MARK CLARKE MIGHT NOT BE A
household name like Sting or Paul McCartney,
but like his compatriot colleagues, the
British-born bassist/vocalist balances his skill
sets with otherworldly ability. Clarke began
playing bass professionally in 1970 when he
joined pioneering progressive jazz-rock outfit
Colosseum. In 1973, he formed Tempest, an
even more musically adventurous band that
featured guitarist Allan Holdsworth. His next
band, Natural Gas, was a bona fide ’70s super
group, featuring Badfinger guitarist Joey Molland
and Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley.
Since then, Clarke’s played bass on records by
Rainbow, Uriah Heep, and Manfred Mann’s
Earth Band, and maintained long-term touring
and recording relationships with Michael
Bolton, the Monkees, and Billy Squier. In
1985 he began a ten-year involvement with
Mountain. These days he’s still touring with
Squier and Colosseum, two acts so stylistically
different he refers to them as “chalk
and cheese.” In 2010,
Clarke released his first
solo disc, Walking to
the Moon, a collection
of tunes showcasing his
vocal, and bass chops.
How has playing keyboards
influenced your bass playing?
It never hurts to have knowledge of another
instrument, but piano is a good one because
of the left hand. Learning classical music,
particularly Mozart’s piano concertos, helped
me home in on the left-hand bass parts and
apply that to bass guitar. I learned a lot about
note choice and counterpoint. Brian Wilson
has had a big influence on me, and he was
one of the first people in popular music to
incorporate elements of piano playing on
bass, using chords and double-stops. It was
groundbreaking for its time.
What’s the difference between writing
on bass and writing on piano?
With the bass I mainly come up with riffs
first. On piano it’s more chordal.
You co-wrote Uriah Heep’s classic “The
Wizard.” What tips can you share about
songwriting inspiration and craft?
It’s impossible to share that—it just happens.
And often the initial idea comes when
you’re least expecting it. For songwriting
to become a craft, you have stick to it long
What advice do you have for developing
the dual skill set of singing and playing?
Practice, practice, practice, and then
practice some more. And be patient with
yourself. With Colosseum we do a song
called “Tanglewood 63” by the composer
Mike Gibbs. The vocal parts are in a different
time signature than the bass parts. It
took me a month to be able to sing and play
it. I also had a lot on my shoulders playing
with Allan Holdsworth in Tempest. There
were times when I’d
have to play something
like an Eb on bass and
sing an En against it.
To do that, I try to
form the note in my
head before I have
to sing it. Visualizing
really helps. I do that
especially when I’m
singing a harmony—I’m
always thinking quite a
bit ahead, envisioning
how it should sound.
You worked with
Billy Squier throughout the most prolific
part of his career, playing on the albums
Don’t Say No, The Stroke and In the Dark.
What did you learn from that experience?
Billy loves rehearsing. Even now, when we
go on tour, we rehearse for at least three weeks
beforehand. It’s great because you learn more
about the material—especially in a rehearsal
environment. When Billy puts me in charge
of a rehearsal I’m going to make everyone
keep playing and playing and playing. The
more you rehearse a song the better it gets.
That’s a fact.
HEAR HIM ON
Mark Clarke, Moving to the
Moon [It’s About Music, 2010]
Basses ESP MIV 4-string basses
with EMG pickups
Rig Gallien-Krueger 800RB
head & Hartke 410XL & 215XL cabinets
Strings Thomastik-Infeld EB344 Power