Friday, February 18, 2011

An EXCLUSIVE Interview with MARK CLARKE!






By Stephen SPAZ Schnee



     For over four decades, Mark Clarke has been involved with some of the most respected bands in Rock history including Colosseum, Uriah Heep, Tempest, Billy Squier, Mountain, Ian Hunter and Natural Gas to name but a few. He’s even toured with The Monkees, jammed with The Rolling Stones and performed with The Who’s Roger Daltrey! But while he’s known for his exceptional bass playing and harmony vocals, Mark’s talents as a songwriter and lead vocalist have seldom received the attention they deserve.
     So, after over 40 years as a professional musician, Mark is finally stepping into the spotlight and has released his debut solo album, Moving To The Moon (It’s About Music). Blending modern production with his Classic Rock background, the album is a timeless mix of heart, soul and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Some may classify the album as AOR or Melodic Rock, which is certainly a fair of assessment, but the album’s influences take in everything from The Who (“One Of These Days”) and Paul McCartney (dig the vocal hook in “A Cowboy’s Song”) to Progressive Rock so it’s a hard one to pigeon-hole. Whatever you prefer to label it as, Moving To The Moon is nothing less than wonderful.
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with Mark to discuss his amazing career and his brand new solo album…

SPAZ: Now that Moving To The Moon has been released, how are you feeling about the album and your career in general at this point in time?
MARK CLARKE: Well, about the album: this is the first record I’ve done, been on or whatever, that I can listen to, almost daily, and enjoy. I am so very proud of this album. It’s really all of my playing and personal experiences written down and recorded for all to see…and there’s more to come. I’m not finished yet, there’s still more inside that has to come out…..maybe next year, although I am writing at the moment so I will start to record again pretty soon I guess. But as far as this record goes, dare I say it, I truly like it… love it, in fact, and a lot of that has to do with Ray Detone’s work on it. He fully heard what I was trying to do and where I was trying to get to with these songs and in some cases showed ME.
Now, my career… Well, that’s a lot different because I’m not really happy with where I am at this point in time. You see, years ago when the record biz was about music and not solely about the bottom line, I think this record would have already been on the radio getting heard, and hopefully selling. But nowadays with the internet, people have so many choices that it’s really hard for someone like me to get their attention with plain old Classic Rock, and that really is what this record is: CLASSIC ROCK! Hopefully, you agree! It’s been 40 years and I’m still on the road, I love live shows, as that’s what it’s all about for me. But the other reason I’m still on the road is that I have to be: because without it, I couldn't support my kids! That’s how much it’s changed. Everyone seems to be making money. but the musicians have, over the last 10 years or so, been getting less and less and no one seems to think this is true, but it’s VERY true, I don’t want to moan about it, but why should some of us put in 40 years of our lives and then end up with nothing to show for it? Sometimes, I think that we should stop writing music and see how the world would be. Can you imagine waking up and your alarm radio goes off and there’s just talking and no music? And then you get in your car and turn on the radio and there’s no music? And so on and so on…..sad, huh? So, something has to change. Songwriters have to get paid properly again and not get ripped off from pirating and download companies. In some ways, the internet has killed off a certain part of the music business yet it has made it so easy for people to access anything they want to hear. But the trouble is, it’s the internet companies that make all the money now, and the poor guys who spend days, weeks, months, writing creating and putting there souls out there, who are now losing a way to make a living. I mean, even live shows are taking a hit. People like Clear Channel and the rest of those guys have made ticket prices so high, and many of us are still wondering why, as the money that a start up band gets paid hasn’t gone up for about 20 years, and in a lot of cases, some don’t even get paid! So, why does a ticket for MSG sometimes cost $500 + because the bands don’t come away with that money… People seem to forget that it’s MUSIC and the enjoyment of music that got us up to this point and it should get back to that….just good music……

SPAZ: You’ve been a professional musician for over four decades. Why did it take so long to release your first solo album?
MC: Ask God! I honestly can’t explain why: just that it was only now that these songs started coming to me… and now I seem to be writing more than ever. But I wish I could have done it years ago! And, by the way, my heart has gone into this record, and we still call them records because that’s what they are…a record to be kept forever… we hope.

SPAZ: Were the songs on the album written at different times for different projects, or is this a collection of tracks that you wrote specifically for a solo release?
MC: Only one song was written a while ago, and that was “Without You”. which is about my late mother. The rest of the songs have all been written for this album and every song has a story and an influence from my past. For instance, “Cowboy Song”: when I played with Mountain, “Theme From An Imaginary Western” (written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown) was one of the BIG songs; when I play with Colosseum, ‘The Western” (as we call it) was a hit for them, too, and I always thought about a follow up to it. Well, I came up with “Cowboy Song”. I like to think that Bruce/Brown approve. Actually, Pete Brown who wrote the lyrics to “The Western” and all of the big Cream songs does like my new song. In fact, we are working together on the new Colosseum CD. So yes, all of the tracks were written for this project. At the beginning of recording it, I was going to ask everybody that I’ve ever worked or recorded with to do one track each. I mean, couldn’t you hear Leslie West playing on “Cowboy Song” to name but one? I’m sure you see what I mean. But as it went on, I just kept on going on my own with Ray and came up with what I think is a great album. On the next one, though, I am going to get a few guests and that should be quite interesting, don’t you agree?

