Mark Narmore in his own words…
from his website at http://www.mark-narmore.com.
I hail from Center Star Alabama, a town of around 700 people, just twenty miles east of the musical mecca of Muscle. I grew up absorbing everything I could from the local studios which had guests such as Cher, Willie Nelson, Julian Lennon, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bob Seger, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Mac Davis, The Osmonds, Shenandoah, T.G. Sheppard, and Percy Sledge just to name a few.
I learned to play piano beginning at age 5 on an old upright piano my Mom and Dad got me. I naturally started playing and singing in Church, and it’s still a main ingredient in my musical package. My first cousin, Spooner Oldham who also hails from Center Star, was a major influence on me. Spooner was in the birthing of Muscle Shoals Music scene, and he was in the thick of it at the time when I was six or seven and started to take note. Spooner had already scored three million sellers as a songwriter, “Cry Like A Baby“, “Sweet Inspiration“, and “I’m Your Puppet”, and had played keyboards on hit records by artists from Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin, to Linda Rondstandt and The Flyring Burritos.
When Spooner would come in to visit from California, I’d get my little jam box out and ask him to sit and play. Those cassettes were my piano teacher of sorts I guess. We play together a lot at Church now. We’ll swap out on piano and organ and it’s really a blast.
In high school, I played keys in a southern rock band; called Stillbrook and a few other bands while in high school at Brooks High in Killen, Alabama. Some of the musicians I worked with at the time were Brent Phillips, Bill Bole, Jeff Walton, Joey Gist, Joe Hudson, Darryl Triplett, Anthony Duckworth,Kent and Terry Brown, Keith Davis, Rusty Moody, Alex Gallien, Tim Lanier, Patrick Weir, Blair White, Stacy Sutton, Jamie Morgan and Paul Letner.
I joined the Rejoicers southern gospel group in 1983. Becky Robinson, Mark Shelton, Sherry Ridgeway, and Pam and Tommy Word made up the group at the time. I wish I could go back and relive some of those times, they were great. I remember we were going to play a live t.v. broadcast from Lawrenceburg one night and I was majorly scared, I’m sure the others were a little nervous too, I remember us holding hands in a circle in front of the venue, and we asked The Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ to endwell us, drive out all fear, and make us useful vessels that evening. I still remember to this day, the immediate peace that came over me at that moment, and the others echoed the same.
It was at that era I think I started reaching out to God and seeing just how much he wants to help us grow in Him and to have fellowship with Him.
In 1984, I took a demo tape of a song I had recorded to WLX in Lexington with the hopes of getting it played on the air. Eddie Landtroop had been there as morning disc jockey for a couple of years at that time. He graciously played the demo and as I was leaving he said, “You’ve got a really good speaking voice, have you ever considered radio?”
Little did I know that the midday guy had just quit and they needed somebody to work that day. I said I’ll give it a shot. Well, Eddie trained me in radio right then and there, showed me how to cue up the records, how to pot up the microphone and turntables and where the satellite news came in on the board. He also showed me how to turn off the transmitter at sundown (this was an AM station and had to sign off at night) Then Eddie left, I was the only soul there, and I remember shaking in my shoes every time I opened the mic that day and for a week or two after. But you know, after a while the live aspect didn’t bother me, [I] just kind of got comfortable with knowing a whole bunch of folks were listening each time I opened up the microphone.
We read obituaries live, and one time a friend of mine walked into the studio with a pencil hangin’ out of each nostril, tryin’ to make me laugh on the air. He thought I was reading news, but I was right in the middle of reading the obits -talking about trying to hold it all together! The first week I had to broadcast a swap and shop program. We had to write down all the items as the callers phoned them in live and read them back if the phones got slow.
Someone called in with polled Hereford bulls for sale. I heard polled heifer bulls, and being new to radio, [and a]nervous kid, I didn’t catch the error. So I went the whole program repeating polled “heifer” bulls for sale. Also, just to see what I could get away with I guess, once I played Kiss back to back with Slim Whitman’s Cattle Call!! I was thinking about some farmer in the cab of his big tractor jamming out to Strutter by Kiss. Of course we only played country , the Kiss came from my album collection from home.
I also started hangin’ around in Lexington at Woody Richardson’s Woodrich Recording Studio in the early eighties. Woody gave me a first hand look early on into recording, engineering, publishing and such. Woody always had an open door for me there. He’d call me to sing on and play on sessions too, so I really started learning all of my studio chops right there. We wrote some cool tunes together, too.
