Singer, songwriter and bass player Glynis John Martin (aka Black Ice) delivers a familiar sounding R&B/smooth soul mixture on his self-titled debut release, Black Ice, which recalls of Motown artists like Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. Martin’s familiar sound might be partly due to the fact that he was exposed to Motown’s music from having been born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, the incubator for Motown’s artists; or maybe it is based in the fact that he has played as a sideman for such memorable R&B/soul artists as the Detroit Emeralds and the Clark Sisters; or maybe it is simply rooted in the fact that his family is musically inclined and nurtured his own inclinations to play music.
He exposes how his childhood nurtured his talent. "Of course, growing up in a household where music was a constant part of our family. My mom sang in church; made the choir robes and band costumes. Dad played several instruments and my older sister performed in talent shows, while my older brother played guitar. It was destined to happen. Of course, growing up in the ‘Motor City,’ naturally many had high expectations of us."
He explains that he learned to sing, "Listening to the good folks in church. I studied music throughout high school and three years at Clark Conservatory School of Music under the direction of Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. I am also self-taught. What I didn’t learn from books, professional or formal training was made up from what I felt inside."
After spending years traveling around the world as a bass player, backup singer, and/or music director for such notable performers as 7 Mile, Earl Klugh/George Benson, Universal Nubian Voice, and Japanese artists like Speed, Anri, Yuki Kokanagi, and Ken Hirai, he felt it was time to go out on his own. He mentions that his big break in the music business was "Performing at the Palladium in London, England with the Detroit Emeralds who were headlining for Marvin Gaye. I was the youngest bass player on the scene, 11 years old, singing background and playing bass. It was a truly an amazing experience."
The experience thrust him into the world of R&B/smooth soul music, a genre which he speaks of with full understanding of its meaning. "R&B and Smooth Soul make music special because of the messages that are often conveyed in the songs. Tunes that evolve out of these genres are tunes that stay on your mind for a long time. My attachment: Music is embedded in my soul. It’s like an addiction that I don’t feel I can live without. have to have it."
Martin expresses, "Really, I think it’s just my time," about making his first solo album. He regards, "Everybody has a season. When it comes, you‘ll know it."
As for why he feels audiences are ready to hear his own style of R&B/smooth soul music, he synapses, "Because I do it in a way that no one else does it, with life and love in mind."
But maybe the biggest factor that put him on the path to making a solo album has been witnessing audiences reactions to his own music, which he says has been, "Very Nice. I love it when they sing along with me, then I know that they have grasped the meaning of the song and like it. They have often asked me, ‘Why haven’t you made it yet? You should be out there.’"
For his debut record, Black Ice, Martin relied heavily on his family as collaborators, backup singers, musicians, and a source of inspiration for the tracks. He claims, "I was inspired by my parents, Albert & Sarah Martin, God rests their souls, who always sang in church. My mother had a family group called The Family Chorale. It consisted of members of my family who wanted to sing. A couple of cousins, my brother and myself were the band. I’ve always wanted to be an artist and make a CD with my family, but didn’t have the means to do so.
James Mitchell of the Detroit Emeralds and Charlie ‘Pop’ Atkins, choreographer for Motown, were my mentors. They taught me proper stage etiquette, and, have been major influences in my life. Other artists are: James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross, all of whom I really wanted to be like as far as the singing and performing goes. The dancing, sorry I can’t dance ‘hahahaha!’ I will leave that to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. The music from the CD was basically made up of my life experiences. It really tells a story."
He shares that his song "Baby Girl" is from some of those real life experiences. "This song was a part in my life in which I gave a lot, but received little in return. This is why I say, ‘Let’s go back to square one because everything was 50/50 until I met her family. Then, it all came together. I was just a pawn in getting her out of the house - me, being a church boy of whom her mom trusted. Squeaky (his relative Luther Jackson), who co-wrote ‘Baby Girl’ with me, was instrumental in coming up with some awesome ideas, especially when I became frustrated with particular parts. He would start reminding me of the crazy things we’d do when we were kids, which would have me in tears from laughing so hard."
