Starvin' Marvin made his mark on Victoria music (w/audio)
Feb. 17, 2014 at 5:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 16, 2014 at 8:17 p.m.
Music Notes by Marvin Paul, Victoria Advocate May 10, 1983
"The Unsung Hero of Country Music"
The unknown singer is the unsung hero who keeps the studios recording, the musicians playing, the promoters busy and a lot of other people making money.
Even with the economy as it is, the unknown singer wanting to be a record star never slows down.
Only a small percentage of the many records arriving daily at radio stations ever get past the trash can trying to get to the turntables.
However, knowing that each of these records represents about $5,000 and a tremendous amount of hope, I audition every one received at KNAL. That's the least I can do.
The unknown singer is big business with basically little success. It's not how good what's in the grooves. ... It's usually how popular the singer is that determines whether or not the song is a hit. And one thing for sure, if it never gets on the air, the chances are slim.
All the money ever spent on dreams and hopes to be a star would build an enormous gold statue of the unknown, unsuccessful singer.
But after all, hope makes it worthwhile.
Starvin' Marvin knew a hit when he heard one.
In 1972, from the KNAL studio on Wildwood Street, he played Jacky Ward's "Big Blue Diamond" and set off a chain reaction that launched Ward's career.
From the airwaves, Starvin' Marvin's impeccable taste changed the landscape of country and Western music in Victoria.
As for his own records, Starvin' Marvin - as he was known to KNAL listeners or to friends as Marvin Paul, and to family as Marvin Laqua - never received the fame for which he yearned.
Now four years after his death from leukemia at age 72, his songwriting partner, Robert Parker, is out to pay tribute to the man he considered a brother and best friend.
The pair met in the late 1960s. Laqua, a small-framed man who in his younger years preferred a clean-shaven look with a suit and tie, had joined the Victoria radio station after working for another in Bay City.
"He and I just hit it off," Parker said. "He was the brother I didn't have. He was just a great friend."
The pair wrote hundreds of songs, some that never left Victoria, others they recorded in Nashville that received radio play and nine that found a home on national music charts.
Parker took up managing Laqua, bought him a new guitar and some equipment and prayed royalties would pay off the investment of time and money.
"I wanted him to be a Merle Haggard, a major star," Parker said. "I thought he had the talent. ... I wanted him to be somebody."
Laqua's wife, Lillian Laqua, said her husband was a disc jockey back in high school. He loved writing songs and performed at dance halls across South Texas, including one in Wharton where they met.
She remembers sewing his suits and hand-stitching sequin details to his vests and ties.
"I never told him, 'No, you can't go to Nashville,'" she said. "Music was his life."
Laqua and Parker's biggest songs were "When I Need Someone to Talk To," which was re-recorded by the gospel group The Chuck Wagon Gang, and "You Can't Stop Me from Loving You," which was recorded by John Rex Reeves, the nephew of the late Jim Reeves.
Parker intended "When I Need Someone to Talk To" as a trucker song, but Paul, thinking women would not listen to a song about drifters, saw it as an opportunity for a gospel tune.
They pitched songs they thought Charlie Pride and George Jones might sing. They tried to sell to George Strait and other top artists, but obstacles greater than their dreams stood in their path.
"We were on the verge of success, but we quit doing it before we got to that point," Parker said.
Record labels were growing rich off the success of Nashville music. When it came to the songwriting industry, it was cheaper to pay a room of writers minimum wage than to pay royalties to guys like Laqua.
At the time, the industry was infested with drugs.
"They would take uppers to do the shows, then downers to go to sleep," Parker said. "If you couldn't do 28, 29 shows a month, record labels didn't want to fool with you because they couldn't make any money."
It's a lifestyle that ruined many talented musicians, he said.
And with families and homes established in Victoria, life on the road was not an option.
Parker said they saw the writing on the wall.
"He could have been a major star, but he got to the point where he didn't want to be," Parker said. "He didn't want that kind of a life; he just wanted to do the writing."
In an August 1990 Advocate article, 20 years before his death, Laqua said he wanted to continue writing and producing songs.
"I write songs in my head all the time," Laqua said.
He called music his love.
"I can't leave it alone," Laqua said. "When you get into it, you don't know when to stop."
Rather than chase a dream, he chose to stop.
His wife said that part of her life is in the past.
"He told me there at the very end, after writing and recording music, going to Nashville and having some recorded by the gospel group, he told me he did everything he wanted to do in life," she said.
About 10 years ago, Victoria Radio Works bought KNAL from the Bible Broadcasting Network.
Current operations manager Russell Fowler said many "jocks" view their careers along the lines of a civil servant.
"You become a voice for the community," he said.
Back then, the pay wasn't great, so radio personalities basked in their small glimmer of fame.
"They always say most DJs want to be musicians," Fowler said.