Mark WintersPhoto by Montgomery Pollack/Sydney Mills Photography
Mark Winters had always liked classic rock growing up. His parents raised him on a steady diet of Cream and the Eagles, and he explored the intricacies of Rush with a drumming buddy in high school who was mad about Neil Peart. But it wasn't until the singer/guitarist was well into his adulthood that he thought about performing it, with a particularly challenging choice of debut gig.
In 2011, he challenged himself to sing and play a song for his wife as a surprise during their anniversary dinner at La Trattoria, where they had held their rehearsal dinner. So the Sugar Land resident walked into nearby Smack Guitars and spoke with co-owner Steve Eller about his plan. When Eller asked Winters if he had any experience at all singing or playing - and the answer came back “no” both times - the pair had the work cut out for them. And practice began.
“I had to do it all incognito because I didn’t want my wife to know what I was doing,” Winters explains. So after nailing as much as possible the song of choice – “What You Give” by Tesla (Winters and his wife had gone to a Tesla/Firehouse concert while they were dating), he went through the surprise to his wife and the surrounding diners’ delight. Though he had printed the lyrics on the inside of an oversized card placed on the table as a safety net. And once that one-song show was over, Mark Winters wanted more.
“I found a connection to be able to perform music, no matter how rough it was in the beginning. It was an exhilarating experience and I couldn’t get enough from that point,” he says. “Then I hooked up with a bunch of local guys and we started playing in a cover band. That’s where I really learned how to put a song together.”
Flash forward to this week and Mark Winters is releasing his debut solo record SlipStream. Featuring 10 original songs and one cover, he self-describes his style of lyric writing as “rock with a positive vibe.”
“I’m a positive guy and that’s my perspective in life. And I love all kinds of rock music. So as I got into being a performer, I wanted to sing things that I really believe,” he says. “And I wanted to create a narrative with a positive vibe to share with everyone." He cites influences including Tom Petty, John Mayer, Coldplay, Guns ‘n Roses, and the Eagles.
Mark Winters was born in Louisiana. But with a father working as a physician in the U.S. Air Force, they moved around a bit before settling in Wichita Falls, Texas, where Winters went to high school. After attending Texas A&M and then graduate school at the University of Houston, he settled in Sugar Land, home for more than 25 years.
He credits his grandmother with teaching him a love of poetry and the written word. Musically, the songs on SlipStream run the gamut from straight guitar-based classic rock to bluesier jams, pop metal, Beach Boys-type ballads, and psychedelia. There’s even a mini-rap in one number.
“Jarle’s Mountain” is based on Winters’ experience hiking in the ice-capped snowy mountains of Norway, with a man named Jarle as his guide and who left an impression on him, especially when he took him to a stone cabin on top of one peak. “[Jarle] had such a connection with nature and family and the mountain that the wind was whistling about, it was spiritual and cinematic – a Lord of the Rings experience,” Winters offers.
A raucous “Shout it Down” is Winters’ take on the anger and discourse in today’s social and political atmosphere. “As the world and social media is moving faster, there’s less talking and more anger and polarity and shouting,” he says. “And people are shouting their opinions at each other in the hopes of bludgeoning them to death with it. We in the world need to step down from that and have more conversations with each other.”
And in keeping with his “rock with a positive vibe” outlook, the track “Strong” comes from his own favorite phrase, which is “Finish strong.” “A big piece of life’s puzzle is keeping your eyes on your prize for whatever you’re trying to achieve, be in running a marathon, getting a college degree, or anything,” he says.
SlipStream was recorded in Nashville and Los Angeles with a number of support players, and will be available on most regular digital media platforms, as well as CD Baby, Amazon, and Winters’ website. For the release show, he’ll be joined onstage by Marc Hebert (drums), Danny Kairos (guitar), Kevin Yonts (bass), and Christopher Winters (background vocals). Merchandise sales will benefit two charities that Winters supports, Oath, Inc. (a faith-based group that aims to improve the lives of military veterans), and Big Brothers Big Sisters Houston, for whom Winters also serves as a mentor.
When asked what he hopes the audience takes away from the show, Mark Winters message is both succinct - and on point: “I hope people walk away with a great positive vibe.”
Mark Winters plays 7 p.m. on September 12 at Baker Street Pub at 15970 City Walk in Sugar Land. Free show. For more information, call 713-986-8536 or visit BakerStreetPub.com/Sugar-Land. For more on Mark Winters, visit MarkWintersMusic.com
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.