» Subscribe Today!
The Power of Information
The Ledger - EST. 1978 - Nashville Edition
Skip Navigation LinksHome > Article
VOL. 44 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 6, 2020

Special sound, stolen in dead of night

Instrument theft on rise in Music City, including kit Lynds played for 20 years

Print | Front Page | Email this story

Martin Lynds on the drum kit he played for 20 years. It was stolen in February from his Inglewood garage.

-- Photo Submitted

Stellar Nashville drummer Martin Lynds still possesses magnificent chops. But he may never again sound just like Martin Lynds.

Vile human coyotes who prey on their brethren – the majority of us, for whom grace and trust are signposts – have chomped into his soul.

“It’s pretty low to steal anything from someone that, literally, is how they are putting food in their mouth, food on the table,” says Martin, slight-but-real anger in his voice as he talks about the drum kit that was stolen, as well as the coinciding loss of that general sense of peace he feels when home, with his wife and pets, in his Inglewood refuge from the road, clubs and studios.

The theft of his custom-made drums – and the rest of the gear that allows him to make uncommonly sophisticated noise, precise and meaningful – means more than the expensive material loss to him … and to music fans.

You see, the sound that placed him much in demand has been built over a couple of decades of work with the magnificent instruments that are so unique it’ll be difficult for the thugs to cash in. Put the drums on a pawn shop floor, and the first time a musician comes in to take a loan out on his Gibson or Pearl, he’ll say: “Hell, that’s Marty’s.”

In the hands (or feet, sometimes) of any fine musician, the chosen instrument is tested each time it is played, its sonic answers giving it and the player joint identity.

Without these particular drums – he, of course has spares – he’ll still be elite. Audiences might not notice, but other musicians may suspect – and Martin surely will know – that his sound, his hard-earned identity, has been altered by urban Nashville cruelty.

Perhaps his “new” sound will become even better than before, over time. But it won’t be the same, unless he gets his custom gear back.

“It was sometime late Saturday, (February) the 15th, and early Sunday, the 16th,” Martin says as he continues to put his loss into perspective after the lowlife desperados opened the locked garage where he stored his gear and swiped everything they could load.

“Our garage is attached to our house (in Inglewood), so they must have been real quiet,” he adds as he tries to relax in the home he shares with his wife, Judy Winters, and their passel of formerly stray animals: Stinker, a sort of Boston terrier – “an East Nashville special my wife found running down the road” – and their four cats.

Talking about his animal family brings a bit of light into the conversation, a momentary lapse from melancholia inflicted by talking about burglars and stolen drums.

“We have four cats, all strays: George, Mavis, Flaco and Nici,” he says when I push for names.

Then I guess aloud that George is named for former Traveling Wilbury and longtime John Lennon associate George Harrison; Flaco for Flaco Jimenez, the great Tejano music legend, accordion player, singer and Texas Tornados founding member (with Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers and Freddy Fender); and Mavis for R&B and gospel goddess Mavis Staples.

I am right on a couple of those. “Nah, we didn’t name the cat for George Harrison, he just looked like a George. We call him Handsome George. Flaco is Mavis’ son, she had him in the house.”

Nici, it turns out, is named for quirky and dark Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro, one of Judy’s favorite actors, apparently.

Martin smiles when talking about the population of the house “near Stratford High School” where he and Judy have chosen to spend their lives.

Then the burglary returns to the forefront of our discussion.

Their lives – the pet food, the Kitty Litter, groceries, prescriptions and all the bills – are paid for by his occasional freelance editing but mostly by drum work, much in demand and based on a reputation honed by playing that custom kit, on which he instinctively knew each spot on the heads and all the other things unique.

“My friends have taken it harder than I have,” continues Martin of the heartless heist. “They all have been asking what they can do to help.”

He didn’t always have this kit during decades of learning the art of noise. Fact is, he began fueling this passion for the drums in fifth-grade band class before graduating to star status on the drum line at Apopka (Florida) High School. “I was first chair,” he explains, in no-brag-just-fact tones.

Then at the University of Florida, where he pursued what he thought would be a journalism career, he continued to dabble with drums in the clubs of Gainesville, Florida, that Spanish moss-shaded musical turf where Tom Petty first decided he’d be king when dogs get wings.

