On November 27, 2001, Mack sat down with a friend in Bethesda, Maryland, for an interview.  The excerpts below will provide a deeper look at Mack’s thoughts about his life, his music, his career, and other fun stuff.   The interviewer was Karen Ronne Tupek, who has also taken many of the recent photos and designed this website.

KAREN:  OK, are you excited?  (Grinning, Mack rolls his eyes)  First of all, I just want to preface this by saying, this is just a conversation and it's never going to be shown in its entirety, anyway.  I was thinking about two purposes.  One, I wanted to get a little verbal dialogue going that we can splice in with your video stuff so that you can tell your own story.  The other idea, that I think I mentioned to you before, was perhaps, if you wanted to have an auxiliary site  with fan pictures, and we can include an edited transcript of the interview so people can learn more about you.  That's why some of these questions are not intended for the video, but are just things I was thinking about or curious about.  And some of the questions, I already know the answers to, but I'll ask anyway. 

MACK:  Do I have to give the same ones?  

KAREN:  And you can go ahead tell the stories you tell from the stage, if that works.  Some of my questions are not so much questions, as comments.  You can just respond or you can just say "pass."   

MACK:  Am I allowed just a certain amount of "passes?"

KAREN:  Yes, . . . three passes.

MACK:  Three passes.  I'll have to use them wisely.  (laughs)

KAREN:  So, it's November 27, 2001.  I'm sitting here with singer songwriter Mack Bailey and I'm going to ask him some questions. 

 

"Mack is very intelligent, articulate, warm, funny, and compassionate.  With his voice from Heaven and wonderful stage charisma, he moves audiences from tears to laughter.  He has a great sense about his place in music, and about music's place in him - it is in his soul."

 

Karen Ronne Tupek,

Supporter

 

 

Early Music Development:

 

KAREN:  What did you / your family do about your musical talent and how did you decide?

 MACK:  They were very supportive and I played little private things, for schools and organizations in town, but the big opportunity came when I was 15.  My dad asked me to be part of a show called “1776” that the community theater was putting on and he said it’s something he wanted to do with me.

I said, “That’s great. Who else of my friends is going to be in it?” and he said I would be the only one my age, everybody else would be adults and I would be playing the part of the courier.  And I told him I wasn’t interested.  He said that this part was going to be really good for me and it would mean a lot to him to have us do this together.  So I said, "OK,” I’d go to one rehearsal and see how it goes. 

So I walked into the rehearsal, and I knew everybody there; it’s a very small town and it was all adults that I highly respected – it was comfortable around them.  But as soon as I walked in the door, the music director, a lady by the name of Leah Levin, was talking to all these people.  She said, “Excuse me,” and she just wheeled, her way through the crowd (she was in a wheel chair. I was never sure what her illness was, but she never saw opening night; she passed away before it opened) until she got to me and she said, “you’re the one I want to meet.”   She gave me just such a wonderful feeling that I just wanted to give it back to her.  So I gave her everything I had, and it was a great opportunity. 

The director of that show was a drama faculty member of the North Carolina School of the Arts and he told me about the School.  So I auditioned for the North Carolina School of the Arts and I got in.  I got a bachelor of music in voice performance.

KAREN:  How did you get your nickname of "Mack"? 

MACK:  My official name is Hugh McMillan Bailey, and I was named after my grandfather and dad agreed to let me be named after my grandfather if, and only if, I was called Mack and it was spelled with a “k”.

KAREN:  I believe I heard you say that your brother got a guitar, but you ended up playing it. 

MACK:  Well, my older brother was two years older and he wanted to be a musician, but he had this guitar that he didn’t really stick with.  My parents gave him a snare drum and a cymbal, not a full drum set, but just a snare drum and a cymbal and used to stay downstairs and play.  I guess in his mind it must have sounded phenomenal but anywhere else in the house, it was just terrible, and he used to put headphones on and play this one snare drum and one cymbal, and he thought he was great. 

KAREN:  What instruments did you learn to play? 

MACK:  Trumpet, but I haven’t played it in a long time and I played all the brass instruments when I was in high school - euphonium, baritone horn, and I always had guitar and piano, and I played a little banjo.  I don’t play banjo like a banjo player, but I play banjo more like a guitar.

KAREN:  Was the banjo the reason you were originally brought to the Hard Travelers?

 

MACK:  The reason I was brought to the Hard Travelers was because Kenn Roberts broke his thumb and they needed another guitar player until his thumb healed, so I just stood back and played guitar.  I did play banjo between the time that Ed Windsor left and Mike Munford was brought in.  Those were very dark times. (Laughs) 

KAREN:  You've often said that John Denver taught you how to sing a song. What was your earliest musical influence?

MACK:  John was my greatest influence because I literally learned the guitar by learning all of John’s music; “Leaving on a Jet Plane” was the first one; then “For Baby (For Bobbie)” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders.”  I always enjoyed learning his music because he would always introduce a new chord or a new way to make a chord.  I could play the same song for hours and hours and it would be different to me every time.  

