Big man, little girl

| June 01, 2006

Ex-driver-turned-musician Leland Martin grew up hunting for food and says it’s in his blood – but these days his best time in the woods is with 4-year-old granddaughter Neona.

Want to see an ex-driver who knows how to make a hard-scrabble living, hunt and live off the woods and handle a truck-driving audience with a guitar in his hands turn to mush?

Just set him loose in the woods with his 4-year old granddaughter Neona.

Leland Martin, 48, grew up hunting because it put food on the table of his family’s southern Missouri home. He was born and raised in the tiny town of Success, “population 25″ he recalls fondly, amid dairy farms, logging and sawmills.

Today he’s known by truckers as the man behind “Stone Cold Fingers,” a popular trucking anthem about just how hard it is to get the road out of your blood, and his country albums also include remakes of classics such as “Six Days on the Road” and “Looking at the World through a Windshield.”

“I’d take the .22 out when I was just 13 or so and spend the day shooting squirrels or rabbits, maybe laying live traps for rabbits,” he says. “If I could get a few, it helped feed a family of nine kids. Then I grew up a bit, and we’d deer hunt. I never shot animals for sport; it was meat for the table when I was a kid.

“I still love to hunt, even thought I don’t have to. I enjoy it. But still, we never take anything we can’t clean and eat or give to someone else for their table, and it feels a lot better if you know somebody can really use it.”

Martin plunged into adult life while still a teenager.

“I got a gig singing and making money when I was just 15, so I quit high school when I was just a sophomore and started playing my music in nightclubs on the weekends,” he says. “I started working in the sawmills when I was 16, and I got married when I was 16. I was really pretty much a rebel, and Mom wasn’t happy. I turned out OK, but these days I tell young people I run into in my show ‘Don’t do what I did,’ because it’s been rougher on me than if I’d finished school.”

Much of his life he worked to get money to keep his family and his music going. His father was a legendary over-the-road man with millions of safe miles behind him, and Leland found he could make money doing the same. He worked OTR behind the wheel of Kenworths and Ford 9000 series tractors, then switched to 10 wheelers hauling material like asphalt and produce.

“The problem with over-the-road driving was that I couldn’t be home to play on the weekend, so I found driving jobs that would get me home,” he says.

And he always found time to hunt.

“When I can go hunting with my friends, or if we go off to a fishing camp, that time is precious,” he says. “It’s the sort of feeling you only find when you are hunting with friends. With my music these days, I don’t get as much time as I used to, so it is all the more valuable to me when I do get the chance to go out and swap stories in a camp or to enjoy one of my friend’s success.”

These days just being in the woods is enough for him.

“The older I get the more I love getting into the outdoors,” he says. “I appreciate the beauty of the animals in the wilderness, and there are times I don’t know if I want to hunt them anymore. I don’t think I want to go out and kill them anymore. But once hunting gets in your blood, it stays there and it’s hard not to hunt.”

“I don’t need to hunt for meat any more; I can afford balogna for sandwiches,” he says, laughing. “But I also know that wild herds need to be kept in check and hunters keep the wildlife herds that we have healthy. And I think God put these animals here for us to live off.”

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