Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Perseverance Paid Off in Spades
Even though he has drawn upon musical influences as diverse as Johnny Cash, Leon Russell, and John Cougar Mellencamp, country music performer Mark Collie has blazed his own trail through Nashville. Although he has made his way well outfitted—with competent guitar playing, strong songwriting, a magnetic stage personality, and a captivatingly twangy drawl— Collie’s efforts to link up with the Music City mainstream didn’t happen overnight. But perseverance has always been Collie’s strongest suit. By 1994, with four albums under his belt and several hit singles topping the country charts, it was clear that Collie had found himself a seat on the fast-moving train toward success in the country music industry.
Collie was born January 18, 1956, in Waynesboro, Tennessee, just miles from the Alabama border. Growing up in a large musical family, he was quick to pick up on a broad mix of musical styles— from hard-core honky-tonk to rock to gospel. “My Uncle Joe bought my brother Steve an acoustic guitar one year when I was nine or ten years old,” recalled Collie in a Country Music City News interview with Shawn Williams. “That guitar changed my life. That’s when I started to learn how to write songs.” Citing the legendary Johnny Cash as his major influence during his early years as an aspiring musician, Collie focused his bulldog determination on developing the musicianship and the songwriting and performance skills necessary to make a mark for himself in the music business.
During his high school years in Waynesboro, Collie was a DJ on local radio station WAAM and played guitar with local club bands. After graduation, he continued to play and traveled around the country and the world for a while— as far away as Europe and the Far East— to experience life. He then stopped in Nashville to audition for a spot at Opryland; when that didn’t pan out, Collie moved to Memphis and formed another band. Several years later, a vacation to Hawaii led to an 18-month stint as the house entertainer for a beach club, where he wowed guests with his country/rock and roll mix.
Made It with MCA
In 1982 Collie found himself in the mainland States once again; he boarded a bus for Nashville, where his songwriting skill quickly landed him a job as a writer with a large music publishing company. Although he made few strides as an entertainer, for five years his songs were recorded by such top artists as Martina McBride, Collin Raye, Marty Stuart, Aaron Tippin, and Randy Travis. In 1987 he chose to get out from behind the scenery and build a more public profile. That decision proved to be a major turning point in his career: performing
For the Record …
Born George Mark Collie, January 18, 1956, in Waynesboro, TN; married; wife’s name, Anne; children: Nathan.
Began performing on the road with various bands, c. 1974; moved to Nashville, TN, and worked as a songwriter, 1982; began performing at Douglas Corner nightclub, Nashville, 1987; signed with MCA and released debut EP, Hardin County Line, 1989; released Mark Collie, 1993; co-sponsored first annual Mark Collie Celebrity Race for Diabetes Cure, Nashville, 1994; signed with Giant Records and released Tennessee Plates, 1995.
Addresses: Record company — Giant Records, 45 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203.
in musical showcases at Douglas Corner— a Nashville nightclub notable as a songwriter’s hangout— Collie was spotted by MCA’s Tony Brown, who liked the performer’s twangy style and offered him a record contract.
Collie’s first EP, 1989’s Hardin County Line, showcased the musician’s mastery of modern country and rockabilly influences. The album’s Collie/Aaron Tippin-coau-thored single “Something with a Ring to It” hit the charts in 1990, but Collie’s debut effort didn’t get the airplay many thought it deserved. A year later, Born and Raised in Black and White — while again commended by critics for its insightful lyrics— didn’t have what radio programmers were looking for to crack the top of the country charts.
Baring His Soul in a Song
The indifferent response to his first two albums was hard on Collie. “I don’t think you ever accept the fact that your records aren’t hits,” Collie admitted to Michael McCall in Country Music .“When you put so much of your heart and soul into something, and everybody seems real positive … and then it doesn’t happen, that can be devastating.” “It’s a total rejection at the highest level,” Collie continued, “at the most fundamental level. They’re rejecting the honest expression of your emotion. Nobody wants that.”
Collie worked hard at developing his songwriting technique; the critical praise he received for composing the material on his first two albums meant a lot to the singer, who writes several dozen songs a year. “Songwritin’ is a very personal thing, it’s something you do very privately,” Collie explained to Country Song Roundup’s Celeste Gomes. “Even in a collaboration, it has to be with somebody that you feel real comfortable with as a friend. And then suddenly, you go from that very private, inner-self approach, to recordin’ the songs and you’re up on a stage in front of thousands of people you don’t know, and you’re sharin’ all that with them.”