KAREN:  I saw in one of these interviews in a newspaper article that you also talked about the Limeliters as an early influence.

MACK:  The Limeliters were a great influence on me singing-wise and as far as harmony.  The Limeliters and the New Christy Minstrels were two of the groups I just wanted to be a part of since I was nine years old.  And I did get to be a Limeliter one night, which was a lot of fun.  I’ve always wanted to be in the New Christy Minstrels.  The Limeliters taught me how to harmonize, how to be expressive when you’re singing, and to have fun.  I guess that’s one of the greatest things I’ve learned from these artists, like John Denver and the Limeliters, is - to make good music, be sincere and honest, and have fun.

KAREN:  My next question had to do with the North Carolina School for the Performing Arts, which you touched on already.  How did they teach you to "become the best performer I could become," I believe are your words?

MACK:  I guess when I first went there, I learned strictly classical music; everything I did was classical music – at school.  I was still playing in clubs and bars on weekends and at night and I was playing coffeehouse performances on campus and it was a very good time.  My teacher when I was there was Bill Beck.  He was just great; we became friends, not like a teacher - student.  He said, “If you want to be a classical tenor, there are no tenors coming out right now.  I can get you a residency at an opera company and you can see what you want to do.”

I remember going to my room and, with opera, or rather oratorio, on one side of me, and my guitar on the other.  And I just listened to the music and I sang and just tried to experience both of them and the guitar won out.  And I let him know that. 

So, from then on out he would say, he said, "OK, we’re going to work on some classical stuff.  But in the meantime, I want you to bring your guitar to your voice lessons and we’ll work on with you on how to sing the best you can sing with your guitar."  And that just gave me the best respect for him because all of sudden he moved away from where he wasn’t teaching because of his title, he was teaching me because of me.  And I really respected that.  A lot of teachers would have said, "Fine, that’s great, but when you come in here, this is what you’re doing."

I was kind of burning out on The School of the Arts after being there for high school, and I was kind of at a point where I wanted to be a college guy and the School of the Arts only had about 680 students.  And that was from sixth grade through seniors in college and it was very small and very intimate and in some ways I guess I was working my way up and people knew me because I was seen around because I was trying to be involved.   Everything from being involved in the housing, RA, and a bunch of stuff, and I really enjoyed it.  But I felt like there was a calling to be a college guy, so I transferred to UNC – Chapel Hill.

When I went to Chapel Hill, and I took business courses, I didn't really do that well at school there; as it turned out, I wasn't really into it.  But I made some great friends.  That's where I met the Blue Moon Saloon Band, which is the group I was in for the two years and we made some great music.  That's where the song "Rock Me Grandpa" came from.  Kevin Brown was in that group.  So going to Chapel Hill actually taught me how to be in a band, taught me how to work with other people and gave some great music.  We had a great time; we really had a ball.  That was a really good move.  I was there two years and then I went back to The School of the Arts.  I guess I just realized I wasn’t a college kind of guy and I was a musician. 

As it turned out, going back to the School of the Arts was a good move.  A lot of things started happening and my voice started really developing and just the ability to do shows and to pursue and follow my dreams, it was a great move.

KAREN:  When do you feel your voice reached your highest potential?

MACK:  It's not there yet.

KAREN:  When you are singing a song, do you think during singing about the process of pronouncing your words, like emphasizing your "T's"?

MACK:  There are times.  There are times it's more obvious to me than others that I'm really thinking about it, but I think for the most part I really concentrated on it so hard in the early years that I kind of hope that it just happens second nature.  Of all the compliments I've ever received, it has nothing to do with my voice; it's the fact that people come up to me and say they heard every single word I said.  And that means a lot because I get frustrated when I hear performers and I don't understand the words.  There's definitely time for fun music, but if I'm listening to something where they're trying to say something and I can't understand it, they're not going to have my attention very long.

KAREN:  Since you are from the South, I'm amazed that you don't have a particularly noticeable Southern accent.  How did you lose it?

MACK:  I had a diction teacher; she was little German lady and she had a ruler.  And I would go in there and read and whenever I would let go with a little Southern diphthong, she would slap me on the hand with it and I would come out with welts.   She was great; she made me think.   It was like shock therapy. (Laughs)  Whap!

KAREN:  What is your octave range?

MACK:  Somewhere around two octaves; that's my full voice range. 

KAREN:  I really like your low voice, too.  It's very full-bodied - like wine.  You have a very full-bodied voice.

MACK:  Full bodied. (laughs)

KAREN:  How did you end up in New Hampshire at a resort hotel as the in-house entertainer?  Tell me about your time up there.

MACK:  Other people from The School of the Arts had gone up to work at the Mount Washington Hotel.  They had a program called the Brettonians; we were singing waiters.  So I auditioned, got the position; went up and spent the first summer, and we waited tables.  We did cabaret shows and sang during the dinner, after the entrée's were served.  They had a little five-piece orchestra.  It was a lot of fun.  

I started playing guitar. And they hired me as the in-house entertainer.  I stayed up there and played at a club they called Fabyan's and Princess Lounge.  It was a great time to be young and single and have a lot of fun.  It was a good time.

