The following biography is expressed in Mark's own words, taken from
various interviews and published articles, and assembled with minimal editing.
I started drumming the summer of my 12th year. The Christmas before that, I became a diabetic, and my parents were thinking, "Wow, poor Mark. He's going to have a plagued life; let's find something for him." So they bought me a set of drums. My dad brought them home and set them up backwards. My mother said she knew that first night that drumming would be what I would do with my life.
Growing up in South Dakota, I was isolated and couldn't see my favorite drummers to emulate them. I guess that's how I got a style of my own. I never had any lessons. I tried in eighth grade, but by then I was playing traditional grip left-handed, and the teacher said, "You're right-handed; you have to play like this." And he tried to change me over. So that was my one drum lesson in life.
In high school, I joined a teen band called The Vandals, and all the parents were into it and they'd help us out. But after awhile they were going, "Hmmmm, this isn't so cute anymore." And each parent's support would gradually fall away until it was only my parents who were still there. A big part of my success came from their support.
I was in lots of bands -- hippie bands, fusion bands -- bands with names like Rushmore, Zero Ted, The Flippers, and The Chateaux Band. There were different bands in different cities, Kansas City, Denver, all kinds of places. I always believed in leaving a band if it wasn't happening. I didn't believe in sticking it out until we all hated each other. So after awhile, I would just pack my truck up, get my dog, and split, and they'd all be wagging their fingers after me.
First Big Break
I moved to LA in December, 1975. A guy I'd worked with called me to play a club gig there. As luck would have it, I ran into Mike Miller, a guitar player friend that I grew up with in South Dakota. He was in LA working with The Fowler Brothers Band. Tom Fowler was playing with Jean Luc Ponty, and we heard he was auditioning drummers. So I called and called, but I could never get through. As soon as I gave up calling them, they called me.
I got the Jean Luc Ponty gig in January, 1976, within a month of moving to LA. That year, I recorded my first album, Imaginary Voyage, and toured the world. I was with Jean Luc for 9 months, and it was a challenge. It took everything I had to keep up with them.
When Jean Luc started to rehearse it was, "Okay, poly-rhythms in 19/8 then bang, we'd do that and then, "Okay here's another in 5/4." We'd do that and then, "Okay " I loved it. It was good being 23 and playing all over the world with a premier jazz artist. It was the workout I had been waiting for. I used a set of clear Fibes Plexiglass, double bass, two racks and two floor toms. I quit when Tommy Bolin offered me more money.
I was with Tommy from October to December of 1976 to promote his post-Deep Purple solo album, Private Eyes. Tommy was very gifted and innately talented. He didn't really know what he was playing, but he could play. As he would say, "I don't know sixteen bars, but I know sixteen bars." That band included Jimmy Haslip and Max Groenthal. Max became singer in .38 Special and was the original singer for Jack Mack and the Heart Attack.
It was a fun band. We were all good friends and I had worked with a lot of those guys before. At the time, I was a hard core veggie. You know, a mucous-less, ginseng, stand-on-my-head kind of hippie. Tommy nearly beat his drug and alcohol habit; he was taking vitamins and was back on the right track. But in December 1976, he flew to Miami early, before the band, and everybody - bellboys, hotel maids - started giving him stuff. Miami is the drug capital of the world, and Tommy was the kind of guy who needed his own people around him, and when he didn't, he lost control. We played a great show in Miami opening for Jeff Beck on December 3. Tommy celebrated with a lot of people that night. Tragically, he died of an overdose in the early morning hours of December 4, 1976.
After Tommy's death, the whole tour was a mess. Everyone passed the buck and lost a lot of money. It wasn't a very healthy scene. In 1977, I played and recorded with The Mark Almond band, nice English gents who let me take my Afghan, Richard on the bus. We toured the US and had a grand time.
Brother to Brother
In May of 1978, I got the gig with Gino Vannelli. It came about when I decided that maybe I could get back with Jean Luc Ponty. I called Ponty's manager, who said he'd just hired the drummer from Gino Vannelli, Casey Scheurell. I knew that Gino was on A&M Records and would need to replace Casey, so I called my friend at A&M, and a half hour later I was talking to Gino.
