Day job: I’ve worked at California State University, Bakersfield for the past 30 years as an automotive technician.
How I got started: I had my first piano lesson at age six. When I was nine, my mother hired a classical pianist from Los Angeles to teach me. I learned to play pieces by the likes of Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart. The teacher was persistent and strict, and hearing the kids playing outside made me almost resent having to practice the piano. But after hearing boogie-woogie music, my drive for playing was renewed. I actually began playing that particular style on local TV variety shows. At the age of 15, I started with Thee Majestics. We played rock ’n’ roll for about two years, then split up. But in the early ’90s, all the old band members got together and started jamming again. It’s gone from a couple gigs every other month to being booked every weekend of the year ever since!
Band: Thee Majestics began in 1967 with a group of high school kids practicing in an East Bakersfield garage. The eight-piece band’s repertoire consists of rock, funk, country, Latin, swing, and soul. We’ve opened for some big names, including the Dazz Band, S.O.S. Band, Sheila E., Lakeside, Thee Midnighters, the Drifters, Malo, Tierra, and War. For the sixth consecutive year, we’re hosting our own party aboard a Carnival cruise ship bound for Cabo San Lucas.
Influences: One of my earliest influences was Jo Ann Castle and her boogie-woogie style. My parents used to let me watch the Lawrence Welk Show before I went to bed. Once I heard her play, I was hooked. I really didn’t have many influences after Jo Ann until the early ’60s, when I heard the “East L.A. sound” of Thee Midnighters, and the magic of the Motown sound. Then it was the Commodores, Tower of Power, Blood Sweat & Tears, and Jimi Hendrix. As I’ve gotten more mature, though, country has had a bigger influence on the way I play.
Why I play: Honestly, I play to relax. Music is my great escape from everyday stress. It’s my time not to worry and just play music. I love to entertain — to make people dance and have a good time.
Robert gigs with a Roland XP-50 perched above a Yamaha S08. For monitoring, he employs a Roland KC-500 keyboard amp. “Things have changed since the ’70s,” he says, “when I played a Hammond B-3 through a Leslie, along with a Fender Rhodes piano.”
Robert Martinez says the music of Motown has had a huge influence on his playing. “Songs like The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’ and The Four Tops’ ‘Baby I Need Your Loving,’” Martinez says, “along with The Supremes’ ‘Stop in the Name of Love,’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Heard It Through the Grapevine.’” Three of those tunes can be found on the triple-disc CD compilation Playlist Plus: Motown 50th Anniversary, which features a whopping 40 Motown classics.