KAREN: You must have learned to ski up there. 

MACK:  I knew how to ski before, but definitely skied a lot up there.

Hard Travelers:

KAREN:  While you were in New Hampshire you were invited to join the Hard Travelers?  How did that happen?

MACK:  It was after I left New Hampshire.  Well, maybe not, I think I did go back. 

KAREN:  How did they ever find you?

MACK:  A friend of mine, Patrick Arnst, who was a chef, at the Mount Washington Hotel, he and I became friends up there.  After his summer, he came to Maryland to open a restaurant called "Patrick's" in Millersville, and when I would travel back and forth between New Hampshire and North Carolina, I would stop in and say “hi,” and spend a couple of days.  One day when I was traveling back and forth, he asked how I was doing.  And I said I was getting kind of tired of the resort life.  And he said, "Well, if you want to hang out here for awhile and be my bar manager and my in-house entertainer, here, . . . " so I moved to Maryland and was his manager for the restaurant and the bar and played there. 

One day I was approached about a concert for Cystic Fibrosis, a little radio benefit that they were putting on, and they asked me if I could run across the street and play a couple of songs.  And so when I went over there and when I walked in the door, the Hard Travelers were playing.  It was their first time in front of people in 23 years; they were using it as a warm-up before they had their first performance at the King of France (Tavern in Annapolis) as a reunion.  I walked in and listened to them and just loved hearing the music.  They finished their first set and I got up and said I was from North Carolina also, and Buddy and I really hit it off. 

Then, while I was playing at Patrick's, Kenn Roberts would come by and sit in and listen.  I went down and saw them one time (in Annapolis).  Then I actually left the area and went to North Carolina for a while and I got a call from Kenn inviting me to come up and do a couple of songs as a cameo for their first year anniversary.  And that's when I met a lot of people, like Paul Peterson, it was one of the first times I met Lauren, my wife. 

KAREN:  How did the Hard Travelers end up bringing you into the group?

MACK:  Kenn and I were out skiing in Aspen.  In the lodge, he came up and said, "I need to ask a favor."  And I said, "Sure."  And he held up his thumb and his hand was in a cast.  And he said, "I can't play guitar for awhile, so I need someone to play guitar for the Travelers; would you do it?"  And I said, "I would love to."  

KAREN:  I'm surprised that when they first heard your voice, they didn't just say, "You're IT!"

MACK:  They had their own group going.  

KAREN:  What sort of jobs have you taken over the years to supplement the music?

MACK:  (laughs) Bar Manager.  (laughs) Substitute teacher. (laughs)  Definitely sold everything in the world.  I worked at Homestead Gardens for a while.  And I had my own company, "Herbs and Thyme" where I sold fresh cut culinary herbs to restaurants.

KAREN:  Did you grow them, yourself? 

MACK:  No, I had greenhouses grow them.  I would call in my order and pick them up and deliver them.  I had a lot of great clients, Harbor Court Hotel, Orioles Park at Camden Yards, the Camden Club, and just a lot of really nice restaurants. 

KAREN:  Wild!  Speaking of Camden Yards, how did you come to the attention of the Baltimore Orioles to be able to sing the National Anthem?

MACK:  Just submitted a tape. 

KAREN:  So you also performed for Maryland Governor Schaefer?

MACK:  I performed for the governor at a lot of Chesapeake Bay functions with the Hard Travelers.  I did a song-writing workshop with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. 

John Denver:

KAREN:  You met John Denver just a few weeks before he died?  Were you excited at seeing your musical idol?

MACK:  Oh, absolutely!  We were doing the concert for the 10th anniversary of the Cystic Fibrosis Concerts at the Baltimore Arena.  We'd been trying to get him to do some of the earlier shows, but the pieces weren't falling together.  And it was very appropriate that it was the 10th and it was sort of special anyway, and having John there just brought it all together. 

The Orioles always play "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" at the seventh inning stretch.  John was asked to go to the ball game and just make an appearance during the seventh inning stretch.  So that was when I first met him, in the Governor's Box at Orioles Park.  It was a very short casual thing, but it was very, very special.

KAREN:  Can you tell it like you do in concert?

MACK:  I mean, I joke about it, but I was extremely nervous.  I've said dumb things and embarrassed myself, and you know you want to say something special.  You just want it to be the greatest sentence you ever say and you know for a fact it's not going to come out the way you want it to, but you find yourself wanting to do it anyway.  It's that feeling that, "I'm going to make a fool of myself and I just have to do it; how's the best way to do it?"  I always kid about the fact that I wanted to give myself a little bit of advantage so I did wait until he took a bite of something so that I felt like I could just say something and move away and have it be like a blur. 

But it was really nice.  He remembered he knew my name because of hearing my versions of "Potter's Wheel" and "Tenderly Calling."  So, it was really nice that he acknowledged me.

KAREN:  How do you suppose he got a hold of your versions?

MACK:  Cherry Lane Music people, Mike Connelly from Cherry Lane Music told me later that he played those cuts for John.

