Groove Duke
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Groove Duke

Champaign, Illinois, United States | SELF

Champaign, Illinois, United States | SELF
Band R&B Funk


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When I first picked up Heavy Mariner, my first thought was, “Oh geez, there are rhinoceroses on the cover. Rhinoceroses out in the sea trying to harpoon a whale.” Then again, I’ve seen much weirder cover art. Groove Duke, nonetheless, has created a piece that’s delightfully jam-packed with classic 1970s funk and soul sensibilities, or as Mark Cornell writes in the liner notes, “This album is my love letter to Rhythm and Blues.” Particularly devoted listeners of legends like Earth, Wind & Fire, Al Green and Sly and the Family Stone will certainly appreciate the relentless brassy attitudes, the sassy lyricisms and those definitively Motown beats. Notable tracks include the somewhat menacing “Stick Boy,” “You Better Believe It” and “Detroit.” Be sure to check out this new record by CU’s very own Groove Duke for a tumble back to the land of funkadelica. - Buzz Weekly

"{unwind} June ’10 Indie Playlist"

"First up, I’m digging Groove Duke’s retro-soul single Stick Boy. It has an impressive horn section and a definitive funk feel. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t feel the need to get up offa that thing and dance every now and then?"
- Indie Spotting (Jun 10, 2010) -

"Groove Duke Nailin’ It From Jump Street"

There was a time when recordings, really good recordings, were being made by really good people as a matter of routine. These recording projects came in under budget, everybody usually got paid and if they were successful, there might have been a little $omething on the back end. This was back in the days before iPods. Audio-philogically it was the Cro-Magnon era of monophonic AM radio. The mono 45 rpm record is to the mp3 as cave painting is to CGI. A friend of mine has an old Chrysler with the original tube radio and I have to say man, old-school R&B popping out the top of that single dashboard speaker still gets the hairs on my neck up and dancing.

So now, here we are in the summer of 2010. Recording budgets have become somewhat of an oddity on display in the history museum. The skill set of composing and recording digital music is approaching that of virtual Playstation auto theft with the results being a fairly accurate representation of the circumstances under which the crime was committed. Okay, that’s a bit strong, but there can be no argument that, under the heading of of self-produced recording projects, there exists a lot of crappy music parading under false pretenses.

Out of this fog and into the harbor sails the Heavy Mariner. This freshman release from Chicago’s own Groove Duke, Mark Alan Cornell, has somehow managed to corral a cracking ensemble of living, breathing musicians, singers, technical personnel and other mercenaries for next to nothing to produce a body of work that does exactly what a horn-driven R&B album should do…it makes you smile.

Groove Duke provides plenty to love for everyone on this album. The horn arrangements are tightly written and performed and the solo playing eloquently serves the songs rather than the players egos, a welcome element and the benchmark of experienced road warriors. The Rhythm Section, capitalized out of respect to the album personnel, is a heaving beast of groove. There is nothing mechanical about this band. The true test of any Rhythm section is a slow shuffle and the depth of feel in You Better Believe It is like being tied to a chair next to a sleeping Rhinoceros. The back beat pops at the last possible instant and what seems to be a groovy little tune is actually quite sinister under the shiny facade. And let me say something about sounds. I’ve spent hours watching engineers trying to get rid of a snare drum ping. But wait til you check out Judas Love. A ping never felt so right. From the single, Stick Boy right down the line, the Rhythm Section kicks the rest of the band square in the ass and handing in a less-than-my-best-stuff performance doesn’t seem to be an option for anyone.

But let me get to what makes this album really work in the tradition of classic R&B records. Instrumentals are great and who can’t find love in their heart for Squib Cakes, Home Cookin’ and What Does It Take. But the ultimate connection with an audience happens at the vocal mic. That’s where the story unfolds, that’s where the guts get spilled, that’s where all the joy, pain, faith and details are put on display for everyone to see and hear. And it is at the vocal mic that this album makes its boldest statement. Pauli Carman, the voice, heart and soul behind Champaign’s How ‘Bout Us produced the background vocals so it will come as no shock that they are stellar in every way. The arrangements are classic and familiar without being trite and Cornell’s stories couldn’t be told without the marvelous interplay so characteristic of great R&B vocal ensembles.

