Since the release of his platinum-selling sophomore album, 1998’s Wish You Were Here, recording artist Mark Wills has remained one of the few new male country musicians to break through in radio. Wills’s achievement was evident when three of the record’s singles reached number one on country charts. Two years later, the unassuming, yet exuberant performer released Permanently, an album he believed would solidify his status in country music.“I wanted this album to show how much I’ve grown as an artist and as a man,” Wills explained, according to his record label, Mercury Nashville. “It was important to me that this album was more diverse than the first two, and I think we accomplished that. I want my fans to know who I am. I’m a sensitive guy, but I also like to have fun. My first album was a good start, I think [the singles] “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Places I’ve Never Seen” gave everyone a taste of my personality. Wish You Were Here took that a bit further…. But I think the songs on this album take my music to a new level.”
Born Daryl Mark Williams on August 8, 1973, in Cleveland, Tennessee, Wills spent much of his life in his adopted home state of Georgia with his parents, his sister Amy, and foster brother Teo. Wills’s parents, Jerry and Shirley Williams, taught their children to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and the value of spending time with family. Despite his later success as a country recording artist, Wills remained close to his roots, living near the Atlanta area club scene where he first took the stage. After learning to play both guitar and drums, Wills spent over five years performing at local night clubs around Atlanta. As the young singer’s popularity grew by word of mouth, he eventually landed a record deal with Mercury Records Nashville. In 1996, Wills released his self-titled debut album that spawned two hits, “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Places I’ve Never Been,” and exhibited his experience as a club singer. Wills commented that his first album “was a great introduction album and gives more insight into who I am, and where I’m from, and who I want to be, and the songs I want to sing,” as quoted by Billboard magazine’s Jim Bessman. But in spite of Wills’s success on the singles charts (“Jacob’s Ladder” became a top ten hit on Billboards Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart), his efforts failed to translate into record sales.“You have such high expectations for your first album and have a couple of hits but no real success in sales,” Wills told Bessman. “But I feel that this album [Wish You Were Here] will be what I envisioned for the first one.”
“A lot of different things came into play when I recorded this album,” Wills continued. “I wasn’t married then, and now I have a baby on the way, and when I made this album I had a better idea of where I wanted to go as an artist.” The singer further stated on his official website, “This album has been compiled of real life. It deals with a lot of real issues.” While reviewers such as Bessman noted Wills’s “thoughtful maturity uncommon for such a youthful newcomer” evident on Wish You Were Here, the singer’s follow-up record didn’t completely let go of his spirited nature. For example, the title track and other songs contained youthful, upbeat elements that offset the others tracks’ adult themes.
Nonetheless, Wills intended for each song on Wish You Were Here to carry a message, adding, asquoted by Bessman, “every song on this record is a song that I and the producer [Carson Chamberlain, who also produced Wills’s debut] both sat down and said ’I love this song.’ There’s nothing on it that I didn’t like.” Such careful attention to each song, in addition to focusing on more grown up life experiences, helped propel Wills into country music stardom. Three singles from the album, including the optimistic love song “I Do (Cherish You),” the soul-searching “Don’t Laugh At Me,” and the sad, yet hopeful “Wish You Were Here” all climbed to number one on the country charts, the latter holding the top position for three weeks straight. Wish You Were Here gave the rising country singer his first certified platinum album.
During the next two years, Wills won and was nominated for numerous honors. He was named 1998’s Top New Male Vocalist from the Country Weekly Golden Pick
Born Daryl Mark Williams on August 8, 1973, in Cleveland, TN; son of Jerry and Shirley Williams; siblings: Amy and Teo (foster brother); married Kim (born c. 1970), a cosmetologist, 1996; one daughter: Mally Ann, born August 26, 1998, in Atlanta, GA.
Started performing in Atlanta at night clubs; signed with Mercury Records Nashville, 1995; released debut album Mark Wills, 1996; released Wish You Were Here, 1998; toured as part of the George Strait Chevy Truck Country Music Festival, 1999; released Permanently, 2000.
Awards: Academy of Country Music Award, Top New Male Vocalist, 1999; Country Weekly Golden Pick Awards, Top New Male Vocalist, 1999.
Addresses: Record company — Mercury Records Nashville, 66 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203, (615) 320-1428, fax (615) 327-4856. Home — Kennesaw, GA, near Atlanta. Website —The Mark Wills Homepage, http://www.markwills.com.
Awards in May of 1999. “This award means the world to me because it’s from the readers,” said Wills, according to his official website. “They’re the wonderful people you put down their hard-earned money to buy this magazine, to buy my albums, to buy tickets to my shows.” Furthermore, the singer picked up his first Academy of Country Music (ACM) award for the year’s Top New Male Vocalist, also in May of 1999. In August of 1999, Wills received nominations for three Country Music Association (CMA) awards: Video of the Year for “Don’t Laugh At Me,” Single of the Yearfor “Don’t Laugh At Me,” and Song of the Year for “Don’t Laugh At Me”(written by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin). Although he did nottake home an award that night, he performed at the televised awards ceremony held in mid September.
In early November 1999, Wills performed live at Grand Ole Opry and was a presenter at the Christian Country Music Awards, both in Nashville. Earlier in the year, he toured as part of the George Strait Chevy Truck Country Music Festival, sharing the stage with other popular country stars such as Tim McGraw, the Dixie Chicks, JoDee Messina, Kenny Chesney, and Asleep At The Wheel. That year he not only performed his music for large concerts held in arenas and auditoriums, but also headlined smaller clubs across the U.S., appearing with musicians like Neal McCoy, Terri Clark, and Lila McCann.
January of 2000 brought the release of Wills’s third album, Permanently. Similar to his musical and emotional progression from his debut to his sophomore effort, the singer felt Permanently look his music in a more diverse direction as well. He claimed that some tracks stemmed from his own life experiences. The song “In My Arms,” for one, was a tribute to his daughter, Mally Ann, co-written with Monty Criswell and Michael White. Likewise, “Rich Man” discussed the possessions in life, such as love, that Wills himself believed the most important. Other songs included the up-tempo “This Can’t Be Love,” the heartbreaking “Perfect Conversation,” and the blues-inspired title track. According to Mercury Nashville, the first single off the album, “Back At One,” written by popular country singer Brian McKnight, almost missed making its way on to Permanently. The album was completed when the single was brought to the attention to Luke Lewis, President of Mercury, and Wills. However, Wills and producer Chamberlain insisted on returning to the studio in order to record the song and add it to the album.
In addition to establishing himself as one of the most popular new country recording artists of the late 1990s, Wills also found happiness in his personal life. In 1996, at the same time his debut was climbing the album charts, Wills married his wife Kim, a cosmetologist. The couple had a daughter, Mally Ann, born on August 26,1998, in Atlanta, shortly after the release of Wish You Were Here.
Mark Wills, Mercury, 1996
Wish You Were Here, Mercury, 1998.
Permanently, Mercury, 2000.
Billboard, April 4, 1998; June 12, 1999.
People, September 21, 1998.
“Mark Wills: Back at One,” Mark Wills Homepage, http://www.markwills.com (November 29, 1999).
Additional information provided by Mercury Records Nashville.
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