When a publicist tells you that his client has some stories to tell, it may be that the publicist is just doing part of his job. When singer-songwriter Mark Anderson’s publicist told me that, he was not doing justice to Anderson’s story. His journey from Dayton, Ohio, To LA includes a broken-down Ford van, a few months in the Nevada desert, and a trip from northern Idaho to LA. And all of that happened before he met a musician who played on five Michael Jackson albums.
Do you want to jump in with your questions or do you want me to tell you a bit about myself?
Tell me about yourself.
I started singing at the age of four at a church. In grade schools I entered all the contests and talent shows. In high school, the same thing. In high school, I started playing in bands in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. I entered in a regional record contest and I got first place. I got picked up by a big promoter, Sunshine Promotions. They promoted Van Halen. They did the contest in a 15 to 20 state radius.
I played in in a band about 20 states in the midwest and the south. After four or five years, the band broke up. I sold everything I owned and ended up with 120 dollars. I drove a ’66 Ford van across the United States to California. I didn’t know a soul out here. The van broke down in the salt flats of Nevada, 60 miles east of Elko. I spent three months in the desert building houses so I could fix my van and continue on to California.
When I got to LA, I only had about 15 dollars left on me. I parked on Will Rogers Beach by Malibu. I got a job the first day I was here. Within three months, I met the trumpet player for Michael Jackson. He did five Michael Jackson albums. He’s one of the best session players ever. Gary Grant is his name. He goes back to Live in Hawai’i with Herb Alpert. He’s played with everybody. He took me under his wing. I wrote probably 50 songs. This was in the mid-80s when I met him. He introduced me to, mind you, I was living in my van on the beach, writing songs by candlelight in my van and I was working with guys in Michael Jackson’s band at the same time. He introduced me to all these famous musicians. To make a long story short, Gary produced my first record in 1993. All the top session players, it was through this one person that I met them, I am still recording with them. I stopped playing live around 2001 and just wrote. I was approached by these same musicians again because my daughter put up a MySpace page for me with my old album. It took off like a rocket. You can pull up my MySpace and see I have 450,000 plays on it. That was in a period of four months. I was getting 15,000 or 16,000 hits a day without any promotions. It was just people coming to the site and listening to the songs. The musicians I played with saw it. We’re still friends, and they said, “We should do another album.”
A year and a half ago, I started a new album. All these same musicians Jimmy Z, Mark Jordan. He played with Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. Lee Thornburgh plays with Chicago. Joel Taylor plays with Stanley Clarke. They’re all the top session players from LA. That’s who I made this record with. We’ve known each other 20 years and they’re trying to help me do this. I had just finished the record and put it up and a radio station in Sacramento found me and put me on the air. It really exploded. I’m the most-played artist on that station. Stations across the country are playing it, and that’s just in the last two months. A lot of these same players are putting a tour together for me to take this on the road. That’s a short synopsis of my career. I wrote a ton of songs. Some of the songs on the album now are songs I wrote in my van by candlelight when I first came to California.
It’s a unique story. When my van broke down in Nevada, I literally walked in the desert, tumbleweeds blowing across the road while I’m looking for a job. I found a job for six dollars an hour working in a silver mine that was so desperate that they were giving land to the people that would work it to get them to work there. They were financing it real cheap for people to buy the houses. I built three houses. A family towed my van to northern Idaho and we got an engine put it in there. I drove that van 40 miles per hour from northern Idaho to LA. That’s how I came to LA.
Music obviously has always been a part of your life. Why did you stop playing live at some point?
I had these big players with me and it was my act. I played all the clubs. If you know the Hollywood scene, we’d play and I have all these famous musicians, and I financed the whole thing myself. I was trying to get a big record deal and I didn’t get signed. That’s when I stopped playing live. I just kept recording and songs. I amassed close to 300 songs. These musicians heard those songs. They’d come to my house and I’d play the songs for them. That’s when they said, “You have to do another record, Mark.” That’s where it’s at right now.
When did you write your first song?
I wrote my first song when I was about 12. I have a reel-to-reel recording of that. I started writing poetry earlier than that. I started singing melodies and lyrics and would come up with the songs. If you listen to my record, you’ll hear a song called “Suicidal Sweetheart.” I wrote that when I was 17 years old. It was redone. We put a modern spin on it. It was something I had from years ago and I just picked the ones that fit best on the record.
What inspires you to write so much?
I try to write everything from the heart. I try to write like Lennon or Bowie. They can read into things different ways. Or like my favorite poet Carl Sandburg where it’s really inspirational. More of a storyteller than just a lyricist. That’s what Gary Grant and all these other musicians saw in me. Then I just got better at writing melodies. A lot of the songs I co-wrote with Gary, but a lot of them I wrote myself for this record. I’m a lifetime die-hard musician. If I never get famous, I’ll die this way. I’m an artist in my soul. It’s what I do.
Just to give you another idea of who I am and what I do. I mentioned that I did construction in the desert. Then I met all these musicians and I put it all together. I went around to some of the biggest studios in LA and made deals with them to remodel the studios for recording time. That’s how I did my first record. I would remodel the studios and go to my regular job in the morning. I banked up hours. That’s how I recorded it. Even the mastering lab. For my first album, I remodeled the entire mastering lab at night in exchange for them mastering the record. I financed the whole thing by working myself.
That’s pretty impressive.
Like I told you, I’m a die-hard. The same with this record. I worked and financed the whole thing myself. They did it all on the cheap. I could never afford these awesome players if they charged me what they charge a record label to make a record. I’m not even going to say how cheap they did it for me, but they did it very cheap. They poured their hearts into it. For them, as famous as they are, it was gas money what I paid them. They are friends of mine and they believed in me and I love them like family. I just finished the record and a station called Hot Mix 106 out of Sacramento found my website and told me my stuff is absolutely amazing. Within one week, I was the most-played artist on the station. Now I’m being played on Little Stevie’s Underground Garage. It’s getting picked up by internet stations all over the country. It’s taken off in the past tow months.
If you could write and record a song with any artist who would it be?
Howlin’ Wolf if he was still alive. He’s my all-time idol. Keith Richards, David Bowie. Current artists, there’s a lot of them: Red Hot Chili Peppers. I like all styles. I like real old big band stuff. I like real old blues, like the stuff that’s in the Smithsonian. The guys who didn’t make a dime off of it because that’s what they loved. They played in little juk
e joints from some place in their soul. Those are the people that inspire me.
What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
I’d be probably a lost soul. That’s all I’ve ever known. As far as a career goes, it’s music. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve been doing this as far back as I can remember. The first time I sang in front of people, I was four years old. I got the bug then. It was a gospel song in a Baptist church. They gave me the big applause. They patted my head and told me how great I was. I just got the bug right then and that’s all I ever cared about. In school, I was in detention every day for not showing up to class because I was jamming with someone somewhere. I had teachers who played music. They would let me come to their class and play music and I skipped all my other classes. It’s all I wanted to do. I got to college and ended up dropping out of school because I played in night clubs instead of studying. It’s all I’ve ever cared about.
How did you prepare for singing when you four years old?
It just came out of me. It was natural. My first memories are of seeing my parents do the dishes. My mom would wash and my dad would dry. My dad would be singing while he did it, old Hank Williams songs. I heard them and that was when I first picked it up. And the radio. I would listen to the radio and mimic what I heard.