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Mark Brine:  Interview

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The Carol and the True Folk Legend of Jack Frost ©2009
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The Carol
and the True Folk Legend of Jack Frost

Audio book complete with soundtrack available exclusively
www.thelisteningzone.com
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Music Monthly • June 2005

"Hank Williams was my first hero, then later the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly; much later, The Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters and Lightnin' Hopkins. It was in my mid-20's that Jimmie Rodgers became an overwhelming influence."

What are your earliest musical memories?

My Uncle Dickey was an avid Hank Williams fan. He used to give me some of his old records. As a kid, I related to Hank, who he was and what he sang about. My Aunt Elaine was into Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, and she got me interested in rock 'n' roll. I was really impressed by Buddy Holly, and remember "the day the music died." But my father wouldn't let me bring those records into the house. He was very religious and thought rock 'n' roll was evil. Finally, when Ricky Nelson recorded Hank Williams' "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It," I was able to convince him that it was really a country song and that opened the door for the Everly Brothers and in time the Rolling Stones.

Obviously Hank Williams had a big impact on you. In fact, you are very often compared to Hank Williams and Bob Dylan. But who would you have to say were your biggest influences?

Hank Williams was my first hero, then later the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly; much later, The Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters and Lightnin' Hopkins. It was in my mid-20's that Jimmie Rodgers became an overwhelming influence. I was sitting around the house one night and I saw an ad on TV for one of those albums you send away for, a collection of Jimmie Rodgers tunes. It was at that point that I realized that Rodgers constituted a crucial link between country and the blues. I still listen to all of them and they still inspire my work.

How do you define your music and writing style?

My intention throughout the greater part of my career has been to arrive at a form of music called Americana. Sort of like Norman Rockwell in a song. He evoked a feeling in people when you looked at his pictures. And like Rockwell, I focus on family, commitment, love and every day hardships. When people ask me about my music, I tend to always go back to a quote from Ola Belle Reed, " Ö you cannot separate your religion, your politics from your music. It's a part of life." That is basically the greater percentage of what I write.

What was the first band you played in?

As a teenager, I was the lead guitarist for a rock band called Trans-Atlantic Subway. We were together for about six years and were signed to Lightfoot Records in Jamaica Plains, Mass. We recorded only one single. The A-side was a Kinks-like song called 'Servant of the People' and wound up on a Pebbles garage-rock compilation in 1984. I have since rerecorded the B-side, 'Winter Snow' for inclusion in my audio book, "The Carol aka the True Folk Legend of Jack Frost."

Why did you ultimately give up rock?

After Trans-Atlantic Subway disbanded, I continued to play electric guitar for several more Boston-based rock bands but I gradually grew tired of the rock 'n' roll life. All the while, I had been listening to a lot of blues and country. I had a membership card to Harvard Square's legendary basement venue, Club 47, where I heard and met Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jim Kweskin and the Charles River Boys. But giving up rock for folk was terrifying because I was a shy kid and I was scared to be up there by myself. But I must have loved something about it because I kept going back to it. But the more I played folk music, the more I realized it was just country and blues music by a different name. You listen to those old Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie records, and they're just Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and Bill Monroe songs with new words. Even Harry Smith's, Anthology of American Folk Music, is just old country and blues numbers. So I added a steel player to my band and started playing country bars as well.

At what point did you decide to pursue a career in Nashville?

Everyone kept telling me I should move to Nashville. So in the winter of 1974, I did. But it was a rude awakening. I went there to learn the real roots of country music, you know Appalachia and the like only to find the charts were full of country-pop crossover acts like Ronnie Milsap, Mickey Gilley, John Denver, and Billy "Crash" Craddock, and no one was interested in someone from Boston who was writing new songs in the old style of Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams, Sr. It didn't take long for me to realize the pop-oriented country-music industry had little use for a die-hard Hank Williams fan. I did win the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Contest in Meridian, MS, met some of the old timers like Fiddlin' Sid Harkreader and had the golden opportunity of performing with Roy Acuff on the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree. One of the things he said to me is that, "well you must have been hiding down here playing those records." Little did he know, I had been listening to his music since I was a young boy.

While you were in Nashville, did you record or sign any songs?

I signed a publishing and recording deal with Door Knob Records, which released three 45s and also had several songs recorded by Peggy Sue and Sonny Wright and a few others artists. I later signed with Roxy Records which released another 45. Throughout those years, I also had about 14 cuts of songs I wrote. Some of which were rerecorded by several artists.

What finally made you decide to leave Nashville and return to the East Coast?

