Friday 17 March 2023

In Memoriam: Marvin Kee

Like so many around the city, I’m heartbroken at the passing of Marvin "The Fly" Kee on March 13, 2023 at the age of 53. Born in LA of East Indian and Filipino heritage, Marvin’s family moved around when he was a kid (he lived in the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Phillipines) before landing in Calgary. His sense of rebellion as a youth led him to music – which would be his passion and sustaining force for life, even through his battle with throat cancer. 

Over more than three decades, Marvin’s presence was inescapable – not just because of the number of bands he played in (alphabetically, here’s an incomplete list: Amy Lee Owens, Blist, Deicha and the Vududes, The Ex-Boyfriends, Flytrap, Flytron, Gratitude, The High Rollers, La Mosca, Lil Star, Los Morenos, Making Treaty 7, Nikki V/Nikki Valentine and the Gypsy Riders, Pyschomanik, Sargeant X Comrade, Serious Moonlighters, The Torchettes, Venetian Blinds, Whitey Kirst/Kiss of Spider, Xam Eitsirch) but because of his magnetic personality, love for all genres of music, and interest in breaking down walls between genres.

I first saw Marvin on stage with the legendary High Rollers and their spectacular disco funk shows at the Westward Club. Admittedly, there was a lot going on with that stage show and I didn’t really start to notice his presence on stages until I moved back to Calgary in 2000. The last time I saw him play was this past fall with garage punk legends The Ex-Boyfriends - just a few weeks after I'd attended a very different one of his shows with Sargeant X Comrade.

Marvin sat down for a recent with interview with Unsung where he explained his approach:

“That’s what I labelled myself as - a genre mixer. Like I play in eight bands and they’re not all rock bands. Like one is an R&B/Soul/Funk band, one’s a punk band, one’s a rockabilly band, one’s kind of surf-rockish… I realized and learned and understood that music itself can be segregated can be split up into their own rooms and their own attitudes and egos… I can walk into it like I’m sort of a chameleon, I guess. I noticed that everyone’s just sort of in their rooms, so my job is to break down those barriers, make sure everyone coalesces, merges with each other, understand each other’s musical styles, guide people, educate people and guide them into those rooms. It starts out small but it ends up being huge you know, and it’s working and it’s fantastic and I love working with all the artists, with all the bands I’m in, especially Treaty 7 bands.” – Marvin Kee

After the High Rollers, he spent many years playing bass with Los Morenos before starting the flamenco/soul collective La Mosca and delving into this own funk project, Flytrap. His “the fly presents…” series helped to showcase talent from across the musical spectrum at venues around the city. In more recent years, it seemed like Marvin was every where – the number of projects he was in multiplied and didn’t let up when he was diagnosed with cancer.

“Right when I was told I had cancer, I was asked if I want to play bass in a punk rock band and I’m like yes, please. And I didn’t stay in bed – people wanted me to stay in bed - and I just raged against the machine and went out and played my ass off and recorded my ass off… I’m extremely blessed to have been guided to music... Music was like therapy. What kept me alive was music.” – Marvin Kee

Tributes to Marvin on social media – and in conversations – have been plentiful, and for good reason. Marvin was a role model to many of us with his love of music, willingness to try anything, and how he brought people together. He brightened up the rooms he walked into and the stages he stepped onto.

My thoughts and love go out to Marvin’s son, his sisters, his bandmates and friends.

- Arif Ansari


Signe Knutson said...

What an immense and loving presence Marvin had and will always have. The joy he brought us. Thank you, Marvin, for a legacy of stellar musicianship, showmanship and pure cool.

Ian G. said...

Thank you, Arif.
Marv certainly was a rare human in that everyone loved him and felt like he was their friend. ❤️

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this, Arif. I have known him from afar for so many years, but once I found my way into friendship with him, he was so welcoming and accepting. His gentle and chill demeanour were so amazing to be around. I only wish I’d had more time with him. But even those who have known him deeply, for decades, feel they have been robbed.

Stevyn Mars said...

Thanks Arif for sharing Marvin's influence as a generous and kind soul on us. I'm blessed having had a friendship with him, his presence allowed me to not only embrace the moment, but also set goals otherwise unfathomable. A true wizard.

Shawna Cockx said...

Thank you for your beautiful & heartfelt tribute. It's been a tough & heart wrenching week knowing that my 34+ yr friendship with Marv has already to come to an end - difficult to put into words really. He was a gentle, genuine & accepting soul and one hell of a talent ... I'll deeply miss seeing that smile of determination & inspiration playing around town, not to mention our quiet times of personal connection. I'm grateful for the time we had and hope that his sweet son grows up to know & understand how genuinely loved & respected his father was by a wide swath of people. Rest in Peace our dear friend & inspiration!
Shawna C.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Arif!
He was a musical "chameleon", will said Marvin

Nick ( Curtain/ Free Rads) said...

He was known for standing people up...hahaha
Rest in Peace Marv....

Anonymous said...

So dearly missed my friend The world
needs more rock and roll shits not the same
without you marv i
love you and miss you

kate d