The next day, I went out to Gino's house and he put me under a microscope, playing drums in a bedroom of his house with his mother, father, two brothers and their wives watching. It's a unique kind of pressure, having somebody's mom staring at you. But I got the gig.
In 1979, I did the Brother to Brother tour. I got married that year, and I was also teaching and recording whenever I could, trying to build a foundation. Working with Gino was the most high-pressure, demanding, precise drum gig I ever had, and I loved it. Because Gino is a drummer, I pretty much got to play whatever I wanted, and the drums were always the second thing in the mix, after the vocals. Gino was a fun guy to be around. A nice guy. I love them all, the whole family. A great bunch. They really know what they're doing.
In May of 1980, I got the call for Jethro Tull. I had been playing on Eddie Jobson's demo in New York (cursing him the whole time because I had to take the subway carrying my cymbals.) Eddie used that demo to land a gig doing Ian Anderson's solo album. When the drummer didn't work out, Ian inquired about the drummer on Eddie's demo. They called me and I was there the next day. The album turned out so good that Chrysalis wanted to make it the next Tull Album - "A".
Ian Anderson was cool to work with. The first time I heard his voice coming through the monitor in rehearsal, It was like, "Wow! There's that voice." Ian's a very good guy who always made sure his lads were happy, which we were. I was happy with the money alone. We'd take a break and drink tea and ride motocross bikes on his 400 acres, which is now probably 1,200 acres. He also had a proper rifle range on his property where we'd go down whenever we wanted with our 12-gauges and shoot clay pigeons. It was a great lifestyle.
We toured the US and Britain in 1980, then Europe in 1981. Then, Ian wanted to give it a break for awhile, so I moved on. One of my best friends, Doane Perry, who co-produced the Something with a Pulse CD, took my place and has had the gig ever since.
I first met Doane in the mid 1970s. He called Jean Luc's management to follow up after being told that he had the Jean Luc Ponty gig. Then, they told him, "Jean Luc just heard this drummer from South Dakota that he likes." So when we played New York, Doane said, "I'm gonna see what this guy from South Dakota is like." He called me awhile later when he was in LA, and again when he got back to New York, and we developed a close friendship even though I stole his Ponty gig and he stole my Tull gig (kidding.) .
After the Tull tour, I bought a house in Sioux Falls. It wasn't a great career move. I commuted to big cities to record, but not quite enough to keep it together financially. I saw a lot of records coming out by buddies of mine that I would have liked to have played on. In 1983, I sold the house, moved back to LA, and later got divorced. I started working with Gino Vannelli again and we recorded two albums worth of material over the next couple of years.
I played with Tower of Power in 1984. I had heard about the gig, called them, and got the audition. I always loved David Garibaldi so I knew most of the tunes, which was a very good thing because I only had one rehearsal -- the audition -- before the first gig. We talked over a few melody arrangements and that was it. It's a great band, my favorite kind of music. Lots of fun. I played with them again in 1986 and that's when I experienced end-stage renal disease.
The story goes like this: In July, 1986, I was touring with Tower of Power, and we were using small private planes to travel in. I had an ear infection. In Chinese medicine, the ear is called "The Flower of the Kidney." We dropped altitude really fast into San Francisco, and my ear started throbbing so badly it was the worst pain I've ever felt.
I suffered through a few gigs, but I finally had to go into a San Francisco hospital. My kidneys shut down completely and I had to go on dialysis for over a year. In July, 1987, I had problems with the type of dialysis I was doing, and got a bunch of infections - there was complication after complication. I was in a coma for awhile, and they had to take off my left big toe. I couldn't eat for 3 weeks they fed me through my neck this fluid, and...aaahhh! It was a wild time.