He emphasizes, "I would have to say my lyrics need to tell a story and have a positive meaning, and not just have great, catchy hooks and fancy ad libs. Listen to some of Stevie Wonder’s songs and not just the melodies. The lyrics are always so meaningful and so full of life’s issues of today, yesterday and what’s to come. Through the years, I’ve learned to prioritize the things in my life I need to do first."
One of his first priorities has been to include his family in his life and work. He notes that "Basically I was teaching myself (to sing), but I had help with the music from family members, Luther ‘Squeaky’ Jackson; also my brother Albert, ‘The Flavor’ Martin, who would come and listen to what I was doing and say, ‘Okay, you need to change this or change that; put some reverb in it, sing this part over, some harmony would be nice there, or, let me sing this part with you.’ The placements of the vocals were mostly my ideas in whatever I was feeling at that time."
He reflects that mainly his family was involved in this project, but there were other musicians whom he wanted on the recording like, he reveals, "Stevie Wonder, I felt would have been great singing 'Quiet Time' with me, but of course, I could not afford to hire him to sing. My little girl, Bria, who was 5-years-old at the time, sang on track 11, ‘From The Heart.’ She would always make me play this track over and over again, so I decided to put her on the song with me. She REALLY enjoyed that! My wife who is also singing on ‘Black Ice’ always pushed me to work harder who also sings, but doesn’t like too. Argie is my backbone and is the real reason why I keep pushing myself to work and reach higher. She is a constant source of encouragement. I am truly grateful to the Creator for bringing her into my life and for making all things possible."
What prompted Martin to create his first album is largely based on his own sense of achievement. "Music has been a part of my life, all of my life. I thought I was good at it, so, I was hoping by some chance I could follow in the footsteps of musical greats such as Stevie, Luther and Donny Hathaway. It has always been a long time dream of mine - And it’s time!"
Making this album possible was brought about from the creation of his own record label, Nitram Records, which is located in Japan. His discusses about how that happened. "Ok, this is somewhat difficult. I reside primarily in Japan and I’m considered a local artist here. The culture is different and often very closed when it comes to foreigners (or more specifically, African Americans) doing something that might take away from Japanese or other Asian artists. Maybe from fear? For instance, we’re often viewed as local musicians, NOT FAMOUS (of course), but from the U.S. So, very often we feel their thinking is this: ‘We can USE them, get them to sing on our tracks, use their ideas and make them our own, let them produce, write and sing on songs, but give them little or no credit.‘ This is the consensus of many of us here. We’re offered or paid barely a fraction of the cost of what it would be to get artists who are known all over the world and/or who have deals or major hits. Also, there is huge language barrier; misunderstandings, ideas clashing, misrepresentations from the ‘would be’ agents, etc. Thus, the result of many doors closing."
It is a decision that is somehow based on advice from his father as he remarks, "The music industry was always a battle, and still is. My Dad said to me, ‘Learn all you can, be all you can, do all you can, don’t depend on no one.’" And the advice of singer-songwriter Roberta Flack as Martin provides, "Roberta Flack said to me one day backstage, ‘Son keep it clean and learn the business, know your craft. You’ll go far.’"
Martin believes that Black Ice is "Definitely a ‘springboard to do more.’ I want to be the best that I can be at what ever I do, be it acting, singing or just being me with my family and friends. As a recording artist, I would like to reach the point of being the one everyone admires - for the person I am, not just for my music."
He describes about himself, "I am both artist and (music) director. Most can’t wear two hats. Being new to the game, I’m coming in trying to be a strong singer and producer and have a strong show. This is something positive for the younger set and an image to be admired. This is what I want to be. As a Director, I would like to impose a standard of music a cut above the rest. A challenge is just what it is. I’m ready."
Today, Glynis John Martin faces the world as a solo artist, and offers that he’ll go "Anywhere the promoter will send me. No venue is too small or big. I’ll do them all."
He mentions that "I would really like to perform in Egypt and Africa. I’ve never been to either of those places and have always wanted to visit. To be able to perform there as well would just be THE ULTIMATE!!!"
Some people find that extreme sports give them the ultimate rush, but Glynis John Martin has found it from being a live performer. Martin is sensible enough to have his priorities in order, and that includes having his family involved in his life and work, Maybe they were the biggest factor in making Martin’s first solo album, Black Ice happen after all. It’s a family affair for Glynis John Martin.