Sunday Spotlight – Mark Herndon

Welcome to the first post in my new series, Sunday Spotlight, featuring music artists!

One of the greatest joys in my life is supporting fellow artists. And, I know from experience that often singer/songwriters/musicians don’t have the time or energy to create a blog. Therefore, I have opened my blog to guest posts from music artists for a Sunday Spotlight.

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Mark Herndon, drummer with the supergroup, Alabama!

Mark has lots to share AND he has a brand new book release.

Welcome, Mark!

Thank you, Jan, for giving me a platform to talk about my work. I am super happy about my new book release, The High Road – Memories From a Long Trip.

PURCHASE LINK

As the book cover says, these are memories from a long trip. I played drums for the group, Alabama for almost thirty years. But that was a second career for me. I also dreamed of being a pilot. I’m one of those lucky guys that got to have both of my dreams come true.

One of the main things that inspired me to write this book was my father. I was always very curious about things that he did in his life, but he played his cards very close to his chest and didn’t share much. He was a military man and he was trained to do that plus people of that generation didn’t talk too much about themselves. I was never able to coax him to share his stories with me. So, I looked around one day and realized that I had a collection of stories from my own life, which was a little bit on the unusual side, compared to the average folks.

When my daughter became an adult, I started thinking that history was repeating itself like it did with me and my dad, and that maybe someday she’d want to share my stories with her kids. That was when I got serious about telling them. I started typing that first story, and by the time I was two or three paragraphs into it, I realized I was entertaining myself. Also, I want to say that I didn’t start my book at the beginning of the story. I jump into the middle around 1985 or 1986.

There’s a lot in the book that you have to read between the lines because either I had to write it that way, or wanted to write it that way. This is not a “tell all.” It’s a “tell almost.” And I have to thank my wife for that. We originally hired a Hollywood show business type publicity firm that put an enormous amount of pressure on me to write more dirt, because dirt sells. But, my wife was adamant about not doing that. She knew I wasn’t that kind of person, and it was important to stay true to myself. I’m glad I did!

As I said earlier, I am just one of those lucky guys that got to do what I wanted to in life. Of course, I had to do the work. I had to study and I had to learn, but I have managed to enjoy two completely different careers.

Country Music Hall of Fame Drummer, Mark Herndon
Pilot, Mark Herndon

Book Blurb:

  • What drives a man to spend 26 years performing night after night?
  • How can he persevere through a stifling tour bus, bad food, strange women, flared tempers, a plane nearly blown from the sky?
  • Just how did that troubled military brat with a dream claw his way from dirt-floor dive-bar shows to the world’s biggest stages?

Aviator, author, and Country Music Hall of Fame drummer Mark Herndon lived that dream with one of the most popular and celebrated bands of all time. He learned some hard lessons about people and life, the music industry, the accolades and awards, how easy it is to lose it all . . . and how hard it is to survive, to embrace sobriety, to live even one more day.

Herndon’s poignant memoir offers a tale at once cautionary and inspirational, delightful and heartbreaking, funny yet deeply personal. From innocence to rebellion to acceptance, can a man still flourish when the spotlight dims? Are true forgiveness, redemption, and serenity even possible when the powerful say everything you achieved somehow doesn’t even count? That you’re not who you and everyone who matters thought you were?

Mark Herndon refuses to slow down. So look back, look ahead, and join him on the trip.

He’s taking The High Road.

Author Blurb:

Legendary Country Music Hall of Fame drummer Mark Herndon yearned to fly jets as a military brat, then discovered the dream of playing drums, vowing to come back one day and perform at the very place where he once had to stand outside just to hear. Along the way, he loved and lost and made plenty of mistakes, persevering to achieve all that he imagined before having so much taken away. After decades with one of the most celebrated bands of all time, he still lives his dreams, playing, producing, flying, and now writing with keen observations about life and living in the spotlight.

And now, Mark is managing, and playing drums for his beautiful wife, Leah Seawright in her band. So, the road goes on and Mark is looking ahead! They have new music coming, and I will happily showcase it here once the record is released!

Thank you, Mark for gracing my blog site and I wish you and Leah well with all your endeavors!

Follow Mark and Leah:

Mark’s Facebook

Mark’s Website

Leah’s Website

Leah’s Facebook

PLEASE NOTE! When you purchase “The High Road” from Mark’s website, you will receive an autographed copy! https://www.markherndon.com/

Taking Texas to Tennessee – Buddy Magazine

Since not everyone gets to see the Buddy Magazine publication, I decided to post a recent article I wrote after my trip to Nashville. So far, it’s getting some good attention and feedback!