KAREN:  How is it that you came to sing with him?

MACK:  We opened for him.  The Hard Travelers have always been a part of the Cystic Fibrosis Concerts, and we always open it.  And then with him coming in, we have a great fiddle player, Jon Glik, and so Kenn asked John if he would do "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" if we provided the fiddle player.  And John, said, "Sure, yeah, we'll do that; I haven't done that in a while, but yeah, sure."

So, at sound check, he said, "I don't even remember all the words."  So I wrote them all down for him.  And he said, "For sound check, I need to save my voice, so Kenn, you sing the verses and then I'll sing during the show."  And Kenn said, "I don't know all the verses, but Mack does."  So John said, "OK, Mack, you sing the verses during sound check and I'll sing them during the show." 

At that point, I still was excited about the show, but I’m thinking, “This is what it all comes down to.  This is everything.  My career has now come full circle.”  So I sang my heart out during that sound check.

And when it was all over, he said, "That was great.   Why don't you and I just trade verses."  He said, " I'll do this and you do that."   It was unbelievable!

And then during the show, I actually messed up some stuff, but a lot of it was the fact that I was just so pumped up.  I just stumbled through words, and he came in on top of me to get me through, but as soon as I got it, he backed off and let me finish it.  It was just really cool. 

KAREN:  Was any recording made of that? 

MACK:  Some bootleg things. 

KAREN:  You have told me in the past that you had discussed with him maybe teaming up in the future.

MACK:  Well, it was going to be with the Hard Travelers, but he had said that he really liked my voice and as far as the Hard Travelers, we were planning other concerts and other opportunities.  I didn't really get to talk to him much that night, because when he finishes a show he's usually surrounded by so many other people, I didn't really get to talk.  A lot of it, the communication, was done through Kenn.

KAREN:  What was your reaction to the news of his death?

MACK:  Total shock and disbelief.  I was sitting watching "Good Morning, America" 'cuz I didn't know about it the afternoon and evening it happened and it was the next morning when the news came over Good Morning America", and just remember sitting on the bed and I found myself just saying, "Oh, my God.  Oh, . . . my God!"  It was just three weeks after I sang with him. 

From that event, I went into a funk that lasted about a year.  It was not strictly because of John, but it set off a whole series of events.  I would say that I've been very fortunate that I had never really lost people close to me.  I mean I'd lost some older relatives, but I'm not sure how close I was to them.  But starting with John, I lost six people, just one after the other, that I was very close to, or I happened to be very close to the situation.  Buddy Renfro was one of them.  And I just kind of felt lost for awhile.  I was angry that I had the chance to sing with John and then he was gone.  But then I realized that I was pretty lucky to have been able to sing with him at all, so I felt fortunate rather than angry.

KAREN:  And it led to a song?

MACK:  Eventually.  The song "Just Because."  It wasn't anything that was inspired right then and there.  I think I just did a whole lot of soul searching.  And a lot of personal issues started coming out.  And the more I focused on Buddy and John, the more the song came into focus.  I collaborated with Tom Paxton to finish it. 

KAREN:  This is a question I've been dying to ask you and I really meant to ask you this question prior to this interview.  I can just imagine just how exciting this must have been.  So my question is:  Can you describe your feelings and emotions when in the "Cellar Door Gang Remembers John Denver tribute concert" at the Birchmere, you first sang with John Denver's musicians, singing his songs using the same arrangements; essentially hearing in the monitor what he heard when he sang, but with your voice.  What was that like?

MACK:   It really was overwhelming.  I mean, it really was, ah. . I didn't feel like I belonged there.  I was in awe of working with them.  Having Dick Kniss there was just . . .

KAREN:  Peter, Paul and Mary's, as well as John’s, bass player . . .

MACK:  . . . was incredible.  And Steve Weisberg.   Incredible.  These are guys that for the longest time, when I looked at the "An Evening with John Denver" album and opened it up and had that big picture of everybody on stage with the orchestra and the screen behind them.  And I spent so many hours just visualizing myself up there with those guys and listening to the album and just wanting to be a part of it; wanting to be there.  And then all of a sudden to actually find myself kind of in that position was amazing. 

And there was a time when I had kind of pulled away from John's music; it seemed too produced for me.  It wasn't his simple honest music that had brought me in.  And there was a time when songs like "Annie's Song" and even "Country Roads", you know, people just asked for it over and over to play it, you kind of get sick of it and you want to play your stuff and other stuff and you get tired of having those requests.  And all of a sudden, when you're singing these songs and you're singing with the guys that actually developed them and made those songs what I loved, they became real; they became very real.  It brought me back to what caught me the first time.  They were great; were very supportive and wonderful people, and still great to talk to.  It was a great experience just meeting them.

KAREN:  Well, according to Mary Ledford, Steve Weisberg was quoted as saying that they had "gathered the whole band together but they were missing the lead singer.  But when he heard you sing, he knew it was going to be OK." 

MACK:  He was real nice.  It was intimidating singing with these guys.  We were there for different reasons.  They were there because they worked with John; loved John; missed John.  I was there because I just had a chance to sing with him. And I just wanted to sing the very best I could.

