MARK MASON INTERVIEW:
February 15, 2006
Not everyone will know the band Ampage, but we have all heard of the scene that spawned them, the infamous Sunset Strip. But the Sunset Strip wasn’t all great music and outrageous fashion, there was also a darker side. Ampage vocalist Mark Mason is one of the survivors, an artist that went from drug addiction and homelessness to working in movies and with some of the bigger names in rock. Mark’s website, www.ampage.com, should be online and functioning very soon, but in the meantime fans can donate to a memorial scholarship fund dedicated to Mark’s deceased friend John Boghosion at musicscholarship.tripod.com.
SR: What are you up to these days?
MM: I have just finished writing the 2nd song of a new album I’m working on. I plan to start recording in April this year. Loren Molinare (Little Caesar) and Mark Ingler (Dramarama) will be doing the guitars. My drummer from the Iron Horse record Mike Kroger will do drums. I have a BASIC rough demo of the title track “NOBODY GETS OUT ALIVE” done that I played all of the instruments and vocals on. Again it is very ROUGH right now before I have the band perform on it. I write and record all my new songs like this before I bring in the band to add their influences. This album will be dedicated to my engineer John Boghosion (musicscholarship.tripod.com) who died of a drug overdose in Seattle Wa. a few months ago. I have worked with him for 15 years and he helped me build my recording studio at my Point Arena Ranch in Mendocino, California where we will be recording the album. He was a great guy, and good friend, and was my inspiration for this song. Writing and especially singing this song was more therapeutic than anything I’ve ever done before. He will be missed.
SR: Seeing as the album is dedicated to a deceased friend, will it have a darker vibe to it?
MM: I’m not sure what direction it will take. It’s funny because, I am a VERY up and HAPPY person but yet most of my songs are dark. I think a lot of it comes from my years of living in the streets of Hollywood. Just after recording my first album “AMPAGE” in 1987 I started smoking a lot of cocaine. Within a year I had lost everything. I was shot at, stabbed three times and had a few overdoses. I lost my record deal, my car, my home, everything! My parents read some magazine articles written about me that said I had died. It was pretty bad. I was homeless and living in the streets until Feb. 06, 1991 when I got sober. It’s been 15 years now since I’ve had a drink or a drug. I’ve also buried 18 of my closest friends in the last 15 years, mostly musicians and mostly from drugs. All my albums have dedications to them. My lyrics on the “Iron Horse” album that I recorded in 1997 really references my time in the streets.
My songs are like my children, I want them to grow up one way, but they have there own life and usually turn out different than I had planned, which is usually not a bad thing. So in answer to your question I have no idea which direction this album will take. I’m anxious to see.
When John was at my ranch in Sept. helping me build my studio, he was having a hard time dealing with his demons and trying to get sober. I don’t know why I was able to get sober and he wasn’t. I keep thinking that maybe I could have done or said something that could have made a difference, but I also know that there was nothing anyone could do or say to me that would have gotten me sober any sooner. I pretty much felt the same about all my dead friends. They were all so talented and I really miss them. It is such a waste. All for a beverage and a plant.
SR: Like you said, you can’t force anyone to get clean. How did you finally kick the habit?
MM: The old saying one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time. By the time I hit bottom I was sick and tired of being sick and tired and suicidal. I met a man named Bob Timmins who had helped a lot of my musician friends of mine get sober. He took me under his wing and showed me a better life. He saved me when I needed saving, and I am forever grateful.
SR: Sometimes people that come back from horrible addictions are stronger and more determined then ever. In an odd way are you grateful you experienced what you did?
MM: Yes, absolutely! I got to experience a side of life that few people would even know exists. I was lucky I lived through it. In my life I have lived in mansions and slept in alleys, driven in limos and walked the streets, had a lot of money and had no money, and lived to write about it. I’ve done more in my life personally and musically in the last 15 years than I could have even imagined. I married a beautiful and talented singer from a band called “SHEROK” We’ve been together for almost 15 years now. I’ve been all over the world. I’ve been able to write and perform with musicians that were in posters on my bedroom wall when I was a kid. I feel like I woke up from a coma and now I’m making up for lost time. I have a lot of energy, a lot of goals and dreams I still want to accomplish before I leave this earth. I have no fear. There is nothing that could happen to me that’s any worse than what I’ve already been through and survived. It is a great feeling of freedom and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
SR: How did you first get into music and who were your influences?
