Mark Jackson Band
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Mark Jackson Band

Band Americana Country


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"CD Review "Love may take the long road Home""

Hailing from the (usually) sun-soaked hills of San Diego, the Mark Jackson Band is about as far as you can get from Nashville and still be in the continental United States.

And yet, MJB's newest album (set for a record release party 7 p.m. Saturday at Acoustic Expressions in San Diego), is more deeply steeped in country traditions than most anything coming out of Music City these days.

In its straight-ahead approach to country music minus the frills and window dressing, the Mark Jackson Band reminds of old-school musicians like Waylon Jennings or George Strait. With Jackson's smooth singing voice and a sound built around traditional acoustic instruments, the band is somewhere between traditionalists like Ricky Skaggs and the more modern newgrass acts like Nickel Creek.

But what is going to keep "Love May Take the Long Road Home" in your CD player spin after spin is the collection of great songs found on it. From the opening cover of "Two Hearts" (written by Fallbrook's Bruce FitzSimmons) through Jackson's own songs like "I'm Sorry (For Making You Feel Like I Do)," "I Wanna Listen To A Love Song" and the title track, this album is full of little gems you won't be able to get out of your head.

- North County Times (San Diego, Ca.)

"The Mark Jackson Band: Taking a Long Journey Home"

The Mark Jackson Band: Taking a Long Journey Home
Written by Raul Sandelin

A reliable source once told me that while he was in the throes of a near-death experience, the good Lord took him by the hand and led him to the gates of Hillbilly Heaven. Actually, there were three gates, he reminds me. Behind the first stood a horizonless set from the CMT music awards. "Everywhere I looked, there were bands that looked like the Backstreet Boys with banjos, half-heartedly yodeling songs that could've been performed by a Flock of Seagulls two decades earlier." Figuring this was Purgatory he looked behind the second gate, which was a contrast in extremes—a throwback to the Old South, a bunch of crackers just chillin' in the holler, wallowing in misery.

Behind gate number three, however, death suddenly seemed almost palpable. Here was an American landscape thrown back to the first decades following World War II, a landscape filled with plenty of open spaces – but, also a landscape banded by crisscrossing highways, a landscape where the neon sign, the jukebox, and the beer cooler all ran on the same extension chord run from a single outlet behind the tool shed, a landscape where grazing cattle, horses, and dusty main streets whiled their time alongside 18-wheelers and TV sets ordered from the Sears catalog.

My source was suddenly pulled from the gate and sent back to continue his work on terra firma. But, the lesson was clear: Hillbilly Heaven was a mixture of the modern and the traditional, a reverence for the humble past but also a celebration of a limitless future.

I was reminded of this anecdote when I first heard Mark Jackson's "Western Radio (State of Mind)" a few years ago. The song guns down the road like an 18-wheeler. The refrain continually dares us to "cross the line." County line, state line, limits we've placed on ourselves? This song has an outlaw attitude and a romantic's optimism. It's about new horizons and the need to "cross the lines" that are our own inhibitions.

Fast forward to the present and I'm driving out to Santee to visit the Mark Jackson Band in the recording studio.

As I park and stand by my car, a mandolin is being tuned inside while over a broken-down, wooden fence, a screen door creaks shut, truly a Southern Gothic moment. Perhaps, I've died and really am in Hillbilly Heaven.

Inside, the green room is filled with a rock-stars-on-a-budget banquet: Costco snacks, paper plates, and a few bottles of champagne. This is the final day of recording. And, the band is filing in and out as bits and pieces are dubbed into the nearly completed album tracks. The new album – Not Long for This World – is the Mark Jackson Band's third CD and is a climax of sorts, not just for the songwriting but also for the the time and effort put into the production.

Mark Jackson's long musical journey began like many country western singers. Raised in Bethany, Oklahoma, Mark grew up surrounded by the aura of Okie legends such as Woodie Guthrie. His dad in fact was a folkie who collected the old artists as well as those of the '50s and '60s folk revival. Later, Mark would be swallowed up by the entire Oklahoma scene and sound as it progressed from Merle Haggard onward to Vince Gill and Garth Brooks. In the meantime, however, Mark was swept up in the general musical revolution of the late 1960s. Some of his first loves were the Monkees, Grand Funk, and Jefferson Airplane, far cries from the blue-collar grit of O-K City and Tulsa. As a teenager, Mark fell for the harder stuff, finding himself under the spell of Jethro Tull. As Garth Brooks, who is Mark's exact age, would later say, "There's a stereotype about kids coming out of Oklahoma. But, they were listening to Rock bands just like everybody else." Brooks, in fact, cites Kiss and Aerosmith as profound, early influences.

