FRIDAY, MAY 5—FAIS DO-DO STAGE, 1:20 P.M.
Gregg Martinez, the powerhouse swamp pop vocalist from Cajun country, inspires audiences through his big, emotional performances of classic soul and rhythm-and-blues.
“I’m a torch singer,” Martinez said. “I’m going to tell a story. It’s going to be heartfelt and passionate. I’m going to deliver the lyrics in a way that there’s no misunderstanding, no doubt about what this song is saying.”
When Martinez returns to the Jazz Fest, he’ll lead a swamp pop revue featuring three of his heroes: G.G. Shinn, T.K. Hulin and Tommy McLain.
“That’s a huge honor,” he said of being part of the biggest representation of swamp pop at the 2017 Jazz Fest.
During one of his earlier Jazz Fest appearance, Martinez found a celebrity fan in the music-loving Ed Bradley. After the late 60 Minutes reporter caught the singer’s Jazz Fest set, he praised Martinez as one of America’s hidden treasures.
Martinez grew up near Carencro in Lafayette Parish. He loved listening to national soul stars such as Al Green, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. But he also enjoyed local swamp pop favorites Hulin and Shinn.
“Al Green, Sam Cooke, all of those guys, the feeling they have is incredible,” Martinez said. “I studied those guys. But T.K. and G.G., I could go witness them in person. They blew me away. There were as good as anybody out there.”
Martinez once worried that swamp pop music would disappear. Both the music’s performers and audience were aging. But he’s not so worried now.
“Swamp pop is alive and well,” he said. “We’ve got a lot young people doing it. Junior Lacrosse, Ryan Foret and Foret Tradition, these guys are real popular.”
Martinez’s nearly 40 years of professional singing include a four-year engagement in the 1980s at Trump’s Castle casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The showband he performed with definitely had Louisiana soul.
By the late ’80s, Martinez was back in the South. After moving to Texas, he sang Christian and gospel music. When he returned to southwest Louisiana in 2006, a lead singer position in the legendary Boogie Kings was waiting for him. He also wrote and sang the title song for the band’s final studio album, 2007’s Never Go Away.
Post–Boogie Kings, Martinez knows exactly what his mission is.
“I try to lift people up,” he said. “My job is to show them through music how beautiful life can be.”