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13 Dec 2016

Old-School Christmas: The Martini Kings Bring a Retro Sound, Burlesque and More to the Purple Room

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The Martini Kings. The Martini Kings.

The Martini Kings have played every type of gig you can think of—corporate parties, weddings, retro-theme parties and even backyard martini parties.

On Friday, Dec. 16, the band will be bringing its old-school holiday show to the Purple Room.

During a recent phone interview with Anthony Marsico, he talked about the history of the band.

“The Martini Kings are a spinoff from the rock stuff I’ve been doing since I was a kid,” Marsico said. “It’s a cool-jazz combo, with a full-on retro ’50s and ’60s vibe.

“We’ve actually been around since 1982. We’ve put out 17 albums. The best way to describe the music is ‘California cool jazz’; that’s kind of our vibe. It’s not too stuffy, and I love to have fun with it.”

When Marsico and his brother started the band in 1982, some audiences didn’t appreciate what they did.

“My brother was a jazz guy and played with different people; he backed up Sammy Davis Jr., and he turned me onto jazz at an early age,” he said. “We were doing this in the middle of the punk-rock scene and opening for punk bands in 1982 in Los Angeles. It was a little too soon to bring the lounge culture to that scene, and they weren’t ready for it. They just wanted to throw things at us instead. I had a punk band, too, back then called The Plugz, and we used to play all the Los Angeles places. I don’t remember who we’d open up for, but it was probably my friends’ bands, and they’d put us on the bill. It was a five-piece jazz band opening for punk bands.”

Marsico also backed recent Nobel Prize-winner Bob Dylan in the early ’80s as a touring musician.

“That was in 1983, and my rock career was just taking off. That was my first real rock gig that I got,” he said. “I moved to Los Angeles in 1980, and in 1983, when I was in The Plugz, we used to play shows, and Dylan saw us somewhere, and then I got the call. He asked if we wanted to go jam up at his house, and that went on for nine months, and it was pretty awesome. He took us to New York to do David Letterman’s show as his backing band.”

He said backing Bob Dylan is not an easy gig, no matter how talented you are.

“It’s like flying blind. Bob and his routine are that he doesn’t tell you what key his songs are in, and everything is just sprung on you,” Marsico said. “We were flying by the seams of our pants. It’s not easy, and you just have to watch every move. It’s kind of a crazy situation, and we all lied when he asked if we’d done national television before. He took a chance for us, and it opened all kinds of doors to work with other people.”

The Martini Kings play about 150 shows a year. Marsico shared a few details about what those who attend the Purple Room show can expect.

“I do what’s called ‘A Very Vintage Christmas’ with the Martini Kings,” he said. “It’s one Christmas show a year. It’s old; it’s retro; and I like old-fashioned ’50s shows with magicians and burlesque stars. It’s kind of wacky kitchen retro to keep it fun. This year I have Kitten DeVille, who is the top burlesque star right now in the United States. I also have Kassandra Carroll, who is a great Marilyn Monroe act. We also have DJ Baz, who spins records, and has this thing he invented called the Magic Gramophone, which is two old 78 turntables with the megahorns, and they shoot out steam, smoke and bubbles while playing music. It’s a wacky night of vintage fun.”

Marsico said that he loves Palm Springs.

“I used to vacation in Palm Springs all the time and fell into the whole midcentury vibe,” he said. “I fell in love with the architecture. After going out there for so long, I was getting requests to go out and do shows for the retro artist Shag. We played the Frank Sinatra house, and things like that. It’s where our genre seems to fit in style-wise, look-wise and music-wise. Our sound is a midcentury sound and fits in between 1955 to 1967. I have two releases, one of which is called Palm Springs Serenade, which Shag did the art for the cover. The other is Weekend in Palm Springs. I’ve been in love with Palm Springs for years. I actually live in Palm Springs now, and the Purple Room is only two minutes away from me, which is cool.”

If you miss the Martini Kings on December 16, or you want to see more of what Marsico does as a musician, you can also catch him doing a free performance at Pappy and Harriet’s on Thursday, Dec. 29.

“I have my own band, and it’s all originals,” he said. “It’s more of my rootsy stuff that I grew up on. It’s a 360 from Martini Kings, but something I love equally just as much. I have pedal steel, accordion, acoustic guitars and mandolin, and it’s my desert sound that I also love. I like a lot of different genres, and I’d get bored just playing one thing.”

The Martini Kings will perform at 8 p.m., on Friday, Dec. 16, at Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $25. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-4422, or visit www.purpleroompalmsprings.com.

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