MM: My dad “Jan Mason” was a very talented musician. He gave me my first guitar (Which I still have) when I was 9 and taught me how to play. It was an old Martin nylon string guitar. My mom was a creative writing teacher at a high school in L.A. Mix the two together and you get songwriter. I joined my first band in 8th grade called “Blue Tide” and it went from there. My dad loved to play “Credence Clearwater Revival”, Beatles, etc. on the record player. I’d listen to those albums over and over. We always had folk musician friends of my Dad over at the house doing what my dad called pickin and grinnin. They’d be jammin on guitars, piano, banjo, you name it, they played it. It was corny but cool. Later I got into Led Zeppelin, Rush, John Lennon, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, you know, Riff Rock.
We formed the original “AMPAGE “in high school (Huntington Beach, Calif.). Back then I was just the bass player and songwriter, Peter Allen (aka Petor Wabbit currently with the band “WITCH”) was the lead singer and Mike Kroager played the drums who I used on my “Iron Horse album” and am currently using on my new album “Nobody gets out alive”. Henry Knopenberger was on guitar and at the time was ranked 6th in the nation for surfing. We had a HUGE following. Every gig was sold out. We played half originals and half copy songs. We were too young to get into clubs, so the club owners would make us wait outside in the alley until it was time to play, bring us on stage through the back door, Play our set and then exit out the back door. We opened for a lot of bands like “Berlin”, “Dead Kennedys”, and “Mike and the Mechanics”. Soon the band left for a tour in Australia, with a stop in Hawaii. We loved Hawaii and started playing several sold out shows there. A year went by and we never made it to Australia. The band broke up and came back to Calif. Henry and I started lead singing and we got another drummer Punky Peru (“Witch”) and started doing more clubs. In 1982 we called it quits. I joined “Borealis” with Dian Katz on drums, the original drummer of the Runaways. A year later I was scouted by Bobby Blotzer of “Ratt”. By this time I was doing A LOT of drugs. I was playing bass in Ratt for only a week before Robin kicked me out. I was a mess. I blamed the music industry for my drug abuse, so I quit music, cut my hair and moved to San Francisco and got a real job. It turns out there are more drugs in the corporate world than I ever did in the music industry, so after 2 years I moved to Hollywood, Calif, grew my hair back and started playing again.
SR: Why did Robbin kick you out of Ratt?
MM: Robbin gave me a tape of songs to learn for a recording session. I went on a 3 day coke binge and never learned the songs. When I showed up at the rehearsal studio in Redondo Beach I had not slept or eaten in 3 days. I was trashed. I went into the bathroom and didn’t come out for an hour. I couldn’t even stand, let alone play bass. This was right before their first album. Motley Crue had just broke and I thought Ratt sounded too much like Motley to get anywhere. A year later Ratt was number 1 on the charts. I really FUCKED UP. Had I not gotten high that week my life would have really turned out different. But I guess everything turns out for a reason. This all happened before Robin started doing drugs. It was sad what happened to him. He was a good guy.
SR: Maybe with all the money and fame you would have ended up like Robbin Crosby.
MM: I’m sure I would have been dead long before Robbin. The last 15 years of my career have been the best. I would’ve hated to have missed it. The albums that I write and record now are so much better then the crap I wrote in the 80s. Since I’ve been sober I been able to write and record with Tommy Shaw, Earl Slick, Wes Arkin, Rick Allen, Jimmi Bleacher, Robert Sarzo, John Taylor, John Easdale, and John Cells to name just a few. I got to open for bands like Eric Clapton, Def Leppard, Social Distortion, Billy Idol, Guns and Roses, Dramarama etc. I’ve written and recorded songs for 9 movies to date. I’ve gotten to work with actors such as Jeff Conaway, Gary Busey, Billy Wirth, Corey Feldman etc. and all this in the last 15 years. I’ll never be a super star or a rock legend but I get to live my dream, write my songs, and really enjoy the process. I never cared about headlining or opening, I just love to play my songs to anyone who will listen. I am very grateful!
SR: What did you do between the Ratt tryout and forming Ampage?
MM: I mostly hung out in the Hollywood clubs, especially the Rainbow. I met a girl named Mara Fox (guitarist for “Precious Metal”). She really helped me get up and playing again. In between her busy schedule of touring and recording with her band, she actually put a band together just for me calling it “MACE”. We spent 2 years playing the Hollywood club circuit. She played bass in the band while I became the front man. Eventually she moved on and I started switching around the musicians until I ended up with the band I called “AMPAGE”. We recorded our first record in 1987.
SR: Ampage signed with D.T. Richard’s Iron Works records. I’ve always read that he was a bit eccentric, what do you remember about him?
MM: Dave’s great. Maybe a little eccentric, but hell who isn’t in this business. He LOVES hard rock. I love guys like him. He loves music more than the bottom line. I wish more label execs were like him.
SR: Do you know if Dave is still in the music business?
MM: I don’t know. I bought one of my old albums that he was selling on E-BAY (because I didn’t have any). When he saw that it was me, he sent me a whole box of records. I thought that was pretty cool.
SR: What was it like recording Ampage’s debut?
MM: I was still drinking and drugging pretty heavily back then so I don’t have a lot of memories of it, but I could tell you in detail what the bathrooms looked like at the 3 studios we recorded at. Pretty sad huh?
SR: Listening to it today what are your thoughts?
MM: It’s a trip. Some of it I still like. For instance “Too Young”, “D-Day” and “Versateller Blues” and “Hollywood” pretty much sums up my youth. I write and sing so much different now, I don’t think I could hit some of those notes anymore without putting my balls in a vice. Back then, we were just a party band on the strip. AND THE STRIP WAS HAPPENING! The Rainbow, Gazzaries, The Roxy, The Troubadore, FM Station, Exposeur 54, The Starwood, Coconut Teaser to name just a few of the awesome clubs at that time. It was before aids and safe sex. My life was centered around sex, drugs, and rock n roll. That’s how I lived. That’s what I wrote about. It was a GREAT time to be young, playing in a band, and living in Hollywood. I wouldn’t have traded those days for anything. I was lucky I made it out alive.
SR: Do you think we will ever see a scene like the Sunset Strip again?
MM: Not unless they cure aids. It is still happening there but nothing like it was. All the bands were getting signed on the strip. It was a scene like Seattle was. My guess is New York or Texas will be the next scene.
SR: Did you tour to support the debut?
MM: NO! The album came out in June which was the first month I started smoking coke on a regular basis. All I remember is headlining The Roxy, going across the street to a motel and the next thing I knew someone was asking me when my album came out. I answered saying “a couple of weeks ago, June 17th” which they replied today is Christmas. I had spent 6 months in that hotel smoking coke. No one in my band knew where I was at. I blew the tour. Nobody would talk to me. Not even Dave Richards. I couldn’t blame them. So I spent the next 2 years on the streets of Hollywood homeless and doing drugs. A lot of people tried to help me including my band but I was to far gone. I resurfaced in 1990. Once I was finally clean I started recording a new album with a new manager Dan Mconomy. We recorded it at the Chappel Studios in Van Nuys, Calif. We finished the album in 1993, and to my surprise there was no more rock scene. Alternative Music had taken over Hollywood. Hard rock and heavy metal was dead. That album was never released.
SR: Who were you working with at that time and do you ever plan on releasing the CD?
MM: I used Michael Monarch (Steppenwolf) on guitar. Great musician and nice guy too. We also used Mark Ingler (Dramarama) on guitar as well Rick Dufay (Aerosmith). On drums we had Randy Meers (Black Oak Arkansas) I played bass and lead vox. We did a few live shows at Club Exposear 54. One of the songs “The Pusherman” I released on the Ampage “Falling Higher” album.
