Marty Roberts of the lounge act known to most as Marty & Elayne died peacefully late last week – Thursday, January 13th to be exact, although fans just heard of the news last night.
There are only two ways to know who Roberts was, musically: You’ve either seen Swingers several times, or you’ve had cocktails at The Dresden in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles where he, along with his wife Elayne performed Tuesday through Saturday from 9:15 pm to 1:15 am. Every week, like clockwork.
I first saw Marty & Elayne perform on a Thursday night in 1989 within the darkened confines of The Dresden’s lounge. I was taken there by an older friend named Anastasia who was no older than 24, but was decades beyond her years. Tall, skinny, always clad in form-fitting black clothing with long, straight black hair and impeccable taste in music and nightlife. She was able to sniff out the next big thing over the horizon. Her only flaw was her boyfriend, and even he was kind of cool.
Marty & Elayne were already mid-set that night when I first saw them, but unlike their post-Swingers exposure, most people in attendance were mostly interested in drinking, smoking, and talking amongst themselves. Their music – an earnest take on select pop music and jazz standards – were appreciated and adored by those in attendance, but the couple’s act was always a side dish to the entree, which was alcohol. That said, for a decade or so after their cameo in Swingers, Marty & Elayne became The Dresden’s main draw. It was impossible to find an empty booth after 1996.
Although both were born in New York, Marty met Elayne in Los Angeles sometime in 1970. She was a 16-year-old singer/pianist who needed someone behind the drums for an upcoming gig. He was a drummer who took the gig and married her four months later.
The act took off quickly and the couple was soon playing clubs all along the Sunset Strip, knocking out jazzy lounge music for swinging adults sipping gin rickeys and old fashions. Marty and Elayne were forging lounge culture decades before Generation X reclaimed the scene and called it Cocktail Nation.
By the time the couple got the Dresden gig in ‘81, the act was road tested and finely tuned. Dressed in matching costumes, Marty usually in something black with spangled trim and Elayne in a matching dress, the pair soon became local celebrities.
But everything changed for the duo in 1990. The couple appeared in Tom Petty’s video for “Yer So Bad” and their popularity swelled again as it had their entire career. As their audiences grew larger and younger, Marty and Elayne embraced them, peppering their jazz sets with newer chart toppers like Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” No two sets were ever the same, although their love for entertaining was consistent, and they never played it for laughs. Marty & Elayne was not a tongue-in-cheek revival act – as far as Marty was concerned, they were jazz musicians, not comedians.
While Marty and Elayne’s Desden audience returned to its pre-Swingers days over the last decade (soon after the film, there’d be lines spilling out into the parking lot for years), the couple maintained their Tuesday through Saturday performances up until 2020 when Marty suffered a heart attack. While his failing health slowed him down, it didn’t stop him. A month later, he was back behind his drum kit, recording new music in their home studio as recent as last fall of 2021.
Although she hasn’t commented, it’s safe to assume Elayne will retire from performing, but she’s confirmed in the press that there will be a memorial, and it will be held at The Dresden. I’m going to be there and maybe Anastasia will be there, too.
Photos: The Dresden, Hali Gillin