Barry Beavers was the chief engineer there for a long time. Barry, Patrick Campbell, Aaron Williams, Darrell Glover, Roy Crabb, Terry Williams, Jeff Quillen, myself and a whole host of others spent countless hours there writing, recording demos and goofing off and having a great time. I remember playing piano on a session on a gospel
group at Woody’s. They wanted me to overdub Wurlitzer on a track. I studied the chart, [it was a] pretty easy pattern, I listened to the first verse and chorus, and I waved for Barry to stop the tape, so he went ahead and put the machine in the red and we started recording. I went through about three or four verse/choruses, but the song didn’t end. Seemingly it went on for twenty minutes or so. Afterwards, Woody took me aside and said, son sometimes those groups will have a tendency to do a long vamp out on the end of their songs.
Once I was doing a vocal there and we kept getting some RF [feedback] from WLX radio there in Lexington. The signal from the radio station was bleeding into the speakers, well it was actually going through the board and going to tape! It was pretty loud and it wasn’t going away. So some engineer Woody knew told him to pour three or four gallons of water around the base of the telephone pole just outside the studio. Just let it seep into the ground, directly around the pole.
Skeptically, Woody grabbed an old green bucket and proceeded to pour, another bucket, then another. We all had a tongue in cheek look, like “yeah, this is really gonna work“. Amazingly we went back inside and the radio interference was gone!!! I mean gone! I learned to put more credence in shade tree engineering that day.
Ava Aldridge is another successful songwriter who helped me early on. Ava gave me a whole lot of confidence that I could really do this songwriting thing, you know, that I could really pull it off. Ava wrote with a young Mark Narmore, helping teach me the craft and teaching me a myriad of things about the business. I was young and so scared, but Ava would get me to play piano on some of our demos and to sing them also. I was in awe of her talent and still am. I’m very thankful to Ava for taking me under her wing.
I graduated in 1988 with a commercial music degree from the University of North Alabama in Florence. During my college years I began working as a country disc jockey at WLX in Lexington, Alabama. I potted up my first radio microphone in 1984.
Then in 1986 I made the move to a CHR station, WVNA-FM in Tuscumbia. I entered the KFC Songwriting Contest while at WVNA, placing in the top ten nationally. Maudie Darby Bedford, the owner of WVNA at the time, really encouraged me to enter this contest. She knew I was writing some and I had some demos I had cut floating around the station. So reluctantly I entered this contest and it really opened up a lot of doors, especially with Rick Hall at Fame. So I’m very thankful to Maudie and to Lynda Darby who urged me to give it a shot. This contest brought me to the attention of Muscle Shoals producer and publisher Rick Hall.
I signed on there as an exclusive writer and had a soulful eleven year stint, with a top ten single on Shenandoah and “Moon Over Georgia,” a top five on Blackhawk with “Like There Ain’t No Yesterday” and a hit Canadian single on Michelle Wright with “Crank My Tractor“.
I had the opportunity at FAME from day one to be around the best producers, songwriters, artists and musicians. I can’t name all the influential folks I ran into along the way there, but I’ll give it a shot. I got to work with great folks like Marty Raybon,Don Srygley, Tommy Curry, Marty Lewis, Janna Malone, Rodney Hall, Rick and Linda Hall, Mickey Buckins, Michael Curtis, Kate Campbell, Bob Garfrerick, Daniel Beard, Jimmy Nutt, Shaye Smith, Mark D. Sanders, Brad Crisler, Walt Aldridge, Robert Byrne, Billy Lawson, Doug Nichols, Byron Hill, Cris Lacy, Jason Houser, Herky Williams, Chad Green, Mark Hall, Billy Henderson, Bobby Tomberlin, Darryl orley, Mike McGuire, Trinecia Hall, Spooner Oldham, Donnie Fritts and so many others.
The musicians were always stellar. Piano and organ players abounded. Folks like Steve Nathan, Spooner, Darrell Glover, Chalmers Davis, James Hooker, Randy McCormick, N.C. Thurman, Annette Labreque, Peanut Montgomery, Steve Nathan, Ronnie Oldham, Lenny LeBlanc, Cindy Richardson-Walker, Brandon Barnes, Clayton Ivey, Barry Beckett, Mac McAnally, Joey Holder, Donnie Fritts, Michael Camp, Elsbie Kimbrough, David Briggs, and Tommy Patterson—what an amazing group of keyboard players all from this area!