Other songs like “Pussycat” and “Time Flies” went to movie soundtracks like “Bikini Summer 2” and NBC Movie of the week “I’m Dangerous Tonight”. Those songs had Mark London on drums (he played on the Ampage album in 1987) and Robert Sarzo (Hurricane) played guitars. Hook played a mean harp and I can’t remember the keyboardists’ name. We had another GREAT ballad called “Wings to Fly” that I have been trying to re-write for my new album. I’m trying to get it to not sound so Bon Jovi dated. It’s a really cool song, I’m hoping I can pull it off.
SR: What was it like playing with Mark London again after all those years and finally being sober, was it like a whole new start?
MM: Yes, we’ve been close friends for 20 years now. He is like my brother. He’s a great drummer and also a very creative guy.
SR: Little Caesar has always been one of my favorite bands, how did you meet Earl Slick and Louren Molinare?
MM: I met Slick at an after party in Hollywood. Years later a mutual friend sent him to the rehab I was in to check on me. I’m a HUGE John Lennon and David Bowie fan and Slick played on both their albums. It was great. He sat and played guitar with me in the rehab teaching me some Lennon songs.
Louren I met through another mutual friend. We hit it off right away and became good friends. Years later Louren and Slick started a new band together with another VERY TALENTED friend of mine Carrie Hamilton (Carol Burnett’s daughter) called “GILT LILLY”. WHAT A GREAT BAND!! I tried getting them a record deal with Modern records, but it never happened and the band eventually broke up. Unfortunately Carrie died a few years later of brain cancer. Later Louren and I put together a few different bands and played a lot of gigs together. Louren is an amazing guitarist. He really knows how to keep my songs cutting edge. After Louren finished the guitars on the Ampage “Iron Horse” album he told me he wouldn’t be able to tour because he was going to be a dad. I called Slick to see if he knew any other guitarists and much to my surprise he said how about me. I said, “hell yeah!”, and We flew Slick in to L.A., recorded “Gimme some Truth” at the Record Plant, rehearsed for 2 months, got on the tour bus, and began our 1998 U.S. tour.
I only met Ron Young a few times. When we were in the studio recording the Iron Horse album, our producer Duane Baron called Ron in to do some backing vocals on a couple songs. I wish I would have been there, but I was at the dentist getting 4 root canals done. Ron did an amazing job.
SR: What was it like working with Duane Baron?
MM: Duane was GREAT to work with! He is a very talented producer and a hard worker. I loved the work he did with Ozzy. In 1999 when our record label folded he produced our next album for free and shopped it around trying to get us picked up by another label. He got me using my real low voice on songs. I had never sung that way before and now it’s my trade mark. He made me practice singing along to the song 6th Ave Heartache by the wildflowers, over and over before I would lay down my vocal track trying to cop the vibe. He kept yelling, “make it sound more dope sick”. He is great to work with and really keeps my songs honest. If I got too repetitious on a chorus, he was quick to say “alright we get we get” and move it to a cool bridge. I really hope I get a chance to work with him again someday.
SR: When you and Earl Slick toured in 1998 it must have been your first major tour after so many years in the business, what was it like finally hitting the road?
MM: It was great!! I loved it. Sometimes it was a little scary, for instance, after performing in Albuquerque, New Mexico we headed towards Texas and got caught in a blizzard. We were stranded in the snow on the highway for 2 days. We started feeding some of the other stranded motorists. We had plenty of food on the bus but when we ran out of cigarettes it got ugly fast. We were supposed to be in Puerto Rico to open for Def Leppard the next day and ended up getting a police and snow plow escort to the nearest airport. 18 hours later we arrived in Puerto Rico just in time for the show. We had to leave a lot of our equipment back with bus, so Def Leppard said “go ahead and use our gear”. What a great bunch of guys. All and all it was a great tour.
SR: Do you have plans to release the Falling Higher CD?
MM: No. Some of the songs came out great, but Rick Allen and I didn’t much care for the other ones. It was a low budget rush job, and it shows. I may take a few of the songs and put them on another album, maybe even this new one I’m working on.
SR: How much of this new album do you have completed, and is it too early to predict roughly when it will be done?
