HENRIETTA, N.Y. (WROC) — In 1977, a musician born in Medina, who would go on to go by the stage name Zilch Fletcher, released an album called “Nobody’s Dreamboat.” Now in 2022, John Martin (his real name), and his daughter, Katy Martin, are re-releasing this album on digital platforms.
They are throwing a digital released party at Lovin’ Cup in Henrietta Friday night, where Katy and other local musicians are playing down the hits of Zlich Fletcher.
It was only possible after restoring a nearly unsalvageable version of the master tape restored by audio archivist Matthew Guarnere from What’s Real Unlimited.
Fletcher hit the height of his fame when he performed a song called “The Ballad of Bloody Guts,” which is the opening track of “Nobody’s Dreamboat,” on the Dr. Demento show. Dr. Demento is a nationally recognized DJ, who played novelty music from across the country. But the story of Zilch Fletcher starts back in Medina.
“My parents said I learned to sing before I learned to talk,” Zilch said. “A lot of my songs sort of were inspired by different strange records when I was a kid. So a lot of my songs came from science fiction movies, monster movies.”
Early is his career, he worked as a clean cut country musician, and would eventually move to Nashville trying to make a dime. But he came to find that the clean cut “John Martin” wasn’t doing as well as the weird songs of “Zilch Fletcher.” His influence grew, and would go on to be featured in papers in Medina, Nashville, and even landed a couple gigs as a movie extra then. His artistic message was certainly passed down to his daughter.
“There are a lot of like, sort of like kid friendly songs,” Katy said. “But of course, there’s a lot of other songs that I hadn’t heard until later. And so yeah, a lot of those are on the ‘Nobody’s Dreamboat’ album. But our house was always filled with music, and I always appreciated that. “
News 8 spoke to John and Katy at Lovin’ Cup, where they were poring over found artifacts from Zilch’s career. Now a musician herself with a duo called “The Local Hangups,” Katy wanted to restore her father’s music and put it online for the first time.
But the master tape she dug up was dirty, covered in mold, and had a litany of other issues and damage. But there was one unusual thing that caught the eye of Matt Guarnere with What’s Real Unlimited — who would go on to restored and transferred the tape — there was note with a circle with a line through it.
“In this business that’s jargon for out of phase or meaning the polarity is wrong on this tape,” Guarnere dismissed it as an issue to be addressed later. Thankfully he was able to get the tape clean and otherwise playable, but was in for quite a shock when he played the tape.
“I hear this sound that well, the best way to describe an out of phase signal I can think of is it kind of get the sensation that like your two brain hemispheres are unscrewing,” he said.
Out of phase signals — which have (nearly) opposite waveforms — tend to make the final product sound hollow with a tremendous loss of frequency content. Phasing signals are fairly common when recording music, but are often fixed through the mixing process. Guarnere says that to have an entire record out of phase with itself is incredibly rare; it’s the first time in his decades in this business that he’s heard this.
So somehow, the master tape was pressed to vinyl with this glaring issue, and it remained that way for decades. But after Guarnere restored the tape, it was an issue fixed with one click of a button; that one with a circle with a line through it, which by a sheer remarkable coincidence, is Zilch Fletcher’s logo.
As for the released music now, there is something impressive about it: It is still novelty music at its core, but the music is still timeless.
“I’m always trying to reach every generation. I’m 76. Though I’m surprised so many people like it,” Zilch said. “When I first wanted to write country music, (it was) regular straight country music. I sort of got known a little bit. But every time I played something crazy, they loved it more.”