The 300-plus who gathered in the tent on a cool summer eve swayed and clapped to the beat of the singer’s brand of Country music. They weren’t what you’d call a tough crowd, but they knew how to spot a phony. They appreciated traditional-leaning Country music and don’t care much for pretenders. Pete Martinez didn’t disappoint. As he crooned his heartfelt ballad “The Horse,” the audience knew the Casper, Wyoming native was the real deal. In Stockholm, in fact, it turns out that Country music is hot with teens and adults. Not many forms of music have that kind of crossover appeal. But here in Sweden, just 3831 miles south of the North Pole, music sophisticates know which way is west.
The gig this past August was the fulfillment of a goal Martinez who’d long dreamed of being able to tour internationally. The bonus in this particular venue was that Swedes take their Country music seriously.
“I was truly honored. I ended up playing in Stockholm, Ornskoldsvik, Karsjo, and villages out in the Swedish countryside,” Pete recapped his summer 2013 tour with heaps of praise for the fans, their hospitality and their country, more so than most performers would. But that’s the way Pete is...reserved, modest, respectful. He chooses his words carefully, always polite in front of his fans and business affiliates. It says more about his upbringing in Wyoming than 1,000 adjectives ever could. You see, growing up in the wide open spaces of Casper demanded other skills to survive and thrive. Self-promotion wasn’t one of them.
After Sweden, it was a quick trip back to Nashville where Pete recorded a Gospel album before heading to Italy with appearances including Rome and Milan. Late one night at a restaurant near Vatican City, Pete was settling in after a tour relaxing and enjoying the culture and the food. The bistro owner introduced Pete to a couple of Vatican Monsignors at a nearby table. The conversation got around to Pete’s reason for being in in the country and the church fathers made a request that was a bit out of the ordinary; they asked that Pete play for the house. The restaurant owner was enthusiastic enough to drive Pete back to his hotel to retrieve his guitar. “Next thing I know, I’m performing the Wyoming brand of Country for the Vatican dignitaries in their own neighborhood. Pretty amazing,” Pete acknowledges.
There were plenty of twists and turns on the road from Casper to Europe. Generations earlier the Martinez family migrated from New Mexico to Wyoming to work the mines of the northern Rockies. Pete’s mother’s family were farmers and ranchers, and it was on his grandparents’ place as well as spending time in the Wyoming countryside that young Pete’s affection for the outdoors and the rural lifestyle took root. Riding horses across the prairie and chasing each other horseback through the hills was common during family gatherings. His musical talent was something he picked up from his dad.
Pete’s father, Pete, Sr., put a guitar in Pete’s hands when he was only four years old. Soon the junior Pete was strumming along with other family members gathered in the living room after dinner, singing tunes made famous by the likes of Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Elvis Presley. It was in that circle of family members that Pete was first discovered—the finding being that this youngster owned the rare talent of having perfect pitch. He routinely tuned everyone’s guitars by ear, which in itself was an art. But there was more. After hearing a song played just once, young Pete was able to play it chord for chord without the benefit of seeing written music.
When winter’s north wind gusts over Casper, the howl is nothing like city folk have ever heard. The closest thing by comparison would be eerie wail emitting from a high rise elevator on a particularly blustery day in a city of steel. Out in the open, with a stretch of land as far as the eye can see, a man comes to terms with himself and duty to others. So when it came time for Pete to pick a career path, the choice was to do what was right by the family and his conservative Wyoming roots. “Making a living as an entertainer wasn’t a normal thing to do coming from Casper, so I went to engineering school because it seemed like the right thing at the time,” Martinez explains. He set his sights on a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Wyoming. His family was duly proud…he’d be the first college grad in his family.
Pete’s love of music went along with him to Laramie. He formed a duo with Max Guetz, a fellow Casperite, and after hitting the books all day, they played both locally and at events as far away as Denver. That’s also around the time he gave up his other hobby, bull riding. “It was a combination of a little lower testosterone and a little higher wisdom on my part, although I did have a great run,” Pete reminisces about his younger years with friends as a competitive bull rider. Right out of college, Pete’s first engineering job took him to California.
Engineers live by a grid system. They think in equations and mathematics. Pete could do the math; his engineering job by day allowed him to do what he truly loved by night…playing small rural venues near the Napa Valley. When engineering lured him back to Colorado, he began performing as the house musician at the old Denver Buffalo Company restaurant, a popular haunt on Lincoln for years. He got the urge to start up another band with some Denver locals, this one called Way Out West. Soon they were setting attendance records across the northern Colorado Front Range. Life had settled into a routine that Pete found enjoyable. He didn’t know that doors were about to open. Wide.
He made the acquaintance of Greg Morris, recently named CEO of Fuller & Co., a private commercial real estate firm in Denver. Besides being impressed with Pete’s musical talent, Morris was enamored of Pete’s genuine warmth and ability to carry any conversation at every social level. Morris learned that Martinez wanted to find a job that would let him spend more time with his music and songwriting and offered Pete that entrée. Would he be willing to go to work as a farm and ranch broker for Fuller, Morris asked. Pete’s answer was a resounding yes. Ranch real estate synced up perfectly with Pete’s love of open space, ranching, and the west. His surveying and engineering background were attributes that Morris could tell would make Pete a success in the industry.
