This is the story of a song that was not supposed to be a hit, a surprise life in a different country and a death no one expected.
In 2004, American singer-songwriter-producer Keith Martin’s song “Because of You” was everywhere. You heard it on the radio. People were covering it on TV. Singers were recording and releasing covers of it. It was being sung nonstop at videoke bars. Filipinos could sing the rest of the lyrics after hearing just the first few bars.
But how that happened is anything but obvious. Keith Eric Martin was born on Sept. 22, 1966, in Washington, D.C., growing up learning to sing and play instruments while heavily influenced by Motown and R&B. He was signed to a contract by the label Ruffhouse Columbia Sony, and his first hit was the song “Never Find Someone Like You,” written by Marti Sharron and Danny Sembello, which appeared on the original soundtrack (OST) album of the first “Bad Boys” film in 1995.
That song would appear on Martin’s first album, “It’s Long Overdue,” also released in 1995. This time, he would be recording his own songs as well, 20 songs in four weeks.
“Because of You” would be on that album as well—but it was not supposed to be, as Martin revealed to Super in an interview for the “Super Random” podcast, possibly his last full interview prior to his death.
At the that time, he was teaching a local choir in Philadelphia where he was recording. So, he began teaching them a song he wrote called “Because of You.”
“It was actually just a filler song,” he said. “I was in the studio playing it to a video camera, teachin’ it to a choir. The engineer had the tape rolling while I was playing, singing it to a video camera. And it was just a one-take thing to the video camera. And the song wasn’t supposed to go on my first record because everything else had a gigantic production value to it. ‘Because of You’ didn’t. It was just acoustic piano and a mic. And I was singing it for something else. And when the A&R (artists and repertoire) guys and the CEO of the label were picking songs for the record, I saw it on the list. And I tell them, ‘this song right here wasn’t for the record. I didn’t do this song for the record. How did it get recorded?’”
So, “It’s Long Overdue” gets released and did moderately well. But not “Because of You.” It had absolutely no impact in the United States. Nothing.
Martin didn’t know it, but somehow, the song made its way to the Philippines and was the biggest thing by 2004. Yes, nine years after the album first came out. It was, after all, the perfect love song for Filipinos: a stripped-down ballad unabashedly grateful for how the other’s love has changed one’s life for good, carried flawlessly by Martin’s acrobatic vocals. But Martin had no clue.
“I didn’t know,” he admitted. “So, I didn’t know until people told me about it. I knew I had friends that really like that song in California. A lot of Filipino friends of mine, they always say they love that song. And, you know, they liked it but I didn’t know that it was having the impact it was really having in the Philippines until I came to the Philippines in 2004. They didn’t tell me in that it was bubblin’ in Manila and everywhere else.”
A Filipino promoter then got in touch with Martin, telling him how big his song was in the Philippines, and invited him to do a three-day benefit concert for Kapuso Foundation at Meralco Theater in 2004. So, he went. (By the way, Martin had a habit of peppering his responses with “you know,” “wow” and “I love it” a lot.)
“But when I got here I didn’t know it was, like, as big as it was gonna be,” he recalled. “So, I’m like ‘Woah! OK!’ So, I’m rehearsing. Ah, I go on a studio and, ah, it’s like this is bigger than I thought.”
All this for a song he thought lost: “It was just like ‘wow!’ A whole nother roller-coaster ride. From a song that I thought was dead in the water. I get over here and find out it’s like ‘wow!’ Boom! Everywhere!”
After arriving in the Philippines and the expected slew of performances, Martin was signed by EMI/PolyEast for a record deal. “And I say yeah, let’s do it,” he said with a laugh. “And that’d give me another opportunity just to write and produce more songs. So, I just wind up staying and working for the company writing songs and producing artists here, local artists here. I loved it.”
The first artist he worked with was Kyla, and he was very impressed. “She was such a phenomenon in the studio and she will come in the studio, get the song done in a hour and be gone. I was like ‘wow.’ I just just started engulfing myself into more of the scene here and loved it.”
Martin also got the opportunity to work in the Philippines and Indonesia with artists such as Gloc-9, Jed Madela, Luke Mijares and Nina Girado, among others.
But even more impressive the number of recorded and released covers of “Because of You,” like Filipinos couldn’t get enough of it. “Because of You” may be the most covered song ever in this country, with licensed versions by Gary V, Martin Nievera, Kyla, Michael Pangilinan and Jed Madela. Guji Lorenzana, Martin noted, was the first one to do a Filipino version of the song. And this doesn’t include the countless unrecorded versions of this song.
