By Laurie Morrisey
Local musician Mark Shark was born and raised in St. Louis Missouri. “I wanted to be a professional baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals,” he confessed. Lucky for us, he ended up being a musician. When asked if he has a day job, his answer was, “I’m a musician—I have several day jobs. Every day I am either composing, recording, transcribing, writing, or teaching,” Mark said.
“I moved to LA in 1979 to pursue music and spent the next 35 years in the studio, touring, gigging, teaching, and writing from my home there. I moved to Portland a year and a half ago with my wife Robin. Our daughter attends Reed College.”
Moving to LA in 1979 opened up a lot of opportunities for Mark. Meeting Jesse Ed Davis and playing with him led to meeting Jackson Browne, Taj Mahal, and Bonnie Raitt—these people all made a huge impact on Mark’s playing.
Mark has been performing professionally for 50 years if you count the school dances and bar mitzvah circuit he played in junior high and high school. “I started out in bands as the lead singer but wanted to play guitar too so I kept at it and here we are today.”
In addition to music, Mark is also working on a few books on alternate tunings and one for a friend of his. “I also teach guitar, mandolin, and banjo at Portland Music Company and Five Star Guitar.” His book, The Tao of Tunings (Hal Leonard) is available now, and coming soon from Inside Publications is The Jackson Browne Solo Acoustic Volumes I and II transcriptions.
To say that Mark comes by his talent naturally would be an understatement. Both of his parents were Julliard trained concert pianists. “They spent many years together touring, then my father spent years touring with Paul Robeson throughout the forties. During the McCarthy era in the early 50’s, Paul was blacklisted and his passport confiscated. My father then took a position with Washington University in St. Louis. He conducted the Gateway Festival Orchestra and University City Orchestra, which we attended frequently. My mother also introduced me to Pete Seeger and songs out of the Fireside Songbook, which we loved playing together.”
His older brother, Bill, introduced him to Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters records. “He was instrumental to my development as a music aficionado and guitar player. Living in St. Louis, Chuck Berry and Albert King were locals and accessible, frequently playing around town. They were a huge influence,” Mark said.
Other players who have influenced Mark are: Lowell George, Ry Cooder, David Lindley, Will Ackerman, Joni Mitchell, James Burton, Debashish Bhattacharya, Roger McGuinn, and George Harrison. “My latest inspiration is Esperanza Spalding who I didn’t know is a Portlander! I had the pleasure of hearing her talk, sing and play at Reed College last month.”
Music & Training
Mark describes his music as eclectic. “I have a wide range of musical tastes. I have always been drawn to roots music—blues, country and folk. I love rock n’ roll, Indian raga’s, jazz, soul, funk, new age, alternate tunings, native American/traditional indigenous music, world music, and classical music. In my own compositions I try to incorporate what inspires me. I often blend bits and pieces of different styles or genre’s of music to create something new. There are endless possibilities when it comes to composing and creating music that express whatever you want it to.”
Mark plays acoustic/electric guitar, mandolin, slide guitar, twelve string guitar, banjo, dobro, dulcimer, balalaika, and octave mandolin. “I began playing guitar in junior high and took lessons from my friend Doug Niedt. He was incredibly disciplined and by our third lesson he told me not to bother coming anymore. I was shocked and asked why and he said that he didn’t have time to waste on someone who wasn’t serious or committed to practicing and learning their instrument. He could tell I wasn’t doing what he asked. He knew I was just learning the Lovin’ Spoonful or Animals’ songs he was showing me and not doing the exercises and scales he laid out in my lesson plan. I begged for a second chance and he gave it to me. I practiced every day and learned the scales and the neck even though I was perfectly happy strumming a tune and not knowing what any of it meant or how it was all connected. Doug shamed me into being the musician I am today…I can’t thank him enough.”
“I continued on with private lessons and attended college. I finished my third year at Wichita State University Kansas with the incredible jazz guitarist Jerry Hahn. Sadly I left college after my third year to pursue life on the road with a show band and I’ve been on the road ever since. I regret not finishing my degree and it is still on my list of things to do,” he said.
Mark’s CD’s include The John Trudell Catalog, From the Heart, and Zydeco Party Band Catalog. Additionally he has several projects in the works right now. “I am currently working on the final recording for John Trudell and Bad Dog. We lost John to cancer in December and this will be our tribute to him. I also have two blues projects that will be out later this year.”
Fellow Musicians & Band Members
Mark has played with many musicians: John Trudell, Jesse Ed Davis, Taj Mahal, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Jennifer Warnes, Bob Dylan, Terry Evans, Teresa James and Terry Wilson, Tony Braunagel, Johnny Lee Schell, Doug Legacy, Hutch Hutchinson, Kirk Fletcher, Todd Robinson, Jimmy Z, Bob Weir, Crosby Stills and Nash, Stephen Hodges, Pete Fahey, Jeff Turmes, Debra Dobkin, Ricky Eckstein, Billy Watts, Quiltman, Hani Nasar, Wally Ingram, Ulali, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Van Dyke Parks, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Ferguson, Freebo, Billy Block, and more.
“Since moving to Portland I have been fortunate to have played with Lloyd Jones, Curtis Salgado, Chris and Ian Miller, Jake Ray, Miller Sasser band, Julie Amici and Dean Mueller, Karen Lovely, Lauren Sheehan, John Lowell Mitchell, Carlton Jackson, Dave Kahl, Denny Bixby, Jimmy Bott, Hilary Hanes, Adlai Alexander, Hershel Yatovitz, Buzz Holland, Joe Kerry New, Scott Pemberton, Joe McCarthy, Ben Rice, Ken Scandlyn, and Jesse Samsel and so many others who have welcomed me here in the beautiful City of Roses.”
Mark has known and worked with many musicians in various capacities over the last 30 years. “Many of them are well known players in LA and we lend our services to each other whenever possible. Many of them also overlap into other projects such as John Trudell and Bad Dog, the Zydeco Party Band, and Mark Shark and the Hammerheads.”
Band members he works with are: Ricky Eckstein, keyboards, bass and drums; Billy Watts, guitar: Gary Ray, drums; Doug Legacy, accordion/piano; Van Dyke Parks; Quiltman (Milton Sahme), Indian chanting/drumming; Gary Ferguson, drums; Todd Robinson, guitar; Teresa James, keyboards/singer; Terry Wilson, bass; Debra Dobkin, percussion; James Cruce, drums; Jerry Peterson, horns; Terry Evans, singer; John Juke Logan, harmonica; David Jackson, bass; and Danny Timms, keyboards.
To find out more about Mark’s upcoming events visit his website at taooftunings.com.