Gregg Martinez, the soul-singing bus driver from Opelousas, Louisiana, has rubbed shoulders with the late Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes fame, Ivanka Trump and other celebrities. But Martinez says those encounters pale in comparison to the first time he saw G.G. Shinn.
Fresh out of his teens, Martinez caught Shinn in 1975 at a club in Lafayette called After Dark.
“He went up there and sang Major Harris’ ‘Love Won’t Let Me Wait,’” said Martinez. “My mouth dropped to the floor. I had never heard a white man sing like that in my life. He took over the whole stage. He’s the most larger-than-life person I’ve ever met. I’ve met Donald Trump, Patti LaBelle, the Four Tops and quite a few big stars over the years. He had that star power.”
Martinez is missing the star power of Shinn, who died August 7 after a long illness. A memorial service was held August 13 at the Christ Church in West Monroe. Shinn, a Franklin native born in 1939, was buried in the Hasley Cemetery in West Monroe.
For more than 50 years, Shinn was a shining star as a soul singer and trumpeter. In recent years, the Ponderosa Stomp, an annual celebration of classic blues, R&B, soul and rock ’n’ roll in New Orleans, featured Shinn in its “Blue-Eyed Soul Royalty in the Flesh” show. The event’s website called Shinn “a preeminent vocal stylist and the ultimate blue-eyed soul singer who has the vocal chops, range and phrasing rarely found in one package.”
In 1963, Shinn kicked off his professional career as a member of the Boogie Kings. He is featured on the band’s album 1965, a prize among collectors. Shinn formed the Roller Coasters band in 1966 and recorded two albums before moving to Los Angeles.
Chase, the Grammy-nominated jazz-rock band known for their 1971 hit, “Get It On,” hired Shinn for their 1972 Ennea album. The singer later enjoyed stints with TSC Trucking Company and the Hot Damn Band.
Shinn ventured into the nightclub business in the 1970s in Lafayette. He later opened clubs in Lake Charles, Monroe and Alexandria before leaving the business in 2011. Those clubs helped launch the career of longtime friend and singer Charlene Howard, who learned from the always-debonair Shinn and his magnetic persona. “He had a charisma that when he got on stage, he commanded that audience,” said Howard. “He wasn’t just a singer and entertainer. He had the ability to reach out and just grab the hearts of people. He could take them and make them feel what he was singing.”