Local Musician Spotlight – Mark McGee
What if you went to a recording session and ended up meeting your soulmate in life and music? That’s exactly what happened to Mark McGee that day in 1999 at SRS Studios in San Rafael when he showed up to record some guitar tracks with Nicole Sutton. The rest, they say, is history. But McGee’s musical journey started long before that.
Born in Oakland and growing up in Alameda, McGee was always absorbed by the music he heard on the radio, mainly early ‘70s classic rock. With a couple chords his older brother taught him when he was just ten years old, and a couple years of practice, McGee performed live for the first time when he was 16 years old. The act was called Overdrive, and for a young group, made their mark, opening shoes for Randy Hansen, Y & T and Quiet Riot, even playing the legendary Old Waldorf before it’s closing. The act was short-lived and McGee had then gotten into “Prog-Rock” and happened to meet Gary Strater who had been in the act Starcastle. Strater had ideas to put the act back together and tagged McGee as his guitar player. The act toured for a couple years then fell apart and McGee found himself back in the North Bay and connected with the up and coming metal act Vicious Rumors in ‘85, who had a nine-year run with Atlantic Records that produced seven albums, MTV videos and world tours. With the metal era winding down, McGee decided to pursue his own thing, but that wouldn’t last long. Some of his musical buddies had formed an act called the Alameda All-Stars and the late Gregg Allman had moved to the North Bay about that same time, and they recommended to Allman to lcheck out McGee for the lead guitar part. Allman agreed that he was indeed the man for his act, and McGee played live and recorded with Allman for ten years, the longest of any of Allman’s guitarists in his solo career. If you saw Allman at the B. R. Cohn show in the mid ‘90s, you heard McGee’s guitar work.
Meanwhile, back in 1999, McGee was working with Stu Hamm and Jeff Campitelli and working on his own music, but with the rhythm duo on the road with Joe Satriani, it was hard for McGee to keep the act together, so he and Sutton decided it was time to put their own act together.
McGee’s whole life was a search for something that family and church never seemed to fulfill and music was the missing piece, and meeting Sutton rounded all he was looking for in one package. “Nicole is an amazing songwriter with some really diverse influences” said McGee. “Born in Detroit she has the “Motor City” vibe, then moving to Los Angeles in the ‘80s before following the Grateful Dead for several years.” It doesn’t get much more diverse than that.
Naming a band these days is not an easy task, as let’s face it, most of them have been used. Originally the Love Junkies, McGee was served with a cease and desist from a band back east that had already trademarked the name, so McGee came up with a plan. He and Sutton would put six or so words in a hat, shake them up and pick then one at a time and see what happened. The first word was Love. The second was Planet. And Luvplanet was born.
Their music is all original, and broaches on subjects that don’t always make people comfortable, real things, real feelings that all lean towards the positive. “It’s hard to put our vibe onto a record, it’s really an act that works best live” said McGee.
Luvplanet will take the main stage at the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 4 p.m. Let’s ask McGee a little about his path to where he is today.
1) Many musicians in our generation cite the Beatles or Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan as that moment when they knew music was what they wanted to do. When and what was it that made you realize you wanted to be a musician?
MM > It was really something that happened over time. From the time I was six to nine years old, I was just fascinated by music, and how it came out of the radio. My brother had an acoustic guitar and I would try to play it. He would come home from school and take it from me and tell me to leave it alone, then eventually he taught me a couple chords, but it was seeing the Kiss Alive album that really did it. I didn’t even know what it sounded like, but it was that and thought, “if I play music I can do this? “ That was pretty much it.
2) That first instrument you owned. What was it and do you still have it?
MM > It was a Partridge Family guitar that I got for Christmas when I was seven years old, but I honestly don’t remember ever owning it, I just saw a picture of me with it recently and can’t recall it at all. My first real guitar was a Global copy of a Les Paul that my mom got at Montgomery Wards for $67. It got stolen three months later from our practice studio. Someone that a friend knew found out who took it and told me who it was but I never did anything about it. I had never heard of the guy. Funny though, just a few years ago someone with that name, that I hadn’t thought about for like 30 years, posted something on my Facebook wall apologizing for “well, you know.” I never replied, but it was funny. If it hadn’t gotten stolen, I would still have that guitar. I was tempted to ask where it was, but didn’t.
3) Who are you’re primary influences in your music?
