Born to be Wild Bill

Wild Bill with a mic in each hand

Wild Bill with a mic in each hand belts out Afroman’s “Because I got high” 

It’s karaoke night at The Fossil and Haggis. Wild Bill steps up, grabs a microphone in each hand and launches into his trademark song, “Because I got high”. The pub rages with enthusiasm, as University of Toronto students go absolutely crazy.

It’s a typical Tuesday night at this local pub, except for the fact that on Feb. 10, Wild Bill turned 76 years old.

Afroman’s controversial rap song is not what you would typically expect a near 80-year-old man to sing on karaoke night. Strangely enough, it suits him very well, and the University of Toronto students fiend for it.

“When I get to the chorus, ‘Do you know why?’ they all scream ‘Why Bill?’ like the song was meant for me, I love it,” Wild Bill said.

For the last 10 years, Bill Martin — better known as Wild Bill — has been heading out late-night to karaoke bars all over Scarborough. The Fossil and Haggis is just one of his favourites.

Although “Because I got high” is his biggest crowd-pleaser, it fails to represent his full singing potential. According to Susan, her father’s voice soothes the soul.

“He sounds like Frank Sinatra . . . he sings ‘Because I got high’ for the kids, but get him to sing Frank Sinatra, his voice is beautiful like that,” Susan Martin said. Susan is Wild Bill’s daughter; he also has a son named Dave.

Martin goes out to a different pub almost every night of the week.

“Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday are the best karaoke nights — I really like going to the Kilt Pub on Saturdays, it’s always a good night,” Martin said.

“Bill sings karaoke all over . . . he’s the karaoke king of Scarborough,” Susan’s husband chimed in.

Martin’s first karaoke experience was over a decade ago. Him and his daughter sang Neil Young’s “Born to be Wild.”

“She got me into singing,” said Martin as he pointed to his daughter, “but now I go out and do it on my own.”

According to many university students, Wild Bill is their reason for coming out on karaoke night. According to them, he is an icon. A local hero.

“Wild Bill inspires us,” said Bridgit Bowskill as she sat with her friends that frequently attend karaoke night at Fossil. “We come here just to see him. Well, we sing too, but we always talk about how we want to be like Wild Bill when we are 80. His love for life is so obvious, it’s amazing . . . Bowskill is currently a University of Toronto student who tries to make it out every Tuesday to watch her idol.

The people who work at Fossil also have strong feelings for Martin.

“Honestly, he is the nicest fucking person I have ever met in my life,” said Adam, a server at Fossil who often has the pleasure of getting Martin his beer of choice, Molson Dry.

“The kids really keep me young at heart,” said Martin as he fiddled with his hound’s tooth print scarf. “Being around the kids is great for me … keeping myself exercised is important too.” Bill said he walks everywhere; it is important he live somewhere he can walk from place to place now that he doesn’t drive.

Martin’s lifestyle has undoubtedly received some attention. It has also earned him a nick-name.

The name Wild Bill was coined by Johnny Blaze, another avid karaoke singer who comes out to Fossil almost every Tuesday night.

“I can’t imagine how he came up with the name,” Martin said sarcastically. “I’m just glad it’s Wild Bill, not Crazy Bill.”

Martin said he believes people think he is wild because he is almost 80 and still partying like a teen.

“He gets invited to sorority parties for god’s sake . . . the college kids just love him,” Susan’s husband said. “When he comes home from karaoke he is so wound up. I don’t think any other 76-year-old man gets as excited as Bill. He bounces off the walls.”

Martin won his very own karaoke machine from the Kilt Pub on Kingston Rd. He won it through a draw, but Bill said it also had to do with how often he goes to that bar to sing.

“Everybody was saying ‘If anyone deserves to win, it’s Bill.’ And then he went and won it. We were thrilled,” Susan said. He likes to use it when he has people over to his house, and especially at the annual Superbowl party.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t until about a decade ago Martin really loosened up and was able to start living his life.

“I’m just so happy that he is finally doing what he loves. He didn’t get much of a childhood, and while mom was alive he never got to do anything fun. I know it sounds terrible, but it’s better for dad now that she is gone. He is having the time of his life,” Susan said.

Martin said his wife passed away from cancer 13 years ago, and although it was a major adjustment to make, he embraced it like everything else that lands in his lap.

According to Susan, who suffers from a chronic physical ailment, her dad inspires her to push on through life. Just a mere three years ago, Martin himself battled valiantly against prostate cancer.

“I had cancer, and I had to do radiation everyday for ten weeks … I enjoyed it — being around all those smart doctors and nurses. They really cared about me,” Martin said. He added that overall it was a pleasant experience, knowing very few people would share his sentiments.

“He always tries to make a good thing out of a bad thing, that’s just him,” said Susan.

According to Susan, her father has plenty of lady friends.

“Dad could have married Marlene. She was a lovely lady. Actually, she gave him that ring,” Susan said referring to the gold, Irish claddagh ring Martin sports on his right ring finger.

“I would bring her out, and she would get jealous because beautiful ladies would give me attention. So that was the end of that. Now she is doing her own thing,” Martin explained.

Martin has not always lived in Scarborough. He was born in Sudbury.

“That’s why the cold doesn’t bug me — it does some people, but definitely not me,” Martin said.

When he was eight years old, his family picked up and moved to Toronto. His father worked as a milkman, something Martin would pick up years later. He explained the only real difference from when his dad worked as a milkman was the use of horse-drawn cart.

“My dad used a horse, and I used a truck. Otherwise it was the exact same job, and I loved it,” Martin said.

After his milkman days, Martin was hired by the Toronto Transit Commision, where he worked for 25 years mainly driving street cars. According to Martin, for his 25th anniversary, the TTC gave him an engraved gold watch, and a handy silver token that entitles him to free rides for life on Toronto’s public transit system.

“They want to take this away from me,” Bill said motioning toward the small, leather case containing his silver, rectangular shaped token. “They want me to get a new plastic one, but this one is way nicer. I won’t give it back . . . damn right.”

Martin currently lives with his daughter and son-in-law in a condominium located at Meadowvale Rd. and highway 401. According to Susan, life with her father is as good as it gets.

“Look who I get to spend time with,” Susan said as she motioned toward her father. “I’m so lucky to have him for a dad. It seems everyone wishes he was their dad. I’ve never been happier, he pisses me off sometimes, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.

“My dad is just a great guy,” she said.

“He’d push me around in the wheelbarrow when I was little girl. I don’t know why I liked it so much, but he would push me around all over the property. That’s one of my favourite memories with dad.

“I swear, when I’m 75 I’ll be out having fun like him, singing karaoke.”

“You’d better be,” Martin chipped in.

Martin’s granddaughter, Andrea Martin, is following in her grandfather’s musical footsteps.

“She plays the keyboard, she sings and bangs on the drums … she is only 14, but she is going somewhere. She has already won things like Whitby Idol. She is amazing,” Martin said.

Seeing as he hasn’t taken the lyrics of his trademark song seriously — getting high just doesn’t seem to be in the cards — what does Wild Bill have planned for the future?

“I want to keep having fun living life, and I want to keep making people smile. That’s all that really matters,” he said. “I don’t know why people like me so much, but I love it. I just love it.”

Wild Bill, with one of his many fans, myself, Bailey Stead
Wild Bill relaxes with his daughter Susan

Wild Bill, with one of his many fans, myself, Bailey Stead 

Wild Bill relaxes with his daughter Susan after his first song of the night 

Wild Bill about to sing his second song of the night, Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana”