CBS7 EXCLUSIVE: Riffing with Small Town Cover Story

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Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 9:00 AM CST
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MIDLAND, Texas (KOSA) - Louis Armstrong once said, “Life is music.”

This is especially true of Donnie Diaz, a man who has dedicated his life to helping communicate without words.

Diaz is a guitar teacher. Like most guitarists, he started for a simple reason.

“You know, when you’re 16, the first reason you want to play guitar is because of girls,” Diaz said. “That was it.”

A good enough reason to be sure, but, ranging from as young as seven to well into their 60s, his pupils run the gamut.

That includes a UT-Permian Basin engineering student and NCAA diver Garrett Martin, who Diaz calls a “gifted musician.”

“Garrett came to me approximately 11 years ago, maybe 12,” Diaz said.

“Music has been a big part of my life,” Garrett said. “I started piano when I was six years old.”

Garrett was six days old when he had his first open-heart surgery. Since then, he’s had five more, part of a condition called Shone’s Complex.

But throughout all that comes music.

“He’s gone through a lot, and for him to be where he’s at, it’s a testament to his desire and his drive,” Diaz said.

Garrett’s mother, Gina, gives some of that credit to Donnie.

“Donnie’s been more than a guitar teacher to my kids,” she said. “He’s been very much a mentor.”

But in watching Donnie and Garrett practice in her living room, Gina, a longtime musician herself, decided to pick up a bass guitar.

And every now and then, the teacher, the student, and the mom become the band.

They call themselves Small Town Cover Story, a combination of country and rock music.

It’s a concoction dreamed up by a nosy neighbor.

“I had a neighbor who drove me crazy for 10 years,” Diaz said. “He was always telling me we gotta do this, we gotta do this.”

That neighbor was the band’s drummer Art Barrera.

“One night, my phone rang—and it was that night—he goes, ‘Hey man, you always said you wanted to start a band.’ And I was like, ‘When do you wanna start,’ and he said, ‘Tomorrow,’ and I was like, ‘OK,’” Barrera said.

Barrera is the coolest guy in the band when he’s not working as a Mack truck salesman.

And rhythm guitarist Alan Erb is living the dream. What does he do for a living?

“I don’t,” Erb laughed. “I’m retired.”

It’s a motley crew on Midland’s underrated cover scene, performing at bars, clubs, and pretty much anywhere with a stage.

“I think the key to good band/cover band is getting along,” Diaz said.

Over the past couple of years, the gigs have piled up, leading Garrett to push a hesitant Donnie to take that next step: recording original music.

“He says, ‘I can’t. I’ve got the creativity of a 12-year-old girl,’” Garrett said. “And I’m like, ‘That’s where 90% of the songs are written.’”

But for now, the guitarist, the diver, the therapist, the salesman, and the retiree are content being Small Town.

“When it stops being fun, that’s when we’re done,” Barrera said.

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