“Marvin would kick your ass for nothing. A true genius, Marvin was a pure original” said Iggy Pop about the extraordinary musician Marvin Pontiac. And if Iggy is so into him than I introduce that true genius to you.

 

THE STRANGE STORY OF MARVIN PONTIAC

 

He was born in 1932, the son of an African father from Mali and a white Jewish mother from New Rochelle, New York. The father’s original last name was Toure but he changed it to Pontiac when the family moved to Detroit, believing it to be a conventional American name.

Marvin’s father left the family when Marvin was two years old. When his mother was mental institutionalized in 1936, the father returned and took the young boy to Bamako, Mali where Marvin was raised until he was fifteen. The music that he heard there would influence him forever.

At fifteen Marvin moved by himself to Chicago where he became versed in playing blues harmonica. At the age of seventeen, Marvin was accused by the great Little Walter of copying his harmonica style. This accusation led to a fistfight outside of a small club on Maxwell Street. Losing a fight to the much smaller Little Walter was so humiliating to the young Marvin that he left Chicago and moved to Lubbock, Texas where he became a plumber’s assistant.

Not much is known about him for the next three years. There are unsubstantiated rumors that Marvin may have been involved in a bank robbery in 1950. In 1952, he had a minor hit for Acorn Records with the then controversial song “I’m a Doggy.”

Oddly enough, unbeknownst to Marvin and his label, he simultaneously had an enormous bootleg success in Nigeria with the beautiful song Pancakes.

His disdain and mistrust of the music business is well documented and he soon fell out with Acorn’s owner, Norman Hector. Although approached by other labels, Marvin refused to record for anyone unless the owner of the label came to his home in Slidell, Louisiana and mowed his lawn.

Reportedly Marvin’s music was the only music that Jackson Pollack would ever listen to while he painted, this respect was not reciprocated. In 1970 Marvin believed that he was abducted by aliens. He felt his mother had had a similar unsettling experience, which had led to her breakdown. He stopped playing music and dedicated all of his time and energy to amicably contacting these creatures who had previously probed his body so brutally.

Furthermore Marvin held the tribal belief that having a photograph taken of yourself could steal your soul, thus these candid shots are the only ones known to exist.

When he was arrested for riding a bicycle naked down the side streets of Slidell, it provided a sad but clear view of Marvin’s coming years. In 1971 he moved back to Detroit where he drifted forever and permanently into insanity.

He was killed by a bus accidentally in 1977.

His only album “GREATEST HITS” was released posthumously in 1999. And this unstable genius recorded his African rhythm and blues songs with such great musicians as Marc Ribot, John Medeski, Billy Martin, Eszter Bálint and many others.

GREATEST HITS first time on vinyl on NORTHERN SPY RECORDS

LISTEN TO IT ON SPOTIFY!

By the way. You can find some inconsistencies in this story. For example Eszter Bálint was 11 years old when Marvin Pontiac died, so it seems impossible that she could work with him. Well, the truth is that the character of Marvin Pontiac was invented by John Lurie because “for a long time, I was threatening to do a vocal record. But the idea of me putting out a record where I sang seemed ostentatious or pretentious. Like the music of Telly Savalas . . . I don’t sing very well, I was shy about it. As a character, it made it easier.”

Not long ago Lurie found some materials of Marvin Pontiac which were recorded when he was in a mental hospital. Those were released as The Asylum Tapes in 2017.

 


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