In 1998, I made the move to Reba’s Starstruck Writers Group where I gleaned cuts on the likes of Marty Raybon, James Prosser, John Michael Montgomery, Kate Campbell, Blackhawk, and Tyler England (with Garth Brooks as producer). And I was proud to work with the likes of Mike Sebastian, Mark Sanders, Molly Reynolds, Autumn House, Kos Weaver, Mike Molinar, Candle Burgess, David Malloy, Wynn Varble, Cal Sweat and so many other wonderful people.
In 2000 I made the shift to March Music, headed by Kevin Pearce. March was small but with an outstanding roster including Kevin Denney, Adam Wheeler and Leigh Reynolds.
In 2002, Mark entered the songwriting stable of someone he has respected and taken advice from for years, Jody Williams, president of Jody Williams Music, which is a SONY/Tree co-venture. Jody and creative director Katherine Blasingame have teamed me up with some stellar co-writers, including Liz Rose, Brandy Clark, Lisa Brokop, Josh Turner, Adam Dorsey, Austin Cunningham, Matt Jenkins, Marla Cannon Goodman, and a whole host of others.
I have already had numerous cuts there, including recordings on MCA’s Josh Turner, RCA’s Rachael Proctor, Kate Campbell, Marty Raybon, Chalee Tennison, Amanda Wilkinson and Lisa Brokop. Late in 2007 I got a cut on a song he co-wrote with Brandy Clark on Heartland, called “Freebird.” In A Firebird, produced by Walt Aldridge, some other recent cuts are “Somebody Who Would Die For You” by Buddy Jewell, co-written with long time writing partner Adam Wheeler. Kate Campbell cut “Terrible Mercy” on her current project. I co-wrote that one with Kate. More great news was that Josh Turner’s Your Man CD achieved double platinum status in 2007; and “Gravity” co-written with Josh Turner and “She’ll Go On You” appear on Josh’s Cracker Barrel album.
Currently some of my co-writes are Bill Labounty, Lisa Brokop, Adam Wheeler, Eldon Huff, Josh Turner, Briana Lawler, Bobby Tomberlin, Buddy Jewell, Paul Nelson, The Shoals Band–Adam Browder, Doug Stokes, Jeremy Easley, Jesse Lee (who just got a record deal on Atlantic!), Kaci Bolls, Rhean Boyer of Carolina Rain, Brandy Clark, Doug Bartholomew, Terry Mizzell and a ton of others. I’ve been honored to use Reese Wynans on keyboards for my demo sessions for the last year, he did the B3 work on Brooks and Dunn’s “I Believe” and played in Double Trouble with Stevie Ray Vaughn. He’s brought a lot of cool organ licks into my demos. Some of the band members I’ve been proud to use for the last year are so are Jeff King electric guitar, Alison Prestwood bass, John Willis acoustic guitar, Reese Wynan’s Wurlitzer and B3, Wayne Killius drums, Paul Hart engineer, Dan Dugmore and Russ Pahl steel guitar.
I am proud to announce my recent signing with Noble Vision Music Publishing in Nashville. I am looking forward to working with the great staff there that includes Hal Oven, Adam Wheeler, Will Rambeaux, Sandy Crain, and Shirley Hutchins.
Josh Turner has recorded “She’ll Go On You” and “Gravity” for his live at the Ryman CD, available at all Cracker Barrel Country Stores
I am proud to announce that Josh Turner has released “The Way He Was Raised” penned by Josh, Mark and Bobby Tomberlin, on Josh’s Everything Is Fine CD, available everywhere.
Mica Roberts and Toby Keith have recorded “Things A Mama Don’t Know” on Show Dog Records. I co-wrote this song with Brandy Clark and Liz Rose
Billy Lawson and myself have been honored with stars in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame’s star walk!!! What a great honor. It’s very special me because of my love of and for everyone who has ever been involved in the Muscle Shoals Music scene. Thanks to Dixie Connell, David Johnson, all the Hall Of Fame employees and board. The museum is definitely world class…drop by when you’re in the Shoals it’s at Hwy 72 W in Tuscumbia. I am so proud of my friend Josh Turner and his project “Haywire.” It’s truly a great record. I’m honored to have three songs on there “Friday Paycheck“, “The Answer“, and “Let’s Find A Church“.
I thank God each day for my great family, and for their unwavering support of my music, and for the chance to have this dream gig of being a songwriter.