Some of you will remember Marvin Valentine’s rich baritone wafting down State Street on Sunday afternoons in the mid ’90s from what is now Tonic, where he played with James Antunez and Bongo Town. Marvin was a gifted vocalist and instrumentalist, an arranger, proficient on guitar — but where his genius really shone was his extraordinary prowess on piano and keyboard.
I will certainly remember Marvin as one of the most talented keyboardists I have ever had the good fortune of meeting and working with. We became close while working on two CD collaborations. He played keys on Blunt, my first CD with the 40 OZ band, and then helped with a project that sent me to New York for a GLAMA (Gay and Lesbian American Music Awards) award in 2000. Marvin played with Zack & A Modern View and with Jerry Pugh and Studebaker here in town for years. Later, in Las Vegas, he played with such legendary groups as the Platters and the Coasters. Fellow Las Vegas musician and Love Drop Radio host J.R. Perry III said Marvin had “the best ear in the business.”
Marvin’s musical genius on keyboard knew no bounds. If you hummed it, or if he had ever heard it, it was a done deal. That’s what made him an invaluable recording artist. But what made him loved by everyone he met was his bigger-than-life personality. You had to have a big personality to be a big fish in Santa Barbara’s music scene in its band heyday. Tony Moreno, Robin Caston, Claire Rabe, Dell Franklin, Jim Shaffer — all were mystical in the way you had to be back then, absolutely obsessed with music.
All have left a part of their soul on State Street. I hear it when I’m leaving Dargan’s in the wee hours after the drums have been broken down and the tips are being counted. I hear Marvin’s rich baritone … singing his heart out through the alleys of the El Paseo or on warm Montecito nights in some posh mansion.
Marvin Valentine’s talent never lost demand in Santa Barbara, or anywhere for that matter. Sometimes James Antunez would find him and bring him back to town for a project. Zack kept in contact with him most times. I would speak with him as often as possible.
What I loved about Marvin’s gift was that whatever the genre — old, new, obscure, or yet-unheard — he got it, or got with it. He was a great friend and welcome sight to most who knew him, someone you were most fortunate to know: a mortal artist with great gifts.
Marvin left a loving family in New York and New Jersey, where he grew up, attended school, and studied piano. He passed on February 14 in his home in Las Vegas, of a heart attack, at the age of 51.
For all of your friends and loved ones here in Santa Barbara, Marvin, Mr. V., we will always keep you in our hearts, Bra’ Man, and you are sorely missed. But the talent you shared with us will echo through the universe, like all gifts of nature do, forever!