By: Bill Thames
Cruising the music scene, just below the surface, like a shark looking for the next place to strike; Gregg Allman and Friends guitarist, Mark McGee continues to transform and evolve, demonstrating how incredibly diverse he can be. Much like legendary guitarist, Danny Gatton, Mark McGee remains one of the world’s greatest unknown guitar players.
A determined musician from the time he was twelve years old, Mark’s professional career has spanned the past two and a half decades, and has taken him from Topeka to Tokyo—and beyond. Mark began his professional career early, playing in various San Francisco Bay area based bands, paying his dues in the local clubs, and sharing the stage with such acts as Metallica, Blue Oyster Cult, Randy Hansen, Loudness, Ratt, Y & T, and Quiet Riot. During this time Mark became a highly respected guitarist, and began to make a name for himself in ever-widening music circles.
In late 1986, Mark joined West Coast heavyweights Vicious Rumors, touring extensively in twenty countries including a headlining tour of Japan, and appeared on MTV from 1990 through 1995. As songwriter and co-producer, Mark recorded four studio albums and two live albums in eight years (three for Atlantic Records). Mark departed Vicious Rumors in 1995 to pursue new musical ventures.
After leaving Vicious Rumors, Mark began performing with longtime Bay Area locals, the Alameda All Stars. The Alameda All Stars made up the nucleus of Gregg Allman’s solo touring band, Gregg Allman and Friends. In the fall of 1995, Mark was asked to audition for Gregg Allman and Friends. Mark’s fluid style, and intense energy landed him the gig with Gregg Allman and Friends, hands down.
From December of 1995, Mark has toured extensively with Gregg, and played to sold out audiences all over the world. In mid 1997, Mark recorded several cuts with Gregg for his “Searching for Simplicity” CD. The songs were recorded and produced by the legendary Tom Dowd (Allman Brothers, Charlie Parker, Aretha Franklin). Mark also appears on the Gregg’s latest CD “No Stranger to the Dark”-“The Best of Gregg Allman”(Sony/2002) on the previously un-released live version of “These Days.”
When not traveling and recording with Gregg Allman, Mark constantly hones his songwriting, producing, and musical skills. Mark’s desire to grow and expand as an artist has always been the primary driving force in his life.
In 1999 Mark was introduced to singer/songwriters Nicole Sutton, and Katie Schuch. Out of this union blossomed the group Luvplanet, and in 2003 the three of them released their debut self-titled CD, “Luvplanet”. Produced by Mark, it is one of his proudest achievements, and was obviously a labor of love. The band includes bass legend Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Frank Gambale, Joe Satriani), drummer Jeff Capitelli (Joe Satriani), Tommy Thompson (Alameda All Stars) on Hammond B3 organ, and Chris Carletto on Piano.
I first heard Mark play at the House of Blues in Orlando, Florida in January of 2002. During that concert Gregg and company literally rocked the roof off the HOB. Mark’s guitar prowess was immediately obvious. He had apparently done his homework, playing Allman standards, lick for lick, but also adding an edge, and newness that made the parts his. Mark’s imposing appearance anchors the center of the stage. One can almost imagine that Mark is playing a mental/musical “king of the mountain” with the audience.
It would be almost a year later when I would finally meet Mark McGee face-to-face, at another Gregg and Friends show at the House of Blues in Orlando. Again, as expected, Gregg and company rocked the house, and again Mark clearly stood out on a stage full of standout musicians. Mark McGee was joined onstage by Tommy Miller on bass, Neal Larsen on keyboards, and Jamie Van De Bogert on drums. An amazing horn section, consisting of Chris Karlic (saxophone), Jay Collins (tenor saxophone), Richard Boulger (trumpet), scratches any R&B itch that the audience brings to the show. Floyd Miles, Gregg’s longtime friend and mentor, rounds out the stage on percussion, and shares vocal duties. It would be hard to find a better back-up band anywhere—anytime—these guys really rock!
Mark’s fluid slide guitar style blends well with Gregg’s soulful arrangements and vocal styling. Gregg Allman and Friends plays a versatile mix of old standards—both Allman Brothers staples and Gregg Allman penned material, as well as newer songs, all of which is arranged to allow Gregg the freedom to do what he does the best—sing the blues!
Real, honest-to-goodness R&B, Soul and Blues filled the House of Blues this night. Gregg’s voice was clearer than I had heard in years. It was a real pleasure to be witness to such renewed greatness and clarity. The audience was on their feet from the first song, consequently the three song encore that they played, was a given.
When the show was over, I joined Mark and the band backstage for a few words and I found him to be as diverse and distinctive as his musical skills. According to Mark, there have been a variety of talented guitarists on tour with Gregg Allman and Friends, but he is the only guitarist who has been at the head of every performance, since 1995, including the complete tour of Japan in 1998.
Playing in Gregg’s band has been a wonderful opportunity for Mark, allowing him to tour extensively throughout the U.S., Canada, and Japan. During these eight years that Mark has worked with the band, Gregg Allman and Friends had shared the bill with such diverse opening acts as the Spinners, Wilson Pickett, Jimmie Vaughn, David Crosby, Bad Company, REO Speedwagon, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Ronnie Earl, Ted Nugent, Joan Jett, B.T.O., Sonia Dada, Derek Trucks, Devon Allman’s Honeytribe, Edwin McCain, Aquarium Rescue Unit, Molly Hatchet, Alvin Youngblood, Heart, Kansas, Neville Brothers, Steel Pulse, Jeffery Gaines, and Cyndi Lauper. That’s quite a crowded classroom, with Gregg Allman at the head of the class!
As usual, Mark is engaged in multiple music projects; writing, recording, producing, backing Gregg on the road, and working with “Luvplanet.” Mark is in heavy demand on the West Coast as a studio musician, and he turns up on some unusual projects; Brad Gillis (Alligator 2001), Stu Hamm (Outbound 2000), Morris Thomas (Wishes 2001), and Propeller (Propeller 1996), to name a few.
What is on the agenda next for the west coast guitar shark? Well, Mark is currently working hard with Nicole promoting “Luvplanet,” and writing music for their next CD. Mark is also presently working on “Gem” his own, long overdue solo project, and he will be contributing the track “Don’t Take Me For A Loser” to a Gary Moore Tribute CD.
Gregg Allman took a much deserved winter off this year, but Mark stayed busy working on some new songs with Gregg for his next CD. Mark is in the studio almost constantly, recording and producing projects for West Coast heavyweights. Mostly, though, Mark does what guitar sharks do the best—he cruises the limitless music scene, searching for the next stage to sink his teeth into.
For more information about Mark McGee on the Internet, check him out at: