Bio

My Record Player

I blame it all on that damn little blue turntable. The kiddie one with the lid that closes and the pneumatic drill bit masquerading as a needle. Powder blue. Built in flip-up 45 adapter. I felt sorry for the kids who had to buy the disposable inserts from the record store or Radio Shack. It could play 78s but we didn’t have any so why not speed things up into Chipmunk territory or down to 16 for some satanic Sabbath rumble. At least until Paranoid was added to the collection.

I guess the blame really should be on my oldest brother, Glenn. He was the one who bought The Cars’ debut on Elektra and Live At Budokan and shared a bedroom with me and put his clock radio on 59 minutes of sleep so we could listen to the WLS-AM Top 40 countdown.

I always heard something in the air on the Sout’west side of Chicago. It came out of transistor radios people carried around. It came out of car windows driving by. I’d ride my bike around the neighborhood, up and down the alleys of Scottsdale. In the summer I might stumble onto a garage band practicing. I remember one in particular on a perfect summer night. They played “Just What I Needed” note-for-note. I was parked on my bike across the street, trying to act non-chalant while squinting into the sunset. When the keyboard player started playing that riff I can still feel my smile busting out a mile wide. It was loud and catchy and mysterious and familiar and everything I needed it to be. It rang loud & true when Springsteen released “Where The Bands Are” a few years ago. I’d hear any rock band, didn’t matter, playing somewhere in the neighborhood and I’d be out the door and on my way.

I was a frequent pest at the local record store/head shop across the street from the high school I eventually attended. I’d loiter for hours, thumbing through the racks, soaking it all up. On the days when I had enough money to buy a record I’d be in and out in minutes since I’d already figured out what I’d be buying that week. If I didn’t have enough for an album I’d grab a 45 or maybe a music magazine or a poster. Thank heaven for cut-outs and promos and used records when other teen concerns started competing for my money.

I remember walking in there in the late 70s one day and they were blasting “American Girl”. I’m sure I had heard the song before but when I heard it that day, something changed. It was all over. I figured out real early what makes me happy.

Early attempts at playing music never got out of the basement. I had plenty of fun there with my brother Scott on drums but it didn’t quite take off. I had a love/hate relationship with the guitar for the first 10 years of playing through high school and college. I’d practice like mad for a short period and then put it away for months at a time.

A year after graduating, my roommate tipped me off that Steve Dawson & Diane Christiansen were looking to round out their new quartet Dolly Varden. I had been a huge Stump The Host fan and was encouraged to audition. I called Steve, strummed a couple of songs with him, rehearsed with the band, and ten thirteen years later still can’t believe they invited me to join. I’m stunned to this day how they took a chance on me since I had a whole lot to learn. Still do.

After many starts and stops I finally found a confidence and voice in my own writing a few years ago. I felt it was time to put a band together so that I could present my material and pay tribute to the songs that continue to inspire me. And play with the loudest drummer this side of Bonzo while turning my guitar up REALLY loud.

I miss that crappy blue turntable. But I still have all the records. And it all came full circle when Dolly Varden’s Forgiven Now and The Dumbest Magnets were released on vinyl.

Mark

 

Mark Balletto