Mark…How did you first get into the blues?
I first got into the blues because of the influence of older siblings who played blues records. Toronto has always been a great city for live blues. I have been attending blues festivals, and in the club scene since my mid teens. I started playing live in high school rock/blues bands.
Why the harmonica?
The harmonica is a cool sounding instrument, It has the potential of a mini horn. It’s small size makes one curious as to how you can get such a interesting tone from. you can play songs by yourself.
Tell me who your major influences in music are?
My early influences were locally, Hock Walsh, Mckenna, Mendleson, Morgan Davis , Michael Pickett , Fraser Finlayson and Dutch Mason . Freddy King as a guitar player and Blues singer, later, the Walters, (big and little) , Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy, and most recent William Clarke.
How would you define the blues – and what it means to you personally?
I can only define the blues I like, and don’t like. The Blues to me is just a style or treatment. There isn’t much voodoo or down and out cliché stuff, that shapes it for me. It’s just a style. If it sounds good, I can enjoy it. If it’s lousy it hurts.
What do you consider to be the most important ingredient in the blues?
The single most ingredient in the blues is a tough one. every element is crucial. Every link in the band is so important to the music. My tone as a singer and, my tone as a Harmonica Player, has to be in place. I prefer relaxed stage presence, and good communication with the audience.
You are interested in vintage equipment and vintage cars. How does that work in relationship with the music that you create?
I am inspired with stuff from the vintage era. I’m confident that my music takes one back onto those great days of Chess.
What is the one song which you would consider to be the most perfect blues song ever written and why?
“Bring it on home” by Sonny Boy Williamson because its got feel and and element of “call and answer” with the harp and voice. The band plays it like they might have a hundred times but you know it was off the cuff. And playing this tune is such a smooth groove you can lay back in it all night.
If I came to you and said that I have never listened to the blues before and I have just enough money for one CD, what CD would you recommend for me to buy and why?
Sonny Boy Williamson, great stories. Band that grooves and has a great sense of humour
You played blues in Australia. Can you tell me, what, if any, differences there were in playing the blues there and the perception of the blues down under?
I was very surprised at the command that the Ausies had with the blues. It occured to me right away that Blues is Universal.
You’re working on a new album – can you tell us something about what you have already recorded and how it’s going?
Having fun! I have recorded only three of my own sessions since my last album. One was a student project for a recording school, and I not sure about the finished work. The other two were scheduled for my new release. Both were blessed with great musicians, and one particular session(afternoon) reaped only 3 original songs. They will make the record for sure. A Rhumba called the “Bunnie Bop Boogie” with lyrical help from my 7 yr. old daughter. There is also a Jazz/blues instrumental featuring the Chromatic harp. The last of the three is a eight bar blues that is called “Ruby” named after my 3 yr. old daughter. “Ruby” features a bluesey trumpet solo from Tyler Yarema. Guitars are handled by Peter Schmidt who has been working with me for a couple of years. Some Great help there. Bob Vespaziani solid as ever on drums. Cheong plays some upright on one of the sessions, Pat Carey (of Downchild Blues Band) added some horns and Alec Fraser engineers and plays bass on the originals.
What are you going after with the new album?
The new album is long overdue. My playing has improved and my singing always gets better. I feel a little pressure to get back on the map with a release.
Finally, is there a single moment in time when you thought, I’d like to do this professionally – if so, can you share that moment?
To me personally , when I ‘m listening to, or playing music, I feel like there isn’t another place I would rather be.
As a performer, you have many highs and lows. I have had several dates at local clubs like Chicago’s for instance with only 60 people in the audience (packed to the gills). Many of those gigs you can see the audience is so into the band’s groove and the message of the song, that they are hanging on every word of the song , or a guitar , or harp solo. Each time this happens you say to yourself , I could do this every night or day of the week. I am a musician that has carried another job and had my struggles with that.
There has been times when a out of town date has lifted me so high, I thought that I would never come down. Such were the dates I have done in St. Johns NFLD. The Owner sends a Airline ticket , books a nice hotel, picks you up at the Airport, wines and Dines you like a Special Guest. The locals, the barstaff , including the Band greets you with respect, confidence and the will to play great music over 4 or 5 nights. You leave town with a elevated experience ,The new friends and fans stay with you. Everybody has made some money and you will be back soon. You are excited to re-unite with your family. Ain’t no mountain higher.
Thanks for your time.
If anyone out there has any questions you would like to ask Mark, please send him an email and I’m sure he’d be happy to correspond with you.