“You can’t be from Florida and not like Tom Petty,” Martin says with a chuckle of the musician whose influence on American rock music is immeasurable even 2½ years after his heartbreaking death.

Martin, who’d begun editing professionally in Florida, used that journalism skill to find himself a steady job in Washington, D.C. He supplemented that income by gigging in the area’s famous listening rooms before he and some musical pals decided Nashville was where they wanted to be.

During the 20 years since the kit was designed and built for Martin, he’s spent countless hours playing it. He knows just what kinds of sounds he’ll get while working various territories on his unique bass drum, floor tom and rack tom – the triple-threat kit that made him successful and now filled with lament – as well as the two snare drums, the extra bass drum, the cymbals, the hardware.

He and his drums only recently returned from Spain, where he was playing with Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys. Mead, an old friend and Martin Lynds admirer, will be heard from shortly.

Of course, Martin’s well-tuned reflexes and rhythmic genius remain, and Chuck and his like will continue to call on his undeniable and unique talents.

He’s not alone in misery. A friend at the Metro Police Department, requesting anonymity, tells me instrument theft is almost epidemic. There are no statistics available, but my friend simply explains that, in a city filled with musicians, “we hear about it all the time. It’s not uncommon to get word that musical instruments have been stolen.”

Police advise musicians not to leave their instruments in plain view in their locked vehicles and to take basic commonsense security measures.

Musicians who play on Lower Broadway have been robbed, their instruments stolen, after leaving their gigs at night’s end and having to walk several blocks to their cars. Preventing these old-fashioned “stick-ups” presents a unique set of challenges, including increasing police presence in the club district and finding safer parking areas for musicians.

That’s a story for another day, perhaps.

Home burglaries present deeper challenges because of the violation of personal space and the vanish-into-the-night stealth and cloaked violence required to be a successful bad guy.

Martin’s is a special case, simply because of the quality of the instruments and the way he’s used them in his association with Last Train Home (many members of this Eric Brace-led group were the pals I mentioned before who joined Martin in relocating to Nashville from D.C. in 2003.)

“We didn’t have stars in our eyes,” says Martin of the band that has just released an exhilarating new album, “Daytime Highs & Overnight Lows.” “We just wanted to have more opportunities to play music,” so they packed up their gear and moved here to join the clowder of Nashville Cats.

As noted earlier, Martin also plays with BR549 legend Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys. He also backs amazing artists Kevin Gordon and Paul Burch. All are ranking members of the city’s musical hierarchy, and Martin has earned his place by their sides.

In addition to playing the backup drum kits, the 54-year-old also makes money as a freelance editor for the American Psychiatric Association

“I don’t know of any musician in this town who doesn’t have a side gig, and that’s mine,” he says, reminding me editing for APA was his full-time job in D.C.

“The two things I do are editing and working as a sideman,” Martin notes. “In both, I’m helping someone else develop what they’ve done.

“I’m playing with a songwriter or a band, and it’s material they’ve written. Or I’m dealing with a book that someone has written.”

Being a guy who uses drumming and editing chops to improve someone else’s product “is something that seems to suit me,” he adds.

Our happy-mixed-with-melancholy conversation bounces through his career and my own musical tastes, our families and our pets before I reluctantly guide it back to the drum theft that broke his heart, not his spirit.

“You steal a landscaping man’s landscaping trailer and it’s got all of his equipment in it, it’s just as bad,” he says.

The landscaper mention sparks quick, resigned laughter from Martin. “They (the burglars) also got my favorite weed-whacker.

“A lot (of what makes this kit unique) is the materials. It’s an acoustic instrument, so it’s what goes in and the craftsmanship involved. It’s the materials,” Lunds says.

-- Photo Submitted

“They got all my yard stuff, except for the mower. I think they ran out of space. It was a truckful that they got.

“I’m not sure they were specifically going after the drums, but it seems that way, because they were all in cases. They were all one-of-a-kind.

“Musical instruments are different, because they are more personal things than a weed-whacker.”

He is trying to be calm about it, but it’s obvious it hurts. “They also got all the hardware (to put the kit together) in its case, the cymbal stand, the seat, the pedals. All that stuff.”