A Tale of Two Music Cities Divided

By Jan Sikes

On the heels of the Ken Burns sensational documentary about the evolution of country music on PBS, the one undisputable fact is that country music has been and is a large part of American history.

At one time during that history, Nashville was the only place to go if an artist wanted to break into the business. However, over the years, that changed and Texas played a large part in that change.

It is no secret that there has been a complicated rift between Nashville and Texas music artists ever since Waylon bucked the establishment, insisting on making music his own way and Willie took his music home to Texas.

I compare it to the famous stand-off between the Hatfields and McCoys. Shots were fired, and many folks threatened, but now the dust has cleared, and hands shaken. Judging by the recent spate of Texas Musicians who’ve made the trek to the famous city to perform on the Grand Ole Opry, I’d say there is at the least, a truce. 

Could it be that the Nashville heads are watching the flourishing Texas music industry with some envy? Or perhaps they are only seeing dollar signs.

Whatever the reason, I recently had the distinct honor of witnessing something that I believe will have lasting ripple effects for years and artists to come. I traveled to Nashville along with approximately 500 other avid Texas music fans to see our legendary Texas performer, Gary P. Nunn, make his debut on the iconic Grand Ole Opry. And, it came as no surprise that Nunn performed his two mega-hits, “London Homesick Blues,” and “Last Thing I Needed The First Thing This morning.”

But the crowning moment was when Gary P. Nunn strode onto the Grand Ole Opry stage and stood in the legendary “circle” while his fans jumped to their feet to welcome him with a Texas-size display of love for their favorite artist. The significance of performing at the mother of all country music venues cannot be understated.

While it was my first real visit to the city, I enjoyed exploring the places that created and now preserves country music history from throughout the decades.

Later that evening, Nunn had this to say about the experience.

“It’s always been on my bucket list to play the Grand Ole Opry and I never really thought I’d get the chance. It’s overwhelming.”

Add in the massive amount of folks that traveled to Music City to see him, and there was no denying that Nunn was deeply touched.

“When I looked out into the audience and saw all the Texas music fans that had traveled to Nashville to share this experience with me, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was completely blown away,” Nunn said with misty eyes.

Me and Gary P. Nunn at the After-Party in Nashville

Texas artist, Ray Wylie Hubbard, made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry on July 17 just before Nunn’s appearance on August 3.

Hubbard said, “There are certain moments in time more powerful than others. Walking onto the Grand Ole Opry stage is one of the most powerful.”

Cody Jinks made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry on August 28. He had this to say. “I was as nervous about playing the Opry as I’ve been about any show. It’s an amazing experience that’s hard to sum up. It’s just special.”

So, why is Nashville suddenly opening its arms to Texas Music artists?

I think the answer to that quintessential question is complex and can’t be answered in a few simple words.

However, The Country Music Hall of Fame Museum in Nashville could be partially responsible for the shift.

Imagine 5,000 sq. ft. of nothing but Texas music history. That’s larger than an NBA basketball court, and that is precisely what you’ll find with the “Outlaws and Armadillos – Country Music’s Roaring 70s” exhibit which resides on the third floor of the hall of fame building in downtown Nashville.

I had the honor of sitting down with exhibit co-curator, Michael Gray, in his office at the museum to talk about how this exhibit came into being.

“There is a perceived division between Texas and Tennessee. But that relationship between Nashville and Austin is maybe a little more surprising and complicated than people realize,” Gray said. “It started before the seventies when we began to see artists insist on taking charge of their music rather than having a label executive tell them what to do. But the seventies really brought it to a head when Willie left Nashville and went back home to Texas. We all know the story of how he began to play at the Armadillo World Headquarters, then contacted his friend, Waylon and invited him down. But, also at the time, even though these rebelling artists had taken their music out of Nashville, they often had to return to Nashville to record because, at the time, there were little to no studios in Texas.”

And the decades-long stand-off between Nashville and Austin grew exponentially with artists like Willie, Waylon, Bobby Bare, Gary P. Nunn, Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Martin Murphey, Marcia Ball, Joe Ely, and many others who had a burning passion to create original music without boundaries.

Austin filmmaker, Eric Geadelmann, memorialized Texas music history in a series of documentaries, “They Called Us Outlaws,” which tells the story of Texas music directly through the artists themselves. The idea to create the “Outlaws and Armadillos – Country’s Roaring 70s” exhibit came from these documentaries.