It was hard on my mom. She would say good-bye to me and not know if I would be around the next day. At the hospital, she would wheel me out to a little spot, and we'd just break down for a while. And then we'd dry off and get back at it, and just try to find a way. My mom was there the whole time; she was really my angel. And my father, too. He stayed at home and learned to do things that he had never done in 47 years of marriage. After 3 months in the hospital, I came out in a wheelchair. That was in November, 1987.
The Woodland Hills Drum Club started in the garage of my house on Clark Street in 1985. Back then, Gregg Bissonette, Myron Grombacher, Doane Perry and I would hang out, then go into the garage and spray for awhile. Over time, the club grew to include friends like Jay Rubin, Jim "Cheese" Sciurba, Jeff Fayman, Dean Zimmer, Barry Schneider, Billy Ward, Tony Pia, and a bunch of other buddies.
In July, 1987, the Drum Club staged a benefit concert at The Guitar Center in Hollywood. They called it The Mark Craney Drum Summit and raised nearly $20,000 toward my transplant costs. It all started when Gregg was talking to Myron about doing a drum clinic to raise some money to help cover my medical expenses. Then Steve Smith wanted to join them. I don't know what the order was, but pretty soon I was hearing, "Now Terry Bozzio wants to do it, now Vinnie Colaiuta is going to do it, and then Ricky Lawson, Carmine and Vinnie Appice, Rudy Richman and Michael Fisher "
Dave Weiderman from The Guitar Center got involved, Journey donated a stage, Yamaha donated a PA system, and the drum companies donated things to give away in about 2 weeks it became this huge event. Very harmoniously, everyone worked together to make it happen. And it just couldn't have worked better.
So many people stepped up to help; it was overwhelming. My friend Mike Hurley rallied support in my hometown of Sioux Falls in November, 1987 through a 6-hour 8-band benefit at a local hotel. I was too weak to attend, but my family was in the front row.
In March, 1988, just as I was getting on my feet a little bit, UCLA Medical Center called and said, "We've got a kidney here from a car accident victim. You'd better come down." I had no time to think about the transplant operation or what it all meant.
During the transplant operation, they let my blood sugar get too low and I had a stroke. Life became challenging again. I was in the hospital for another 3 months. I rejected the new kidney at first, so they gave me a drug called OKT3. I hallucinated my brains out for weeks. And then, just about the time they were going to write me off, the kidney kicked in. I had a few months of physical rehabilitation, first in the hospital and then as an outpatient. I went from being in a wheelchair and needing two people to help me up, to a walker, to two canes, to one cane.
Back in the Saddle
In April 1989, I started to get my career back on track. Gregg Bissonette, my roommate at the time, was subbing on a gig in a little club near our house, and he said, "Why don't you come along tonight?" He hauled my drums over there and set them up. I thought, "Well, okay, maybe I can play one or two tunes." After playing the whole first set I remember thinking, "Bloody hell, how did I do that?"
I played the second set. By then, I thought, "Well, there's only one set left. Let's go." And it was unbelievable. It was an out-of-body experience by then. I was looking at myself going, "Wow, your legs are still moving!" I got home to my dog, Sandy, and I kept waking her up, saying, "Sandy! I played a gig tonight!" She wasn't that impressed.
Sitting in at that little gig in 1989, along with the support of family and friends, gave my career a second wind. I started doing clinics and taking gigs again. My mom and I were guests on the Geraldo Show in the summer of 1990, for an episode that focused on rockers and their parents. I called her at the last minute and she flew to New York. She was so cool about the whole thing.
In 1993, I went to Europe with Randy Myers of The Eagles and Allan Rich, son of country legend Charlie Rich. The same year I also went to the 25th Jethro Tull reunion in London, which was a lot of fun. Then I recorded a Dweezil Zappa album, called Shampoo Horn, and started playing with Eric Burdon and the Animals. I played on one of Eric's records and we toured the world from 1994 to 1996.
In 1995, my transplanted kidney failed. I toured with Eric Burdon for another year, but I had to pull over in October of 1996 because life on the road was just too much. Going into foreign countries for dialysis was scary. Especially Brazil. I thought, "If my mom could see this, she would freak!" It was like being in a Fellini movie compared to the treatment centers here. But it worked when I needed it, and I felt victorious. Every night when I flopped into bed dead tired, it was a good feeling.
