Mark Collie has been cruising the highways of country music through the '90s, but with the release of Tennessee Plates, he puts the pedal to the metal and pulls into the fast lane. Collie has crafted a whole new sound and attitude for his Giant Records debut. In the process, he's made the finest album of his career. "I think I've finally hit my stride as a record maker," drawls the Tennessee native. "It's like being born again. I've had hit records, but I feel better now about making music than I ever have."
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Tennessee Plates is the album critics and fans have long expected from the rockin' honky-tonker with the extraordinary songwriting gift. In the past, Mark's songs have been sung by such stars as Randy Travis, Aaron Tippin, Deborah Allen, Marty Stuart, Martina McBride, Billy Ray Cyrus and Collin Raye. This time, he saved his best for himself.
Mark was born within earshot of America's songwriting capital. As a boy in Waynesboro, Tennessee, southwest of Music City, he heard country music on every area radio station. When he was 12, some local pickers brought him to Nashville so that he could see The Grand Ole Opry up close....and backstage.
"It was like magic," Mark recalls. "It was at the old Ryman Auditorium downtown, and it seemed like a fantasy land. Marty Robbins, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton were there, all of 'em bigger than life. You could just feel the electricity."
Captivated, he began writing songs while only in junior high. By age 16, he was playing in rural Tennessee honky-tonks and seedy beer joints along the Alabama state line where folks wanted their country hard and pure. A stint in the road houses around Memphis added a rockabilly edge to his style. By 1982, he felt he was ready.
Mark and his wife made the big move to Nashville. She got a job as a photo retouch artist; he worked in recording studios as a janitor or carpenter, while trying out his tunes in Music City's clubs. Opry star Ray Pillow and teen singer Kippi Brannon recorded some of his early composing efforts; progress was slow but Mark never gave up on his dream. For the next three years, he built a strong reputation as a nightclub attraction. Word of his performances and his fan following finally reached the ears of Music Row in 1988. Signed by MCA Records, he issued his Hardin County Line collection in 1990. But with his non-traditional looks and rockabilly attitude, Mark faced an uphill fight. His 1990s contemporaries were, and are, carefully groomed cowboys in pressed jeans and Stetsons. He stands for something else.
"I think the most important thing in music is honesty," says Mark. "Sometimes we forget that. I may not wear a hat but I am a hillbilly singer. I am proud of the records we made. We've made some original music."
While continuing his recording success, in 1994 Mark expanded his accomplishments to include spearheading his own charity fund raiser, The Mark Collie Celebrity Race for Diabetes Cure. The event incorporated NASCAR racing, country music and diabetes, which Mark was diagnosed with in 1977. Because of his personal charisma, more than 30 major country music stars and 15 NASCAR legends participated in the first race. The race continues each year to draw more celebrities while bringing awareness of diabetes to the forefront, in addition to raising hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Around this time, James Stroud, producer/president of Giant Records Nashville, began making overtures to lure Mark to the Giant Records' stable. Mark didn't hesitate. "You are either moving forward, standing still or moving backward. And I want to always move forward. Getting a fresh start like this makes you think about that kinda stuff," Mark says of his move to Giant.
Moving forward for Mark also meant exercising his talents as a producer. Credited as co-producer on his Giant debut, Mark also drew from songwriting greats such as John Hiatt, Tony Joe White, Trey Bruce and Glen Burtnick. Seven of the tunes are from Mark's own pen, and represent some of his strongest writing to date.
"I've learned a lot about recording, about making records, about myself," Mark says. The big lesson is to never give up on a dream. Mark Collie has learned that one by heart.
Mark Collie grew up in Waynesboro, Tennessee. He recalls Leon Russell's country album, Hank Wilson Is Back, as a major career influence. "I had the eight-track tape and wore that thing out," he says. "As much as any I ever listened to, that album convinced me I could be a part of country music. Here was Leon Russell, one of the top pop/rock products of the '60's and '70's, yet his country interpretations were so pure. He was being more honest with country music than some of the artists on the country charts at that time. And that made me think, you know, that is what I want to be about."
By the time he moved to Nashville in 1982, Collie had become a favorite in clubs all over the Southeast. In Nashville, he took time to hone his songwriting skills. and eventually had songs cut by Aaron Tippin, Randy Travis, Martina McBride, Collin Raye and Marty Stuart. Though he achieved success as a song writer, Collie was convinced that he should be the one singing his songs. He immediately began showcasing his music at the Douglas Corner Cafe, and it wasn't long before word traveled the six blocks from the popular club to Music Row.
Collie s first album, Hardin County Line, and his follow-up project, Born And Raised In Black And White, won critical acclaim, helped to establish him as one of the industry's most Popular video artists and introduced him to country music's rapidly growing radio audience.
His self-titled third album, Mark Collie, produced two Top 5 singles "Even The Man in The Moon Is Cryin'" and "Born To Love You". When asked to explain the overwhelming popularity of "Even The Man In The Moon Is Cryin'", Collie says:
"Who knows..timing, maybe the stars lined up. I'd like to think it was because Don Cook and I wrote something wonderfully deep that has some significance in our society, but the reality is, it's a love song that people can sing along to."
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