Mark Cornell’s singing chops are deceptively musical. While he isn’t Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass, Donald Fagan, Sly Stone or even Wayne Cochran, his original dialect is derivative of a massive hit singles collection. But it isn’t beauty of tone in the usual sense that make Cornell’s vocals compelling. Cornell is first and foremost a musician in general and a trumpet player in particular, a combination that has proven both interesting and successful in the past. Witness Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker and Jack Sheldon for example. Of the three, only Baker had what most would consider a pleasing voice in the strictest terms, but all three are masterful singers who get the point across on a most intimate level. Accomplished Jazz musicians have a sense of intonation, time and phrasing rare even in the best golden-throated vocalists. Cornell is cut from the same whole cloth and when he tells you a story you listen and believe. Sometimes he’s the guy across the bar and sometimes he’s sneering menacingly into your ear as in the afore-mentioned You Better Believe It. His emotions run from zero to sixty but he is always consistently “That Guy” and you just want to hear more. -


Heavy Mariner LP
Licensed the title track to cable network.
Single "Stick Boy" receiving local radio airplay.
"You Better Believe It" received airplay on WPGU



Groove Duke

Live funky.
Superband: a throng of musicians dressed head to toe in black step onto the stage. . .two female back-up singers in requisite high heels and short skirts flash smiles at the audience. . .the unassuming lead vocalist and trumpet player steps up to the mic and glances back at the band. . .horns are raised, glinting under hot spotlights. . .a hush falls over the crowd. . .and then it happens.

You’re hit, right in the gut, by a blast of funk and a wave of soul. It rushes to your head, then surges through your toes, and your skin begins to tingle. Your heart pounds, you swallow, and you close your eyes – but just for a moment – and when you open them and look around, the room has changed, the audience has morphed into one entity, and you are a part of it. . .and you realize that in one instant, the Groove Duke has made you his own.

Mark Cornell, A.K.A. Groove Duke, takes his audiences on a soulful roller coaster ride of funky, soulful, rhythm and blues-inspired original music and heart pounding retro classics full of big horns, thumping bass, wailing keyboards and pulsating drums – a bluesy, slightly raw, improvisational show version of a jam band. Separately, they are each very talented, highly-trained musicians. But together, they work like cogs forming a simple yet complex machine that produces great chords, hot melodies and perfect rhythms.

Groove Duke, leader of this tribe of musical warriors, this Superband, is a soulful, singing, horn-blowing, dancing, manic figure on stage. He looks and sounds a bit like a mash-up of Joe Cocker, Van Morrison and Otis Redding, but not quite. He’s comfortable in his own skin and sings with his own voice, and His Superband is like a tiny hurricane, building and blowing and sucking you in. They give you permission to love them – and you do. You’re hooked, and you want more – and they give it to you, all night long.

Love strong.
No matter how large or small the venue, the Groove Duke is somehow right next to you, whispering in your ear, smiling at you, sweating, and wiping his bald head as the music and the show build in intensity. Then they take you down and pull you closer with a soulful, passionate, pleading ballad – and you swoon. While performances include numerous dance-inducing, vintage R&B/Soul/Funk hits from the 60’s and 70’s, like “Superstitious” by Stevie Wonder, “Hard to Handle” by Otis Redding, and “Let's Stay Together” by Al Green, audiences will also fall in love with selections from Groove Duke’s new fan-funded album Heavy Mariner, released in September 2010.

After being diagnosed with a form a Lymphoma in 2007, Mark set to work writing, recording and producing his first CD of all original music. Driven by the desire to live and love as fully and deeply as possible, the new CD fuses those vintage, soulful sounds with jazz vibes and relevant lyrics derived from Groove Duke’s own observations of life, love, struggle and salvation. Tracks like the autobiographical “Stick Boy”, the album’s first single (and music video), which was showcased as the Internet radio show Talent Cast’s song of the week, and current crowd favorite “You Better Believe It” are strong testaments to the man and his music – and audiences are never disappointed.

Live funky. Love strong.
These are the words that inspired a musician, despite a cancer diagnosis, to write and produce his first album of original work. They are the two simple phrases that motivated a fan base to fund the project. They are the battle cry of a network of family, friends, teachers and fellow musicians who have continued to support the dreams of a boy, the goals of a student, and the struggles of a man. Ultimately, these four simple words form the motto by which the Groove Duke lives his life. .