3 Quick Minutes, with… blues guitarist Mark Verbeck

3 Quick Minutes, with…

Blues man Mark Verbeck

Interview June 25, 2010

From Philipsburg, Pennsylvania to the Berklee College of Music, Mark Verbeck traveled north to the blues instead of south. (“The opposite direction,” he says with a laugh.) I first heard him on the east side of the Six Corners in Wicker Park. He was, like so many musicians, playing on the corner for pedestrians. His music grabbed me – just a lone man with a guitar, some lyrics, and a voice. Indeed, the six tunes on his EP “Short Left Leg” sound exactly how you want the blues to sound…

I grew up with metal and punk. My circle of friends, we were all the punk rock skater metal kids. I was a punk-rock-skater kid growing up. I still love the music, and that music still holds a special part in my heart. It’s helped me through some tough times in my life, but I really enjoy the blues as well. Not just the blues, but old country. The old roots music. There’s a connection between punk rock and that.

A tune that I perform with my acoustic band is a tune called “16 Tons.” Johnny Cash had a hit with it… it was written by a guy named Merle Travis… The whole tune is about coal miners, and the old coal mining communities of the 1800s. It’s about how that way of life is no good, it’s fucked basically. Because you have the company store, and the company owned the whole town. They built the town, they built your house, they owned the grocery store, they owned everything. You’d go and work your ass off in these really dangerous environments, and once you’re done you get paid, and pretty much all of your pay check goes right back to the people that are paying you. You’re left with a little chicken scratch.

That song to me is a protest song saying, “This is our way of life and it’s screwed up!” And a lot of punk rock songs – I’m a huge Bad Religion fan – and if you listen to Bad Religion, it’s very politically-based, and a lot of his own personal opinions, but there’s no sugar coating, there’s no trying to hide anything. That same type of emotion is conveyed within this old music. This is how it is. This is what our lives are like.

When you listen to it, and it’s just a guy and his guitar singing the blues, that’s coming straight from him. Whereas some pop music – just music that’s factory produced, I guess you could say – it’s some businessman trying to make a million bucks. It’s not about the art, it’s about the dollars. About the image more than the music. You go to a Britney Spears show, and it’s about the show. The music is a part of the show. They have the dancers and the big lights and all that stuff, and that takes talent to do. I’m not bashing that. That’s entertainment.

But for me, I have a very emotional and spiritual connection with music. It’s a gateway into another person’s soul, I guess you could say, or just their feelings about certain things. When I see a blues guy sitting on stage, there’s nothing else. Just the music. And to be able to engulf a whole audience with just your music, and not all of the fancy bells and whistles, that says something to me. “Wow, this guy’s music is that powerful.”

Is that something you enjoy about sitting out on the corner over here, just setting up and playing…?

Playing music is what I do. I have a sense of pride to myself because I’ve worked very hard to do that. Where I come from, there’s not opportunity – it’s very unrealistic to people growing up. It’s a fantasy. But the fact that I’m doing this – I’m by no means living the high life, but I’m making my living playing my guitar. That’s my idea of being rich. The fact that somebody can walk down the street and listen to me playing and their day is improved – or it’s just a moment in their day that they can think about and say “Hey, I had this really positive experience. I saw this music playing and it was great.” When I sit there and do that, that’s me fulfilling my purpose.

For more on Mark Verbeck, check out reverbnation.com/markverbeck. His album Short Leg Left is available there for free download. It really is a wonderful little set list. I encourage you to check it out.

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