Life and Time’s Thus Far of Mark BlackI was born in Gastonia NC in a hospital that is no longer there. I think my brothers’ birth was too much for them to handle and they shut it down hard. My family was and is considered very musical. My Grandfather wanted all of his children (8) to play a musical instrument. His hidden aspiration was that they play together and stay close with each other through music. Well….. It worked. One of my earliest memories was going to the Bethel SC Square Dance in which my fathers’ family provided music. “THE BLACK BROTHERS,” never mind the fact my Aunt Dorothy was an integral member as a piano player and singer. I used to sit on stage by my father while they played, listening and sometimes breaking forth in song myself. They would practice in our basement and as my sister and I were falling asleep, we could hear Bud’s bass banging through the floor and hear my Uncle Gene singing like nobody’s business. I have yet to hear a better voice on this planet than his. Take that to the bank! Country music and a little bluegrass was what they played for the most part even though occasionally a little “In the Midnight Hour” or Knock on Wood” would rear its soulful head. One day as a 10 year old, I asked my Uncle Gene what instrument he thought I should play and more importantly, what instrument was gaining the most amount of popularity in Nashville TN. He said without hesitating, the saxophone. So, that’s what I wanted to play right then and there. I began on trumpet, however, due the Band Director not wanting to start a saxophonist and I was not about to play clarinet. So, take that! He retired the next year and I was allowed to begin saxophone. I worked hard on that thing and after getting the basics down; I started using my ear to play music that excited me. After supper many nights I would go downstairs, pull out the horn and the little Model T transistor radio my Dad’s Army buddy, Mr. Fancis Dye gave to me when I was 5. I would turn that thing on to 1110AM WBT, and played with every song that came on until my mouth hurt. I joined the high school band when I began high school under the direction of Ron Wright and David Yandle. Man, they were good and just the right thing for me. Mr. Wright had so much patience and persistence with me and Mr. Yandle being a very fine saxophonist himself always had just the thing to get me over each stumbling block. Jazz Band completely transformed my life and after Gene had heard me play a couple of times with the Jazz Band, he hired me to play with his group which now was working at a local nightclub. Dad had long been gone from the group due to us kids and probably more MOM!! Dad took me to the club and watched me play then brought me home. Saturday’s became Friday’s and Saturday’s then morphed into Thursday, Friday and Saturday during the summers. There were two bands and I was able to play with both bands and the club also boasted National Acts every two weeks. I was able to open shows for Steve Wariner, Lee Greenwood, Melba Montgomery, Leon Russell, Box Car Willie, Gary Morris, Johnny Paycheck and there are plenty more of those names. This was the first “University” that I attended and I learned more during that time period than just about any other time in my life.
I was coaxed into attending Cannon Music Camp and met the guy who would certainly change my life the most. His name was Dr. Bill Gora, professor of saxophone and Director of Bands at Appalachian State University. The most ridiculously great sax player and teacher I have ever been around. His presence alone used to have me shaking and wide-eyed. His conducting skills are unreal and his sense of perfection was certainly what rubbed off on me the most. He mentally and sometimes verbally beat me up and the best part about it was that I deserved it and needed it to put me in the right place. He taught all of us there how to rehearse a band, fix problems, understand the role of each instrument and moreover, how to make music not sounds. His influence spanned way past saxophonists into every instrumentalist that learned under him. He supported us guys that were hell-bent on playing commercial music for a living. ASU provided me great learning opportunities scholarly and also musically with the likes of; Willie Thomas, Bunky Green, Buddy Baker, Earl Brown, Ron Nelson, Rich Matteson, Michael Brecker and a host of others.
I FINALLY graduated from ASU and joined the Fabulous Kays from Charlotte NC. I got a great dose of the road from those guys and made life-long friends with all of them. Those guys still mean the world to me. I was approached by Bobby Tomlinson to join the Embers and when I made my decision to join, became the most difficult one of my life. I was leaving a great band and great friends for musical opportunity, larger venues and a life in another town; Raleigh.
I joined the Embers in January of 1996 and immediately began work on a project already in motion for the group. Gerald Davis, musical director for the Embers at the time (36 years) quickly became very close to me and I learned so much from him and his methods of recording and production. He truly has the best ear of anyone I have ever worked with. Joining the Embers opened up studio opportunities and shortly thereafter, met another huge influence, John Barker. JB had worked with the Embers for 12 years and left to pursue other interests prior to my joining, but everybody knew and lauded him. Funny thing is…….they still do! He asked me to play on some projects with him and I gladly joined him not knowing that he would be the chief architect and designer of my soloing approach from there on out. I did lots of work before meeting JB but afterwards, it was his influence that kept people calling me. Thanks JB!! Another life-long influence was another guy that I met having joined the Embers; Jeff Grimes. His style and approach has inspired so much musical expression. Jeff has played on most all of my solo recordings and hopefully will continue to do so. One of the truly greats, he not only is at the top of list of talented musicians I have worked with, but he is a very good friend. I have been truly blessed to have these guys in my life.
I left the Embers in 2004 and used that time to become close with my family. I taught for the Horry County School System for three years and during that time period joined the East Coast Party Band. It was Jerry Polk and Jack Tank that really made this all come about. Jack and Mike asked me to be the ECPB Musical Director shortly after joining and we have been working to better ourselves musically since that time. We have all grown together and every job just seems to be so much fun; the way it ought to be.
I am very active in my church simply called: THE ROCK (www.rockc3.com) The mission statement says it all for me: Love God, Love People, Do Something About It!
My Mom and Dad are Richard and Maxine Black of Clover SC. I have a sister, Kelly, that now lives in the Charleston area. My brother Allen and his wife Angie have adopted three little girls; Brianna, Cameron and Grier. They also live in Clover SC. I have two daughters; Samantha and Kaleigh Black. They have kept me going and I love them more than anything on THIS planet. My family has supported me through everything and without their love and support, I would only be a shell of who I am today.