“We’re all just heartbroken—GG Shinn died yesterday and we’re going to bury him Monday. He was my hero. I just left [Lafayette Music] where I picked up his trumpet, which he gave me a few years ago. It’s an iconic symbol of him. I was going to bring it to him this past Monday to get it cleaned and refurbished. But now I had to go and pick it up to take it to the funeral home and put it on display there.
I didn’t start playing the trumpet until about 15 years ago. I grew up listening to GG Shinn; he was one of the guys we could go hear. Like I tell my kids, we didn’t get to see the big-name artists, GG was the singer with the Boogie Kings. We’d see them regularly and I studied them. Nationally, Sam Cooke was my favorite, Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding—that Memphis/Stax soul style was still popular down here. We call it swamp pop.
Swamp pop is not Cajun. It’s basically rhythm and blues. Little Bob and the Lollipops, ‘I Got Loaded.’ Cooke and the Cupcakes, ‘Mathilda.’ That was probably the biggest swamp pop song ever. Fats Domino was swamp pop.
Memphis soul is under the umbrella of swamp pop now. But what makes it different is that Louisiana flavor we put in it. The personality we put in it. It’s hard to hide where you’re from, especially if you‘re from here. Never had accordion or fiddle in my band. The tenor saxophone is the main ingredient of a swamp pop band.
The phrase was coined by a guy in England—he just called it that and it stuck. It’s a label for white guys playing old rhythm and blues. No real exact definition of swamp pop.
My career in music took me all over the country, all over the world, based out of Atlantic City, New Jersey. I got more homesick as the years went by. I was gone from Louisiana 21 years, moved back 12 years ago.
I had this career that was awesome and going great and I had a seven-figure contract with a guy in Philadelphia who made Teddy Pendergrass. The goal was to make me the white Teddy. I was just one of those guys that slipped through the cracks, no hit records. But if I had achieved those things, maybe I wouldn’t be here now. I love where I am; I love where I’m going.
You got to keep going. GG almost made 79. You don’t quit until you die. My last album [2016’s Soul of the Bayou] got more accolades, more sales than anything I’ve ever done before, so that serves as a benchmark and gives me all the motivations to keep going.”
Gregg Martinez & the Delta Kings play Gretna Heritage Fest 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28 on the Italian Village Stage.