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Watertown native lives ‘Dream’ with Rascals show and Grammy

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Watertown native Mark Prentice is a musician, producer and songwriter who lives in Nashville.

He is the music director and bass player for “The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream” tour. Produced and directed by Steven Van Zandt, the show is a “bioconcert,” a hybrid of a rock concert and a Broadway show.

Mr. Prentice, a 1971 graduate of Watertown High School and a former Times paper boy, is the son of John C. and Martha Prentice. His father, who died in 1991, owned Northern Haulers Trucking and was the founder, along with Julius Samann, of Car Freshner Corp. Mrs. Prentice, 96, now lives near Nashville.

Mark Prentice won a Grammy for the 1997 Warner Bros. release, “I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray” by the Fairfield Four, featuring guest performances by Elvis Costello and Garrison Keillor.

Mr. Prentice was emailed some questions for this Q&A feature.



Were you raised in a musical family?



“Yes and no. My mother played piano and my dad sang in the choir at church, but no one in my family had ever performed professionally. My folks loved music and took me to Broadway plays when I was a little kid ... “Oklahoma!,” “The Sound Of Music,” “My Fair Lady,” “The King and I.” And when I got interested in rock ’n’ roll, they hated the music, but understood that it was important to me and were very supportive in spite of their misgivings, unlike a lot of parents at the time.”



At what point did you know you wanted to be a professional musician?



“February 17, 1967. I saw the Young Rascals at Watertown High School and it was life-changing. I owned a guitar at the time and I’m pretty sure I was in a band, but that was a lightning bolt moment.”



What do you consider your first big break?



“There have been a LOT of big breaks, but the first one was being hired, when I had just turned 15, by Al Netto (he went on to become mayor of Gouverneur) into a group called Almond Joy. The other guys were seniors in high school and seemed like they were so much older. But they gave me a shot and I started playing every weekend, in nightclubs and at frat parties, etc., for money. Pretty hard to keep me down on the farm after that.”



You’ve worked with such artists as Vince Gill, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle and Steven Van Zandt. Do you have a favorite musician who you have worked with?



“No, and I’m not trying to dance around this. I’ve had an amazing, experience-filled career, and there have been countless instances of real musical connection with all the names you’ve mentioned, and literally hundreds of others, many of whom are songwriters who are not household names. It’s impossible to pick a ‘favorite,’ as they are all among my favorites.

“If I were to name the most all-around talented individual I’ve worked with, that would be the writer Marcus Hummon, with whom I have shared just about any music adventure you can imagine over the last 20 years. And I’m admittedly biased, but the best singer I’ve ever known is my wife, Michelle, who I met when I hired her to sing in a show I was producing.”



Tell us about “The Rascals” show.



“Once Upon A Dream” is the truly brilliant and heartfelt brainchild of Steven and Maureen Van Zandt and Marc Brickman, a world class lighting and visual designer (Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Keith Urban, John Mayer,etc.). Steven made it his mission in life, for decades, to try to reunite this seminal American band.

“The Rascals burned really hot from 1965 to 1970 and then disbanded, never to all play together again until this show. And although almost everyone knows the music, they’re often not aware that it all came from the same band.

“The Rascals were a huge influence on Steven and Bruce and Steven came up with this new hybrid art form, the “bioconcert” I guess. So an audience member not only hears the hits, but many deep album cuts, performed by the original guys, who, over the course of a two-hour plus show, tell their story from a 48-foot video wall and provide first-person historic context to that pivotal period of time in the late ’60s.

“It’s a very emotional, moving experience for fans, and I’ve seen that same reaction from young people who had no knowledge of the band going in, but left the show as fans. If I weren’t involved in it, I’d be the first in line for tickets.”



How did you become involved in it?



“Felix Cavaliere, one of the lead singers and writers for the group, has lived in Nashville for a long time. Through a mutual friend, I met Felix when I played on sessions he was producing and have done live dates with him on and off for the last decade.

“In the course of this adventure, Steven persuaded the guys to get together to play one night in 2010, and Felix got me involved in that show. I met all the guys (my childhood heroes), we got along very well and when this show became a reality, I’m honored that they all wanted me to do it with them.”



Any other upcoming projects of note?



“Yes, indeed. I’m involved with an awesome project honoring the music of another favorite of mine, the Scottish singer/songwriter Frankie Miller, a HUGE influence on Paul Rogers, Rod Stewart, Paul Carrack, etc. I just played on a track featuring Joe Walsh this morning from the comfort of my own home studio, thanks to the miracle of technology.

“This tribute record will feature Elton John, Bonnie Tyler, Paul Carrack, Willie Nelson, Kiki Dee, Delbert McClinton and many other fans of Frankie’s work, and I’ve played on a good bit of it. Frankie suffered a serious brain injury 20 years ago and can no longer perform, but these tracks are built around some salvaged vocal performances from 20 years ago that were recently uncovered, so it’s a very special and emotionally moving project, and very rewarding for me personally.

“And my older son Matt has been urging me to design and conduct a seminar for people in all walks of the music business to help them understand how to successfully make a living in this volatile business. I’ve done a bit of research, received a great response to the idea and I actually think he’s on to something, so I’ve begun to put that together, in a couple of different formats.

“Time will tell, but it’s exciting to think about helping young musicians, engineers, managers, agents, whatever, fast track their progress and avoid many of the major stumbling blocks.”



Do you ever get back to the north country?



“My family spent a vacation week in July in Alex Bay, mostly relaxing and catching up with one another. We did go sit in for a minute at Skiff’s. I’ve been talking with the powers that be and I’m pretty sure Johnny Reno Prentice, my 16-year-old guitar-prodigy son, is going to play the Labor Day Blues Fest this year.

“If we can swing that, I’m going to try to add a Rochester, Syracuse and Watertown date, probably with the whole family band including Michelle, Matt and our daughter Gabrielle.”



Have you heard about the “Jam Night” at the Nautical Turtle Tavern? I’m sure they’d love to have you.



“I have, and while I don’t know them, I’ve become acquainted with the whole cast of characters there through the Upstate Musicians website, so I look forward to meeting them all. I’ve seen some video. Not sure I can keep up. Maybe better to be a paying customer. ...



If you were stranded on a deserted island with one album, what would it be?



“Ouch! That’s a tough one. If I could only have one, it would be “She She — High Class Jazz,” a record I made with my wife and daughter, Gabrielle Caldwell, that is my proudest production. Artistically and sonically, it stands up to anything and it’s my girls, so I’d have that.

“As for classic records, very hard to choose, but I think it would be ‘A Donny Hathaway Collection.’ Nobody hits me quite like Donny, and, had he lived, he would have ruled the music world.

“This is all completely academic anyway, since on a ‘deserted island,’ it’s highly unlikely I’d have any way to play or listen to anything. Hey! That was a trick question! OK, if I have one album that I can only LOOK at, I’ll take Herb Alpert “Whipped Cream and Other Delights.” ...

If you have a suggestion for a Times Q&A, contact Times features writer Chris Brock at cbrock@wdt.net

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