The following is an excerpt from some of my memoirs that I’ve been collecting.
How I Came to Play, Part 3
I was playing a solo gig in late 1981, upon moving back to the Madison area after living in Arizona and Colorado for five years. It was a great gig but a bit grueling; Tuesday through Saturday 7:30 – 12:30. It was mostly unrewarding until the kitchen staff would get out and start hanging in the bar. It was a good life, though. Party ‘til dawn, get up at 3 PM, go back and do it again. People didn’t really pay attention when I played; they were just waiting for a table or trying to have a drink. It was rare that someone actually clapped. Frequently the room would empty and I’d slip outside or have a drink – or both.
One night I noticed these two guys that were actually looking my way and paying pretty close attention, which happened from time to time. I didn’t pay it a whole lot of mind.
I didn’t really have a show. I had a list of songs in front of me and I rarely knew what I would play next. I suppose I was a bit bored and I was not good at bantering. While I would scour my song list for the next tune I would just improvise on my guitar. I liked doing that and sometimes it actually became the next song. One of these two guys eventually came up to me in my corner spot; a slightly raised platform with a triptych of photos entitled “The Three Stages of Cruelty” on the walls surrounding it. I remember he had a cigarette in his mouth and he looked a little loaded. In a very gruff voice he said, “Hey…I see you can really wiggle your fingers there.” That was my first encounter with Mark Fredrick.
Then he mumbled something about him and his friend, Dave Fleer, starting up a band that was going to be huge and did I want to try out for lead guitar. “You’ll have to cut your hair though,” he said with a voice that was a concoction of gravel and phlegm. He assumed I already wanted to be in his band.
That’s the way Mark was: gruff, forceful, and ridiculously controlling. He was also a damn good songwriter who had a penchant for rhyme-y lyrics that I mostly didn’t like. His moments of brilliance, however, were brighter than the sun.
He had some unknown quantity of faith in me, however, and I don’t know what he saw. I hadn’t been in a band or played electric guitar for nearly five years. I was rusty as hell and really, not very good as a lead player at that point. When he gave me a demo tape that they had made with Lance Sabin (a remarkable guitar player who went on to fame with a Twin Cities masked-metal act called Slave Raider ), I knew I could never play like that. But for Mark that was okay. He wanted something different, something new, something groundbreaking. The bassist at that time, Myron Zuidema, a hell of a player with a bit of a mean streak, nearly laughed me out of the rehearsal. He couldn’t believe I was going to play guitar in this band. I’m pretty sure Mark told him to back off; I was going to get a chance. Myron did eventually warm to me although he was replaced pretty early on by Matt Ahrens, a guy who had never played bass but convinced Dave that he was a bassist.
Mark never had any doubt that his band was going to be bigger than the Beatles. I think this was the bar he set for himself and never, ever lowered. He pushed us, sometimes to the brink. We were never totally sure if he was a mad genius or just plain mad. He and Dave played the Lennon-McCartney roles to a “T.” At the time I was bored with that. I was much more of a rocker at heart even though I was playing acoustic guitars as a solo act. It took me a long time to adjust but before I knew it I had cut off sixteen inches of hair, put my distortion pedal away and was playing new wave pop music in Mark Fredrick And…
We suspected that Mark drank a lot more than we even knew. In the beginning he forbade the use of pot. That was hard for me because I’d been quite a hippie most of my days. Later, Mark would try pot and, like everything he did, he dove in all the way, suddenly hipping himself to Castenada and becoming a deeper, more spiritual person.
Mark married my brother Roly’s ex-girlfriend, Lori Scheidegger. That was a bit of a shock and more than a little uncomfortable for me at times. I just tried to stay clear from all that. They had a son whom Mark loved very much but the difficulties soon became insurmountable and he and Lori divorced. Mark was really flattened by that. He wrote what I consider his best songs then, particularly “What Do I Know,” a track we recorded in our own studio near the end of the band’s days and “Rain on the Pain” recorded at Smart Studios with Butch Vig and Doug Olsen. That one has my favorite guitar solo on it, too.
Mark showed me what it was like to craft a song. Up until that point I considered my songs sent to me and it seemed almost sacrilege to mess with them. He taught me about song structure and how important the departure was. He still preferred the succinct pop song a lot more than I but also made me aware of what constituted good writing. Not to infer that there should be a sameness in music, but an intent to it; a craft. I carry this knowledge still and have been able to apply it to virtually any genre of music.
When we started to record, my knowledge really blossomed. I quickly fell in love with engineering. Mark had experience in all that and I’ll never forget the first session with Jamie Goldsmith in his 16-track studio in Boscobel. This resulted in the “Miss Misunderstood” single for the band. The title is an excellent example of the wordplay that Mark really liked and I felt was so contrived. I never heard music the same way after that first session, however. I learned how important the sounds were to the construct of the song. I learned about sonic spacialization and began to listen for the reverb on the snare and kick, not just the snare and kick. All these things I may never have learned had Mark not stuck by me until most of my rust wore off.
Mark could write a song almost on the spot. The main idea would get fleshed out in practice and it was frequently Mark who would tell everybody to shut up (really hard for a musician to shut his instrument up – especially the fidgety drummers) while he fumbled around on his keyboard. Then, like magic, it would come. Sometimes one of us would hear an embellishment but usually the whole thing came into Mark’s head like a thunderbolt.
We used to practice in this storage unit on the way to McFarland, situated near some oil tanks. Mark actually came to live in it for a time. He was always down-and-out like that, always behind on his rent, always struggling for money. But his dedication to his music – and his goal – was always 100%. We used to hang out in this little supper club bar called Toby’s. One time we were sitting there and suddenly, Mark told everyone to shut up. He strained his ear to hear Patsy Cline on the jukebox singing “I Fall to Pieces” and spent about the next forty-five minutes plugging quarters to hear it over and over. “Oh shit,” I thought, “are we going to play country now?” That would be like the breaking point. But Mark heard it in his head and forced us all to hit the rehearsal room immediately. About an hour later we had the most kick-ass version of “I Fall to Pieces” that I’ve heard. Later, when we went to record it at Smart Studios, Mark and Dave went to Nashville to meet with the song’s composer, Harlan Howard, to get his blessing. Harlan said it was the best version he’d ever heard next to Patsy’s. He let us have it for 50 bucks and it went on to be one of our best recordings, resulting in a video and staying in the set list for the duration of the band.
That was Mark’s genius and what he imparted on me was his steadfast dedication and refusal to give up. He talked about his rock orchestra ideas up until the end (although Brian Setzer kinda beat him to it). He was always gonna come back… as soon as he got his shit together.
Mark died peacefully at home; a blot clot or an aneurism, I’m not even sure. I will miss him and it’s still hard for me to accept that his vision of the And never came to full fruition.