Perseverance Paid Off in Spades
Finally, in 1993, Collie’s dogged persistence reaped some rewards. With his self-titled third album, he drew on the influences of 1950s rockabilly artists like the Everly Brothers, once again breaking with the “Young Country” fold who seemed to be opting for the Garth Brooks sound. “I always wanted to record some songs like Carl Perkins and Elvis [Presley] and Fats [Domino] and those guys,” Collie told Gomes, “but I could never bring myself to record any of the Elvis standards or the classics because they were so good. So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll write some things that are in that direction. ’” However, some critics felt that Collie had compromised his uniqueness for mainstream acceptance. While praising Mark Collie for the lean, up-tempo arrangements that have become the characteristic Collie sound, reviewer Geoffrey Himes noted in Country Music his “disappointment with the play-it-safe lyrics. Collie’s first two albums were marked by some boldly ambitious songwriting…. There’s nothing that original on Mark Collie. ”
Compromise or not, it was the top single on that third album that gave Collie the break to country radio that he had been courting for so long. “Even the Man in the Moon Is Crying” made it to Number Five in 1992, and the following year “Born to Love You” fell on its heels at Number Six on the country charts, giving Collie the name recognition crucial to every successful performer. It also marked the start of a fruitful collaboration between Collie and his cowriter, songwriter/producer Don Cook, who produced Collie’s 1994 album, Unleashed.
While considered even more mainstream than his previous effort, Unleashed provided an excellent showcase for Collie’s expressive vocals and continued to demonstrate some sturdy songwriting. Notable on the EP, Collie’s cover of the Johnny Cash classic “Ring of Fire” highlights his ability to transcend the norm and imbue material with originality. The track had long been a favorite during Collie’s live performances, and the studio version had the benefit of background vocals by Carlene Carter, daughter of “Ring of Fire” coauthor June Carter Cash.
Giving Something Back
Collie’s career has demonstrated the value of not giving up on a goal, a trait the singer has exhibited in other areas of his life as well. As his stature in Nashville has grown, Collie has taken advantage of it to aid a cause that has been close to his heart for many years. Having been diagnosed with diabetes in 1977, he wanted to do what he could to help find a cure for the disease, which affects almost 13 million people in the United States. In the fall of 1994, he helped sponsor the first Mark Collie Celebrity Race for Diabetes Cure. With the participation of many celebrities from both the country music industry and the world of NASCAR racing, this event raised much-needed money to aid in diabetes research.
Continuing to progress in his country music career, in 1995 Collie switched from the MCA Nashville record label to Giant “in search of new momentum— and that elusive big hit,” according to Billboard’s Jim Bessman. His July 18 release, Tennessee Plates, was backed by an aggressive marketing program by Collie’s new label. The singer commented to Bessman, “Giant’s made a firm commitment to try and get the music heard, and radio’s been very supportive in not giving up on me.” Indeed, before Tennessee Plates was even released, its first single, “Three Words, Two Hearts, One Night,” became the most requested song at the WYNY, a country radio station in New York.
Even with raw talent and a desire to make it as a performer, determination has been the real key to success for Collie. As he told Williams in Country Music City News: “The one thing that kept me going … through the dark times in this short little career is … the real fans of country music who would write me letters or come to the shows…. They made sure I knew that my music was worth making and it gave me the inspiration to sit down and pick up the guitar and write another song for them.” For Collie, writing that next song has made all the difference. And Collie put it plainly in an interview with McCall. “There’s one thing I know: If you don’t stay in the game, you lose. I have stayed in the game.”
Hardin County Line (includes “Something with a Ring to It”), MCA, 1989.
Born and Raised in Black and White, MCA, 1991.
Mark Collie (includes “Born to Love You” and “Even the Man in the Moon Is Crying”), MCA, 1993.
Unleashed, MCA, 1994.
Tennessee Plates, Giant, 1995.
Cackett, Alan, Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, Crown, 1994.
Comprehensive Country Music Encyclopedia, Random House, 1994.
Billboard, July 1, 1995.
Country Music, March/April 1993; January/February 1994; September/October 1994.
Country Music City News, December 1993.
Country Song Roundup, July 1993; April 1994.
Entertainment Weekly, March 20, 1992.
Pulse!, July 1993.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from MCA Records publicity materials, 1994.
—Pamela L. Shelton
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