mexico and moved to El Paso, Texas, at the age of 10, where he played saxophone in his high school marching band. Then he heard music by Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and others, changing and rearranging his world, as the music did for so many other young people of the era. Martin's music took him to new places and new syncretic combinations; a new musical synthesis. He was a fixture in the Bay Area jam band scene of the late 60s/early 70s, sitting in with bands like Mother Earth, Sir Douglas Quintet and Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Left: Jerry Garcia birthday concert poster, from Honest Tunes. (2006)
Dead.net reports on Martin after the breakup of The Legion of Mary:
Martin had no trouble finding work following the dissolution of the Legion of Mary; indeed his tenure with Garcia was like a springboard to an expanded fan base and many new opportunities. He continued to play on and off with Merl Saunders—a lifelong friend—and he also played often with various groups led by John Cipollina, including a marathon stint in the great Bay Area jam band Zero. His association with Zero also led to an enduring musical partnership with Steve Kimock, as well. In fact, the last time I saw Martin play was with a re-formed Zero (with Kimock) at Wavy Gravy’s birthday benefit at the Regency Ballroom in SF in 2007. Over the years Martin also sat in with many other jam bands, from String Cheese Incident to Dark Star Orchestra. “I just love to play, man,” he told me, “I’ll show up and it’s, ‘Oh, Martin, you gonna play with us, right?’ And I say, ‘Well, I do happen to have a horn with me…’” he laughed.Yes.
When we spoke, he joked about how he had cheated death on numerous occasions: “The worst was a surfing accident in Hawaii [in the late ’90s]. I broke my neck and my back, man. I was dead for close to ten minutes and they brought me back, and then they thought I was brain damaged or I’d be paralyzed. The next day I played a gig with Zero!” He laughed heartily—as he often did. And whether there was a touch of exaggeration in the tale or not doesn’t matter. (He did, in fact, carry a lot of physical pain with him, from that and other episodes) But it shows his zest for life, which he retained until his final days on earth.
Another one gone too soon.
Our prayers and Deadhead love go out to Martin and his family.
**You can share memories and leave messages and memorials at martinfierromusic.com.