TRUE TALES OF THE ROAD: Jeff Martin’s close call in Jordan

Jeff Martin’s entire life is a True Tale of the Road.

We remember him as a guy who sings (and looks) like Jim Morrison and plays guitar like Jimmy Page, which worked out because Jeff’s first band the Tea Party was sort of a hybrid of both. He played strange stringed instruments from exotic places, lived in a spooky old house in Montreal, grew too fond of mind-altering drugs and claimed that supernatural forces were at work on his mind. He even experienced “yogic flying.”

After adventures aplenty, the Tea Party broke up in 2005 (long before the right-wing Tea Party movement came along to obfuscate matters). Martin made a solo record with the Toronto Tabla Orchestra. He moved to Ireland for some peace and quiet and made twee, folky music. Somewhere in there he’d met nice Australian girl, married her, had a kid (Django James Patrick, now six years old) and moved to Australia, where he lives now (two homes, one on each coast, sweet). And now he’s got yet another new band called Jeff Martin 777, which played Festival Place Saturday night (March 12) as part of a tour behind his new album, The Ground Cries Out. It sort of sounds like the Tea Party, with its mystical fusion of hard rock and Middle Eastern melodies and lyrics about dark seas, secret gardens and flaming funeral pyres. If anything, it’s even deeper.

Martin’s love of Middle Eastern culture came in handy during a visit to Jordan last summer. It could’ve been a scene straight out of Midnight Express.

He tells it: “I was over in Europe, doing solo acoustic shows, but I also had a show in Istanbul and Beirut in Lebanon. The routing was weird. We had to fly out of Jordan to get back to Europe to get back to Australia. Now Jordan is very similar to Libya in the sense that it’s a closed off country. The military is a massive presence. So we’re going through security to get on the plane. I’ve been trying to take better care of myself, so I have a certain vitamin regime. I have pinched nerves in my neck from all those Les Paul guitar straps, so I have to take this thing called Muscle-ease, which is magnesium powder.”

You can see where this is going.

“Yeah, so magnesium power is white, and if it’s exposed to very humid conditions, like it is in Jordan by the sea in July, it clumps up. So of course the moisture got into this magnesium powder – and it looked exactly like a big bottle of crack cocaine. So we’re passing through security, military everywhere. Everybody’s packing heat. We’re standing out like sore thumb. All the men are in traditional robes and all the women are in burkas. We’re in there looking like Exile on Main Street. The security guys decided they were going to have a field day with us. Kenny Watt, my guitar tech, goes through fine. I’m behind him. They start rummaging through my stuff. They go through everything. They’re holding up my rock ‘n’ roll clothes and laughing at each other. We’re running a bit late. I’m looking at my watch, thinking, come on boys, let’s go. Then they come to the magnesium bottle. They’ve got their little swiper and this red light keeps coming on. Magnesium is also used in explosives. This stuff is a compound, so it’s safe. So basically things are starting to get really hairy. There were more and more military personnel, then I was surrounded by 10 of them and they’re speaking to me in Arabic. I understand a little bit, enough to get by, but they were really talking fast and really giving me the business. And I thought: Here it is. After all these years of being on the road, I’m going to be put in jail in Jordan for magnesium powder. Kenny’s on the plane already. I’m hearing my name on the loudspeaker: “Arabic, Arabic, Arabic, Jeff Martin, Arabic, Arabic.” For the first time in my career I was frightened. This is not going to go down well. Finally, I found that one of the many military people could actually speak a little English. This is a minute before my plane’s going to take off. I calmly explained what the powder was for. I put my finger in and tasted it, and I invited the military officer to do the same thing. Once that was done, he waved everyone off, and I had to the O.J. Simpson sprint like you wouldn’t believe to get on that plane.”

This would’ve been a more interesting road story had he been put in a filthy Jordanian jail, but we’re glad he got out of it. Besides, he might not have been around today to talk about it if he hadn’t. It’s a classic close call.

Tickets to Jeff Martin 777 start at $32, and are available here or by calling 780.449.3378.