KAREN:  You were there because of your talent, too.

MACK:  It was a great experience.  And it was the last night Buddy was ever on stage; was the last night that Buddy ever really felt good. 

I was under the weather that night.  After that night, I came down with something and I was in bed for four days after that.  But, Buddy left the next day to go down to Aruba.  And that was when his cancer really hit him.

KAREN:  He looked so healthy that night, I never would have known.

MACK:  So, it was sort of a bitter-sweet thing.

KAREN:  I was shocked when just a few months later, what was it, April that he died?

MACK:  May.

KAREN:  In addition to singing with this group of John Denver's musicians, you also made a recording with some of them in Nashville.  Can you talk about that?

MACK:  It was Pete Huttlinger, Chris Nole, and Kris O'Connor produced it, and Jim Horn was on it.  And I also had Tom Roady on percussion and Dennis Belfield on bass.  It was a great experience.  It was a different kind of thing for me, because it was designed to . . . I mean, we were hoping this was going to be an album that someone was really going to pick up.  I completely turned it over to Kris O'Connor.  He was the producer.  Pretty much I was the vocalist.  I did arrangements.  I told him how I wanted them.  It was a great experience working with him, but I didn't play guitar and it was a little different for me.  I'm extremely pleased with how it turned out.  I'm happy with the choices of songs.  I'm kind of disappointed that I wasn't able to make more happen with it. 

KAREN:  For that first tribute concert, how were you chosen to sing the John Denver song that has become one of your signature pieces, "Eagles and Horses?"

MACK:  Kenn Roberts just said this is a great song for you to do.  At that point, I did not know the song.  

KAREN:  Now, when you have to learn a song like that quickly, like that John Denver song, do you pick it up by just listening to it on the record or do you pick it up through sheet music?

MACK:  Both.  I listen to recordings over and over again so that I can just get it in my system, but I do consult the charts and sheet music, so that I can make sure that I am doing things in the right places and getting specifics down. 

But it was funny.  You talk about learning songs at the last minute.  When I sang with the Limeliters, we did seven songs.  They had a new CD coming out, so they were doing all new songs.  They only did one song I knew, and I had one week to learn the words, the harmonies and the guitar parts and their guitar player wasn't coming in so I was going to be doing the guitar lead work, also.   I'm pretty proud of that, just being able to learn the songs and being able to get up on stage and perform them like I'd known them all my life, because when there are three voices, and three people on stage, and three people playing instruments, you can't hide. 

KAREN:  Plus they already have their parts worked out.  And you have to fit in exactly where there was the missing link.

MACK:  You don't want to mess them up. 

KAREN:  You're on a World Folk Music Association annual concert CD singing that song, “Global Carnivale” from that CD.

MACK:  Right, right.  It's funny how the Limeliters had said that when Red Grammer left to pursue his solo children's music, Alex said that they always wanted me to join the group.  But it was one of those things where, I guess, East Coast and West Coast wasn't going to work.

KAREN:  I could really see you fitting in there.

MACK:  But, also at that point, they weren't playing as much.  They played a whole lot with Red.   If they would have been playing a lot, it would have justified it. 

KAREN:  You seem to be a major star of the annual John Denver Tribute concerts in Aspen?  Well, one of them.  Are you still enjoying doing them?  Do you feel too tied into John Denver's music and feel a need to break that association?

MACK:  I do enjoy doing them.  You want it to get better; you don't want it to just be the same thing that happens year after year.   You don't want to get to the point where it feels like it's getting old.   I do enjoy doing them.   He's a part of everything I do. 

KAREN:  And that has certainly brought you to a larger audience.

MACK:  Oh, absolutely.  It's given me a chance to meet a lot of wonderful people.  It's been great. 

Performing:

KAREN:  What is your favorite venue to play?

MACK:  I enjoy the Wheeler Opera House.  It just feels special when you're there.  I like playing anywhere new.  And I've enjoyed every place I've ever performed for various reasons.  There's a great place down in Wilmington, Thalian Hall, where I went with Chet Atkins; that was a gorgeous theater. 

KAREN:  What is your favorite way of playing - maybe they are all your favorites - with the Hard Travelers, with other folk performers, or solo?

MACK:  I love playing solo, not because I don't want somebody else up there with me, but, it lets me concentrate on certain things.  It let's me concentrate on reading an audience, and interacting more one on one.  It makes me feel one on one with the audience.  When you have more performers up there, it definitely brings in a whole other factor of interacting, depending and trusting.  Not just trusting them, and depending on them, but depending on yourself and trusting yourself to do what you're supposed to do.  So I enjoy groups. 

The Hard Travelers are a lot of fun.  I love working with musicians that fill out the sound and are committed to making the music and the show the priority, and not worrying about your individual talents and showing off what you can do, but rather showcasing the music.  I want the audience to walk out of there just totally energized and exhausted at the same moment.  I want them to feel like they've just been on a wonderful journey.  I want to be with musicians that want to share that.  I don't want just somebody who can go out and play flashy; that's not going to stay with people as much as the whole picture.