The thieves likely knew what they were after because they had seen him loading out and loading in for gigs, something he tries to do surreptitiously so as not to advertise: “Here it is, come steal my stuff.”

“I’m pretty careful about keeping the garage door closed,” he says. “But there’s lots of traffic on Stratford Avenue. There are people riding around, watching for their open-garage-door opportunities.”

It’s not a bitter shrug that coats his voice when I ask him the odds of getting this near-legendary drum kit back.

“I’m optimistic,” Martin acknowledges. “I’ve put a lot of stuff out on social media. And I’ve contacted friends I’ve got in other cities, like a drum shop in Memphis.

“I’m kinda leaning more on that (friends and the internet) than I am on the police. Nothing against the police, but they’ve got a lot of stuff to do.”

He draws a long, tall breath.

“There are so many different parts with a drum kit, it’s different,” he says. “Some are more personal than others.

“Somebody steals your drum pedal: That sucks. When they steal your actual drum….” His voice drops off, sinking to a bang-the-drum-slowly mood.

“The cymbals can be as expensive as the drum kit,” he says. “The drums mean the most. They are one-of-a-kind. Custom-made, can’t get it back. I’ve played this kit for 20 years.

“A lot (of what makes this kit unique) is the materials. It’s an acoustic instrument, so it’s what goes in and the craftsmanship involved. It’s the materials. It could be the birch (wood), the lacquer, the wrap that can affect the way it sounds.

“There was more attention to detail. It’s like you can buy a really nice new car or a Rolls-Royce that’s handmade.” His kit was a Rolls-Royce parked among the drumming community.

Mead, the musician who with BR549 helped save Lower Broadway from the prostitutes and peep shows, is angry about what happened to his friend.

“Marty’s been playing with me since 2009,” Chuck says. “He’s one of the best drummers in town, man.”

Chuck, an affable sort of frontman, knows all about having instruments stolen.

“I remember the sick feeling I got when, in 1997, we were moving from Shelby Avenue to where we are now, more into the (hipster East Nashville) neighborhood, and all of my guitars, eight of them, were stolen from the old house while we were moving into the new one.

“It was while we were in the middle of recording our second BR549 album, and they stole everything I owned…. It was a bummer. Those are my tools.”

Twenty-three years later, he keeps looking for those guitars, like the one his grandfather gave him to commemorate “our first country deal” and another he used while “busking around Europe.” Those were sentimental keepsakes. Others were his work tools.

He’s still following leads on one of the guitars, but “the trail’s gone cold.”

BR549 even garnered mini-national headlines when their whole rig – the band’s rented van and trailer filled with gear – were stolen during a tour that took them to Seattle.

“Fortunately, we all had our guitars in our rooms.”

Except for the Seattle incident, Chuck attributes a part of the thefts – and there are plenty -- to living in his beloved East Nashville, a haven for music sorts, often with homes filled with bait for local thieves.

“Even in my gentrified neighborhood now, it’s still ‘The Neighborhood,’” he says, a sweet tad of sour slipping into his voice. “There’s still some scumbags that are going to take things from people instead of doing something more positive with their lives.

“If I see them ripping somebody like Marty off, I will fucking chase them down the street with a baseball bat. That may get me hurt sometime, but I refuse to back down.”

After finishing with his baseball bat, Chuck would tell the bad guy: “It (the instrument) doesn’t mean anything to you except you can get a few bucks out of it for some rock.”

A lifelong drum-whacker like Martin has the arm strength, of course, to follow Chuck’s example and pick up a Louisville Slugger.

He’s not going to do that, of course. He’s going to keep playing gigs, hoping someone will locate his special drums.

“I like this community,” he says, as he sits in his house on Stratford, not far from the high school.

“This (music) community is kinda tight. Friends have been stopping by to see how I’m doing. They just pull up in my driveway, hug me, ask if I need anything.

“That sort of thing doesn’t happen in any other town.

“I like Nashville. Just like to get my drums back.”

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter & RSS:
Sign-Up For Our FREE email edition
Get the news first with our free weekly email
TNLedger.com Knoxville Editon