Mark May Interview by Abby Owen, Part-2

Posted on 3/13/2010 by Abby Owen

Continued from Part One:

To quote their latest press release:

The Mark May Band has officially released its 4th cd,"In Texas Live" (Flyindog Records, 2009).

The new cd is the band's first live album and presents a compilation of live songs recorded during 2002-2009. The cd features Mark's smooth vocals, along with the dynamic twin leads and dual electric harmony guitar work the band is known for. The Texas-based blues rock band's new cd includes Mark's original songs, classic blues, and even steps into the jam band territory on this outing with their versions of "Ohio" and "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed". The cd spotlights the current band members, Dan Cooper (bass), Paul Ramirez (guitar) and Clyde Dempsey (drums), in addition to former guitarists including Kirk McKim (Pat Travers Band), Kenny Cordray, and Matt Johnson. This cd finally gives the people a taste of what the band's live show is all about! Mark May was guitarist, vocalist, member of Dickey Betts and Great Southern from 2000-2001 and recorded "Collectors II/Let's Get Together" (Dickey Betts and Great Southern), which features 2 songs written by Mark May. Mark has been featured in Guitar Player, Guitar World, Blues Revue Magazine, Vintage Guitar.. The band is currently getting heavy rotation on Sirius/XM Radio BB King's Bluesville.

...And NOW back to the story...

MM: So we just kinda lucked out that he liked it[Dickey Betts], and then he asked us if we’d like to do some dates with the Allman Brothers! I couldn’t believe it. It was just out of nowhere. He wanted to see us play live first, so we went out to Sarasota and played at the ‘Five-O-Clock’ club, and Dickey came out and watched us. So the places [cities] where they didn’t need extra support, where they didn’t need help to draw a big crowd or places where they were sold out already, they put us on as the opener for the ampitheater tour in 1997, and we probably did about fifteen dates with them...

...It was a pretty exciting time. To be scooped up, just this little Blues band that hadn’t done more than a couple Blues festivals…

AO: You had CDs out…

MM: Yeah, we had CDs out, and had a couple articles come out in some Guitar magazines, so we were doing okay but still, we’d never been on an ampi-theater tour. So that was pretty exciting. That was a lot of work, to follow them around in the bus and try to keep up with them, and we had to do our sound check early every day. Dickey would come out and jam with us and stuff. The next year we actually did a few more dates with them. They were doing the Nascar tour, I think. They had somebody on the main stage with them, but with the Nascar deal had some other bands on side-stages, so we did that too for a few dates. When I first met Dickey, he asked me about doing those dates with them, and then he called me about two weeks after I met him, we were still in Florida after he had come to see us, and he asked if Dan & I wanted to come try out for the Allman Brothers, because Warren & Alan Woody were doing the Gov’t Mule thing, and they had some conflicts. I think it had something to do with Capricorn Records or something, and uh…

AO: So you did actually audition?

MM: I got to audition, and Dan didn’t because they already had a couple of bass players the drummer really wanted to work with. I got to audition, but I didn’t play slide very well. I kind of did a crash-course on slide, thinking that if I got the gig I could get better, really ‘wood-shed’ but Jack Pearson was the guy who got the job, and he really was just a fantastic guitar player, a phenomenal slide player, played a little more Jazzy than I do, but he was good for what they did at that time, even though he only played with them a year or two. He had some ear problems or something. But I did get to try out, which is interesting because me & Dickey and Dave Stoltz who was a bass player trying out, just the three of us were over at Dickey’s house, in the guest-room, which is pretty strange with no drummer or anything, and we just kinda went over the songs. Dave ended up being with Dickey Betts & Great Southern, as I did too after Dickey left the Allman Brothers. When he left the Allman Brothers in 2000, he called me and asked me if I wanted to play with his band. And he hired Dave, the bass player. And Dave assembled some guys from New York & Connecticut, the Boston area who were really good musicians, cause I was out on the road and had no time to help put the rest of the band together.

AO: And how long was that?

MM: I played with Dickey for two years. We only toured in the Summertime, but it was a long Summer, like we’d start in April and go ‘til October…

AO: What did the guys in your band do while you were away?