KAREN:  I'll tell you, that Music from the Mountains concert in Annapolis was wonderful.  It had a great energy that night.

MACK:  It was a lot of fun and, everybody, once again, was on the same page.  No one had separate agendas.  We just went with the idea of giving the best show we could. 

KAREN:  It was very nice the way people moved in and out of the performance, some people left the stage and then you had a little solo time and then people wandered back.  It was just nice, the flow.

MACK:  You have to give Kenn credit.   Kenn puts together the layout of the show and then we fine-tune it.  I give him a lot of credit for that. 

Performing with Others:

KAREN:  Primarily through the Cystic Fibrosis Fundraising Concerts every summer, but also through other opportunities, you've had the opportunity to work with some of the best and top talent in the pop/country/folk music business.  How has this influenced your music?

MACK:   It influences me even more as a performer than it does my music.  I'm not a good audience member because I just study and I analyze, not critically, but because I'm learning.  I want to see what works for somebody; I want to see what makes them comfortable.  I want to see what they are doing.  A lot of what I do is off the cuff, but if it works, I'd like to be able to use it again.  And if I use it again, it's got to be fresh; it can never come across like, "oh, here comes that line again."  And I hope it doesn't.  Somebody out there may say, "Oh, it does come across that way."  (laughs)    So, that's what I'm watching to learn.  I'm a student.  I 'm a terrible audience member. 

KAREN:  Please talk about some of the more famous artists with whom you've worked.  Give me snapshot impressions of:

·        Bill Danoff - great writer, very easy to work with.  I enjoy learning from him.

·        The Kennedy's - Pete's been a favorite of mine since I came to this area.  Maura's just a sweetheart.  I enjoy their energy and just love being near them.

·        Brooks & Dunn - very nice guys, they put on a show for their audience, definitely making sure the audience gets their money's worth is top priority for them.  We worked with them in Baltimore and we worked with them in Minneapolis and they remembered us by name and it made us feel good.  It might have been that someone came on the bus and said, "OK guys, they're standing out there and here are their names," but it was still nice.

·        Randy Travis - he was a very quiet guy.  But I did get to talk to him a little bit.  Very nice.  Great show for his audience.  I'm learning why people are who they are.  Whether you care for their music and want to listen to them, there is a reason that these people are at the top of their game.

·        Alabama - I really enjoy them.  They are just really nice guys, very easy to talk to very professional. Musically, they don't see themselves as above anybody else; they definitely are willing to talk to you about anything.

·        Charlie Byrd - I miss him big time.  I regret the fact that we didn't get to do more stuff, especially recording.  I did get to do one great show with him where he had put some poems to music and he asked me to sing them.  We did a recital together and it was a great honor. 

·        Chet Atkins - very nice.  He's just your average guy, backstage.  Very easy to talk to.  Not flashy at all.  The music he made - we’d sit back stage and watch him.  He never looked like he was doing anything fancy but you'd close your eyes and you'd hear all kinds of music coming from him.

·        Emmylou Harris - very nice, a wonderful lady.   She put on a great show; just a wonderful lady.  But, I'm one of those that I introduce myself over and over again, not in a bad way, but when I see somebody, I kind of remind them of who I am just so they don't have to reach for names.  I don't want to put them on the spot.   And I think it was like the second or third time I said my name, she finally looked at me and said, "Mack, I know who you are."  (laughs) 

·        Kathy Mattea -  a real sweetheart.   We were playing our show at Pier 6, and while we were doing our set, I looked over in the wings and there she was standing there watching our set, which was really quite flattering.  And when we came off the stage, she said very complimentary things.  But she's very easy to talk to, very nice lady.

·        Tom Rush - super guy.  We talked to each other back stage at one of the World Folk Music Association concerts.  Crazy to talk to, but very nice.

·        Tom Paxton - just a genius as far as words and songs and emotions.  Very easy to talk to and work with. 

·        Mary Chapin Carpenter - We don't have a real close relationship, but it's always nice when you can say, "Hi, Chapin," and she'll say back, "Hi, Mack."  That's always a good thing.

·        Kenny Rogers - He put on a great show.  I never really got to actually meet him.  But he put on a great show and he really impressed me with his ability to work an audience.  I was expecting a very hokey, old time country show, but he really made me sit up and take notice.

·        The Oak Ridge Boys - super nice guys, very easy to talk to.  They put on a great show.  We've worked with them a couple of times.  The last time we worked with them, actually we sat down and had dinner together.

·        Vince Gill and Amy Grant - they are very nice, easy to talk to.

·        John Denver – He was concerned about the Hard Travelers and our soundcheck.  Very professional.

Songwriting:

KAREN:  I'm going to ask a series of questions that are basically getting at the same topic about songwriting.  What is your process for writing a song?  What gives you your ideas for songs?  Do the words come first?  Is it just a phrase that starts the creative process or an event or thought that you develop?  Does it come right away or do you re-work it?  Does a song come easily and quickly?  How do you approach putting the tune to the words?  Does it flow or do you labor to get words to rhyme and the music to work with it?

