Mark McGuinn
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Mark McGuinn

Nashville, Tennessee, United States | INDIE

Nashville, Tennessee, United States | INDIE
Band Country Americana


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"McGuinn Breaks SoundScan Record"

Mark McGuinn's self-titled album on VFR Records entered Billboard's Top Country Albums chart this week at No. 18, the first time in SoundScan's 10-year history that a debut album on an independent label has debuted in the Top 20. "Mrs. Steven Rudy," the first single, sits at No. 8 Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart and has risen as high as No. 6. The last indie debut to hit the Top 10 country singles chart was "Atlanta Burned Again Last Night" by the group Atlanta on MDJ Records in 1983. Unknown before the quirky "Mrs. Steven Rudy" entered the charts 18 weeks ago, McGuinn had no previous songwriting cuts before signing with VFR, and he never built a name for himself playing clubs and industry showcases. - CMT

"Coo Coo Ca-Country"

For a male country singer, the decision to don a hat or go without is fraught with implications. The hat functions as a kind of industry shorthand, a sartorial attempt to establish street cred -- so much so that in the early 1990s, an entire generation of artists were defined simply as "hat acts." But in all the discussion about the pros and cons of country headgear, one thing is pretty much taken for granted: The hats in question are of the cowboy variety.

What, then, are we to make of newcomer Mark McGuinn, whose recently released debut album (on the independent VFR label) shows him sporting a backward Kangolesque caddy cap that looks suspiciously like a beret? (He's also working the blue-tinted hipster horn rims, a decidedly cool soul patch-and-goatee combo and a couple of vaguely ethnic bead necklaces.) In another publicity photo, McGuinn's topper is a wide-wale corduroy number that makes him look more like an extra from "The Grapes of Wrath" than Tim McGraw. And when he appeared onstage at last month's WMZQFest at Nissan Pavilion, McGuinn chose a fuzzy skullcap halfway between a yarmulke and a beanie.

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"It's just who I am," says McGuinn, 32. "Me in Wranglers and a cowboy hat and a big belt buckle? That looks great on some people, but it looks hideous on me. It just doesn't work. I'm not that." Besides, he says, "It's not about how I look or what I do, necessarily. It's about the music."

Oh yes, the music. Rather than being laughed all the way back to the coffeehouse, Mark McGuinn has come out of nowhere to score the most unexpected country hit of the year: "Mrs. Steven Rudy," a clever, singsongy, banjo-and-drum-loop-powered paean to a Mrs. Robinson-type crush. ("Hey, Mrs. Steven Rudy / You're the neighborhood beauty / But that wedding ring's as ugly / As your husband is to you.") It wasn't even the intended first single, but a Dallas country radio station discovered the song on a sampler sent out by McGuinn's label.

"Mrs. Steven Rudy" went on to top the country singles chart for four weeks and reached No. 6 on the airplay chart -- the first time since 1983 that a debut artist on an independent label has cracked the Top 10. Little country labels -- particularly one so little that its Web site lists the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of the entire staff -- simply don't get their music on the air that often. The triumph of McGuinn's song is to the Nashville establishment what "The Blair Witch Project" was to Hollywood.

Even the ultra-mod video, in which McGuinn appears in all black -- think Paris cafe, not Johnny Cash -- head-bobbing his way through what looks like a Mondrian painting, has been a major hit on the Country Music Television channel. "We sat back and went, 'Man! That's different,' " says Chris Parr, vice president of music and talent for CMT.

At a time when Nashville's major labels all but march in lockstep, churning out acts that are basically variations on the same two or three themes, and where the "same six guys" seem to produce every record in town, according to Wade Jessen, Billboard magazine's director of country charts, the hunger for something -- anything -- different is almost palpable. So what if it comes in the form of a guy who mentions Rosa Parks in his lyrics and looks like he'd be more at home in a smoky New York jazz club than an Abilene honky-tonk?

"I cannot begin to tell you how much Music Row needs this man," gushed veteran Nashville journalist Robert Oermann in Music Row magazine.

The arrival of McGuinn is being viewed as a good omen in a climate overrun by what Jessen calls a "lemming mentality." Some in Nashville believe that the assault on the charts by "Mrs. Steven Rudy" may pave the way for genuinely appealing music to triumph -- occasionally, at least -- over radio's stultifying corporate mandates. There's a wellspring of good feeling for McGuinn in Nashville, even among the competition.

"It's kind of like the David-and-Goliath scenario here. Once you can get the David to win, it was just such a breath of fresh air," says Fletcher Foster, Capitol Records' senior vice president of marketing. "I think that every area of the business is rooting for something like this to happen because it kind of cracks the window a little bit more open so that somebody else can come through."

McGuinn, who radiates a charming insouciance, is a reluctant standard-bearer. "I wasn't trying to be a spokesman or a 'changer' for Nashville," he says. "I was just trying to do what I do."

Although he was once angrily accused of being from New Jersey -- not to mention rumors that he was merely another of Garth Brooks's alter egos á la Chris Gaines -- McGuinn actually hails from Greensboro, N.C. He played jazz trumpet through junior high and high school and, by the time he got his degree in psychology from Appalachian State University, had picked up piano and guitar and become deeply enamored of country and bluegrass.

In yet another major departure from the standard country-star résumé, McGuinn had a brief career as a professional soccer player before moving to Nashville in 1993. He landed a publishing deal two years later, but failed to have any of his songs recorded by others. He signed with VFR after being assured of creative control.

The resulting album, which contains only one song that McGuinn didn't co-write, showcases his warm, James Taylorish tenor and his fondness for unusual rhythms.

