When you’re young, everyone wants to be a guitar player… or a drummer. At least that’s what I’ve observed in 47 years of involvement in the music industry. You start with rudimentary music lessons or learn by ear or both, and then it’s onto the next step…. to play with a band. And this is where you lock in and hone your timekeeping skills. Next, let’s face a crowd. Stop… let’s back up. For one reason or another, some simply never make it out of their bedroom. There are internet sensations out there that can tear it up on a camera in the YouTube world, but shit their pants if they come face to face with an audience. This aside, you still have to learn to book and promote shows, record, engineer and produce your own music while handling a line of merchandise.
If you’re lucky, the take at the door is 200 dollars cash and 50 dollars in drink tickets. Let’s say you make it past these stages, your next move is to gain interest in the music industry and be approached by a record label. This opens a WHOLE other book that I’ll expand on no further. IF you make it to that point, consider yourself blessed. Well, Mark Newman is one who has risen above all of the aforementioned. Newman released his most recent album, Empirical Truth, last July through Danal Music, a dozen, blues-infused tracks that feature Newman’s trademark scratchy vocals. Newman continues to bask in the stage lights from city to city in his onward quest for the Holy Grail. If only Excalibur were a guitar…
What was the first record you bought with your own money?
Mark Newman: “Meet The Beatles.”
You seem to have a myriad of musical influences on Empirical Truth. What dictates what flavours go into a single album?
“The first thing I consider is whether or not slide guitar fits in the song. Because I have a ‘myriad of influences,’ I try to keep some consistency from song to song. I also try to consider if I’m adding more overdubs to help the arrangement or just because I have lots of tracks.”
You have a very down south, smooth slide style. Are you using glass, open tuning, and who are some of your influences when it comes to slide guitar/lap steel? I seem to have an idea, but I would like to hear what you have to say.
“Most of the time I’m using a Dunlop porcelain slide with a thick wall. All the usual suspects (Duane Allman, Ry Cooder, Johnny Winter, etc) influenced my playing. Lowell George was a big influence. He played outside the box and off the fingerboard. As far as lap steel, everything carried over from playing slide. Years ago, one of my friends showed me how to bend behind the bar which changed everything.”
Out of guitar, lap steel, mandolin, and dobro, what’s your favourite instrument to play?
“If I had to pick one it would be the guitar.”
How would you dissect yourself when it comes to the split between a big city sound and down south emotion?
“I try to combine them when possible. When I want a more ‘swampy sound,’ I play in open tuning (E or G). I’ve been in situations where I had to play a D9 chord for most of the song in standard tuning and then play a believable swampy slide solo. That’s when you have to combine the vibes.”
There are moments when I hear Steely Dan in “Lycanthropy” or Anders Osbourne in “When I Aim My Gun,” and there’s a great, funky, Allman Brothers vibe on “What She Does To Me.”
“First, let me say thanks for listening that closely. Just trying to be consistent with the vibe of the song. Again, it comes down to your first question about influences. If I’m using anything beyond basic chords, (Major 9, b5 or #9) the Steely Dan influence comes out.”
Let’s take a few steps back. How did you get involved in the world of hired guns and is this something you’ll continue to do while harbouring your labour of love? Are you scheduled to tour with anyone after the pandemic ends and what keeps you busy during this downtime?
“Usually, a friend was playing with someone that needed a guitar player that played slide and they thought I would fit the bill. I’ve rarely walked into a cattle call audition. I’ve gotten calls but everything has been canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. I’ve been practicing a lot, switching off with acoustic, electric and nylon string guitars. I’m also writing for a new CD.”
Of the circle of musicians that appear on Empirical Truth, do any of the other names reflect on a bigger artist’s career (have they played with any other big names)?
“Kevin McKendree plays with Delbert McClinton, Brian Setzer, Lee Roy Parnell. Shawn Murray played with Willy DeVille (Mink DeVille). Naomi Margolin was one of Sam Moore’s (Sam & Dave) backup singers.”
Favourite recording studio or session you recorded on/produced and why?
“I like recording at Tiki Recording in Glen Cove, New York. I’ve also produced a few projects there. I also loved the old Power Station in NYC.”
What’s the one live performance of yours you can’t stop thinking about?
“It’s a toss-up between opening for The Doobie Brothers at The Paramount in Huntington, New York, and opening for Delbert McClinton at BB King’s in New York City.”
Any advice you would give to someone who is trying to make a living in all things music-related?
“Play with as many people as you can without sacrificing financial needs. If you have to lose money, decide if it’s a career move or not. Keep writing and try to get a placement with other artists, movies, and TV. You should be able to support your music solo as well as with a band (unless your music depends on lots of orchestration).”