MM > My influences are really diverse and it kind of depends on whether we’re talking my influences in my playing or influences in my songwriting. The super groups of the ‘70s contributed a lot, Led Zeppelin, Queen, even the Beatles. My musical tastes have always been for melody over anything else, along with pop music, hits of the ‘70s. In Luvplanet, we take the approach of letting the songs take their own course, we don’t really force anything to happen. But singers were also a big influence on me, without a great vocalist, the band just doesn’t do it for me. People like Steven Tyler, Paul Stanley, Peter Gabriel and women artists as well, especially early Heart, and for guitar, guys like Angus Young, Steve Howe, Steve Hackett, Ritchie Blackmore, those kinds of folks.
4) What CD or playlist is in your car or your iPod?
MM > Well, it’s always on shuffle mode, and it’s really diverse. You would hear maybe dome Bach, Mozart, Miles Davis, Mike Stern, Led Zeppelin, lots of classic rock. Lately I’ve been really into Steven Tyler’s solo album from a while back but this new album by Charles Kelley, the vocalist of Lady Antebellum. His voice just captivates. I can’t stop listening to it.
5) Tell us about your current acts.
MM > It’s all about Luvplanet at this time. We’re supporting our fifth album “Rivertown” now and working on a new one for release next year. That’s pretty much the focus. I also teach guitar in person and online and am always looking for session work if the right thing comes along.
6) If you could have written one song, which one would it be and why?
MM > Wow, oh man. Can I text you later on this? No? Then “In the Light” by Led Zeppelin. Definitely one of my favorites.
Set List – The Rundown
B&V Whiskey Bar and Grille, 400 First St. E. Sonoma, 938-7110
Tonight, Sept. 22: Train Wreck Junction. 9 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 23: DJ Tamayo. 9 p.m.
B. R. Cohn Winery, 15000 Sonoma Hwy. Glen Ellen, 800-330-4064
Sunday, Sept. 24: Ricky Montijo. 2 p.m.
Friday Farmers Market, Depot Park, 270 First St W. Sonoma
Today, Sept. 22: Stewart Degner. 9:30 a.m.
HopMonk Tavern, 691 Broadway Sonoma, 935-9100
Tonight, Sept. 22: Michael Bloch. 5 p.m. Jimbo Scott. 8 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 23: Liv Lombardi. 1 p.m. Wendy DeWitt. 8 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 24: Billy D. 1 p.m.
Madrone Estate Winery, 777 Madrone Rd. Glen Ellen, 939-4500
Sunday, Sept. 24: French Oak Gypsy Trio. 1 p.m.
Muscardini Cellars, 9380 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, 933-9305
Saturday, Sept. 23: “Simmer Down Saturday” with Sonoma Sound Syndicate. 6 p.m.
Olde Sonoma Public House, 18615 Sonoma Hwy. Boyes Hot Springs, 938-7587
Tonight, Sept. 22: Ryan Tatarian and Matt Silva. 6:30 p.m.
Quarryhill Botanical Garden, 12841 Sonoma Hwy, Glen Ellen, 916-3166
Tonight, Sept. 22: Wine Country Film Festival with Coyote and the Tricksters. 6:30 p.m.
The Reel Fish House and Grill, 401 Grove St. El Verano, 343-0044
Tonight, Sept. 22: Rubber Soul. 7:30 p.m.
Sebastiani Winery and Vineyards, 389 Fourth St. E. Sonoma, 933-3230
Tonight, Sept. 22: Poyntlyss Sistars. 6 p.m.
Sonoma Plaza, 1 Broadway, Sonoma
Saturday, Sept. 23: Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival with Radar, 11 a.m. the Cork Pullers, 11:45 a.m. T Luke and the Tight Suits, 1 p.m. Magic, 2:15 p.m. Luvplanet, 4 p.m. Danny Click and the Hell Yeahs! 5:45 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 24: Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival with Sleazy Top, 10:45 a.m. Long Train Runnin’, 12 p.m. Ralph Woodson Purple Haze Tribute to Jimi Hendrix, 1:45 p.m. Rubber Soul acoustic Beatles tribute, 3 p.m.
Sonoma Barracks, 20 E. Spain St, Sonoma, 935-6382
Tonight, Sept. 22: Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival Gala with Notorious. 6 p.m.
Sonoma Speakeasy and American Music Hall, 452 First St. E. ste. G. Sonoma, 996-1364
Tonight, Sept. 22: Bruce Gordon, Jenni Purcell and Friends. 6:30 p.m. Solid Air. 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 23: Full Circle. 5 p.m. Rubber Soul. 8 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 24: Jon Shannon Williams. 5 p.m. Acoustic Blues Jam. 8:30 p.m.
Viansa Winery, 25200 Arnold Drive, Carneros, 995-4740
Saturday, Sept. 23: Buck Nickels and Loose Change. 12 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 24: Buck Nickels and Loose Change. 12 p.m.
If your gig isn’t in my column, you didn’t tell me about it. firstname.lastname@example.org