MACK: Each song is different.  There is no set way.  A lot of time, a phrase or saying will just kind of click.  A thought or even a melody, or just a musical line will spark something and then the more I hum it or I whistle it, or whatever, then a phrase will fall into that.  Sometimes I'll say, hey, I like that, and I'll work on it a little more, or it's just a passing thought and it's gone.  But there's no set pattern at all.  Inspiration comes from everywhere. 

KAREN:  And you talked at one concert about writing a song while stuck in a traffic jam on New York Avenue, I think it was.

MACK:  We did a CD for Maryland called "Bay Folk" and the Hard Travelers were on that and my agent at the time, McShane Glover, was actually the one who helped put that together for the Governor's office.  And she kept saying, "write a song for this, write a song for this."  And I kept trying and trying and nothing was happening.  And then I was coming out of Washington, DC on Route 50 and traffic wasn't going anywhere.  All of a sudden, a song popped into my head and I started writing it, called, "Charting Future's Course."  I wrote while I was sitting there; got paper and started scribbling it down.

KAREN:  Was Barbara Dare a real person who inspired that song?

MACK:   Barbara Dare was not a real person.  (laughs)  This is where the songwriter gives away their little tricks.  Ah, I was living in Annapolis at a very nice private community and I was at the pool.  I had just worked with Steve Gillette for the first time and, hearing him sing "Darcy Farrow". . .   That's another thing about working with Bill Danoff.  (I'm regressing a little bit about these people.)  When you hear these original people sing the song, it gives the songs a whole new meaning.   So, working with Steve Gillette, I just wanted to write a song like "Darcy Farrow."   I went back to my North Carolina roots and I wanted to write something about North Carolina.  I couldn't come up with a name I liked, so I was thinking of Virginia Dare, who was the first person born in the United States in North Carolina, but I didn't want to say Virginia Dare.  I didn't want it to be a definite person.  The life guard at the pool happened to be this cute little blonde named Barbara, and I just kind of put it together. (smiles)

KAREN:  Three of your more recent compositions, "Just Because", "When I Dream", and "Loving Hand", all seem to be, not only related to old age or dying, but also written from the perspective of the other person.

MACK:  I find myself enjoying meeting people a lot more, listening to their story, rather than always being the one wanting to tell mine.  That's the way it used to be, trying to make something happen, you're the only one who's tooting your horn.  All of sudden, one day you realize that you want to find out something about somebody else.   I'm realizing more and more how touched I am by other people.

KAREN:  Especially with what you are doing, now.  One more question about songwriting.  Tell me about Tim Malchak.  I've looked at his web site; I think I looked at another web site of his last spring, but his new web site is different. 

MACK:  He is a wonderful songwriter and a wonder singer -  a great voice.  We've been good friends for a number of years.  He had some good success in the country music field and we just had a good bond.  We've written two songs together.  He's made a big change in his life now, going more toward contemporary Christian.  (phone rings and grinning, Mack whispers at camera "we'll take a break, right now.")

Other Music:

KAREN:  Besides folk and acoustic music, what other forms of music do you enjoy singing?

MACK:  Enjoy singing?   Um.  I do enjoy singing oratorio work and choral work.  I just love music, I love hearing music while I'm actually being a part of singing it, of hearing it live around me.  I'm not very good with categorizing music.  I mean, it's all just music to me.  The only people who categorize music are people who are trying to market it and sell it.

KAREN:  When you sang "Elijah", that was just gorgeous.  And yet you were just sight reading it, to some extent. 

MACK:  One of the pieces I'd never done before, so I was learning that one.  I'd done some of the pieces from "Elijah" and it's just a gorgeous piece of music. 

KAREN:  When relaxing or driving, what kind of music do you listen to?

MACK:  Anything from public radio, to nothing, to a wide variety of CD's.  Right now I'm listening to Bill Staines.  I love listening to his music.  It all depends on what mood I’m in.  If I'm in the mood for hearing particular voices, I'll go after that.  If I'm more interested in the song writing aspects, how to get a particular idea across, musically, then I listen to a wide variety.

KAREN:  Are you aware of the effect that your voice and music have on people, how it touches people?  How does that affect you?

MACK:  I don't think about that and I don't focus on that, but I enjoy singing.  I guess when I'm singing, whether I'm in front of an audience or whether I’m doing the nursing home work one on one, or whether I'm just singing at home, it's not even a question of whether I like it or whether it sounds good.   To me, . . . I compare it to breathing and that's when I feel I'm the most complete.  

KAREN:  How do you feel about all of your faithful fans?  Do you ever feel that it's ever a burden?  Or does it rejuvenate you?

MACK:  There are times when it rejuvenates me.  It's never a burden.  I guess I'm more or less just floored that they would put that energy into it; it's very touching. It's very flattering. (smiles)

KAREN:  What was your most memorable performance?  Best and/or worst?