By the mid-'70s, though, the stereotype came home to roost. "When I heard Willie Nelson's Red-Headed Stranger, that was it," Mark explains. From that point on, he realized that the westerners of country western held a special place within the larger spectrum. Westerners were storytellers and adventurers. "Much of country music," Mark goes on to say, "focuses on economic plight and heartache in the Deep South. Country western is different. It focuses on filling in the wide open spaces with stories, energy, and hope."

By this time, Mark was playing guitar, trying to emulate the artists he had been listening to. Now, in his late teens, he was also running as wild as might be expected from an Oklahoma kid in the late '70s. After a year-long stab at college, he decided to enlist in the Navy as a welder. First completing a four-year hitch, then another seven, Mark stayed in the Navy throughout the 1980s, circumnavigating the world at least once, playing in a number of on-ship bands and performing, singer-songwriter style, at open mics whenever he was on shore leave or stationed for any length of time.

In 1983 Mark met his wife, Judy, a San Diego native. They married in 1986. After Mark left the Navy in 1989, the couple settled into domestic life in Chula Vista where they still live. The couple had a son and daughter around this same time. Mark also started working at Solar Turbines. Everyone in the Mark Jackson Band is quick to remind the listener that this is a band comprised of working people. Mark has spent the last 19 years as a mechanic in a factory.

There are two incidents Mark cites that gave him the musical drive he has today. One dates back to his adolescence when an uncle heard Mark playing guitar and commented that Mark didn't have what it took to be "an artist."

The second incident occurred around 1991 when Mark was wallowing in the fact that his music was slipping behind him each day he grew older. At this time, his wife, Judy, told him sternly that he'd later regret it if he let any more time slip by, that he better go out, find some kindred spirits, and start performing.

During this soul searching, Mark took a philosophy class from professor-slash-musician Peter Bolland. Pondering the meaning of life, they discovered each other's underlying musical interests. Soon Jackson-Bolland, as the duo was called, hit the coffeehouse circuit, homing between Papa Dave's, an open mic frequented by Robin Henkel and newly-formed P.O.D., in the South Bay, and Mikey's in Poway. They hit the relative big time opening for Arlo Guthrie. They also released an album of originals titled Live at a Better World. "For six years, I always had a gig in my future," Mark adds. Lyle Duplessie, the late cofounder of the San Diego Troubadour, sat in on bass often during this period. And, the trio would perform under the name High Line Wire when they felt like injecting electricity into their usual acoustic set.

The Jackson-Bolland run lasted from 1992 to 1998. After an short hiatus, Mark was ready to put something new together. In the bands he'd toyed with in college and the Navy, Mark often found himself pushed to center stage to assume the role as lead singer as well as band leader, especially when it came time to negotiating gigs or disputes with hometown authorities and Navy brass. Now, after splitting these duties with Peter Bolland, Mark found himself pulled back into limelight as frontman.

Later in 1998 Mark put together a one-man set that he performed at Mikey's. "Right at the last minute," Mark remembers, "it almost didn't happen. When I was ready to go on stage, I suddenly realized that I didn't have my set list." Mark made due, however, reconstructing the set from memory, improvising, and telling jokes and stories for two hours on stage. It's the kind of show he had dreamed of doing for some time, allowing the human side, the off-the-cuff storyteller to emerge and take things in surprising new directions.

Friend and Mikey's regular Rick Lien was one of the first to greet Mark as he got off stage. Hearing "we've really missed you" from Rick was all the reassurance Mark needed. Initially, taking center stage, telling stories about his past, and explaining the innermost feelings he had put into his songs was a risk. Would people be interested in seeing and hearing this personal side? Would they be entertained in the process? The Mikey's show convinced him that the answer was "yes."

