He must’ve had a bad case of something.
Music has turned into news. There’s no filter, no trusted authority. There’s an endless firehose of material and no one can be trusted to separate the noteworthy from that which should be ignored.
But that’s not the way it used to be.
It was very simple…did you have a record deal?
I’m not talking about an indie. That’ll take your rights and give you bupkes. I’m talking about one of the well known majors, or one of their divisions. Who didn’t sign you for a single, but an album. Who promoted you as if you were gonna break through. Who signed you for five records, even if they only put out two, but you got a good push, like Moon Martin.
He got five. That’s how many albums John David “Moon” Martin had on Capitol. I bought three of them.
Now there was a scene in Los Angeles. In the mid-seventies it was punk in New York, but in the late seventies it was new wave in Los Angeles. And Moon Martin was considered new wave.
Although you could tell he was not. As in he wasn’t new. It’s hard to hide age. Even though everybody in the public eye lies about it. Yup, that record executive, that act, they’re perceived to be young when they’re old. And the truth is they’re old because that’s how long it takes to make it. The young phenoms are often products of the system, the idolmakers, whereas those who stick tend to have been kicked around a bit, took time to get their footing before they broke through, even though they wanted it more than the young phenoms, it’s all they ever wanted.
So if you go to Moon’s Wikipedia page, he was born in 1950.
But if you read some of the obits, he was born in 1945. Which makes complete sense. If for no other reason than his hair was prematurely gray nearly instantly. And there’s no way he could have played with Hendrix and Joplin if he was only 20, they died in 1970.
But Martin did.
Once again, there was not only a clear line between who was worth paying attention to, you either were a musician or you were not. If you weren’t, you couldn’t survive. You couldn’t play in cover bands, you couldn’t move to Los Angeles and scrap your way up.
Moon Martin was from Oklahoma. A state many had never been to, still haven’t been to, which we knew as the home of Leon Russell and his posse. Other than that…the state sat above Texas and had oil and..?
It was a bigger country back then. But a smaller world, because there was less in it.
So, Moon Martin moves to Los Angeles with his band Southwind. Not that I ever heard of it. He plays with Linda Ronstadt and hangs with Glenn Frey and then he got his deal. And when the album came out, the first, “Shots From a Cold Nightmare,” in ’78, we knew about it, because the rock press was still a thing, and he got coverage in the “Los Angeles Times,” before they cut the newshole down so small most people gave up their subscriptions.
And the truth is you saw Moon around town.
Music didn’t dominate bedrooms, it dominated clubs. And you went. Because staying home was anathema. Moon was a cut above, because he had his aforementioned record deal, he was a nascent star.
And then came “Bad Case of Loving You.”
By this time we’d already moved on to the second album, “Escape From Domination,” “Rolene” was heard on KROQ, back when that was a free form station, before the ROQ of the 80s, before the death of rock and the decimation of the station this year.
But at this point, Moon Martin was not famous for the Robert Palmer cover, but the Willy DeVille covers. DeVille also had a deal with Capitol, but he was from New York, and anything but earthy, it looked like the daylight would kill him, although I did see him once during the afternoon at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, but he was better at the Whisky, his natural environment. DeVille covered “Cadillac Walk” back in ’77, which is one of the reasons I bought “Shots From a Cold Nightmare,” I was a big fan of DeVille, and if you wrote his most famous song, you were worth paying attention to.
As for Robert Palmer… I’d already moved on. I started with “Pressure Drop,” with the delectable “Give Me An Inch,” and went back to the debut, “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley,” with its killer opening medley, but “Some People Can Do What They Like” disappointed me.
It was the fifth Robert Palmer LP that contained “Bad Case of Loving You,” upon which Palmer, or most likely his record company, added “(Doctor, Doctor)” to make sure the audience knew this was the track and album to buy.
This was 1979. Six years and three albums before “Riptide” and “Addicted to Love.” “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)” was a radio hit. And it got played, all the time on AOR stations, you see this was before Palmer was seen as Mr. Suave, the cut was a blistering runaway rock track and it got the attention it deserved.
Actually, Moon Martin got a bit of MTV exposure, with 1982’s “X-Ray Vision,” but this was before Duran Duran, before everybody had the channel in their home, when pre-eighties acts could get a shot, and although it was cool to see him there, most people will never remember.
And then the Capitol deal ended. But we did not forget him. He had that major label record deal!