MACK:  Humm . . . Oh, man; that's a hard one.  Working with John Denver might be the most memorable, but then again, there's the first time I sang the National Anthem for the Baltimore Orioles, or singing with the Limeliters. The first time I sang music therapy. 

One of the first times I played (music therapy in a nursing home or Alzheimer’s unit), I played for a group, and I remember just kind of playing my songs and having fun.  And I remember a gentleman, who was singing along with "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."  When I finished, the administrator called me over and introduced me to him, his name was Mr. Dreissen and we talked for a minute, and I found out later that that was the first time he'd spoken in three months.  And the feeling that gave me was just incredible.  And we had some great visits after that. 

Recently, I did a show for an Alzheimer's Unit and I don't know what it was.  One of the activities people was in there with me and she was doing all the interacting with the residents while I played, as far as getting them up and dancing. Watching them respond to the music, I remember when I finished that hour performance, for I guess maybe 15 Alzheimer's patients, I felt more energized and more empowered that I did with any concert I've ever given.  And this was just in a small room with very developed Alzheimer's patients.  It was just incredible.

KAREN:  Do you ever get particularly nervous before going on stage?  Does it depend on the size of the audience?

MACK:  I don't get nervous because I think when you get nervous, it's because you aren't prepared.  And definitely, my goal is to be prepared.  If people are going to give me their time, when they could be doing other things, then I need to show them the common courtesy of being prepared.  Bottom line. 

KAREN:  So, what was it like to sing the National Anthem?

MACK:  THAT was a scary feeling, because I didn't know how to prepare for it.  You're all of a sudden singing in an outdoor stadium, singing a difficult song, a cappella, and you're trying to remember your note, because it has every range there is.  And the whole time, you’re trying to remember your note, they're glaring rock and roll music in the stands, and it's hard to keep your note.  So you just don't feel like you're in your element.  So, I was extremely nervous with that.  But, once you get going, once you get used to everything, the time delay, the sights, the sounds - it's fun. (Karen points to his face).  Yeah, your big mug up there on the screen which you can't look at.  That's the one thing you can't do.

KAREN:  Some in the music business have tried to steer your music in a different direction, but you've stayed true to your musical roots and style.  Has this been a difficult thing to do?

MACK:  To stay, no.  It might have cost me some opportunities, but I guess in the long run, I enjoy waking up knowing I'm me. 

KAREN:  Popular in the 60's and early 70's, folk music fell out of favor with the general public, somewhat.  It has been making a bit of a comeback in recent years.  Do you see it becoming as big again, in our popular culture?

MACK:  It's hard to say about that word "folk music" only because even the rock bands that the kids are listening to now, are doing a form of folk music.  I don't know what's called what, anymore.  That why when people describe what I do, I say the word contemporary folk only because I think that's what they want to hear.  But, I prefer just to say, music.  I think we can categorize it and label it and that gives a pre-conceived notion what they are going to hear.  That can be a negative as much as a positive.

KAREN:  Please talk about singing for children - special concerts, etc.

MACK:  Children make me a little nervous because they look beyond.  The adults will be forgiving; you can manipulate adults at times.  But kids, they are at face value.  They say what's on their mind and that can be a little nerve wracking, and sometimes I feel more nervous in front of kids than anything.   I'm not very good at being the disciplinarian and a performer at the same time.  I don't want to be in a position where, if I'm giving a kids concert, where I have to actually find a way to tell them to sit still and pay attention, or whatever.  Some people are very, very good at that; I'm not.  I think probably because I'm one of them, in the long run. (laughs)  I can be just as preoccupied and imaginative.

KAREN:  In terms of your career goals in the future, do you have any other goals for your career, and what is your definition of ultimate success? 

MACK:  I guess my definite goals would be I want to get out more and I’d like to get my songs heard more.  My interim goal is I just want to get better at writing.  I want to keep writing and just really fine-tune that craft. 

KAREN:  OK - Trick question (it was funny at the time):  You're on recorded record as saying (and I quote):   "We really need your help . . . Really . . . Truly . . . Truly, Truly . . . Seriously . . . Honestly . . . In every way . . ."  Care to comment?

MACK: (laughs) That is one of those recorded things that I wish I could find a way to delete.  What happened is, on this song, "Global Carnivale", the Limeliters had just come out with it and I'd heard the recording of Rick doing it.  And the Limeliters wanted to put this in there, and they wanted me to get people to sing along.  I didn't even know the song that well and I'm concentrating on what I'm supposed to do, so I'm thinking, how am I going to get people to sing along when I'm not a hundred percent sure of what I'm doing.  And I just remember trying to make it sound natural, and it just didn't come out that way.  It just sounded like I just didn't know when to stop.  And I'm begging, I'm pleading and I'm waiting for somebody.  And I kept kind of looking down, hoping that Alex or Lou would realize, “this boy has no idea of what he's saying, anymore."  And they never jumped in.  And as it turned out, I even started the song out wrong.  I was thinking too much.  "Give this boy a Valium, or something!"  That's one of those moments that's preserved for posterity.

 

This page was updated:  Saturday, January 29, 2011 11:46:57 AM

 

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