From Carencro to U.S. tours, a four-year gig at an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino owned by a future president of the United States, a spell in Nashville and Texas, worldwide touring and eventually back home, Gregg Martinez has led quite the musician’s life.
And come Saturday night at Rock ’n’ Bowl de Lafayette, Martinez’s persistence and voice will get rewarded when he’s inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
Showtime is 9 p.m. with Don Rich followed by Lucas Spinosa, Bob Henderson and the Rougon Band, then Martinez and The Delta Kings.
“If you look at it one way, I’ve accomplished a lot,” Martinez said. “If you look at some ways, I haven’t done anything. So it depends on what perception you choose to take.”
He explained it like this: “I never had a hit record but I’m one of the guys who have had opportunities and I slipped through the cracks. I’ve made some bad choices as well, but at the same time, I’ve been around the world seven times doing this.”
Martinez began singing for a living in 1975 — a solo acoustic outing a la James Taylor, Jim Croce “and all that,” he said. “But I was chomping at the bit to be a front man because my voice was getting too big for that kind of music.”
After a couple of years, Martinez formed Gregg Martinez and the Kingfish Band, playing rock, disco, R&B and Top 40.
However, the booking agency told Martinez: “Nobody’s going to know what Kingfish means outside of Louisiana,” he said, adding that along with the name, so went the maroon satin jackets with gold trim sporting a fish wearing a crown. “So it became Gregg Martinez and The Heat.”
Well, that’s certainly depressing. It’s like going from Cajun and Creole seasoning to salt and pepper.
Anyway, the band toured and “we wound up in Atlantic City, New Jersey,” said Martinez, where they landed a gig at a casino owned by Donald Trump.
“I was known as Ivana Trump’s personal favorite,” Martinez said of the president's first wife. “I had an exclusive deal with Trump Properties back then. I stayed there four years.”
The band would play six weeks at a time, hit the road for a bit and return to the casino.
Martinez said he then had a million-dollar recording opportunity that he let slip away with producers “that were part of the Philadelphia music scene in the 70’s – Teddy Pendergrass, the O’Jays, The Spinners – they were going to make me the ‘White Teddy.’”
Alas, it didn’t come to pass.
“A lot of it was me. I didn’t take it seriously. I didn’t take my career seriously until later, so I squandered some opportunities,” said Martinez, who shared some sage advice: “I would say don’t squander your opportunities. Take your career seriously but don’t be too serious. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
So Martinez headed back home briefly before taking to Texas for a Christian music episode.
“I started doing a lot of churches, a public school program, and I went around the world doing that,” he said. Still, his nature continued to call.
“I got tired of listening to what everybody else said I should do and just went where my heart was,” Martinez said. “The style that I kept gravitating back toward was the style I like the most, which was the old school R&B.”
As the millennium approached, Martinez went with R&B full-throttle as heard on “For the Ages.”
“I began really start throwing my Marvin Gaye-style stuff — all the stuff I always wanted to do and always did,” he said. And six years later, “I was doing what we call blue-eyed soul, which has fallen under the umbrella of swamp pop.”
Martinez’s “Soul of the Bayou,” released in 2016, “is by far the best record I ever made,” he said. “It was on the Grammy ballot and received the best reviews I ever got.”
It made OffBeat’s Top 10 releases of the year and was nominated for the New Orleans’ music magazine’s Best Blues Album. “I never made the Top 50 before this one,” said Martinez.
It also made the Roots Music Report’s R&B charts and other Internet music charts.
Speaking of OffBeat, Martinez was nominated for Best Male Vocalist, the fifth time in seven years, but lost out to Cyril Neville just last week.
“Yeah, I’m real happy with the way things are," he said. "The band is great, and we’re looking to make another album. So things are going great.”
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