He spent the next two years performing solo, sometimes accompanied by friend Ken Wilcox. Besides Mikey's, Mark booked gigs at the Golden Goose in Lakeside and Twiggs, while also doing house concerts for Jimmy Duke's Dark Thirty Productions.

Between 1999 and 2001, "Mark Jackson" evolved into the "Mark Jackson Band" as a number of friends began sitting in on gigs. Sometimes he called the outfit High Line Wire, a name he still wants to donate to a band one day. But, the "Mark Jackson Band" worked with musicians and audiences. So, the name finally stuck permanently.

As Mark explains, "The year 2001 was also the year everyone in San Diego started doing home recording." So, as musicians were gathering to form the Mark Jackson Band, Mark decided to put his growing catalog of original tunes on record.

The result was Vigilante Road. Recorded at current band member David Morgan's home studio, Mark established the geography for his storytelling. With songs like "Charlotte Texas" and "Last Exit to Lakeside," the imagery was definitely the West. It should be noted also that Vigilante Road is located off a lone stretch of Highway 67, heading toward Poway, a definite nod to the support Mark received from the crowd at Mikey's. The sound of the CD is also western. Many of the songs chug along with the boom-chaka-boom of the railroad. The themes look to the desert and other wide open landscapes. Many of the songs' characters are fallen, earthly angels who struggle and sometimes half succeed in keeping their sights on heaven, the prairie, and the honkytonk. The similarities between the band's first album and the dreamscape painted by Merle, Waylon, and Willie are apparent throughout. There's also a respect for less-western influences such as the Opry and the 1960s' Nashville favorite: the country duet. Peggy Watson provides Mark with the female counterpoint that makes this very western album also sound very traditional.

Vigilante Road was nominated for the SDMA's Best Americana album in 2003. This nomination alerted the local community that the Mark Jackson Band was now on the map. The band was nominated for Best Country Band in 2003, 2004, and 2005.

When Mark and the Band began recording their first CD in 2002, as stated, the home recording trend was just getting underway locally. As a result, Vigilante Road was recorded with analog equipment when David Morgan was just beginning to put together what would become Morgan Ranch Studios. Mark learned at this time how unforgiving analog could be. In fact, since this was his first studio album, he learned quickly how unforgiving the entire recording process could be. Although very proud of Vigilante Road, especially given the accolades it received from the SDMA, Mark now thinks of the album as a "learning experience." It showed him the potential of what an album could become and how an exact sound could be achieved when all of the production elements were meticulously assembled.

The band was gigging regularly now. And, in 2005, Mark took them back into the studio to record Love May Take the Long Road Home. This time they went into Rick Lien's Studio 13B in Poway, intent on engaging their new-found studio experience.

Mark also gathered a collection of songs together with a definite uniting theme: relationships. He even went back 15 years to a song – "Julia's Waltz" which – he had sung for his wife Judy at their wedding. The sound of the CD was again very western. The band still chugged along like a Great Plains locomotive, but a locomotive off in the distance not one that was roaring through town. The sound was more subtle and softer, perhaps a reflection of the album's amorous theme. This album was less about fallen honkytonk angels and more about falling in love.

An exception to this was the bonus track "Western Radio (State of Mind)," which was recorded live and provided a snapshot of the fury that went into the band's live performances. Featuring a slap bass intro by then bassist Drew Decker, the song showed Mark's willingness to cut across genres. The bass line, which rumbles throughout, was anything but traditional country. The energy and irreverence was more akin to Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This reflected Mark's own emerging philosophy: he was calling the music they were playing Americana. Some might even hear some alt-country around the edges. Mark was well aware of the scene created by Bloodshot Records. This combined with the re-discovery of icons such as Johnny Cash by younger musicians, not to mention Mark's own early affinity for hard rock, helped steer at least part of the band's repertoire toward a heavier sound and attitude.

Something else that occurred at this time was Pamela Haan's entrance into the band. Pamela has since become a co-leader with Mark. They met at Solar Turbines while singing in the Christmas Choir that the company assembles each year during the holidays. Pamela first provided some needed business acumen as the band's gigging schedule not only accelerated but also took them farther and farther outside the San Diego area. While in Palm Desert, Pamela filled in on harmony when one of the band members came down with laryngitis. She has been on stage ever since.