The last time I saw Moon Martin was probably about fifteen years ago, he was flying back from Canadian Music Week on the same plane. I did not go up to talk to him, he did not project airs, but he was on a level above me, he’d played in the rarefied world of rock stars.
Moon Martin died. TWO WEEKS AGO!
I just found out yesterday. There was no obit in the “Los Angeles Times,” no big story I saw anywhere. Just this tidbit, whose thread I followed back to obituaries.
They said Moon lived comfortably on his royalties. Can one big hit deliver that much cash?
Well, you got paid more in the old days. But these days, having written a classic rock cut, how much money could you make?
I don’t know.
I don’t know how he died.
All I know is Moon Martin sold his soul to rock and roll. He followed the music to the very last note. He died with his guitar strap on. It wasn’t a fling, something he did before law school. He had no desire to work at the bank. (Although let’s not forget Harry Nilsson was a teller!) It was all music, all the time.
That’s my generation, we got bitten by the rock and roll bug and could not let go.
It’s my brethren who are buying all those tickets to the classic rock shows. They’re not just reliving their youth, this is their identity!
And then there are those who dedicated their entire lives to the sound. Musicians. And people on the other side of the fence. For every famous manager you’d be stunned how many are starving, or people who once had a gig at the label… They can’t let go, they can’t leave the circus. They’re in it til they die.
Like Moon Martin.
Responses from Bob’s readers. Please note that these comments are not edited for grammar or content and do not necessarily reflect the views of CelebrityAccess or its employees.
I’ve spent the last 18 years of my life working for and with Moon Martin, and I just wanted to thank you for the article that you wrote about him, it was beautiful and awesome all at once.
Everything you said was wonderful, but if you’d allow me to correct one tiny detail, I think you would appreciate it…
He would never have considered himself a level above you, if anything he would’ve put you on the pedestal.
Had he known that you had any desire to speak with him, he would have changed seats to have a conversation with you, especially if it was about music.
He was without a doubt the most humble man I’ve ever met…His generosity was unparalleled, of the thousands of car rides we took together over the last two decades running errands and picking up gear, he would not let me drive past a homeless person without sticking 10 bucks in their hand. Not once. He could not live with himself if he thought that a person might go hungry and it was within his power to prevent it.
Wikipedia had it wrong, he was born in 1945 but he either fibbed about his age in the media…. or it could’ve been a typo. He never seemed like the type of man who would care about that sort of thing.
He loved music so much, no matter where we were there was music playing if we were in the car he would turn on the radio, when we would sit at the burger joint eating french fries, he would listen to whatever music was playing over the speaker system (usually something new and contemporary or pop) and break down the elements of the song with me at the table, debating the different choices that the musicians made in their songs.
He was a mentor to me and I loved him like an uncle.
He was 74 years old, and he had become a little frail over the last few years…He went to sleep in a big easy chair in his living room with a book in his hand, a blanket in his lap, and a little glass of Coke on the nightstand next to him. He left this world as peacefully as anybody could ever hope to.
We were unable to get his obituary published in the LA Times until this past Sunday and Monday, there were huge difficulties getting the death certificate completed during Covid and the government shut down so it took forever, as no newspaper these days is willing to publish obituaries without some hard evidence.
You were right, Bob, he never let go, he never left the circus and he was in it literally until the day that he died.
He spent that day in the recording studio working his butt off on a new album, believe it or not.
A tiny handful of us who were close to him are working diligently to finish it for him now…. we don’t know if he completed recording all of his vocals but we will figure it out over the next couple of weeks.
I’m on my way to listen to the first Finished mix right now… and I’m going to have to pull over for a minute to recompose myself.
Thank you again For your awesome article Bob, if there’s anything you ever want to know about Moon Martin please don’t hesitate to ask, if I don’t know the answer to the question I’ll put you in touch with somebody who does.
Very sorry to hear that Moon Martin has died. He was an original player, marching to his own drummer, and yet still able to fit in – you might say he played well with others. At Linda Ronstadt’s suggestion, I hired him to be in her band for one Troubadour gig in 1971. The rest of the band consisted of Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Michael Bowden (on bass), Byron Berline on occasional fiddle, and me on occasional acoustic guitar or Wurlitzer electric piano. I recorded three or four sets for a possible live album, using the old Wally Heider truck, but nothing came of it. We did release one track – a version of “Rescue Me,” and it shows Moon’s uncanny ability to add something fresh while still fitting in. He takes a very rock and roll approach to an R and B song and it works great. It’s on Spotify somewhere and you should check out his guitar part, which is on the left channel. I had not seen Moon for a long time, but I will miss him.
