In Junior High, I joined the school band

©Steve Pickering – Kevin Denbow, Elliott, Mark Merritt, Steve Pickering

“In Junior High, I joined the school band where I learned to play the trombone but the guitar was still my so-called passion. I met up with some friends who had similar addictions and we began getting together for youthful jam sessions with the notion that we would all become future rock stars. It should be noted that it was during this time (puberty, mind you) that I realized that some chicks were kinda into guys who played guitar. This was a somewhat unexpected yet welcome event, albeit one that did not help my social status one iota. My friends Steve Smith and Steven Pickering, my best buds at the time, started opening up my musical mind to other types of music, particularly, rock.

This continued throughout high school with Smith and Pickering introducing me to the Beatles, The Clash, Kansas, Led Zeppelin, Rush, the Police, just to name a few. Another long-time friend, Kevin Denbow, turned me on to Jimi Hendrix and other guitar gods. Other music friends introduced me up to new wave, punk, eccentric and other way cool types of music.

During this period, it was suggested by Smith that I learn how to play the bass. I was reluctant, because chicks didn’t go for the bass players, they went for the singers and the guitar players. Smith then introduced me to this Canadian trio called ‘Rush.’ He gave me a cassette tape (remember those?) of ‘Hemispheres’ and told me to listen to a song called ‘La Villa Strangiato.’ I was completely blown away by the power of the music, and the bass solo in that song floored me. Geddy Lee played the bass like I’d never heard before. I was no longer reluctant to play four strings.

My first ‘pro’ (non-paying) gig was a talent show at my Church, where Smith, Pickering, myself and a couple of others played ‘Tequila’ (Yes, ‘Tequila’… We did not intentionally mean to blaspheme, we were just kids – the crowd loved it) and the long version of ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Smith was on guitar, Pickering on keyboards playing the flute parts and I was playing bass. Although I did not actually have a bass. I actually played the bass line on my Teisco Del Rey electric guitar through my Peavey Backstage amp with the ‘Low’ turned up to ’10’ and the ‘Hi’ and ‘Mid’ turned down to zilch. (A Church member in our youth group owned a real bass, but refused to loan it to me after several requests, because I was deemed ‘un-cool.’ Prick. Anyway, I digress.)

Somewhere in all this we began to write some original songs (some were really bad, but they were songs, nonetheless.) Smith was really into it, and Pickering was developing his own style of music composition. I, at this time was still endeavored to mastering Rush tunes, and the art of song-writing was still very foreign to me. In 1984, we went to Lew Blackburn’s eight-track studio in Dallas, and recorded five tracks. I played bass, but this time, I actually had a real bass to play, thanks to my sister’s boyfriend at the time who loaned me his. (Thanks, DK.) The tracks turned out really good considering they were by a bunch of kids. I still have the cassette. One of my all-time favorite songs ever was from that session,  written by a 14-year old Smith, and sung by his girlfriend at the time. It was really (and still is) quite beautiful.”

Mark Merritt

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