Snooks Martin

Master of Barroom Percussion Instruments 

The following is a recollection from field notes written by folklorist Robert Bethke when he met Gerald “Snooks” Martin of St. Regis Falls in the summer of 1979 and observed Martin playing folk percussion instruments—namely beer bottles and a bar tray—to a recorded traditional fiddle tune.

"Push U1 and V1 over there on the jukebox," said the burly patron in suspendered work pants, looking every part the classic Adirondack woodsman. "I'll show you how to do it." Gerald "Snooks" Martin, of St. Regis Falls, just happened to be at Bert Susice's roadside Blue Mountain Inn, on the way to Santa Clara, on the afternoon of August 6, 1979. Varick Chittenden and Bob Bethke, bearing tape recorder and camera, were there to interview Bert Susice, known to play several instruments.

The two folklorists were totally unprepared to find "Snooks, who took interest in the talk at the bar when it turned to playing the clapper bones. Saying he never could manipulate them, Snooks then very deliberately arose from his seat and went behind the bar, where he retrieved an old beer tray and two empty long-neck beer bottles. By then the jukebox was playing "Peace River Breakdown" by legendary Canadian fiddler Don Messer.

Snooks pulled up a chair at a table and began to keep time with the piece. He played the bottles in clapper bones style, and used the beer tray to emulate an Irish bodhran [frame drum akin to large tambourine], rhythmically striking it with the back of one hand. The effect was mesmerizing, even magical--pure chance to witness improvised percussion in accompaniment and traditional style, not unlike what one might have witnessed years earlier at the same locale, when lumberjacks would stop in.