Welcome to another edition of the Potawatomi Cornerstone. I missed last month’s deadline due to the number of Fall semester scholarships our department was taking care of. We are expected to top 1,600 applications. The number of college bound students continues to rise. Congratulations.
This edition welcomes Mark Mars, whose linage is traced back to the Peltier family. His great grandmother was Clarissa [Peltier] Mars. Mark has worked for the CPN since 2001. His current position is I.T. Manager for Firelake Entertainment.
Mark has another talent, however. And if you ever attended the CPN Star Searches in the past or hung out at VZD’s on a Friday night in Oklahoma City, you no doubt heard him play his original songs.
He was born into a musical family. His mother played guitar and his dad played violin. When most households at this time tuned into Batman and Lost in Space, the Mars family made their own entertainment. Others would come over as well and join in the jams his parents hosted.
Starting on the piano, Mark learned at a very early age to appreciate music literally by playing by ear. By the time he was thirteen years old he took up the guitar.
“I played left handed then switched to right hand,” Mark noted. “I took some lessons for a couple of months, learned some scales, but I was better playing by ear.”
Growing up in McAlester, Okla., the first band Mark played in was called High Fever. Though just a high school band, Mark bought a 1955 Gretsch Duo-Jet electric guitar, a pretty serious piece of equipment to begin a career with.
After high school Mark moved to Broken Bow, Okla., where he met Bill Smith, a violinist and guitar player. Bill took Mark under his wing and taught him some more advanced techniques and how to write songs, which most followed along the folk-country genre.
Mark’s first paying job was in 1978 in Idabel, Okla. at the Red Barn, a county dance hall. He played songs by The Marshall Tucker Band, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jerry Jeff Walker.
“They should’ve had chicken wire in front of the stage,” Mark recalled laughing, explaining that people would occasionally throw beer cans and bottles at the performers on stage. He one incident during the band’s performance, a person in the audience, feeling a little ornery, probably from an over indulgence of the local libations, pulled out a large caliber hand-cannon and proceeded to empty its contents through the roof while ye-hawing at the top of his voice. Of course, back then was a different time. Not much attention was drawn from the crowd who kept on dancing, while the happy-trigger-two-stepper was quietly escorted out of the barn.
In those days, and I can attest to the fact being the same age as Mark, we wore our hair on the long side.
Of course, there were some people who weren’t so keen on the style. One night in the Red Barn before Mark was scheduled to play, he walked by some guys when one said out loud “is that a boy or a girl?”
For those too young to remember, that is what is called a Bob Seger moment. You simply walked by and didn’t make eye contact. But Mark stopped and asked him what kind of music he liked to listen too. The man replied Hank Williams. Later that night after Mark played some songs by Hank Williams, the man and his buddies were buying the band drinks.
Mark moved to Stillwater and took a job as a carpenter. Later on as he got to know his surroundings, he met up with Franell and the Midnight Express, a local band. At first, he worked as a sound man and then played lead with a 1958 Fender Stratocaster.
“The first set we’d play contemporary country, the second set we’d play country from the fifties and then play rock & roll the third set,” Mark said. After that he joined Bittersweet, and opened for Michael Murphy and Don McLean at Cains in Tulsa.
After Franell and the Midnight Express, Mark took a reprieve from the music scene, getting married and raising a family. However, when music is in the blood, it doesn’t take long to come out of the shadows. He joined the Wayfaring Stranger in the early eighties, singing a lot more than previous venues, and changing over to the acoustic guitar. For those that remember that era, Mark played on the Butch and Ben McCain show on Channel 5 in Oklahoma City several times.
He played with the band for two years then joined the Corner Blend band, playing acoustic blues and folk rock. Mark said that this was the band he played in. In 2006, he began writing his own music and recording it, playing his own gigs in smaller, more intimate settings in Oklahoma City and surrounding areas.
When asked where his inspiration came from, he was quick to answer Van Morrison, citing “Van the Man” early career start as a teenager, writing his own music around the conventions of rhythm and blues. His live performances have been defined as sublime.
Mark also proved his talent two years in a row as winner of the CPN Star search in the band category. Since that time, he continues to play and record his own music playing in small intimate surroundings. To see and hear Mark for yourself you can go on REVERBNATION, www.reverbnation.com and type in Mark Allen Mars.