Julio Martínez (no relation to other Mariachi Vargas members of the same last name) was born in Mexico City. His father, Julio Martínez Sr., was an avid collector of harp records from all regions of Mexico and South America, and Julio enjoyed listening to harp music from his earliest childhood. At age 14, his father bought him his first harp, and he began studying under the tutelage of legendary Veracruz harpist Mario Barradas. He later studied with Paraguayan harpist Celso Duarte, who lived in Mexico and taught different South American harp styles. In 1980, at age 20, Julio began playing professionally in coffeehouses called peñas, performing with ensembles that primarily interpreted Latin American folk music.
In 1988, after launching his first solo album, Latinoamérica y su Música, accompanied by Mariachi Vargas, Julio suddenly found his services in high demand. In 1989, he was playing solo harp at a hotel in Southern California when José Hernández discovered him and convinced him to join Mariachi Sol de México. This was the first time Julio had been a member of a mariachi group or worn a traje de charro. He remained with Sol de México until 1995, when he joined Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.
Julio’s primary contributions to Mariachi Vargas have been to showcase the melodic aspect of the harp and to introduce new harp styles and techniques. Julio is responsible, in great part, for a resurgence of the popularity of the harp in mariachi music. He advises young players to discover which instrument best suits them. “We all have different aptitudes and sensibilities,” he observes, “some for string instruments, others for wind instruments, others for voice.” His advice to budding harpists is not to get stuck in one style and, instead, listen to harpists from many different countries and regions.