MM: They played without me. At first we were called Mark May and the Agitators. Well, I used to let them use the name ‘The Agitators’, but it got a little confusing for some people, because they thought I was going to be there, so they ended up using a different name. But they’d do local gigs. They were all good enough musicians that if they wanted to add another guitarist they’d just do gigs without me. I don’t think they were real happy doing that, but I don’t blame them. When I was out playing big shows with Charlie Daniels & 38 Special (laughing), but it needed to be done for the business of the band. Not to promote just myself, but to promote the whole band, and to get us better gigs. We did an album when I was with Dickey called “Let’s Get Together”, and that’s now packaged with the album they did after I left with Danny Toler which is an acoustic album called “The Collectors”. “Collectors Part One, and Let’s Get Together”. So, I left in 2002 after that tour, and came back to doing my own thing and we released ‘Doll Maker’ in 2003 with Jim Gayle.

AO: So, would you say that your greatest influence was Albert Collins?

MM: Yeah, Albert Collins, BB King, Freddy King, on the Blues side. The Beatles, Hendrix. I liked Rick Derringer a lot.

AO: If you boiled it down to one person, though…

MM: Probably Jimi Hendrix, I would say, has been the biggest influence on me, ever. Probably because of his fusion of Blues & Rock y’know, because I like both. The way he played guitar y’know…people still listen to it 30 – 40 years later and are like, how’d he do that? There’s a few people like him that changed music totally…there are certain things he could do, like he could control feedback and things, and make it into a musical thing, and it’s been really hard for some people to duplicate. A lot of people can play the licks, but the way he could have his guitar so loud and control it, control the feedback and… It was like he was super-human, y’know?

AO: The next question is did you ever meet him?

MM: No. My brother went to one of his concerts, but I didn’t meet him. He died when I was nine or ten.

AO: What do feel is your strongest point as an artist?

MM: Probably the fact that I can play guitar, lead guitar, sing and write songs. The combination of those three things…kind of makes you a nice package, I guess, if you can do more than just one thing.

AO: And what would you like to improve upon?

MM: Well, everything. Vocal-wise I’d like to keep on improving. I think I’ve improved on every CD, as far as the way I sang. I wish I could go back and re-sing some of the stuff, especially on the first CD, now that I’ve beeen singing for a lot longer…the style. I’d like to maybe infuse some of the jazz stuff, kind of like Robin Ford does, in my guitar playing. Maybe a little more fresh approach to that.

AO: How do you go about getting inspired to write music?

MM: Usually coffee.

AO: Really? That’s the same thing Seth Walker said!

MM: Really? (laughs) Yeah. A lot of times you don’t know when you’ll get inspired.

AO: Is it generally the music, a chord progression, doing the music first, then coming up with the lyrics?

MM: I’ve done it both ways. There’s not a set combination. A lot of the times I’ll come up with the hook line first. You see something, a movie, or on TV, or something happens to you in real life, or somebody says something to you. Just stupid stuff, like when I wrote ‘Sweet Spot’. We were out on the road somewhere, out West, and we were trying to find someplace to park the van so we could go shopping. We didn’t want to park it somewhere way in the back, because it had all our equipment in it. Somebody just pulled out of the very first spot in the row, and Greg Grubbs, the drummer said, “There’s the sweet spot. Right there!” (laughing) I just kind of thought about that, and thought I’m not goin to write a song about a parking spot, but I can think of things I could write a song about that would be more appropriate, y’know?

AO: How funny! (laughing)

MM: So you never know when it’s going to hit you. ‘Back In The Joint’ was inspired by ‘Shawshank Redemption’. It’s not actually about that movie, but you sit there and watch a movie like that and think, “Man. What a bummer to be in prison like that.” It’s definitely worth a lot of songs. There’ve been a few songs where I just wrote music. Coming up with music just sitting around, playing, and then wrote the lyrics later.

AO: You are predominantly a guitarist, but many people have commented on your skill as a vocalist. Do you have a preference of one over the other? Guitarist, or vocalist?

MM: Probably guitarist. I get a little frustrated with my vocals. I mean, I think it would be nice, like probably most band leaders and people who are always out front, to not have to do everything. Sometimes it would be nice, like when I was in Dickey’s band where I sang, usually a couple of songs a night, but to just sit back and play guitar. It was comfortable, relaxing. But at the same time, you miss doing your own thing too. As soon as you say that, you miss the other thing. So If I had to pick one or the other, it might be guitar playing.

