Marty Roberts of beloved L.A. lounge act Marty & Elayne dies at 89
Marty Roberts, one half of the irrepressible, crowd-pleasing lounge duo Marty & Elayne — the beloved L.A. partnership that serenaded everyone from Frank Sinatra to Nicolas Cage and stole the 1996 film “Swingers” out from under Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau — died from cancer on Thursday. He was 89.
The news was announced Tuesday on Marty & Elayne’s Facebook page. Roberts died at his daughter Hali Gillin’s home in Henderson, Nev.
“My mom and I are devastated by his loss and there is nobody that could ever take his place,” Gillin wrote. “He had a joke and a smile (smiling is free, he would say!) for everyone he met and was the kindest, most self sacrificing man in the world.”
Los Feliz’s Dresden Room was Marty & Elayne’s living room, and the space they made of it was a sublimely Los Angeles one. For almost 40 years, six nights a week, the married couple put on a show: Marty crooning and playing the drums and standup bass; Elayne on piano and flute, sweetly winding him up while harmonizing.
“We are creatures of the night,” Marty told The Times in 2004. “By the time most people are ending their Friday, we’re just getting up.”
They wore matching jumpsuits with space-age flair. The married couple never seemed part of a wave of hipster kitsch; instead, the times had finally come back around to them.
Martin Roberts was born April 10, 1932, in New York City. “Brooklyn or the Bronx, he lived in both of them,” Elayne told The Times last week.
They met in Los Angeles in 1970, when Elayne was a 16-year-old pianist/singer in need of a drummer for a gig in Alhambra. Married just four months later, they started playing in a combo at the Melody Room on the Sunset Strip, making a bit of a living in jazz. They recorded with L.A. jazz figures like Jack Sheldon, Med Flory, Red Callender and Conte Candoli, Marty’s drumming merging swing with West Coast cool. They played Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, Palm Springs.
“He likes Frank Sinatra and has every record Frank’s ever made,” Elayne said. She told a story about playing at Gene Autry’s club in Palm Springs in the mid-’70s.
“The owner said Frank had to sit in front, with his whole entourage, and Marty, because he sings like Frank, said, ‘You really put me on the spot!’ Marty worshiped him. But Marty has guts — he was never afraid of anything.”
To Sinatra he sang “That’s Life.” To Elayne, she told The Times, he often sang Frank’s “All My Tomorrows” (Belong to You). “He was singing it to me. That’s why I liked it. He sang it so beautifully.”
The couple took their act to Los Feliz, first to Michael’s (later called the Derby), and then to the Dresden Room.
A new young crowd was coming to the plush nightclub, especially after the couple appeared in a 1990 Tom Petty video, “Yer So Bad,” and they made the most of the culture clash, singing jazz tunes — always Marty’s true love — and cocktail classics, but mixing it up with Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” and whatever else they felt the room could bear.
It could bear a lot. One night, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist, Flea, assisted them on a version of Santana’s “Evil Ways.” As the crowds got bigger and louder, they went with it, veering into almost experimental passages. The Dresden was a safe space, and no two nights were the same.
A cameo in the indie film “Swingers” would make them world-famous, in a way. The movie, which launched the careers of Vaughn, writer/actor Favreau and director Doug Liman, beat the drums for a cocktail-culture/swing-dance revolution that came and went. Suddenly there were lines along Vermont Avenue. “I looked out the door and thought, ‘They’re ridiculous’,” Marty told LAist in 2016. “I wouldn’t stand in the rain.”
The lines disappeared but Marty & Elayne played on, for celebrity fans (actors Cage and Julia Roberts, director David Lynch, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane) and tourists, bachelorette parties and jazz aficionados, night after night, for decades.
In 2020, Marty suffered a heart attack, and it slowed him down, but only some. A month later he was playing the drums again. At the couple’s Los Angeles home, they recorded music just last fall, according to Elayne.
“We recorded a whole bunch of stuff until a month ago, and it was sounding beautiful,” she said.
At an appropriate time, Elayne told The Times, there will be a remembrance. It will, she affirms, be at the Dresden Room.
Marty is survived by wife Elayne, daughter Hali and granddaughter Destiny.
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