Pamela describes what she does as a "close harmony." Uncharacteristic for a female vocalist, she sings a low alto and at times a high tenor. So, the intervals between the notes her singing and Mark's baritone aren't as distant as in a standard male-female duet. It's often difficult to separate the lead from the background vocal, giving each song a dual melody. This close harmony has become a cornerstone of the band's sound.

Like Mark, Pamela cites a variety of childhood influences. Coming of age in the '70s, she was caught up in the first wave of hybrid country and rock artists, including Emmilou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and the Pure Prairie League. This is a common thread in the Mark Jackson Band: for a country band, there sure is a lot of rock ‘n' roll lurking about. The result is a sound and attitude that has no qualms about changing direction mid-stream or sprinkling in touches of eclecticism. Since their mentors were rule breakers, they are more likely to follow their own ears instead of any Nashville trends.

After the release of Love May Take the Long Road Home, Mark's band continued a heavy gigging schedule, heavy considering they all were working stiffs with day jobs and families to feed. They became mainstays at Hooleys Irish Pub in Rancho San Diego and Wynola Pizza Express near Dudley's Bakery in Santa Ysabel. Playing on a weekly basis somewhere in town, Mark and Pamela began recognizing many of the same faces following them around. And, many of these groupies, like the band itself, did not come from the traditional country mold.

"I had a group of young rocker guys," Mark recalls, "guys covered with tattoos with a real heavy metal image, telling me at Hooleys, ‘We don't like country…but we sure like you guys.'" These younger fans, crossover fans, who follow the Mark Jackson Band around, despite otherwise musical differences, are what have helped the band carve out a singular niche. "At the same time," Mark goes on, "we continue to draw in a regular country crowd. So, we're appealing to a broad mix."

In late 2006, the band went into the studio again. This time, though, the studio wouldn't let them leave quite so easily. In fact, they've been recording their current CD for 18 months now. Not Long for This World finds the band stretching out both musically and thematically. The album is dedicated to Stacey Slaughter, a former member of Spare Change and a favorite daughter of San Diego's folk community, who took her own life a number of years ago. Stacey had been part of that original group of musicians who played with Mark during those years between Jackson-Bolland and the formation of the Mark Jackson Band.

The album also explores issues such as homelessness and the war in Iraq.

But, as serious as much of the album appears, Mark is quick to add that it's really about redemption. Whether Mark himself is finally coming full circle, settling down, and looking retrospectively at his wild, Oklahoma youth, or, whether the album is a call out to the rest of humankind to join hands because we're all on this journey together, Not Long for This World reminds us that our days here are precious.

That's the serious side of the CD. But, there's also plenty of boot stomping and honkytonking. Besides Mark and Pamela, the band includes Grant Kester on harmonica, David Morgan on dobro, Rob Williams on guitar, and Rick Lien on bass. A range of local talent, from Barry Scott, Jim Soldi, and Larry Grano to Chris Clarke, Rick Nash, John Mailander, and Victoria Robertson also pitched in.

Another huge part of the story is the inclusion of Alan Sanderson of Strate Studios in Santee, who co-produced the album. Sanderson, a 12-year studio veteran from L.A., has recorded everybody from the Rolling Stones and Weezer to the Highwaymen and Ryan Adams.

With so much talent squeezed into one album, Mark is confident that Not Long for This World will win the band an even larger following. While he hopes to truly solidify the band's reputation as a great Southern California regional act, he also wants to expand globally and find new, creative ways to license the music and win new audiences wherever country western, Americana, and a rockin' good time are appreciated.

- San Diego Troubadour June 2008 Cover Story


"Vigilante Road" 2002 - Mark Jackson. (Nominated for The 2003 San Diego Music Award's Best Americana Album of the Year)

"Borrowed Time" and "Charlotte Texas" Received radio airplay on KPRI 102-1 FM San Diego, Ca. and World Music Radio internet.

"Love May Take the Long Road Home" 2005 - Mark Jackson Band.

"One Long Minute" Received airplay on FM94/9 San Diego, Ca. and included in Oasis's 2006 compilation CD released nationwide.

"A Real Charmed Life" set for early 2009 Release - Mark Jackson; co-produced and recorded by Alan Sanderson. (Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello, Ryan Adams)

"Open Wide" included in "Staring at the Sun" compilation CD 2008, San Diego, Ca.