When I went to Nashville, I had this dream of bringing the old style back, but after 11 years I had to admit it wasn't going to happen. At least not there! The whole idea that you have to be born in Mississippi or Alabama to sing country music or even to understand what it's all about is a myth. I've lived in the South, and believe me, 99 percent of them don't know anything about country music. It's sad but it's true. It's not where you're born, it's what you learn. It's like that line I wrote in the song "New Blue Yodel," "It don't matter where you're from, it's only where you're going to." So I decided to move back to the East Coast. The real irony of it all is that the music that made Nashville what it is today was actually recorded in or released out of New York City. Vernon Dalhart right on up to Hank Williams, Sr.! Truth being, there wasn't even a music industry in Nashville when Hank Williams was recording. After I left Nashville, the following year I met New York producer, Tom Pomposello, and protégé of Mississippi Fred McDowell, who was insightful enough to recognize what I was doing. Tom recorded "New Blue Yodel", a tribute to Jimmie Rodgers and later placed the track on Diesel Only's 'Rig Rock Jukebox' compilation of northern alt-country acts in 1992. It did really well and I received two preliminary Grammy nominations (Best Country Song and Best Country Male vocalist). Hank Snow heard it and that led to a debut performance on the Grand Ole Opry. And ironically enough, Tom's office was located in Manhattan within a five block radius from where Jimmie Rodgers died.

What have you recorded since you left Nashville?

"Return to Americana" which was released in 1985 and "American Pieces" in 1988 both of which are presently out of print. "New Blue Yodel" later became the title track of a full length CD in 1995 and was released on <resigned> records. That same year, I issued a cassette called "Blue Sides" but shelved it to promote "New Blue Yodel." I have since recompiled it and plan to release it sometime in the future on CD entitled "New Blue Sides." "American Bleak House" was a folk blues collection of social commentary regarding the 1990s issued in early 1999. Later that year, "Real Special Feelin'" was released on Wild Oats Records. These were recordings that spanned over a period of years and they were songs that my wife particularly liked. In the spring of 2000, "Back in the Country" was issued out of Sweden on Sound Asleep Records. In 2003 I released "for Karrie" and "Songs and Stories from Mrs. Alexander's Farm" which was a limited edition of children's songs. My current release is "Fortunes • the Best of Mark Brine."

Your son, Keeve, plays on your latest release. Does he have plans to pursue a musical career?

Presently he is attending college and plans to complete that first. But he does play lead guitar in a local band called Spindrift. They just recorded their first demo and I was really amazed when I listened to it. The group is very talented and despite the fact that he is my son, I would have to say that they have a superb handle on the roots of rock 'n roll, right on up through the present day sound.

What do you listen to around the house?

Well, I still listen to a lot of Hank Williams, Sr., Jimmie Rodgers, Carter Family and so forth. On the more contemporary folky side, I enjoy Nick Drake. But I also really enjoy soundtracks most notably of late, "Tuck Everlasting," "Nicholas Nickelby," "Little Women" and "Cider House Rules."

Excerpts taken from interviews by Geoffrey Himes for the Baltimore Citypaper and Steven Rosenfeld for BehindtheBeat, Voice of the Artist. To listen to entire interiew, click on logo below.

Click for Mark Brine Audio Portrait
"Since migrating from Cambridge, Mass to Nashville some three decades ago, Mark Brine has carved out a strong reputation as an uncompromising traditionalist on the country music scene which has made him one of the elder statesmen of Americana."
-- Shaun Dale,
Cosmik Debris Magazine


"I could listen to him sing all night long – he does a good job that boy does."
-- Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree

"A fine young man who I think has a great future."
-- Hank Snow,
Grand Ole Opry


"Brine could easily have been added to the cast of 'O Brother, Where Art Thou' without raising an eyebrow. He belongs to that group of artists whose individuality and quirkiness consign them to the periphery of what's commercially viable. But God bless him for not just being another cog in the musical wheel."
-- James McSweeney,
Flyin Shoes

for Karrie ©2003
"Brine has made a long career of flying under the folk/country radar
for a long time and has picked up a bunch of awards and recognition just the same.
A real Americana act,
Brine fuses elements of all the stuff we've been listening to for years that you really can't compare to anything else thatís sure to really draw you under it's spell."
-- Chris Spector,
Midwest Record Recap

"I think Mark Brine must be Americana's best kept secret. A singer/songwriter for over thirty years, friend of the late and legendary pioneer fiddlin' Sid Harkreader, Brine writes wonderful story songs about ordinary people and ordinary places. To tell these stories, Mark has a voice that is as comfortable as a favourite coat."
-- Pete Smith,
Country Music Round Up


"His career has pursued the path of a truly independent artist - someone who follows his soul and does things his own way – his ability to write and produce has made his name synonymous with quality."
-- Doug Floyd, AltCountryTab.com

"I think what makes Mark Brine such a gifted songwriter/storyteller is the fact that he seems to be such an obvious fan of many genres of music. He's someone who is like a sponge when it comes to reintegrating influences into his own work."
-- Gail Worley,
Ink 19


©2009 Mark Brine Music.
All rights reserved.

MARK BRINE MUSIC • PO Box 962 • Westmoreland TN 37186 • markbrine@markbrine.com