If you want to know who Mark Edgar Stuart is don’t read this. This is all just trivia. Go listen to his song “Remote Control,” instead. That home-loving guy singing about how he was so happy just hanging out in the living room watching TV with his dad? That’s the guy you’re looking for, he’s not here.
Mark shrugs off praise reflexively. If you tell him you like his guitar playing he’ll swat the air and tell you he’s just mimicking Roger Miller. If you tell him you like his music, he’ll probably look at his feet, thank you, then credit the other guy in the aforementioned song, his dad “Big Lou” Stuart, a traveling salesman from Pine Bluff, Arkansas who had a superb record collection and an unusual plan for his son.
It was the elder Mr. Stuart, a Sun records fan who thought Elvis Presley was the weakest link in the Million Dollar Quartet, who encouraged Mark to take up the bass. Money was sometimes tight at home, and when it came to college scholarships Mark’s dad thought music was a better gamble than sports.
Big Lou wasn’t a player, only a listener. He’d been an athlete in school, and assured his son that the short-lived glories he’d known on the field weren’t worth the bruises and broken bones.
Mark’s a rebel’s rebel. When all the other kids were asserting their independence, he took his father’s advice, dodged the ball games, and started playing upright bass in the junior high orchestra.
“It wasn’t very cool back then,” he now says, like cool ever mattered much.
As anticipated, the music scholarship came through and Mark attended the University of Memphis where he fell in with a group of roots-minded songwriters and musicians. The Pawtuckets, as Mark McKinney, Kevin Cubbins, Mark Stuart, and Andy Grooms were collectively known, were an Uncle Tupelo-inspired outfit who packed Memphis clubs for roughly five years before calling it quits, leaving behind three solid CDs full of soul-tinged Americana.
The Pawtuckets experience solidified Mark’s identity as a musician. Big Lou was proud. And he stayed proud.
You can learn a lot about a person by the company he keeps. After the Pawtuckets broke up Mark toured with Grammy nominee Alvin Youngblood Hart, and cut two records with songwriter Cory Branan which led to an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. He performed with Robbie Grant in Vending Machine, and Steve Selvidge in The Secret Service. With little fuss or fanfare he became a go-to bass player for an elite group of Memphis players including John Paul Keith, and Jack (Oblivian) Yarber. He was always happy to lend his harmony singing, and his no-nonsense grooves; to play a supporting role that was close to the spotlight, but not too close.
Cancer changes things. So does losing your dog. And so does losing your dad. When all of these things happened in rapid succession Mark took some time to heal, and reevaluate. He put down his bass, picked up a guitar, and started writing songs he never thought anybody outside his family would ever hear. It’s possible nobody ever would have heard them either, if not for the encouragement of colleagues like Branan, Keith, and Jimmy Davis. But it’s not likely.
The story you’ll hear over and over again as people discover Mark’s debut CD, Blues for Lou, (and a collection of songs so effortlessly poignant will be discovered and rediscovered for a long time) is how it was triggered by this period of sickness and sorrow. While that’s essentially true, a record like this was inevitable. As his richly-described stories of everyday life and yard sale weirdos suggest, Mark soaks in details like a sponge, and spending so much time in the company of strong songwriters, it was only a matter of time before these humble, humorous and, and sometimes heartbreaking stories found a way to get out.
– Chris Davis, Memphis Flyer