More to come!



Mark Jackson ~ guitar, Lead Vocal
Mark is a singer/songwriter whose music has traveled from the hills of Oklahoma to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Influenced by such greats as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Willie Nelson, Mark nurtures their heritage of storyteller and poet. Using a voice that enfolds the listener in depth of emotion, Mark creates a straight-talking Western/ American style of music which has become his own rich, signature sound.
Some are blessed with a voice to sing and some are blessed with words that touch our hearts. Mark is blessed with the talents of both!

Pamela Haan ~ Vocals, guitar, percussion, piano
Pam grew up in the midst of a Midwestern family full of classically trained musicians. Pam developed a strong ear for close, stacked harmonies while listening to her father sing in gospel and barbershop quartets. That strength grew to include the full, flowing harmonies found in traditional country music as well as the multi-layered harmonies of 70s rock. Bands such as Poco and the Eagles are strong influences for her. Today, Pam lends her hypnotic voice to create the strong harmonies that add rich layers of sound heard within Mark Jackson's original music.

David Morgan ~ Pedal steel guitar, dobro, vocals
David started his professional music career in Boston, touring the northeast area of the country with the country rock band "Wheatstraw". After moving to the west coast, David continued to make his living playing pedal steel guitar for several popular country bands in the San Diego area. His next adventure included the local folk & coffee house circuit, performing original music as a member of the trio "Spare Change". David plays old style non-pedal steel guitar in "The Hank Show", which replicates the sound and look of Hank William's original music. David has played an integral part of the Mark Jackson Band in recordings and performances over the past several years.

Grant Kester ~ Harmonica, vocals
Grant grew up on the east coast. He is a dynamic harmonica player who performed with numerous R&B bands over the years in that region of the country. Now a resident of San Diego, Grant is a PHD college music professor. He utilizes his educational experience as a cornerstone for blending his strong blues background together with the acoustic roots of country & honky-tonk. Grant creates a unique signature within the core of the Mark Jackson Band. His immense talents have helped mold a sound that is lively and truly memorable.

Paul Cruz ~ Acoustic & electric guitar, mandolin, bass, vocals
As a member of the Mark Jackson Band, Paul blends his own remarkable style with an extraordinary love for Americana music. His many musical influences include Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, and Ray Lamontagne. A native of San Diego County, Paul co-founded the band, "Grand Canyon Sundown". Often, these two bands team up to create a metamorphic sound that will stop a listener in their tracks! Paul's humble and quiet persona belies the strength within. His creativity and passion flow like the constant hum of electric wire, allowing his ideas and energy to translate his voice into a wonderful fluidity of sound.

Jason Postelnek ~ Bass, vocals, violin, guitar
Jason originates from Miami, Florida. He came to sunny San Diego ten years ago to pursue his musical interests and passions. Through the years, Jason has performed and recorded with numerous projects and bands. Teaming up with Paul Cruz, he co-founded the band, "Grand Canyon Sundown". Jason lives and performs the Americana experience through the influential music of Hank Williams, Towns Van Zandt, and Steve Earl. Jason brings this passion and influence to the Mark Jackson Band, contributing a vibe that adds another layer of rich harmonic sound.

Dave Wilkie ~ Drums, percussion, vocals
Another San Diego native, Dave grew up listening to his father's hot country band, "Tall Cotton". Surrounded by true Americana sound has gifted him with a talent as natural as breathing. For the last fifteen years, Dave has been involved in a wide variety of projects and styles; including the punk band, "Model Citizen", and "Josai's Reggae House Band" at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Dave welcomes his return home to his original roots music, bringing a refreshing new layer of depth and energy to the Mark Jackson Band. Influenced through great country artists such as Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and George Jones, Dave retains his family's heritage while maintaining his own unique language of music.

This talented band performs regularly at a variety of local clubs, regional venues, benefit shows, and corporate/private events. Some of which include:

SeaWorld's "Sea to Shining Sea" Festival, San Diego, CA

Adams Ave. Street Fair, San Diego, CA

Dark-Thirty House Concert series in Lakeside, CA

Concerts on the Green series in El Cajon, CA

Concerts in the Park series in La Mesa, CA