Singer-guitarist-songwriter Mike Martt, who died quietly at 11:11 a.m. Tuesday, was one of the most appreciated and loved musicians around, and within hours of his death, postings rushed into social media platforms from all manner of his legion of saddened friends and fans. He was 67.
He was born in Sunset Beach to a deep-sea-diving father and a professional hula dancing mother and spent most of his life living in Orange County and Long Beach.
The cause of death was not immediately disclosed, but he had been having health problems of late and, while he had been clean and sober — and was always a help to others trying to get or stay that way — his rough and rowdy early days were full of things that can eventually, if not immediately, take their toll.
At Christmastime, I have a nice memory of visiting with Martt around this time of year. It was a warm December evening and we were sitting around the swimming pool at D.D. Wood’s house playing Christmas songs on our guitars. I was playing Martt’s black Gibson acoustic, a fine guitar that he said was a gift from Steve Earle.
Musically, Martt was a beast, usually playing his black Les Paul and putting out a string of albums starting with his first band Funeral, and then working for years in the 1980s with the punk bands Tex & the Horseheads and Thelonious Monster before releasing a magnificent album with his band the Low & Sweet Orchestra, featuring guitarist Zander Schloss, the Pogues’ James Fearnley and actor Dermot Mulroney.
The record “Goodbye to All That” was cited by many critics as the best album of 1996 and it held some beautiful ballads, including “I Had to Leave a Friend Behind” and “There I Thought I Saw You Once Again.”
Martt called me with condolences about a decade ago on the day I had to put our Aussie Jimmy to sleep. I told him that I put on “I Had to Leave a Friend Behind” in my car on the ride home, weeping like crazy. He said, “Well, I hope it helped.”
“It didn’t; it made it worse,” I tried to laugh. “But I think that was why I put it on.”
His last album was a solo effort, “Tomorrow Shines Bright” on Superscope records.
In recent years, Martt has been busier doing audio engineering, surfing, working on a sobriety podcast called “Don’t Die” with Bob Forrest, hanging with his daughters, traveling and otherwise enjoying life. He was busy up to the end.
One thing he was proud about was the fact that he had been clean for so long that none of his three daughters ever had to see him drunk or high.
Social media tributes following the news of his death came from a lot of people he’s played with, including Robbie Allen, D.D. Wood, Joe Wood, Mike Malone, Greg Boaz, Chris Hanlin and many others.
In one of his final posts, in which he described his health problems, but remained optimistic, Martt wrote “Love to my close friends and please don’t leave thoughts and prayers, or any other shallow comments. Thanks, your friend always.”