Pete attributes his success as a broker to his upbringing. “The folks I had a chance to represent were a lot like the folks back in Wyoming. I was raised to respect the effort a man put into caring for his land and livestock. That mutual appreciation of the value of Ag assets—primarily land, livestock, and water—made it a lot easier for me to build relationships with ranch and farm owners in order to help them achieve their goals when it came to selling land, cattle and water rights” Martinez says.
These traits stood Pete in good stead as he grew into starting his own company, focusing on water resource development. He eventually became a respected authority on water rights, eventually founding, Western Water Resources LLC, helping both rural, municipal, and investment groups develop their water resources. And he kept on writing and singing Country music.
During the ’90s, his band, “Way Out West,” performed up and down the Front Range at clubs, meetings, conventions, and shows that sold out on a regular basis. He met livestock auctioneer Jim Odle at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, and Odle was so impressed by Pete’s music that he offered to sponsor a recording session in Nashville. After considering over 300 songs, Pete settled on the ten that he would record for his first album, “Changes.”
As Pete’s reputation grows, so do his fan numbers, audiences captivated by his talent and charisma. His smooth baritone and engaging personality have resonated from nightclubs and concert halls across the world, from South America to Europe with stops along the way at places like the Professional Bull Riding Championships in Las Vegas and even a U.S. presidential inauguration.
Connections in the entertainment world are often accidental. Opportunities even more so.
It’s rare that a Country singer hails from Wyoming. One of the more recognizable is Chris Ledoux, an American Country music singer and songwriter having released 36 albums and selling more than six million units in the U.S. alone as of 2007. Attending high school in Cheyenne and later earning a rodeo scholarship to Casper College, he’s as close as it gets to Pete for a role model of how to make it in the biz while hailing from Wyoming. LeDoux broke into the national scene from Wyoming with an introduction from Garth Brooks. Pete performed with LeDoux in concert. Pete was on the road performing in Canada in 2004, when the word came down that LeDoux had died. He dedicated his performance to LeDoux that night using the words of song to honor his mentor. As Pete says, “being chosen to sing a tribute to Chris at the College National Finals following his passing was one of the greatest honors I have received”.
So what’s a fella to do after taking Europe by storm? How about performing where the most famous storming of Europe took place—Normandy Beach?
Last March, Pete had an opportunity to meet Tim Davis, founder and president of The Greatest Generations Foundation, a Denver-based organization dedicated to promoting the service and sacrifice veterans have made in past and current conflicts. They currently fly WWII veterans to their respective battlefields at no expense to the veterans. Mutual friends introduced them and Davis asked Martinez if he’d be interesting in writing the theme song for the Foundation.
Honored, Pete got his first inkling of the lyrics the following month in Evergreen, the place he calls home when in Colorado. After touring Europe during the summer and reflecting on the legacy of the veterans, he came home to spend time with his riding buddies on a trail ride near Chama, New Mexico. “All sorts of thoughts get inspired during the quiet moments riding horseback in the hills with a few close friends,” Martinez says. “I started thinking about all the boys who went to war from the farms, ranches and cities of our country as well as from all the other countries who contributed to the effort.” The lyrics for the tribute began to take shape, slowly at first and then the floodgates opened up. Not wanting to risk forgetting, Pete ducked into his pickup truck where he sat writing on the back of an old contract tucked away in some papers he happened to have with him. He didn’t stop until the song was done, every last nuance. “‘We Thank You’ is a simple song of gratitude for the sacrifices made in World War II and the many conflicts since that have made the world a better and safer place for me and millions like me to grow up in,” he says.
Pete polished the lyrics and immediately headed to Nashville where he recorded the song. Davis endorsed the song and approved it for the Foundation to use as its theme song. As agreed with Davis and in support of the vets, Martinez will donate a portion of the proceeds from the song to the Foundation.
Philanthropy is a big part of Pete Martinez’s life. He regularly donates songs and performance time to charities and non-profit groups. His song “The Horse” is a tribute to the legacy of the horse, which he wrote, recorded, and donated it’s use to CSU. It is now the theme song for a PBS documentary, Horse Sense, about the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and the world-changing contribution they have made to the equine world. He’s contributed to fundraisers for the American Cancer Society, Volunteers of America, the American Red Cross, Special Olympics, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Share Our Strength, and 911 families, as well as for firefighters, police and many other civic and charitable organizations.
“We Thank You” has been such a hit with The Greatest Generations Foundation that they are making a music video of the song and plan to use it as the theme song for a short movie commemorating the veterans of WWII. Martinez will perform the lyrics in Normandy, France this coming summer (June, 2014) to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. He will be joined there by veterans and dignitaries that include President Barak Obama, Prince William of England, the British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the Chancellor Merkel of Germany to honor the thousands who took part in the landings and those who have followed them in service.
These are the happy trails of a cowboy singing Country. Or as they say in Sweden, lyckliga stig, cowboy!