SPAZ: What were your chief influences during the recording of Moving To The Moon? It seems to be the perfect mixture of classic and modern sounds…..
MC: Everybody I have ever worked with: from Colosseum, Uriah Heep, Mountain, Ian Hunter. Billy Squier, The Monkees, Michael Bolton…and even Alan Holdsworth, who inspired the track “Moving To The Moon”… plus all the others not named, helped me write this album. It’s hard not to draw on your influences when you’ve worked for all these years with all these people. But in the end, it’s ME: this is a Mark Clarke CD and I wonder if I’ll influence anybody? I know I have fans out there and I hope they like what they hear when they play it. And I’m sorry they had to wait so long… Oh, I must not forget Ritchie Blackmore; he’s in there somewhere, too!

SPAZ: The album is filled with plenty of memorable melodies and great musicianship, yet it is your voice that holds the whole project together. Do you feel that your talent has a vocalist has been overlooked in favor of your in-demand bass expertise?
MC: Thanks for the compliment about the melodies. I get new ones in my head each and every day and sometimes it can drive you mad. Yes, I do feel that I could have contributed more as a vocalist to many of the projects I’ve worked on over the years. You know, one true story about this issue, was when I got a call from The Rolling Stones (when Wyman left). I went down to S.I.R. in New York city and played with them for a few hours and when I was talking to Mick later on, I told him I was a bit of a singer. He said “Oh, great!”, but that was all and I wasn’t asked to sing the whole night. There have been many bands, though, that asked me to use my vocal talent: Ian Hunter, Colosseum, Uriah Heep… In fact, on the song “The Wizard” (co-written by me), that’s me singing the bridge, NOT David Byron: he couldn’t reach the notes. Over the years, your voice does change and mine has. I never liked to listen to me singing on anything years ago, but now, I actually quite like it! Many years ago, in the Liverpool paper, there was a review of a gig I did at the Cavern Club and the reviewer called me the “Joe Cocker of Liverpool”, which, at the time, was quite a compliment. Harmonies are where I shine, though. That’s something that comes very natural to me, and many sessions over the years that I’ve done were not for my bass playing but to do vocal tracks. There is one particular song: “Bluebirds” by Ian Hunter. I did about 30 parts of harmony, and that and three other tracks helped him get a million dollar record deal! Not me …him! But when this record gets heard I hope my vocal talents won’t go unnoticed anymore.

SPAZ: While the album would certainly fit in the popular AOR genre, at its heart, it’s simply a great Rock ‘n’ Roll album. Do you see the album as an easy one to categorize?
MC: Yes, I do. It’s a real NEW CLASSIC ROCK album, as it draws from all of my history and, let’s face it, everything I’ve done over the years has become classic rock, just because it’s old I guess? But maybe it’s time for a new genre of radio: NEW CLASSIC ROCK?

SPAZ: You’ve been involved in a lot of projects over the years, from Colosseum to Billy Squier. Are there any moments in your long career that stands out above the rest?
MC: Well, being asked to audition for The Stones… and only a handful of people on earth can say they played with Rolling Stones! Colosseum playing to 400.000 people in Turku. Finland: that was just breathtaking. Being on stage with all four of The Monkees at the Greek theatre in L.A. Colosseum and Jimi Hendrix traveled together for the last few days before his death, and that I’ll never forget! Singing “You Better You Bet” (my favorite Who song ever) with Roger Daltry at the Olympic stadium in Sydney. Australia…that whole stadium was bouncing up and down. And still. to this day, playing some of the Billy Squier hits on stage with Billy, I can still get goose bumps. Natural Gas was invited as special guests on Frampton Comes Alive and that was the biggest tour that had ever been… until Michael Jackson, I think? And one moment I’m still waiting for is hearing one of my new songs on the radio! Then I’ll know that people do like my voice…

SPAZ: Your stint with Uriah Heep was short, yet that musical liaison is mentioned in almost every feature I’ve read about you on the internet. Is it strange to have some people overlook the rest of your varied career and label you as ‘ex-Uriah Heep’?
MC: I think the people who label me just as ex-Heep do that just because they are Heep fans, that’s all. And that’s fine. I think anyone who knows about me, knows all of my history and come to think of it, it’s only history after all, and has no real meaning. does it? Except I’d like to be known for everything I’ve done, as it’s been quite an interesting career, don’t you agree? I do want people, in the end, to know me as just Mark Clarke the bass player and singer, who happened to play with everyone from Heep to Roger Daltry and everyone in between. And the funny thing is: I am still a good friend with Ken Hensley, whom, by the way. I did many solo projects with and my name is always coming up in interviews he and Mick Box do… so that’s why, maybe, I will always be known as ex- Heep, but that’s O.K.

