I grew up surrounded by music in the little town of Dutton, Michigan, though I had really been a "closet musician" most of my life. My Dad used to play guitar and mandolin with his cousin Larry Williams of the Williams Family (before Larry’s ten children came along), and there was always music playing on the radio in the kitchen or on the old record player out in the living room. As a small child I remember my Dad sitting in that same living room with his fine Gibson guitar singing Bobby Bare’s ’Detroit City.’
Dad had a cheap six-string guitar with a warped neck in the attic, and I used to sneak into the attic and try to play it. The action on it was so terrible it was nearly impossible to play with my stubby little fingers, but I’d noodle with it when Dad was at work and hoped he wouldn’t catch me. (Sometimes I’d get REALLY brave and sneak his Gibson out of his bedroom closet - which played like a dream compared to that old guitar from the attic!)
When I was maybe 10 or so my folks sent me (with that old, warped guitar) to a guitar teacher for lessons. After three weeks he called my folks and said, "Don’t bother wasting any more money on lessons for Mark; he’ll never be able to play guitar with his tiny fingers and small hands."
I gave it up for a few years, but tried playing again about the time I was a freshman in High School. I’d spin Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot and James Taylor records on my stereo in my bedroom and play along with them on that old warped guitar. When I was in 11th grade I bought a second-hand guitar from a pawn shop and continued to play through the rest of my high-school years; mostly finger-picking in the Croce, Lightfoot and Taylor styles. After graduation I bought my first "good" guitar - a Hohner HG320 limited-edition flattop dreadnaught. I play that guitar to this day.
When I was about 22 I started hanging out with my 2nd cousins Rick and Dave Williams (of the Williams Family) and learned to play some banjo and flat-pick and strum bluegrass rhythm. I remained a 'closet musician’ for 20+ years, playing in my home and helping out at church on occasion. (I figured no one would throw anything at me in church.) I bought an inexpensive mandolin about 15 years ago and taught myself to play that as well, and eventually bought a custom-made Silver Angel mandolin - which I play at all our performances.
My wife of 41 years - Julie - and I have lived just south of Dorr, Michigan since 1982 in a 120-year old farm house. We raised two children (a daughter and a son) there, and they’ve joined me many times in one of my other passions - archery deer hunting in the back 40 behind the barn. They’re out on their own now; our daughter lives in the Atlanta area (a Bi-Lingual English/Spanish specialist), and our son (an IT/Network professional) and his wife (a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) and their daughter live in the Lowell area.
When not hunting and fishing or playing music, I enjoy camping as well, and at least one of my instruments accompanies me on those trips!