The Gary V version was part of the OST for a 2013 movie titled after the song—with a somewhat altered spelling. Star Cinema’s “BCUZ OF U” is about three separate love stories that of course somehow wind up intertwined, starring Kristine Hermosa and Diether Ocampo, Heart Evangelista and Geoff Eigenmann, Hero Angeles and, of course, 2NE1’s Sandara Park.
That one is Martin’s favorite. “That was the ultimate for me. That was the ultimate, ultimate high for me. I mean, wow. When I heard his version, I teared up. It was like, ‘Wow I never thought it could sound that good.’ You know. I loved it. I loved it. I never did see the movie but I did see the trailer. I saw Gary V’s video and it blew my mind.”
The sheer ubiquity of the song amazed Martin. “It was surreal, you know,” he said. “But I loved it, I mean, when you have a song like that that affects everyone, it’s like ‘wow!’ You know. And it’s just a blessing to be able to create something that affects everyone positively like that. You know. And that to me is where the success was right there.”
It was then that Martin began to produce and distribute music independently. “The digital platform allows me access to the global market that I have fans in,” he explained.
This also allowed him to produce and record from anywhere, and so he did—right here, in the Philippines. He released several albums of his own, rather uneventfully locally.
He set his own home studio in a condominium unit in Libis, Quezon City. “I’m doing a lot of production for artists in the US and, you know, I do the work here and then I send it out. Internet, you know. I email it out. And I get mixing work.” Prior to the lockdown, he was singing with a local band called Laraza, and that was something he missed tremendously.
Life in the Philippines became more than just about work for Martin.
What is his favorite thing about living in the Philippines? “I’m near my son. I have a son here, he’s 13 years old (at the time) Dion James Martin,” he answered. The boy is his son with former partner Diana Soto Dayao.
He’s been here long enough to have picked up some of the language. But just how good is his Filipino? “I know enough to get around in a taxi,” he answers.
So Super put him to the test. Ikaw ba ’yung kumanta ng “Because of You?”
“Oo,” he answers, with just the slightest of accents.
“Are you sick of the song?”
“Oo,” he answers wryly. He was serious.
Pressed to expound on his answer, he said: “’Cause I have so much other music that I wanna present. And you know, can’t win today’s ballgame with yesterday’s hits. You gotta stay current, you know? But I mean ‘Because of You’s’ like one of your kids, you know. They grow up and they go on and they go to college and they become their own thing. And then you move on to the next step. So, ‘Because of You’s’ like one of my older kids. That’s done; I ain’t no worrying about him no more.”
Martin has gotten so used to living here he said: “Since 2004, I’ve been embracing the Filipino life. It’s great. Because you always wanna be where the love is. And that’s that’s what I do. I go where the love is. So, the love has been here. And that’s where I been. So, it’s great. But you know I have other friends that are from America that are here, too. Well, there’s a few cats out here that’s doin’ it.”
But he said he did consider himself a bit of a trendsetter. “The oldest cat, yeah,” he said with a laugh. “Yeah. I would like to think I was the pioneer. The first cat.”
But the pandemic hasn’t ended yet when the first cat ran out of lives.
On March 25, officers of the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) were called to Martin’s building in Barangay Bagumbayan. The building’s property manager received a call from a resident on the sixth floor reporting a foul odor coming from the next unit. The manager traced the smell to the unit—which turned out to be Martin’s.
At 10:50 a.m., the building staff and barangay officials entered the unit and found Martin’s dead body still on the bed. It was then that the police were called. The last person to see Martin alive was one of the condominium’s maintenance personnel on March 20 at 9 p.m.
The case was then turned over to the QCPD’s Crime Investigation Section which, several days, later determined Martin had died of a heart attack (acute myocardial infarction, or heart attack due to atherosclerotic coronary artery disease), which meant, tragically, Martin had died alone and unattended for several days before decomposition led to his discovery. He was 55.
Martin’s death was reported both here and in the United States. His former partner Dayao posted the following on her Facebook page: “Despite the flaws, despite the circumstances. I never stopped loving you, we never did. And all I wish for now is that we had more chance to make new memories as a family.” She had last seen Martin when she and their son visited him on Feb. 21.
The artists Martin had worked with expressed their deep sadness at his passing. On the very night of Martin’s death being reported, the first Filipino artist he worked with echoed the sentiments of all he had worked with. Kyla tweeted: “In shock and disbelief … You will be missed, Keith Martin … Thank you for the inspiration. You will leave a legacy of great music that is timeless and will always be remembered.”
But in a testament to the aforementioned ubiquity of Martin’s song, that same shock and sadness shook social media with messages of condolence and sympathy appearing everywhere. Perhaps it was only right, though taken too early, Keith Martin died in the country he had embraced and embraced him for one song at first—and then the entirety of his life, it turned out.