SPAZ: Natural Gas was one of the most overlooked ‘super groups’ in music history. There was Joey Molland (Badfinger), Jerry Shirley (Humble Pie), Peter Wood and you. The album is chock full of great Rock ‘n’ Roll and Pop tunes (written by both you and Joey). Do you remember much about the recording of the album?

MC: I remember the whole thing, actually. One thing nobody knows is that Natural Gas came about because I was about to start to embark on my first solo album… and that was in 1975, so it took from then to now for me to start and get it finished.. What happened was, as I was starting to write songs, my friend, Joey Molland, was quitting Badfinger. We started to talk about what we were both going to do, and then a light bulb went off! While all this was going on, my dear friend Clem Clemson (Humble Pie) had introduced me to Jerry Shirley and we became friends. I just asked Jerry, ”So, want to make an album then?”… and that’s how Natural Gas was formed. As far as the making of the record goes, it was a bit of a strange time, really. We had moved from England to America and there’s a lot of culture shock involved when you know your not just here to tour, as we all had been doing. It’s still, to this day, easy to remember that it was quite a shock for all of us to cope with… but we did. The record was made at Crystal Sound in L.A. and we were sharing the studio time with Stevie Wonder. He was making Songs In The Key Of Life and he had the studio all day and we took over from him at 8 in the evening for about a month. We had all kind of guests down there: Pete Townshend showed up one night with Jerry and Cozy Powell, and during that night we all ended up at The Rainbow with John Bonham and got quite drunk, actually! But other than that, it was just ‘get in there and make the album’ as we had a deadline to get it done so we could join Peter Frampton and do that Frampton Comes Alive tour. For anyone who has or gets that LP, in the middle there are four guys driving at 95 mph across the desert. Well, that’s me driving!

SPAZ: How did you get Felix Pappalardi to produce the album? I’ve read that Mal Evans was scheduled to produce the album originally. Do you think that if Mal had produced the album, the band would forever be dogged by Beatles-related questions, which Joey has unfortunately had to deal with since he first joined Badfinger?
MC: We got Felix through Larry Utal (Bell Records). Felix and I had a bass battle one night in the rehearsal studios. It was real fun, and he was so much louder than me! But it was great to work with him. Unfortunately, within a few months, he was shot dead by Gail (his wife). In fact, they both came to the house we were staying at in L.A. and she was showing my ex-wife what Felix had bought her for Christmas: a Derringer pistol! IDIOT! Now Mal… this is such a sad story as Mal was such a great guy. For the people who don’t know his history. Mal was with The Beatles from start to finish as their roadie. After they broke up, Mal was living in L.A. and not quite sure what he was going to do with the rest of his life. We all kind of just slowly got the idea of getting him to produce our record. We knew then that there would have been the inevitable questions, Beatle-related, of course, just because of Joey and me both being from Liverpool. But who knows: it might have helped, not hindered? Mal was such a wonderful, gentle man. I was in such shock when I was back in New York and the phone rang . It was Joey to tell me Mal had been shot by the L.A. police and he was dead. That’s when Felix was asked to produce.

SPAZ: You were playing with Billy Squier during the height of his popularity. How did you get involved with him?
MC: Quite simple, really. Billy came over to my apartment in NYC. We sat down and talked for an hour or so. He knew what and who I’d worked with and asked me to join, and, apart from a couple of years apart, we have been together for 30 years and I’ll tour with him again whenever he goes out. Billy is now a dear friend, an old friend.

SPAZ: How did The Monkees gig come about? And do you still work with Davy Jones?
MC: David Fishoff, the same guy who now does Rock Fantasy camp, managed The Monkees from 1985 till about 2002. I went to see him. I don’t remember who it was that called me, but after meeting with him, I ended up as the bass player on one of the biggest tours that had ever been on the road! I think the smallest gig we did was Madison Square Garden: the rest of the tour was baseball parks and the like. But out of that came a friendship with Davy Jones that lasted 20 years and, in that time, I co-produced, led his band and he even recorded a couple of my songs. It’s a bit of a shame as we now don’t work together, but who knows? Hopefully, we may again in the near future. I, for one, would love to.

SPAZ: Are there any musicians out there right now, young or old, that you’d like to work with?
MC: If you can think of some, let me know as I must have worked with everyone up to this point! But one thing I would love to try would be me, Keith Emerson and Jon Hiseman as a three piece. I think it could kill! Let me know what you think and if you agree, get in touch with Keith and see what he says? And, just as I’m answering this question, I was called and told that one of the great guitarists Gary Moore had died. Gary, Jon Hiseman and myself were rehearsing as a three piece right before I left England and I always thought we would work together again…..

SPAZ: What’s next for Mark Clarke?
MC: Well, first, it’s getting a new Colosseum CD done in London and then we start touring at the end of May until August. Then, Clem Clempson, Gary Husband and I have been talking of doing something, so we will see!

SPAZ: What is currently spinning on our CD, DVD and record players?
MC: Moving To The Moon


Thanks to Mark Clarke

Special thanks to Dean Sciarra

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