Mark Dunn is a master guitarist whose roots go back to a period not long ago when the guitar was king.
In the post classic rock era of the 1980s and 1990s, power rock and shredders ruled the roost when it came to popular music. Even those on the punk rock and jamband side of things put the electric six-string front and center. Nowadays, as is widely known, even the Grammy Awards do not put their rock music award results on their main TV broadcast.
In the underground world, however, guitar-fueled power trios, jambands and alt. rock bands have kept the harder edge of rock music alive on the basement/house concert music scene.
As for Mark Dunn, his superb skills are in plain sight.
Dunn continues to impress music fans with his current contributions to the cause of rock and roll. His new album Lyrics, Licks and Lovers, finds Dunn offering up a fresh set of original songs, showcasing his immense talent. The good news is that Dunn’s guitar style is not gratuitous, meaning he is not throwing out flashy riffs for the sake of it.
Yes, Dunn lets his freak flag fly on Lyrics, Licks and Lovers. While he does let it rip on the guitar on this project, Dunn does it in a way that serves the song. It is a matter of channeling his creative flow through his plugged-in weapon of choice. In the case of Dunn, those sweet sounds come in the form of a souped-up electric guitar and the hard rock genre.
Dunn is joined on Lyrics, Licks and Lovers by Ross King on bass, Tripp Johnson on drums and Billy Batte on keyboards. On the last cut, the Stevie Wonder-penned “Cause We Ended As Lovers,” the only cover on the recording, Dunn is playing with bassist extraordinaire Keith Horne. Horne has a long resume in the music business having toured with Waylon Jennings, Luke Bryan, Trisha Yearwood, Peter Frampton, Heart, Ramsey Lewis, Chaka Khan and many more.
Dunn grew up as a military brat who ended up in the Newport News/Virginia Beach area of the Old Dominion State. The youngest of five brothers, there was a lot of testosterone and guitars in the house as all of his siblings played music. Dunn strummed the six-string as well, at least when his elder kin would allow him touch their guitars on occasion. Then, one day, an older brother changed Dunn’s musical life.
“My brother Jimmy gave me my first real electric guitar when I was in the 9th grade,” said Dunn. “It was a Fernandes Stratocaster copy guitar. I was doing sports at that time, running track and playing basketball, as well as trying to learn the guitar. I had been messing around with the guitar since I was six years old because there were instruments lying all over the house, although I would get in big trouble if I picked up one of my brother’s expensive Les Paul guitars or something similar. Early on, I had an electric guitar that I inherited from my brother John. But, one day at a church bizarre, somebody knocked over my acoustic guitar and broke it. So, my parents convinced me that I should sell my used electric guitar and buy another new acoustic guitar, and I was not happy.”
Dunn did what his parents suggested and bought a Yamaha acoustic guitar. Still, he was surrounded by electric guitars yet could not plug one in of his own. One Christmas morning changed all of that forever.
“On Christmas Day when I was in the 9th grade, my brother Jimmy told me to close my eyes and hold out my hand and be prepared for some weight,” continues Dunn. “So, I stiffened up and he put a guitar in my hands. I took it into my room and I don’t think they saw me until dinner.”
Dunn grew up as a fan of the great guitarist Eddie Van Halen, yet he was also heavily influenced by the late Stevie Ray Vaughan after his mother took him to see the legend live in concert before his death. Other influences include Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Brent Mason, Jimmy Herring, Eric Johnson and other gunslingers.
Dunn began to play the guitar professionally by the time he was a teenager. At one point, as a young adult who was building up his credentials as a player, someone suggested his talents to the Grammy Award-winning performer Bruce Hornsby, who was also based in Virginia. Hornsby was looking for a guitarist at the time for an upcoming tour and called Dunn’s house twice, yet he was not there to answer the call. While Hornsby did leave a message with Dunn’s parents, this was in the day and age before cell phones. Because of those missed calls and a tour time frame that was closing in fast, Hornsby chose someone else.
With a little bit of luck, that opportunity could have changed Dunn’s life instantly. But, he brushed it off and kept on his musical path, seeking to improve his skills at every turn. He became an in-demand studio musician and has played in bands that have opened up for top acts including Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Fleetwood Mac and more.
Dunn eventually moved to Atlanta, winning the Georgia Country Music Association Musician of the Year Award while adding country music to his repertoire. As his reputation expanded, he also made a run at Nashville where he made many important connections.
A couple of years ago, Dunn caught the eye of the folks at Nine North Records, which is the Nashville-based label that has released Lyrics, Licks and Lovers. The President of Nine North Records is Larry Pareigis, a former radio professional turned record label promotions person for the Sony BMG Nashville company. While there, Pareigis broke many top acts such as the Dixie Chicks, Gretchen Wilson, Montgomery Gentry, Van Zant, Miranda Lambert and more.
Pareigis first met Dunn backstage after watching him play with an artist that was showcasing during CMA Week in Nashville. While Nine North Records is primarily a country music entity, Pareigis is the kind of A&R person who will sign an artist that he believes in, someone that he feels has a talent that needs to be heard. That led to Pareigis traveling to Knoxville to watch Dunn play again, only this time he came with the goods and asked Dunn to release Lyrics, Licks and Lovers on his label.
Now, you can listen to Dunn’s new album on all of the streaming platforms, and you can purchase it at all of the usual digital outlets as well as at his concerts. With an acclaimed album now in his pocket, look for Dunn to bring his guitar wizardry to a town near you. And, being one of the nice guys in the business, be sure and say hello when he comes out to the merch table to greet his ever-expanding fan base.
For you gear geeks out there, Dunn plays the Chris Kohlman-made Mark Dunn Signature Series Guitar, an instrument built in his honor and based on his requirements and preferences. Kohlman is a renowned instrument builder who is known for making high-quality bass guitars. Named the Bass Musician Magazine Luthier of the Year in 2016, when Kohlman decided to start making electric guitars, Dunn was his inspiration. On occasion, Dunn will also break out a Fender Eric Johnson model Stratocaster, an Eddie Van Halen Signature Wolfgang Guitar and a custom-made Tom Anderson Guitar.