"I like to get funky," explains McGuinn. Funky indeed. How many country records feature the djembe, a West African drum? "I don't know where I'll be when we start the next record. It could be glockenspiel and pan flute," McGuinn joked during a recent radio interview.

Of course, no one knows whether McGuinn can duplicate the success of "Mrs. Steven Rudy," but the buzz is good. McGuinn has adopted the obligatory aw-shucks attitude they teach in Media Training 101.

"There's always that chance" of being a one-hit wonder. "You don't ever know," he concedes. "If I knew what people liked and what a success was, I'd be a gazillionaire as a songwriter. I can't sit around and dwell on that. All I know is that I'm going to do the best I can do. And if [this] is it, you know what? It was very cool."

- Washington Post

"Overcoming the Odds"

"Hard as it is for new artists to make a favorable impression at radio these days... Yet, it's precisely those odds that VFR Records artist Mark McGuinn is quickly overcoming with "Mrs. Steven Rudy," which is No. 7 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart this week. " - Billboard

"Dark Horse McGuinn Hits With "Mrs. Steven Rudy""

As dark horses go, you can't beat singer/songwriter Mark McGuinn. His goatee-and-glasses look are more beatnik coffeehouse than country honky tonk; his seven-years training as a jazz trumpeter and his pro soccer aspirations are a far cry from the usual country artists' bio. Cementing McGuinn's dark horse status is the fact that he's signed to independent label VFR Records in a format where major labels are the dominant force.

Still, a little more than a year after a record deal fell into his lap, McGuinn finds himself the toast of Nashville. His surprise hit, "Mrs. Steven Rudy," has sailed up the charts so fast that VFR has pushed his debut's release up two weeks (the self-titled album now hits stores May 8.) Best of all, "Mrs. Steven Rudy" currently sits at No. 11 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. Not bad, considering the song was not earmarked originally to be a single.

"I'm flattered to have that label," McGuinn laughs of his unlikely success story image. "It's nothing that I expected. If people want to make me the poster child for that, I'm happy to carry that flag."

McGuinn, who hails from Greensboro, N.C., spent his youth studying jazz before setting his heart on becoming a pro soccer player. Three matches into his professional sports career a busted knee set him in search of Plan B.

"I met up with a buddy of mine and we started writing songs. We thought, 'Hey I like doing this! Where we can we learn the most and have fun? Nashville!' So we took off for Nashville and we never left. I've been here six and a half years."

So he isn't an overnight success. Still, McGuinn struck beginner's luck with "Mrs. Steven Rudy." Jazz background notwithstanding, "Rudy" is full of sunny banjos and bluegrassy flourishes. From a purist's standpoint, it's the least country of his album's 12 songs, but the melody is infectious and the chorus rolls off the tongue with uncanny ease.

"That's the challenge of a songwriter, to have a melody evoke a feeling and certain types of words, or the other way around," says McGuinn, who penned the song with co-writer/co-producer Shane Decker. "When you're able to do that, that's when you figure out you've done a good job on a song."

McGuinn says part of the song's appeal is its universal theme that's part voyeurism, part unrequited love. "Everybody has their own Mrs. Steven Rudy or knows someone like that," he observes. "I can remember in my life, back in high school there was a particular student teacher where all the guys would be with their hall passes, walking by her classroom constantly. She was married, and it was funny to see all my buddies walking down the hall where she was teaching!"

But VFR originally slated to release "That's a Plan" as the first single. The only song on the album not written by McGuinn, "Plan," like "Rudy," has a catchy melody and strong banjo leads. Nevertheless, when DJ Cody Alan at Dallas radio station KPLX-The Wolf heard "Mrs. Steven Rudy," there was -- pardon the pun -- a change of plans.

"He just flipped and said that's the song," McGuinn recalls. "He called the label and said, 'I know you're coming with "That's a Plan," but we're playing "Mrs. Steven Rudy." We love that song, this is what we want to play.' Then other stations jumped on the bandwagon. Other stations said, 'We love this song, we want to play this song.'"

You can't fight fate. With a solid hit under his belt, what's next for McGuinn? Certainly not a star's ego. He laughs, "My head can't get swelled up any more than it has already from me hitting it going, 'What am I doing?!' I have a lot of good friends that keep my head from getting big."


"UPI: Heartland"

"McGuinn had the highest debut, at No. 18, on the Billboard country album chart for an artist on an independent label in Soundscan history. He also had the highest radio chart position (at No. 6) for a debut country artist on an independent record label in 20 years." - UPI


Mark McGuinn - 2001
One Man's Crazy - 2006

Mrs. Steven Rudy - 2001
That's A Plan - 2001
She Doesn't Dance - 2002

One Man's Crazy - 2006
Deep - 2006

All singles received national airplay.

Charted Positions
Mrs. Steven Rudy - #5
Thats A Plan - #19
She Doesn't Dance - #24



Billboard said, "It's an almost unheard-of feat in the country community for an Independent label act, much less a brand new artist, to go toe-to-toe with the majors and score a top 10 hit." Yet in 2001, Mark McGuinn did with his smash "Mrs. Steven Rudy;" the first time in over 40 years a new artist, on a independent label, had done. Three successful releases, the label ceased, removing Mark out of the public. "This was a blessing," states Mark, "It allowed my focus on family and songwriting." The initial result: his self-penned top 10 song, for Lonestar, "Unusually Unusual" and more songs for his last project, "One Man's Crazy" released in 2006. USA Today wrote, "It is hard not to root for an underdog who is this winningly optimistic.”