ROYAL OAK -- "Gringo Dujour" isn't the name listed on musician
Mark Martin's passport. But it could be.
A native and resident of Royal Oak, Martin has entertained audiences
with his voice and acoustic guitar at bars in Australia, Turkey, Italy,
Brazil and Mexico. But he's also known as a singer and songwriter at
local venues like the Renshaw Bar & Grill in Clawson. He describes
his repertoire as folk/rock, and his voice like Chris Isaak's or Rick
Martin, 47, chose his tongue-in-cheek alias in 1995 after vacationing
in Mexico, where foreigners are sometimes called "gringos." He added a
French "last name" that means "of the day" and started playing in pubs
around the world -- a musician at night, a computer-aided designer
during the day.
"I was a contract CAD designer for 25 years for Ford Motor Co.," Martin said
recently at coffee shop in downtown Royal Oak. "I worked in the Detroit
area for 20 years. The last five, I spent traveling. It was a learning
experience. You can always find an Irish pub no matter where you are in
the world. It's open mic night if you're an American with a guitar
singing a hit song."
A singer and songwriter, Martin is beginning work on a new studio
album with the title, "I Can't Remember to Forget You." No date has been
set for its release, but it will contain original songs, he said. In the
meantime, Martin said he tries out a few of his original songs between
cover tunes he plays at the Renshaw on 14 Mile.
"Mark plays an eclectic mix," said Renshaw owner Mike Lang.
"He covers mostly classic rock tunes. It's just Mark and a guitar and
an amplifier. He's really good with the customers and takes audience
requests. He has a following, and when he plays, we have a big increase
Martin first picked up a guitar when he was 13. He was the oldest of
four children born to Chuck and Ellen Martin, growing up on Amelia in a
house across the street from where he lives today with his wife, Doreen.
"My parents bought my younger brother a guitar for Christmas and he
didn't play it," Martin said. "The neighbor across the street took
lessons at Meyer's Music City, next to where the Oxford Inn is today. So
they were teaching me basic guitar chords and strumming. Once you learn
those chords, everything is open."
So he practiced his guitar in his basement bedroom. After six weeks
of lessons, it was time for a recital. "I had a high voice then," he
said, because it hadn't yet changed. "The teacher said to sing, so I
played the guitar and sang. Everyone in the front row just stared. I
thought they were staring at me because my voice might be cracking." He
learned later that the audience stared because they didn't know he could
Martin credits his songwriting ability to poetry assignments as a
student at Guardian Angels Elementary School in Clawson and Mark Twain
Elementary School in Royal Oak. "In grade school when I was writing
poetry, it seems that whenever I wrote anything, it would get an 'A.'"
But he didn't start putting words to music until 1994.
That's when he worked with another computer-aided designer
moonlighting as a musician: bass-player Craig Confer, who owned a
basement studio in Ferndale. That's where Martin cut his first album,
titled "Gringo Dujour." The CD, with eight original songs, came out in
Martin started playing gigs for family events and backyard graduation
parties in Metro Detroit while continuing his full-time CAD work. But
that changed two years ago, when he decided to play music full-time.
He had an epiphany, he said, after his dad died at age 65. "A man
works his whole life, retires, and then dies." After that, the idea of
waiting until he retired to perform music full-time didn't appeal to
"I was making so much money in the CAD field, and that was holding me
back. But now I know the money doesn't mean anything personal."
The death of his father spurred Martin to write a new song titled
"It's hard to write a song when you're happy. You need some tragedy.
That's why I hadn't been in the studio lately. I'd been too happy."
Martin has now written six songs and has lined up a Warren studio to
cut his album.
"As far as being rich and famous, I don't care," he said. "If this
was my last day on Earth, I'd rather play guitar."
Cindy Hampel is a Metro Detroit freelance