She is only in her 30s, but Flemington-based singer-songwriter-guitarist Christine Martucci writes songs as if she has been around twice that long. Indeed, the problem with too many of today’s up-and-coming singer-songwriters is they don’t have life experience to draw from, and even less to say. Martucci has plenty of both. Her new CD, “I’m All In,” was recently voted “Best Album” by voters in the Asbury Park Music Awards. Her first album, “Mama Says,” was produced by Black Potatoe Festival co-founder and Stanhope House co-owner Matt Angus.
“I see myself continuing in a blues, soul, and roots rock tradition,” Martucci says, and, in a rare moment of bluster, “I want to be the next Bonnie Raitt, to have the kind of success she had with ‘Luck of the Draw.’ She’s just such a well-respected musician and songwriter. I’d love to be remembered like that.”
Literally on the road to that goal Martucci and her band are all over the Garden State map, playing in clubs and coffee houses in all corners of the state. Coming next: an appearance at Nassau Street’s Triumph Brewing Company on Thursday, December 20. In recent months they’ve also played venues in California, Ohio, and Virginia.
Martucci and her band are not signed with a record company — which usually will offer an artist some kind of tour support, be it setting up interviews at radio stations or, on a grander scale, gas, toll and hotel money — so she’s particularly proud of the ground they have covered.
Martucci was born into a musical family and raised primarily in Flemington and Readington, in Hunterdon County. Her father was an Army veteran and a trumpet player, and all three of her brothers played instruments. “I grew up in the country here,” she says, referring to her roots in semi-rural Flemington, where she still lives, “and out here in the 1970s and 80s, you made your own fun. There really wasn’t much to do.”
After graduating from Hunterdon Central High School, Martucci tried college at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, intending to major in history but she dropped out after a year. Still wanting to get out and see the world beyond Flemington, she enlisted in the Army, and served there and in the National Guard for nine years between 1985 and 1994.
She lost her father, a stone mason and truck driver, suddenly to a heart attack, in 1999, and her mother worked at the Courier-News in sales and now teaches art in Tucson.
“I was almost an Army career person,” she says, “and kind of followed in my Dad’s footsteps. He did his three years in the Army, and right after he got out, his whole unit was deployed to Vietnam. My dad introduced me to soul and rhythm and blues and Motown music, so I developed a passion for music at a very young age.” She dedicated a song to her father, who is buried in Flemington, on her debut album, “Mama Says.”
“I’m a bit of a free spirit,” she says, “and while I didn’t get into trouble in the Army, I later realized I needed the structure and some kind of direction in my life. I just needed to live and travel the world and the military gave me that option.”
She agrees with this writer that you’ve got to live a little to be able to write good songs. “I met so many interesting people, and strange people, in my younger years, I was like a sponge and just took it all in. Not with the idea I was going to write songs about them, but I just wanted to experience everything life has to offer,” she says.
At every one of her live shows, she doesn’t leave until the last CD is signed for the last fan. “I love meeting new people, especially my fans, and it’s always interesting to hear what they’ve been through in their lives as well,” she says. Through a tenacious combination of savvy bookings, grassroots marketing, and ever-expanding notebooks filled with E-mail addresses, Martucci has built her own little empire. Two assistants, Barbara Young and Kathy Falcey, a music promoter based in Hamilton, help her manage her career. She has been with her current band — guitarist Pat Ruh, drummer Chuck Ribaudo and bassist Duane Horn — for five years.
Martucci did her first radio interview in France while in the Army, and she also had a life-altering experience while in the service. Prior to shipping out overseas, she came down with an allergic reaction to yellow fever and a host of other vaccines she was given and nearly died. She was at advanced individual training at Fort Gordon, Ga. in 1985, about to ship out overseas. After getting vaccinated, she went back to her barracks and began to feel feverish. She was rushed to the hospital on the base. Her temperature rose to 104.
‘I passed out and that night I guess I died because I was walking down this corridor and there was a woman in one picture, and she stepped out of the picture and then I saw Jesus in another picture and he stepped out,” she says. “He had the two puncture wounds [stigmata] in the palm of his hand and I said, ‘No, I’ve got to keep going,’ and there’s no weight to my body anymore and I’m just sort of floating. Then there was this presence that said, ‘Come into my kingdom.’ When I woke up, they told me I had nearly died, but I didn’t have to be told that because I already knew that.”
Her experience convinced her that God or a “divine one” does indeed exist. And needless to say, having that near-death experience gave her a newfound appreciation for life. Although she started writing her own songs in high school, the experience provided plenty of fodder for new songs.
After getting out of the National Guard in 1996, Martucci pursued more solo and band gigs and began to take her music more seriously. It takes time to build a grassroots following the way Martucci has. She knew that. “There is no such thing as an overnight sensation anymore,” she says, given today’s record company climate, “and being a musician is a long road. But, that one and a half to two hours on stage makes up for it, hands down, every time.”
With shows in recent years at Starland Ballroom, a large venue in Sayreville, opening for Johnny Winter, Kansas, the Doobie Brothers, Jeff Healey and Scandal, Martucci has had the opportunity to expand her fan base. She has also had the chance to do the same at shore-area clubs like Asbury Park’s Stone Pony.
She has used the Internet to her advantage, and has her own website, www.christinemartucci.com, as well as a MySpace page devoted to her band. “I’m just now starting to feel the effects of all the hard work and time we put into it,” she says. “I’ve got a really solid band behind me and we’re a real working unit now. That is so hard to find, we all get along together musically and personally as well.”
Like her musical mentors, Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams, Martucci might get signed by a big record company and might be playing theaters in the next five years. But if that doesn’t happen she has built enough of a grass roots following to continue her career as a regional musician for as long as she wants.
“I don’t have unrealistic expectations, but I don’t limit myself either. I keep the doors open,” she says, “whatever the future holds, it’s bright and looks great. Is there a major label knocking at my door? No, not at the present time, but I don’t think they’re knocking on anybody’s door right now.”
Christine Martucci, Thursday, December 20, 10 p.m., Triumph Brewing Company, 138 Nassau Street. Martucci appears as part of the singer-songwriter showcase hosted by Frank Thewes.
Also, Wednesdays, January 9 and 16, 8 p.m., acoustic showcase, KatManDu, Waterfront Park, Trenton. 609-393-7300.