Author's note: After reading this in-depth interview with Mark, check out my follow-up with him in October 2013!
If you ever get the chance to talk with Mark Dawson, you’ll notice a couple of things right off the bat: he loves humor and will almost certainly make you laugh, no matter the subject; and he listens to you, showing a genuine interest in what you have to say. And so it was during our conversation by phone on September 12. I haven’t even met the man in person yet, and we were talking like old pals for more than an hour and a half, sharing memories of our favorite bands and concerts, talking about sports, and a lot more. We talked briefly about other recent interviews I’ve done, the latest having been with Doug Clifford, the drummer of Creedence Clearwater Revival. As many of my readers and friends know, I’m starting to get into lyric/poetry writing a little bit, and Mark even took some time out to give me a few pointers on the business side of music, which I really appreciated. As with all of my interviews, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity, and I hope you’re just as excited to read these words as I was in writing them.
Serving as the bassist and lead singer of The Grass Roots comes naturally to Mark. “I’ve always been a sucker for mid-60s pop,” he explained. “And not just Brit pop, but American pop. The Buckinghams, Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Seeds, Gary Lewis and The Playboys, and of course, The Grass Roots!,” he added.
|Wisconsin State Fair, August 2012.
Performing in January 2011 at the Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, IN.
But in addition to helping to carry on the legacy of one of America’s greatest groups, Mark is also making a name for himself as a solo artist, as well. He’s currently working on his second solo album, and hopes to have it completed sometime this fall. Entitled, “Making Noise”, he credits his wife, Cathy, for coming up with the title. “I have an in-home studio, and she always says to me, ‘Go make some noise,’” he explained with a laugh. One of the songs on the album, “Cold Sweat on a Hot Night”, is available for free download at Mark’s Web site. The album promises to be a lot of fun, featuring Carl Giammarese, lead singer of The Buckinghams as well as a solo artist in his own right, and at least one member of the Ides of March, among others in an all-star lineup.
Mark can also be heard on a few group albums. He did a couple albums with The All-Night Newsboys in the mid-90s. And a song entitled, “She’s Gone Hollywood”, which Mark appeared on in an album released in 1982, is getting new life, thanks to The Numero Group, a record company known for putting together high-quality, unique compilations. “That was pretty exciting. I just received this phone call out of the blue one day from someone at The Numero Group saying they’d like to use this song in a compilation album, and that they’ll be in touch to discuss the royalty arrangement,” he said. The compilation is named Buttons: From Champaign to Chicago. “They do a great job finding material for their compilations, and they also do great liner notes - they’re so nicely written, and they really provide the reader with rich background info,” Mark added.
A big fan of Paul McCartney, you may see Mark in the crowd if you’re catching McCartney’s show in St. Louis on November 11. “We just bought the tickets this morning, actually, and I’m really excited,” he told me.
|L-R: Dusty Hanvey (guitar), Mark Dawson (bass), Joe Dougherty (drums), and Larry Nelson (keyboards) of The Grass Roots. Source: http://www.the-grassroots.com
Mark Dawson's take on a Grass Roots classic, "Temptation Eyes"
In addition to keeping busy with recording, Mark is also an aspiring author - well, of sorts. He’s working on a book he hopes will be out in early 2013. As with his new album’s title, Mark credits wife Cathy for the idea of the book, which he describes as, “…a little paperback, toilet humor kind-of-book.” Based on, “…the silly, ridiculous things I say on Facebook and Twitter,” Cathy noticed one day that he has over 5,000 Facebook and Twitter posts, and that’s where the idea started. It’s a funny book you don’t want to miss, and Mark said he’s in talks with a, “…famous person…” to pen a foreword.
“I don’t try to imitate Rob. I try to emulate what he did.”
When not on the road touring or in the studio recording, Mark enjoys the simplicity of everyday life. “It sounds cliché, but I really enjoy each and every day,” he explained to me. “Cathy and I hang out a lot, do spontaneous things - dinner, farmers markets, the beach. I love playing with the local musicians when I get the chance. I don’t like schedules, like to be spontaneous, be free-flowing.” Mark is also a big pro-sports fan, mostly baseball and football. “Go Pack!,” he told me, in reference, of course, to our beloved Green Bay Packers.
Mark and guitarist Dusty Hanvey represented The Grass Roots for the 2012 Happy Together Tour, their third year in a row doing the tour. The 2012 lineup, in addition to The Grass Roots, featured The Buckinghams, Gary Puckett, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, and The Turtles. Unfortunately for Grass Roots fans, the band will not be represented for the 2013 Happy Together Tour. Asked if there was any one particular moment, show, or venue that really stood out in his mind during this year’s tour, it was tough for Mark to answer. “We had a lot of fun! Choosing one favorite moment is very difficult. That being said though, the Minnesota State Fair does stand out for some reason. The fans are insane up there! They were just so loud and fired up about the show. It was a blast.” And, of course, performing in his hometown of Orlando stands out. “We performed at The Plaza Theatre. A big highlight, my hometown. Less than a 1,000 people in the place, and so many people knew me!”
I was curious to know if there were any musicians that Mark hasn’t performed or recorded with that he would love to. “Chris Isaak,” he said. “He’s just the nicest, most-likeable guy. All that stuff I said about connecting to your fans, he does it!”
And what kind of interview would I be delivering to my readers without a Milwaukee spin? Mark shared some great memories of performing in the Milwaukee area. “I always enjoy playing Summerfest,” he said, adding, “It’s always so well-run, and the talent lineup is great.” He recalls seeing our very own BoDeans playing at Summerfest in what he thinks was 1984. “I was just so impressed with them! A lot of talent there.” And he fondly remembers a performance by Styx in the early ’80s at Summerfest. “I was friends with Tommy Shaw. Tommy was sick and worried he’d have to be hospitalized. A doctor came along, gave him some adrenaline, and he ended up taking the stage that night afterall, and he sang great! You would have never known what had just taken place backstage.” And let’s not forget about that other big summertime festival, the Wisconsin State Fair. One thing that stands out in Mark’s mind is a performance The Grass Roots gave at State Fair a number of years back. “We played with Three Dog Night. It was raining pretty heavy that night, and no one got out of their seats to leave. That was awesome. We really appreciated that.”
And don’t forget to check out the view from the bass. Mark launched a Web site called the “Bass Eye View” - an ongoing collection of photos he takes from the stages of the venues he performs at, with his bass in the shots, of course. As Mark explains, “I’ve played some pretty cool venues. I just love old theaters, just love them. One night, I’m standing in front of the stage of a theater, taking pictures. Then I got the bass in a pic. Our stage manager, Jason Craig, said, ‘Cool bass eye view.’ And that’s how it started.”
For this self-described punk kid with Chicago roots, it’s been a heck of a fun journey, the kind of journey that dreams are made of. The adventures continue, and he invites you to tag along with him.
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