The Blues are more than just a type of music you listen to or you play on an old guitar. While it's true it's one of the most popular and biggest selling genres across the world, it still doesn't define what the blues really and truly are. The blues are something you feel, something you live, something that eats at your very soul from deep down inside. Just see Mark Albertson on stage one time, and you'll know this boy has been running from the blues his whole life.
Born on April 7, 1964, Mark Albertson doesn't recall a time that he wasn't playing music. "My dad played. My brother played. My mom played several instruments," he says. "There was always a guitar around and no excuse not to pick it up. Our family reunions were like extended jam sessions."
Raised in Moffett, Mark learned his downhome values from his dad, James, a nondenominational preacher who worked at a local factory often taking his guitar to play while on break. "Dad never made loans," Mark says. "If you needed a tool to fix your car, Dad wouldn't loan it to you, though he might take his entire toolbox and spend the whole afternoon working on your car. That's just how he was."
On Christmas, 1971, Mark got the first guitar of his own, a cheap Kingston brand acoustic bought at the Otasco on Garrison Avenue. He learned from a chord book his dad made with notebook paper. With Chet Atkins, Roy Clark, and Doc Watson serving as influences to his dad, Mark knew he was in safe hands. Lacking in self-confidence, Mark stuck mostly to himself, keeping the guitar close by his side. His older brother, Carl, a musician as well, joined the school band learning to read music. Mark took a semester of choir, but that was as far as he got regarding any formal training. With his dad already having a bit of a following, Mark chose to play gospel music with him instead.
It was at one such performance that friend and local musician, Rick Boyett, recalls first seeing the "thunderous" guitar player. "He was just this little short kid, around thirteen years old, playing with his daddy at the fair, when he discovered he could jump on the stage causing the reverb from the P.A. to crash like thunder in the speakers," Rick says. "They would reach a crucial part of the song, Mark would jump and smile while his dad just shook his head. I knew then, I wanted him to be my guitar player." He was invited to play in a gospel band with Rick and another guy. By that time he was already into Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler. He didn't want to play gospel, so he passed.
As a teenager, Mark was influenced by all types of music. In the downstairs section of his house he had the classic country, gospel, and classical music that his mother, Reba, loved. Upstairs in his brother's room he was listening to Styx, Boston, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and other rock acts from the day. In his sophomore year, 1979, he formed a combo with some guys who were in the school band. One a horn player who'd bought a bass, the other a drummer whose dad had recently bought him a full kit. They had a set list of four songs when they set up on the tennis court at school to play at an assembly. "We played all four," Mark says. "They liked us so much, we played them all again."
Around this time, Mark finally got that second call from Rick Boyett inviting him to join the Borderline Band, a country combo featuring Rick, Tim Martin, and Wesley Trout. At first, Mark's dad wasn't sure it was such a good idea. It was only after Rick's dad assured him there would always be an adult on the scene that he agreed to let Mark join in. "I was only fifteen," Mark recalls. "I couldn't drive yet. They had to pick me up at home in Moffat and take me to practice in Van Buren." A country band, the group played a regular gig at the Meador's Inn for the next few years.
He was in a band and about two months away from finishing high school. Everything seemed to be going his way when Mark was informed that he didn't have the credits required for him to graduate. One of his high school teachers offered to help out in any way he could; tutoring after school, helping him in the classroom, whatever he needed to earn his GED, which he did in 1982. It wasn't long after that he found out his girlfriend was pregnant. "She was a year older than me," Marks says. "Just a small town girl, the family didn't even have running water."
He was around nineteen when the band broke apart. They'd gone in together on a P.A. then had some disagreement as to what direction the band should go in. Some wanted to continue with the country they'd been playing, others wanted to go more rock oriented. Either way, the band couldn't survive the turmoil with the members going their separate ways. Mark's current father-in-law was playing in some of the Oklahoma dives, so Mark, along with Tim Martin began playing with him now and then. He was a rough guy, had been shot a number of times, but it was the only gig available at the time.
When the baby, Marcus Wayne, was born, Mark was working during the day doing whatever he could to support the small family, and playing whatever pick-up gigs he could find at local VFW halls and such. He tried factory work alongside his dad at Riverside, but he just wasn't suited for it. He started at Stereo One, driving a delivery truck. Living paycheck to paycheck, he found out his wife was pregnant again. Matthew Thomas was born soon after. It was something neither was prepared for.
When the couple divorced, tt was no surprise. They were married too young then grew up in different directions. Mark is the first to admit that he wasn't the greatest father in the world, often losing connection with both of the boys. "It seems strange to me," Mark says. "Considering how close I was to my dad that I couldn't be better at it."
Mark tried finding steady work at several different music stores, even working at Sigler's for a couple of weeks. He played with a number of bands including a house gig at the Foxfire ("A lot of drugs and a lot of alcohol," he says. "I finally just quit that one."), a house gig at Elephant's Run with Buddy Rounds, and a stint with Zorro and the Blue Footballs. Nothing seemed to last long until Terry Anderson and his partner in business, Ben Jack, decided to part ways with Terry keeping the store in Fort Smith while Ben turned his attention to the Fayetteville location. "Terry needed a guitar tech and I'd been hanging around," Mark says. "He hired me on."
It was also around this time, 1986-1987, that Mark joined Dale Fraze, Randy Barnes, and Tom Watts in Havasu, a very popular local band at the time which later turned into a long run with Mint II Bee, a blues band featuring Mark, Dale Fraze, and Tim Martin on bass. With his luck turning around, he was introduced to Sandy in 1989. "Tim Martin and Dana brought her to a Mint II Bee gig," Mark says. "It turned out we'd known each other years before while still in school." After the gig, they went together to sit on the knoll above the gallows in the Historical Park. They've been together ever since, getting married on December 29, 1993.
Some time in the early nineties Mint II Bee became Wanda Watson's backup band. Based in Tulsa, Wanda is one of the most popular blues singers around having been recently inducted to the Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame. He and Tim stuck with Wanda for quite some time before it just became too much to drive back and forth to Tulsa for rehearsal. After giving notice to Wanda, Mark decided to bow out of the music scene for a while, going to work for ERC.
In 2003, he lost one of his biggest influences when his dad passed away. Mark was on the job, installing a stereo system for a client when he got a call from his brother saying their dad was the hospital. He dropped everything he was doing and rushed to be with him, but it was already too late. "We had a close relationship, me and Dad, "Mark says. "I still miss going to him for advice." Mark still plays his dad's guitar onstage now and then, having even written a song about it, "My Dad's Guitar."
Tragedy struck again in 2005 when Mark received a called regarding his youngest son, Matthew. Matt had had a rough time plagued with nightmares and drug usage, something Mark believes was rooted in his past. "I think he was abused, mentally or physically, at some point," he says. "I wish I could have been there for him." Though known for using both marijuana and valium, Matthew overdosed on OxyContin. Mark's oldest son called while trying to revive him. By the time Mark arrived, the EMT's were there. It was too late. Matthew had already passed away. He was only eighteen years old.
With a lot of guilt to work through, Mark stayed away from the music scene for a while. When he finally decided to come back, he came back in a big way. With Tim Martin on bass and Allen Turner on drums, the Mark Albertson Trio burst onto the scene. A blues band, they took the genre to a level that had never been seen in the River Valley. In 2012, they won the local Blues Challenge sponsored by the Fort Smith Blues Society, earning the opportunity to take part in the international competition held every year in Memphis. Having never been there, they really had no idea what to prepare for. They ended up staying in a dump of a hotel without much to do other than worry about the competition. Nobody in the group was happy which reflected on their performance. The group just sort of faded away after that.
For the next year's Blues Challenge, Mark reunited with old friend Wanda Watson, performing as an acoustic duo. Once again, they won the local competition and went to Memphis. Knowing more about what he was doing this time he was able to do more planning which resulted in a much better time for all involved. "We didn't really think about the competition that much," he says. "We got to see some things, hang around the town a bit, a more 'touristy' type trip. We had fun."
Mark is still active on the music scene. He works with Annidale Sound as both a sound man for local events and as a tech installing complete sound systems for churches, schools, clubs, etc. He still plays too, both solo and some group gigs. "It's amazing how things have changed," he says. "You used to get jobs with a tape, a picture, and a resume. Now you have Facebook and ReverbNation. The younger generation has changed the way music is approached in all facets of the business."
To hear Mark's stage show is like nothing else you'll witness in the River Valley. A lot of times, the act is created right there with Mark arranging and re-arranging songs on the spot. At his group gigs, he is joined by other like-minded musicians who are able to adjust to the ever-changing impromptu performances. He has been joined on stage by other premiere musicians such as Tony Rupp, Allen Turner, Tim Martin, Gary Hutchison, Bill Flaspohler, Tom Ware, Ike Newton, Wesley Trout, and most recently Rick Boyett among others. As this article was being written, Mark received word that he is going to be a big part of the "New Oreo Blue," starting this summer.
So, yes, Mark Albertson is a true bluesman. He knows what it means to be thrown into a raging fire and left for naught. He also knows how, like a phoenix, to rise from the ashes and create something totally new and exciting. If you have an opportunity to see Mark onstage, go, don't miss it!