MM: Right now I’ve got 3 songs finished and am still writing. I’ll be ready to start recording with the whole band in April and plan to be finished by August. We should have it out and available by September of this year. We will also be filming a rock video for the album at the same time which will all be done at my Point Arena Ranch Studio in northern California. I will also be producing a band re-union album from the original members of the all girl rock band “SHEROK” which of course features my wife on lead vocals. This will also be recorded at the ranch this summer.
SR: Where would you expect to get airplay in this day and age with a rock video?
MM: Satellite radio, XM, etc would be my best guess.
SR: Do you hope to tour for the new release as well?
MM: I’m hoping to. Usually we do a lot of shows for the radio stations across the country. I am hoping to do some shows in Europe and Japan as well. The Iron Horse album did real well on radio in Spain. It was distributed by Avispa Records over there. FM radio isn’t what it used to be but besides satellite radio, it’s all we got. We actually did get a lot of airplay in the U.S. on the Iron horse album. “Words” was the single. It made it to #37 on the “Album Network” charts which is about 137 on Billboard. “Bamboozler” was set to be the 2nd single but the label folded mid-tour, so it never got played. I always thought that song was the hit. Joe Grossman at National Music was our record promoter for radio. He did a great job. I hope to use him again.
SR: Because this site is dedicated to 80s rock bands, what was it like working specifically with the following; Jimmi Bleacher (Salty Dog), Robert Sarzo (Hurricane), Randy Meers (Cats In Boots), Rick Dufay (Aerosmith) and Tommy Shaw (Styx)
MM: Working with Tommy Shaw was awesome. There are only a handful of people I can write well with, and Tommy is one of them. When we wrote and recorded “Rain” and “Heaven” I would write the first line and he would write the 2nd line and so on. It just clicked. We are both big Beatles fans so we have similar styles of writing. I call him the bridge doctor because I’m great at verses and choruses but not always on bridges. Tommy is great at bridges. Tommy is just great all around. Rick Dufay I only did a couple sessions with. He was good but pretty uneventful. Same with Randy Meers although I do remember what a great drummer he was and quite a character (in a good way). Robert Sarzo is not only a great guitarist but a great father and a great human being. Something you don’t see a lot of in this crazy business. Jimmy Bleacher and I landed in rehab together back in 1991. We became fast friends and room mates. I flew to England for a month and played the bass on an album he was working on over there. It was a blast!! He flew in to L.A. and did some vocals on some of my stuff. We are still very close friends. He’s like my brother. In fact I should hook you up with him. He is currently in the process of setting up a “Salty Dog” reunion tour with all the original members. His new stuff is fucking great. I’m gonna add a name to your list and that is Rick Allen of “Def Leppard “. Rick and I have been best friends and have written and recorded several songs together for several years. He is the most talented drummer I have ever met. He is also the funniest guy I’ve ever worked with. We have written and recorded several songs including some songs for movies like Disney’s “Brink”. Years ago we started a music company together writing and recording songs for commercials like Budweiser, Lexus etc. We never sold any but we wrote and recorded the funniest fucking songs I’ve ever heard. He also played drums in my band for several shows in L.A. back in 2001. He is truly my brother.
SR: I bet you and Jimmi had lots of stories to share in rehab, did it help to have someone that had been through the same scene to get you straight?
MM: It didn’t hurt. Jimmy’s a great guy. We knew a lot of the same people and went through similar situations. We had a lot of great all night talks and acoustic guitar jamming.
SR: Do you and Rick Allen still have the production company on the side?
MM: Yes, we’ve written and recorded a lot of songs for movies like “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “Armageddon”. We were actually in those movies but then got cut out for different reasons, none of which had to do with the songs. Politics as usual. But we did get in some others, like Disney’s “Brink”. It is hard because our schedules are so busy. He just finished a U.S. tour and is getting ready to go out again. After that he should have time.
SR: Any last words?
MM: I’m looking forward to finishing this new album and getting back on the road doing shows. Maybe we’ll do a tour with Salty Dog and Sherok. Keep it in the family. Thanx for the interview. I always love strolling down memory lane. You’re a good writer. It’s nice to do an interview with someone who knows music and isn’t all about bashing the artist. I wish you success.
Thanks to Mark Mason