After 34 years of marriage and 33 years at the Dresden, Marty & Elayne Roberts are still going strong
Holding the record as the longest running live act at the same venue in the history of Hollywood, Marty and Elayne Roberts have been playing live music at the Dresden Room’s Lounge five nights a week for the past 33 years. For all of those years, the married performing duo has been protected under a union contract — an all-too-rare occurrence on today’s live music scene. In April, Linda A. Rapka stopped by the Dresden to chat with Marty and Elayne about how they keep things fresh after more than three decades.
Do you remember your first night at the Dresden?
Marty: “Do you remember when you were born?”
Elayne: “I do. It was April Fool’s Day and the first song we did was ‘The Girl From Ipanema.'”
How did you land this gig?
Elayne: “A friend of ours brought us here one night and we were about to open at what was the Derby — it was Michael’s Los Feliz at the time — and she said to come and hear the competition down the street. So we went with her and there wasn’t anybody playing, so the boss asked if we’d play a tune or so. She was a singer so we backed her up on a song and he said he’d like to use us sometime. When we go the job up the street he used to see us on Tuesdays, and when we finished there we came here.”
What’s your nightly routine?
Elayne: “We go to bed around 7 in the morning and get up about 5 in the afternoon and start getting ready, practicing and getting ready for work. It seems to be no matter what time I get up I don’t want to!”
What would it have been like performing all these years without a union contract?
Elayne: “It would have been awful because union contracts are protection. You know you have a labor contract and people respect that. It’s much easier than just floating around at the mercy of employers.”
Marty: “I can’t be walking around with a rifle.” (laughs)
Elayne: “I’ve had some pretty raunchy employers at one time or another when I was a teenager and they give you a story a lot of times. When you have a contract you have protection.”
This is unfortunately a rarity for live performers today. A lot even pay to play…
Elayne: “It really pays to have a contract. We were working a job in Fresno once and the union represented us and a union representative saved us. We had a four-week contract and we’d done two weeks. One night the assistant manager said, ‘Get your instruments off the set’ my boyfriend’s group is gonna set up.’ So I called the union guy and he said, ‘Don’t touch your instruments. They have a labor contract and they’re gonna fulfill it or we’re gonna sue. I’ll negotiate with them in the morning.’ The next day he had a negotiation with them, and it ended up that they had to let us finish the week. The fourth week they paid us for doing nothing thanks to the union.”
You’ve been married 34 years, and have been performing together during your entire relationship. A lot of couples would be pulling each other’s hair out. What makes it work for you?
Marty: “Communication. And trust.”
Elayne: “We meet the same people, we have the same interests, we like the same music. I think that’s a big help. Before I met my husband I was dating an insurance guy and he was telling me all about his policies, and I was falling asleep! It’s very good to have something to talk about.”
What music do you work on besides playing at the Dresden?
Marty: “We do TV if they call us up, or commercials, whatever it may be. People in the movies know our schedule, and they know we have to be here. People carry guns if we don’t go on!”
After more than three decades, how do you keep things fresh?
Elayne: “We keep learning new tunes. It’s important because even if they’re old, they’re fresh. They may not be new but they’re new to us.”
Marty: “Sometimes we’ll also pull old tunes from our repertoire out of our memory banks.”
What’s your favorite part of this Dresden gig?
Elayne: “It’s very comfortable. And we know a lot of people. Regulars and tourists.”
Marty: “What it really comes down to, it all comes from here — right from the heart. Everything else is B.S.”
Catch Marty and Elayne every Tuesday through Saturday from 9 p.m. to 1:15 a.m. at the Dresden Room’s Lounge, 1760 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz.