Energy professional, musician, film and TV extra: WVU Tech grad has done a little bit of everything
Butch Martin says WVU Tech runs in his family. His dad attended what was then New River State in the 1930s, hitchhiking his way from Cedar Grove to Montgomery. His sister graduated from Tech in 1958, and Martin started at Tech in 1965 and graduated in 1970.
Initially coming to Tech by way of Ripley High School as a chemistry major, he changed his major to business administration technology.
But, Martin always had an interest in music. He played drums in the marching band and wanted to be in his own band after high school. While at Tech, he participated in several campus activities, including writing for the school paper about music.
“I was a member of the Sigma Pi fraternity and involved in student government. I was the music critic for the Collegian for a brief time, and wrote a few reviews of record albums,” Martin recalls.
Then, while studying at Tech, Martin’s wish of being in a band came true.
“I was walking down the hall of the dorm and heard someone playing a keyboard. The door was open, so I walked in and we got acquainted. I didn’t have a set of drums, so I used cardboard boxes and a trash can for my drums to start with. Later we ended up with a guitar player, a sax player and a bass player. I sang lead and played drums, and still do. We played the songs of the day, which are now called classic rock,” Martin says.
“Keep in mind, the Beatles had hit the U.S. just the year prior, so bands were popping up everywhere,” he explains.
The VIPs, Martin’s band, was born in Maclin Hall. They’ve been playing together for 57 years.
“We played high school proms, frat parties, bars and many events in the Bears Den starting in 1965. The band stopped playing as members started graduating in 1969. Two were married before we left Tech, and two others were drafted and serving in Vietnam. Thirteen years later, we re-formed and started playing together again and we still play today,” he said.
While at Tech, Martin says the band would travel to gigs in a 1965 Cadillac hearse.
“At the time, if a band had a hearse, it meant they had hit it big, at least locally,” Martin explains. “I saw a used hearse at a gas station in Kanawha City that had been owned by another local band. It was a 1956 model with a 1959 engine. We paid $250 for it, but the insurance was twice that much. Luckily, it never broke down on us. When we graduated, we sold it to another band for the same amount we paid for it.”
Martin graduated from Tech and began his career at Appalachian Power Company in Glen Lyn, Virginia. He obtained a master’s degree in occupational safety and health from Marshall University, which sparked his interest in occupational safety and human resources. Martin made his way through Appalachian Electric Power (AEP) and landed a job at their corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio as a Senior Compensation Consultant.
“While working for AEP, many times I would take a vacation day on Friday, drive to Richmond [Virginia] to practice with the band that evening, load up and play a gig on Saturday night and drive back home on Sunday to go back to work on Monday. It was exhausting, but I was younger then, and more durable,” Martin says.
Martin was able to retire early from AEP and decided to move to Richmond, Virginia, to be closer to the other band members. One highlight, Martin recalls, was when the VIPs played at Dogwood Dell, an outdoor amphitheater in Richmond.
“Our concert drew the biggest crowd they had that summer. We felt like rock stars that night,” he said.
Due to his early retirement, Martin was still relatively young and decided to enter the workforce again after moving to Richmond. He began work for the Virginia Department of Forensic Science as a Human Resource Analyst.
Several years ago, the VIPs had a 50th-anniversary party in Richmond.
“That was a very special night. Many Sigma Pi Tech alumni attended,” he said.
As if Martin wasn’t busy enough working and performing, he also later found a new hobby: being a film and television extra.
“I never really had an interest in film, but I was curious as to how it was done,” Martin said. “I took my son to Pittsburgh in 1998 to enroll him in the Art Institute, and they were filming Inspector Gadget while we were there. A few of us were able to stand near the filming of one of the outdoor scenes and see a bit of how things were done. Matthew Broderick walked over and chatted with our group, which made it even more interesting. The way the film process works is truly fascinating. When you watch a scene in a TV show or movie, there may be only two people in the scene, but there are 30 or 40 other crew members also on the set controlling the sound, lighting and cameras. A two-minute scene may take four hours to shoot, because lights and cameras have to be re-positioned during the scene, and there may be a dozen or so takes,” Martin explains.
Martin said he had noticed film crews popping up around the Richmond area, where they were filming a television series about John Adams. This is when he began applying for jobs as an extra. The first project he was in was “Killing Kennedy,” a made-for-television movie starring Rob Lowe. Martin played a news reporter. Since then, he’s been in 14 other projects, including an extra in the television shows "TURN: Washington’s Spies" and "Dopesick," and big-budget movies, Loving and Harriet.
One of his favorite experiences working as an extra was filming an episode of "TURN: Washington’s Spies."
“I was portraying a distinguished Colonial gentleman, complete with top hat and cane on a street in Colonial Williamsburg. While waiting for filming to start, the reality of the situation hit me: here I am standing on one of the most historic streets in the country, dressed in Colonial clothes, with tourists across the street taking pictures of me. I asked myself, ‘How did I end up here?’"
From his career, music and hobby as a film and TV extra, he says to take advantage of all the opportunities in your life.
“The only advice I can give younger people is to follow your instincts and make career decisions based on what opportunities present themselves and think about what you want to do and achieve,” he says.