Who Is Bobby Velvet and How Did He End Up Doing “The Martian”?

Bobby Velvet "The Martian" Ernest Kohl "Sooner or Later" 12" vinyl singles found at Sonido del Valle in Los Angeles
Pic taken at Sonido del Valle where I found Bobby Velvet “The Martian” and Ernest Kohl “Sooner or Later” (which I’ll post about later) last November. (Pic: Liz O.)

Sometimes, I buy a record because it contains a mystery that may or may not ever be solved. Like, who is Bobby Velvet and how did he end up doing “The Martian” in a North Hollywood recording studio for a 12” single released on a label based out of a Pasadena building that’s now a law office? 

When I found the record, I didn’t even know that much. I was in Boyle Heights with some time to kill between lunch with my aunts and a show at a coffee house that was happening later that day. So, I walked to Sonido del Valle to do some digging. Somewhere around the freestyle and disco bins, I came across the 12” for “The Martian” by Bobby Velvet and was instantly intrigued by the note on the cover that read, “dance instructions inside.” I peered inside the sleeve and carefully pulled out a sheet of paper. The dance instructions were still there! This was going to be good. I just knew it. 

Yet, I was slightly hesitant on account of the record being $12.99, more than I would normally pay for something I hadn’t heard before. I kept the record in the maybe pile and continued digging, while lowkey hovering around the listening station in the back of the shop, waiting for the person using it to leave. When he did, I commandeered the small turntable and dropped the needle on the record. 

I knew immediately that this wasn’t something I could play in the middle of the night at a dance club, but would sound great in early evening bar events or radio sets. In fact, you may have heard me play it when I guest DJed on Moniquea’s Dublab show, “Jammin’ Croquettes” in January, or when I turned up on the decks at Footsie’s for “Razorcake Hearts…” earlier in March. 

“The Martian” is a slow, intensely groovy slice of ‘80s funk with a No Wave vibe that would have sounded at home alongside bands like Was (Not Was) and Material. But, there was nothing I could see on this record connecting it to the New York music scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was made in L.A. and is dated 1987. That intrigued me more. 

What really sucked me into this record, though, was how the music presented an image. It sounds as though your dancing in a low-gravity space. Every time the horns appear, I can see a wobbly martian slipping as they try to catch the beat. 

“The Martian” wasn’t my only unusual find at Sonido del Valle on that November afternoon (I’ll post about the Ernest Kohl “Sooner or Later” 12″, seen in the photo above, later), but it was the most mysterious record to turn up during that dig.

There’s a lot about “The Martian” that interests me and my gut says that there’s a story inside that record, but that part might be hard to find. Outside of Discogs, there’s little trace of this 12” online. It’s neither streaming nor on YouTube.  (I posted an audio clip from my set at Footsie’s on Instagram.)

Although there’s a pretty good amount of information on the record sleeve, more than thirty-five years have passed since it was released. I looked up the address given for HEI Records in Pasadena and it’s currently a law office. The recording studio no longer exists and most of the names on the credits are common enough where I haven’t been able to turn up any good leads, except for (maybe?) the mastering engineer. Even that would be a stretch, though, considering how much music an engineer might master over the course of decades. 

Maybe someday I’ll figure out what the deal is with this record, but, for now Bobby Velvet and “The Martian” remain a mystery. 





Liz O. is an L.A.-based writer and DJ. Read her recently published work and check out her upcoming gigs.