I got in a bit of a pickle a couple of weeks back when I posted on my Twitter and FB and Insta that Moon Martin had sadly died. This was on May 12. Moon had died on May 11, possibly from lung cancer, and although I didn’t really know him personally, I heard about it from a private source. It wasn’t on Wiki, it wasn’t online (for several days). Mutual friends and extremely close colleagues of Moon’s, either in the studio or from one of his former bands, didn’t know about it. They were of course gutted. The news went on Wiki (May 13) then it was temporarily withdrawn. It was several days before it became conclusive and even at that point, the details were scant. Such was Moon’s ‘obscurity’. These days, when almost any musician checks out, the story is on the street within minutes. But for Moon Martin it took around 72 hours, which is rare. Moon’s reported date of birth is also subject to misinformation but never mind, old is good, and he wrote at least three stone classics and as you suggest, he was the real deal. I bought all of his records but saw him perform live only once, at London’s Marquee club in 1979. The joint was rocking.
Your tribute to Moon brought tears to my eyes like the news of his passing did. I worked with him and his devoted manager Ron Henry over the course of my Capitol years
He as a soft spoken and often seemed withdrawn, but once you spent time with him, he became comfortable with you and there grew a sincere and honest relationship. He was thankful that he had a label that really cared about him… we did four albums with Moon.
Honest is the operative keyword. Authentic… humble… down to earth, kick ass rocker from Oklahoma. He lived to play.
Right… he wasn’t a ’new waver’, he was just Moon. What ya’ saw is what ya’ got from him. Thanks for your words and sentiment.
Further evidence that we all live in our own bubbles is that you just now found out about Moon’s passing, two weeks ago. As a staff engineer at Capitol Studios in the 70’s and 80’s, I got to work with many artists on the label (Steve Miller, Bob Seger, Tina Turner, Maze), including Moon Martin. He came off as the reluctant rock star, very down to earth with no airs, and was all about the music. His contributions to the rock and roll catalog will not be forgotten.
David N Cole
There was nothing complicated about Moon Martin’s music.
Guitar-based songs driven by basic riffs that moved almost in a straight line.
I played his songs on KNAC and KROQ during a time when lots of the other music out there just seemed overblown.
And when other artists demanded a bright spotlight…
I got to see him play live in a school cafeteria.
—“I’ve Got a Reason”
—“Hot House Baby”
All bad ass songs written by Moon and touched just enough by the underrated Jude Cole.
All perfectly unembellished…
Sad news! Met Moon a couple of times in the Valley and he was amazingly humble and incredibly quirky. He drove a non-flashy truck, was very kind to a strange girl, who had no idea who he was, and THAT made for excellent conversation. He did not seem comfortable around people however, when music was playing he found his footing and was a fantastic hang. I am lucky to have met him.
I was Moon Martin’s fan and his friend for over 30 years.
I Co engineered and produced the albums he recorded in the 80s and toured France with him Many times.
When I heard the news, I immediately found and shared the video to
“Rolene” with a couple of friends. They didn’t remember it or him
until I mentioned “Bad Case”, but I knew Rolene in 1979. It got
through to me somehow in Kentucky and ended up on several of my
mixtapes of the day.
Very timely story, I have been on this endless quest to scan my slides and negs for the last couple of years (great than a quarter million) and ran across some shots I had of Moon Martin opening for the last version of the Runaways at The Golden Bear in 1978. I got to see Moon twice, once at this Golden Bear show and then as the opener for Cheap Trick at the Long Beach Arena.
Check out “Aces with You”. I heard it in a Nashville fern bar (remember those?) when I was in law school. Had to rush over to the maître D and find out who it was.
Be safe, be well.
R. Emmett McAuliffe
Like you I did not see any stories about Moon Martin until this past week. I was a sales person for Capitol during the late 1970’s and 1980’s in D.C. Moon Martin got quite a bit of airplay on WHFS thanks to David Einstein, Weasel, Bob and the rest of the crew of one of the all-time great free form radio stations. BTW – Weasel is still doing his thing on WTMD. https://wtmd.org/radio/sample-page/weasel/
I believe Moon Martin did a gig at the Bayou, that I attended, during the promotion for Escape from Domination.
Willy DeVille with his band Mink Deville played there as well. “Cadillac Walk” also got a lot of exposure on WHFS as did “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl” and “Venus of Avenue D”.
Being the pack rat that I am I still have these Moon Martin promo items.
Sadly neither artist got the national traction they deserved to really break through. Sad…
We played Moon’s albums at my college radio station at the University of Maryland in the late seventies. Good stuff!
Ex-Southwind member Fontaine Brown had a band later as well, on EMI, called Fast Fontaine, which also featured fellow ex-Southwind member Erik Dalton plus young bassist Dan Rothchild.
My vinyl is true research facility.
Before we got involved in the Leon Russell estate, I thought like you, that Oklahoma was where Leon Russell was from. Then I found out also from Oklahoma is, Garth Brooks, Kristin Chenowith, Bob Wills, Reba McIntire, Vince Gill, David Gates (Bread), Will Rogers, Gary Busey, Brad Pitt, Ron Howard, Mickey Mantle and at least a dozen others. Formidable!
Oklahoma also provided:
Roy Clark?? I think
I remember Cadillac Walk coming out in 1977 and was mesmerized when my buddy spun it up on the turntable when we were living in the dorms at UCSB. I didn’t know Moon Martin wrote it. “Dead men raise and sigh.” RIP Willy and Moon.
Willie DeVille was terrific, but his own worst enemy, like so many.
I never saw him.
Spot on about the Robert Palmer. First three albums were the shit. Changing for MTV may have been smart commercially, but musically I agree with you. I drank with him till dawn after one of our 80’s shows with him. The man drank with a purpose. By the middle of the night it was kind of like somebody help Robert to the bathroom. It was tragic to see him gone at 54, but understandable after spending some time with him.
i’m not an Oklahoma music flag waver, but there was really quite a bit more going on here then you’ve touched on. Particularly in Tulsa, which had its own kind of laid-back sound. Even Clapton fell under a spell in the middle late 70s. And of course JJ Cale. Freddie King had three terrific records on Shelter. Hell even Wanda Jackson was from here. Garth, Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert.
I’ll stop there.
Regarding “Can one big hit deliver that much cash?”—I owned a ticket agency in New Mexico when Randy Meisner came to town, opening for the Beach Boys. The promoter asked me to babysit Randy and be sure to get him to the show on time, At dinner he mentioned to me that “Take It To The Limit” earned him $100,000 annually. Even putting in a 2x hyperbole factor, that’s nice mailbox money. I also had an English teacher in high school who made enough money for writing a Perry Como hit that he taught for the fun of it and didn’t need a second job. I can easily see Moon Martin surviving on his royalties. Today’s artists–not so much
Loved Moon and working his records.
FYI… Garth Brooks is from Oklahoma as well.
Bob, ” Escape from Domination” is crammed full of exceptional songs.
Although Capitol went full tilt on the project, sales scarcely kicked in. I think the intense material called for rougher-edged instrumentation, and more aggressive delivery than Moon’s meek vocals.
Great story. I read that he passed away. I had a couple friends who recorded and played with RP and I did live sound for Willie
for years around Coup d’Grace era (1981). Never knew that Moon wrote those tunes. RP totally ripped off Moon’s arrangement.
I like Willy’s version better, but Moon’s version is really good.
Listening to him now. Thanks for the turn-on.
They’re not just reliving their youth, this is their identity!
I left the business, have gone back in later. Smart? Definitely not. But this is why.
Thank you for paying attention to Moon Martin !
Was lucky enough to catch him opening for The Clash at the Bronco Bowl in Dallas on June 6, 1982.
Bob you’d be surprised what one big hit can bring in revenue. I have a friend who wrote a monster hit in the ’60s that was tied to a hit movie and he receives $1 million annually. Day in and day out.
Moon Martin. Even if you never heard his music, you never forgot his name or face. He was all over the shelves when spending numerous hours combing the album racks of my favorite record stores back in my teen years. Yet, it took this newsletter for me to listen to him. Had no idea he wrote those tunes.
When I saw the subject line, my first thought was “Why is Lefsetz writing about Moon Martin? He died years ago.”
Or, so I wrongly thought.
I’d found Escape From Domination in the CD bargain bins. Unlike most CDs that I found there in the early to mid ‘90s, it was listenable. More than once.
Mr. Martin’s saving grace as far as his career goes, (if you discount his major label status and his covered songs that hit big enough to garner royalties enough to live on), is the fact that his life and death rightly warranted a Lefsetz Letter.
Most of us lifers won’t be that lucky.