Gray said, “Eric Geadelmann met with us about six years ago here at the hall of fame and shared that he was going to produce this documentary series about the outlaw movement in the 1970s. The Hall of Fame became an official partner with him on this series. We opened up our archives to him to help him make his film. We had an exhibit at the time in that exact same gallery that was all about the late sixties and early seventies in Nashville when Bob Dylan came to record along with all the folk and rock artists that followed him here and opened the city a little bit. So, as that exhibit grew to a close, we decided to do an exhibit that went along with Eric’s film. And that was how it all started.”

Gray went on to explain how trips back and forth between Austin and Nashville set it all in motion. And they weren’t just satisfied to explore and feature the music artists, but also the great visual artists who helped create a brand. Among those were Jim Franklin, known far and wide for his outrageous poster designs for the Armadillo World Headquarters, Micael Priest who designed the first poster for Willie Nelson’s 4th of July picnic, and Ken Featherston who created iconic posters for various Austin events and venues.  

Franklin designed the logo for the “Outlaws and Armadillos Country’s Roaring 70s exhibit.”

Over time, the Nashville museum curators met with numerous people in Texas as they gathered donations from family members, friends of these legendary artists to be used in the display.

The result is a comprehensive tribute to that special period of time when music artists embraced a newfound freedom of expression. This was the true emergence of singer/songwriters. No longer was the artist required by label heads to sing someone else’s songs. They took this creative power to write, publish and produce their own music. You only have to look back to recognize that the music speaks for itself.  

Not only is The Outlaws and Armadillos exhibit a fantastic display of artifacts, but it is educational as well. And it brings together the undeniable fact the impact the Outlaw Movement had on the direction of Country Music forever.

A large part of the exhibit is in photographs from music historians such as Chet Flippo, Ron McKeown, Joe Nick Potoski, Dave Hickey, Michael Bane, Jan Reid, and Kimmie Rhodes.

The exhibit is so large it is next to impossible to see everything in a few hours. I would like to have had the entire day to spend absorbing the rich and vibrant history of the Outlaw Movement.

The bottom line is that there is a shift. The tale between two cities seems to be morphing, and no longer are the Texas music artists looked down on by Nashville as the ugly stepsisters of country music.

In fact, the tale of two cities, in which music amounts to a way of life for a substantial number of the populace, is often reduced to a simple division of Nashville executives and Texas artists, when the story of the relationship is more complex and diverse.

While the ending to that story remains to be written, for now, the plot, premise, and characters are taking a new direction, carving out new roads, and taking millions of fans along.

Our beloved Texas music artists are getting to enjoy a monumental juncture in their careers by walking onto the Grand Ole Opry stage, as honored guests, and standing inside the historic and coveted circle. The place at the table has gotten much bigger, and I say it’s high time!

And, as each of the artists I spoke to expressed, there is nothing that compares. It is a dream come true. And for Texas music fans, it’s a great opportunity to explore Nashville and the rich music history it has to offer, like standing in the footsteps of so many greats who left a clearly marked path for others to follow.

An undeniable shiver ran up my spine when I stood in the middle of the famed circle on the Grand Ole Opry stage and imagined Hank Williams singing, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”  

When Nashville invited, Texas responded. By taking Texas to Tennessee, and Nashville opening its arms to iconic Texas musicians, are we perhaps seeing the end of the musical gulf that has separated the two for so long? Stay tuned!

Traveling – Nashville

For as many years as I’ve been involved in the world of music, I have never been to Nashville, Tennessee.

So while you are reading this, I am winding up my stay. Comments are disabled as I will be on the road and can’t respond.

My itinerary:

Arrive in Nashville on Friday, August 2nd.

Friday night, a trolley tour scheduled called the “Soul of Music City Night Tour!”

Then Saturday we will tour the Johnny Cash Museum and the old Ryman Auditorium, with a destination of the Grand Ole Opry for a backstage tour at 3:30.

Then back to the Grand Ole Opry at 7 pm for a very special show for all of us Texas music fans.

Gary P. Nunn will be 74 years old in December and his music career has spanned over four decades, but his show at the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday, August 3rd is his debut at the historic venue!

There are over 800 people traveling from Texas to Tennessee to see him perform there. Isn’t that amazing? There will be a fun after-party at the Opryland Hotel and I will be there for sure!

Then on Sunday, I will tour the Country Music Hall of Fame specifically to see their exhibit, “Outlaws and Armadillos,” featuring Texas music artists, and including photos taken by my awesome editor, Ronald McKeown of Buddy Magazine!

Me and Ron McKeown

I will be covering this journey for Buddy Magazine! And, I already have a working title for the piece: “Taking Texas to Tennessee!”

I am so grateful to have the opportunity for this adventure!