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|Musician Martin Strayer shows support for Olympic wrestling during Tonight Show appearance|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
Martin Strayer performs alongside his wife, Court Yard Hounds lead singer Emily Robison, on NBC’s Tonight Show last Thursday.
Martin Strayer had something special planned for his appearance on NBC’s Tonight Show with Jay Leno last Thursday night.
Strayer planned to wear a Penn State wrestling shirt when he played guitar for the Court Yard Hounds during the musical group’s Tonight Show appearance.
Strayer and his father, Martin Strayer III, an All-American wrestler for Penn State, are strong supporters of the highly successful Nittany Lions program.
But at the last minute, Strayer came up with a different idea.
“I was reading one of the wrestling websites and I saw where Jay Leno was vocal about saving Olympic wrestling and had Rulon Gardner on the Tonight Show,” Strayer said. “That’s when I decided I was going to wear a Save Olympic Wrestling shirt. I was scrambling to get a shirt made the day before the show.”
Strayer’s decision to wear the shirt on the Tonight Show has generated an abundance of positive reaction and attention in the wrestling community and beyond.
“The feedback’s been amazing,” Strayer said. “It’s been over the top. It was way more than I expected – I’m thrilled with the response we’ve received. It’s brought a lot of attention to wrestling’s fight to stay in the Olympics, which is great.”
Strayer, 43, is a guitarist and co-writer for the Court Yard Hounds, a country music and folk group that was founded by sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire of the Dixie Chicks. The Dixie Chicks have won 13 Grammy Awards.
The Court Yard Hounds, featuring Robison as lead vocalist, released their debut album in 2010. It debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 chart, and has sold over a million copies in the U.S.
The Court Yard Hounds just released their second album “Amelita” and performed the song “Sunshine” on the Tonight Show last week. Strayer stood a few feet behind Robison and Maguire during the performance, playing the guitar with his Save Olympic Wrestling shirt in full view the entire time for the millions of people watching on television.
“I didn’t want to tell everybody I was going to wear the shirt on the show – I wanted it to be a surprise,” Strayer said. “We shot the show at 5 in the afternoon Pacific Coast time and then they showed it on television that night. After the show, we went and had dinner and then we crashed. When I woke up, my phone was blowing up and going nuts. I had messages and texts from all kinds of people who were excited about what I did.”
Among them were Penn State coaches Cael Sanderson, Cody Sanderson and Casey Cunningham along with 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner, who has trained at Penn State.
“I had so many nice comments from so many people in and out of wrestling,” Strayer said. “I was excited to make that kind of impact. I don’t think anybody in our band realized we would get this kind of reaction. We are supporting a really good cause and I hope what I did can help wrestling.”
Strayer’s shirt also caught the attention of the Tonight Show host.
“At the end of the show, Jay Leno comes right up to me and starts saying how cool it was that I was wearing that shirt and how stupid it was that the Olympics would even consider dropping wrestling,” Strayer said. “That was very cool.”
Strayer’s father paved the way for his involvement in wrestling. Martin Strayer III placed fifth for Penn State at the 1965 NCAA Championships. He is a successful businessman who has served as a board member for the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“My dad has done so much for wrestling,” Martin Strayer IV said. “He has endowed a scholarship fund and is very heavily involved with the Penn State program. He loves giving back. It’s been incredible to watch my dad’s pride and joy having success now. It’s been amazing to see the success that they’ve had. When Cael, Cody and Casey came in as coaches, it was instantly a big change for the better. I’ve gotten to know the Penn State coaching staff very well and I consider them great friends. They are great guys and obviously great coaches.”
Martin Strayer IV was raised in Pennsylvania before his family moved to California when he was a freshman in high school. He returned to Pennsylvania to wrestle collegiately at Wilkes University, which competed at the NCAA Division I level.
Among the wrestlers he competed against was Olympian and Mixed Martial Arts star Dan Henderson.
“I wasn’t a superstar or anything, but wrestling has been great to me,” Strayer said. “I love giving back to the sport. I wrestled for 18 years of my life and it’s always been a sport that has taught me so much. I enjoyed it from Day 1. The values it teaches you about discipline and hard work are so important. That has kept me going in my life and helped me achieve goals in life. I never quit and I never stop working hard, and that’s what wrestling taught me. It teaches you life lessons that I apply every day. It’s such a great sport.”
Strayer said he’s followed wrestling’s Olympic fight closely since the International Olympic Committee Executive Board recommended Feb. 12 that wrestling be removed as a core Olympic sport after 2016.
“Having wrestling not be in the Olympics is ridiculous,” he said. “It’s man’s oldest sport. I know there are a lot of politics involved, but it doesn’t make any sense.”
Strayer grew up wrestling and also was introduced to music at a young age.
“I was raised playing classical piano,” Strayer said. “My mom told me, ‘Some day you are going to thank me.’ That training allowed me to write music and learn the guitar. I was very blessed to learn what I did at such a young age. I have always been passionate about wrestling and music.”
Strayer started playing in bands in college before becoming a sound engineer for numerous top musical groups. He worked for 20 years mixing sound on the road for the likes of Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin, Guns and Roses, and Madonna.
Strayer continued to write and produce music on the side before making a connection with the Dixie Chicks when working as a sound engineer for them in 2006. He started writing music with the sisters in the group, which eventually led to him joining them as part of the Court Yard Hounds.
Strayer is married to Emily Robison and they have a daughter, Violet, who is 10 and a half months old. They live in San Antonio, Texas.
“Violet is an amazing little girl,” Strayer said. “She is named after my dad’s mom. We take Violet on the road with us and she loves music. Life is good with Emily and Violet. We couldn’t be happier.”
The Court Yard Hounds also appeared recently on Good Morning America and Late Night with David Letterman.
Strayer said he still attends Penn State meets and was there when the Nittany Lions won their third straight NCAA title this past March in Des Moines, Iowa. He also attended the 2012 Dave Schultz Memorial International at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs while supporting the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club.
Strayer took his wife to the Penn State-Ohio State dual in State College.
“Emily loved it,” Strayer said. “She was blown away by some of the guys like Ed Ruth with their physiques and their athleticism. She thought it was great. She has become a big fan of wrestling. She was very supportive of me wearing the Save Olympic Wrestling shirt on the Tonight Show.”
The Court Yard Hounds are scheduled to appear at the Fargo Theatre on Thursday in Fargo, N.D. before playing at the popular Lollapalooza event in Chicago on Saturday.
“I am going to break out the Save Olympic Wrestling shirt out again,” Strayer said. “I think I am going to see wrestlers Jake Herbert and Aaron Anspach in Chicago on Saturday. It would be a great time to break the shirt out again.”
Strayer said he is going to do everything he can for the sport before the International Olympic Committee’s vote on Sept. 8 that will determine if wrestling stays in the Olympics beyond 2016.
“I am so excited to be able to make an impact,” he said. “I am 100 percent behind saving Olympic wrestling and making sure it lives on. I would do anything for wrestling. The sport has done so much for me.”