News Article

Musician keeps things creative

Article by SHIRLEY JINKINS Star-Telegram Staff Writer  

ARLINGTON–Arlington musician Mark Harrell not only knows music, but he knows how to survive in the music business.

“I try to always have a lot of irons in the fire,” said Harrell, who performs, composes, records and produces several styles of music. “You have to keep marketing yourself as a daily thing.”

People in his hometown of Jefferson know him as Fulton Carlisle Harrell. He jokes that a booking agent changed Carlisle to Mark back in the early 1970s.

The four Harrell brothers took lessons from Margaret Jones, who still lives in Jefferson. Their parents played piano and banjo, but only Mark and his brother Tony kept up with music.

A trumpet major at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Harrell also studied jazz piano and voice. After graduating in 1972, Harrell moved to New Mexico and began touring with bands and honing his business and marketing skills.

Harrell settled in Arlington in 1977. His daughters, Amity and Domini, were preschoolers then, andHarrell wanted to retire from constant touring.  He played clubs and piano bars in the Arlington area. By the mid-1980s, he formed his own company to explore other music-business avenues.

“I wanted to get out of the nightclubs, and it was the best move I’ve ever made,” Harrell said. “I began marketing myself into private country clubs and conventions, and I started writing my own music.”

As a composer, Harrell has written and recorded music for network and cable TV shows, including the Academy Awards and the Emmy Awards, and the Travel Channel, HBO and Cinemax productions.

“Equipment and techniques change, but somebody still has to write the music,” Harrell said. “People don’t realize that there’s a lot more music written than just songs.”

One night, he and his wife were watching a two-hour special on Comedy Central, and they heard six pieces of music off one of Harrell‘s background-music compact discs that he produced with his brother Tony, a musician in Nashville, Tenn.

Harrell performs classic rock, Motown, blues, jazz, big band, pop and country music, with arrangements ranging from solo piano to a seven-piece band marketed by his Mark Harrell Music Productions, Inc., to corporate and private clients.

He is currently relocating and upgrading his 40-track digital recording studio and preparing for the release of a new compact disc, Guns & Haircuts, on his own independent label. Harrell wrote or co-wrote nine of the 10 cuts and has worked on the “labor of love” project for a decade.

Harrell said he has been playing more live music lately, including solo piano in country clubs and restaurants.

“After 9-11, that really cut into corporate events, and that’s not recovered yet,” Harrell said. “Luckily, a lot of public clubs and restaurants are using live music again.”

Harrell‘s fellow musicians admire his versatility and his abilities.

Ray Hair, president of the Dallas Fort Worth Professional Musicians Association, said he first saw Harrell playing with Tommy Allsup at the New West Club in Dallas more than 20 years ago.

“He can deliver a broad range of styles to audiences, and he does all of them very well,” Hair said, adding that Harrell is one of the few local musicians playing the Main Street Arts Festival in Fort Worth every year.