AO: I’ve never seen a guitar quite like yours. Is there a story behind it?

MM: The gold Robin I always play. It’s a Robin Savoy. It’s actually made in Houston. It’s basically a copy of a Gibson ES-335 which is a semi-hollow guitar. It has a little fatter, boxier sound. I bought it thinking I might like to play one because I heard a few people play it like Chris Cain, B B King, Freddie King, Larry Carlton, just different people that use hollow bodies. They have a nice honkin’ tone. When I got that one, it didn’t become my favorite guitar right away, but the more I played it and the more people complimented on it, and the more comfortable I got with it the more I liked it. One thing that’s really nice about it is if you get to play a lot of small clubs, if you play a Fender they can have a real ‘biting’ tone. This is a little more mellow on your ears, not as harsh. But that being said, it still has a lot of get up and go. It’s not so mellow that it doesn’t deliver the notes, but it can be a little softer on the ears in a smaller place when you need to turn down. So it’s versatile. It’s turned out to be my favorite guitar. I still play the Paul Reed Smith 'McCarty' and that Telecaster that Huey made me, the Axehandle. But the Robin is my favorite, and the one I use the most.

AO: Do you play any other instruments besides guitar?

MM: No. I wouldn’t say I play them. I play ‘at’ them a little bit. I have a dobro I screw around with, and a couple of lap steels. I know a few chords on the piano, and a few chords on the mandolin, but I can’t say I play any other instruments.

AO: What has been your greatest moment so far?

MM: There’ve been a lot of good ones. Obviously, when we played with the Allman Brothers, getting that tour going, being in Dickey’s band, having articles in National magazines, and having CDs you can go pick up in the stores. All of that stuff was really great, but I think the fact that my parents were so happy when I first got my record deal. They had the satellite TV back then, before they actually told who the artist was, they just played music on the Blues channel. They used to get so excited when my music would come on the Blues channel. They would dance and…y’know. I just thought it was so cool that they were so happy about it. That’s probably it, if I had to pick one.

AO: What would you do if you weren’t playing music…like a completely different career.

MM: I don’t know how to do much besides play guitar, (laughs) so I don’t know if I’d have that many options. I’ve always been kind of a ‘merchant’. I’d probably still be involved in music in some way. I used to buy and sell a lot of guitars, and did some pawn shopping, flea markets…but it’d probably be with instruments. I like getting out and looking and finding treasures, y’know? That’s a lot of fun.

AO: What’s next for you?

MM: We’ll, we have the live CD that has just come out. This year we’re going to get out and start doing some more touring, which we’ve taken a few years off from. We’re just going to get back out there and see what’s out there for us now. Hopefully we’ll be able to get hooked up with some festivals, and maybe get the right agent. We want to get back into the studio and do another studio album.

AO: Have you been writing?

MM: I’ve written about 3 or 4 songs but I haven’t really...I’ve got one instrumental that’s almost done, I’ve started two or three other songs, but they’re not done. So I’ve started that process, but we’re trying to figure out what direction we want this album to go in, because Paul’s got some songs, and the band want to be included a little bit on the writing.

For festivals we’ve got the (video link) 'Miss Molly' option, and we’ve got Eric Demmer the sax player who wants to do some things. I always enjoy working with those guys. Very professional. So, whenever we can get together with them it's a pretty awesome band…with us, and Molly and Eric, y’know? That’s definitely a festival-worthy band. We’ll see what happens with that. We're mostly a regular four-piece band which is an easy way to go because we’re comfortable with that. It’s easy on the traveling. With the one van you don’t have to have a trailer…

Abby Owen ~ I have had the pleasure of getting to know these four individuals pretty well as friends. I have enjoyed many nights hanging out with them at the Blues jams in and around Houston, and always try to catch the full shows whenever logistically possible. I can tell you without reservation, these guys are the real deal. The perfect representation of Texas Blues. If you get a chance, do not miss the opportunity to see them live, as that is when they are at their finest.
Copyright © 2010 - Abby Owen. All Rights Reserved

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