I was on the UCLA transplant list for nine years, waiting for a double kidney and pancreas transplant, so I stayed pretty close to home. I volunteered at the hospital with my dog Sandy, as part of a pet therapy program, which was very rewarding. Sandy wore her little scarf and knew just what to do. We went into all the rooms once a week for quite a while there.
I left no stone unturned as far as the natural healing angle. I went to acupuncturists, kinesiologists, chiropractors, herbalists, Korean psychic healers, you name it. I didn't want to rule anything out. But of all the treatments, choosing happiness was the healthiest thing I ever did.
In early 1997, my friends Larry Wilkins and Doane Perry started kicking around the idea of another benefit concert. Ian Anderson had a schedule problem and couldn't appear at the benefit, so he said, "Why don't I just donate a track and we'll put together a CD?" That's how the Something with a Pulse benefit CD was conceptualized.
The album featured 14 tracks. I was featured on 6 of them, all live recordings. The CD included a never-before-released live Gino Vannelli cut, another live one with Tower of Power, and a live trio gig I did with Terry and Mike Miller in Sioux Falls.
Two tracks were recorded in April, 1997 with Mike Miller on guitar, Jimmy Haslip on bass, Michael Fisher on percussion, Bill Champlin on keyboards and guitar, and from Santana, Alex Ligertwood on vocals and Richard Baker on keyboards. Eric Burdon donated a new song and Ian Anderson recorded a track specifically for the CD. Terry Bozzio did a track, solo drumming. There was a track from David Garibaldi and two percussionist friends of his. There was a Fairport Convention track, and a track with Mike Keneally, who played with Zappa. The closing track was New Hymn Live, donated by James Taylor, which was really touching because he's my favorite singer. Everyone donated their publishing royalties on my behalf.
I co-wrote a song on the CD called Listen to Your Heart. It's about how giving, receiving and sharing is why we're in this, and "make the connection" is part of the chorus. It was written about the benefit event and everyone coming in to record.
The Second Benefit Concert
It was called, A Day of Drums and Music Part II. It took place on Sunday, September 7, 1997 at The Guitar Center. It was a beautiful day, and a wonderful turnout. A lot of my family and friends were there.
The first band was Peter Erskine's trio, with Peter playing a tiny cocktail kit. They sounded fantastic. Next, Peter played with Steve Smith, a duet of percussion conversations. Steve then played by himself, first swinging his brains out on an old vintage Gretsch kit, then moving to his bigger Sonor kit, pretty much playing the entire encyclopedia of drums.
Next came The Mustard Seeds, Matt Bissonette's band. I love their music and they're all great players. Then came Myron Grombacher and Gregg Bissonette. They played a grueling duet flawlessly. From flying double bass to open time bending, they tore it up.
Enter The Mark's Brothers. Two nights before the benefit I didn't feel like I could play, but lo and behold, I could at least keep a beat. Playing with me were Alex Ligertwood on vocals, Jimmy Haslip on bass, Mike Miller on guitar, Michael Fisher on percussion, Doane Perry on drums and Vince DiCola on keys (Richard Baker was supposed to play with us but he couldn't get his gear running!) DW donated the kit I played and then we raffled it off. The lucky winner was my friend, Ronnie Guitierrez, another great player. Carmine Appice gave away a Mapex kit to a young boy who begged his mother to stay for the drawing. When his number was called, he shot straight up in the air. It was very cool.
Dave Garfield & Friends also performed, with John Pena on bass, Walfredo Reyes on drums, Ralph Humphrey on drums, and Garfield on keys. Mike Keneally and Beer for Dolphins showed us how to tap our feet poly-rhythmically, crazy stuff. It was great to hear Eric Burdon play again too, with the great Aynsley Dunbar on drums.
Terry Bozzio gave us a finale never to be forgotten. He had these new Sabian cymbals, all pitched just right, so his melodies jumped out as well as his gymnastics. The pinnacle was this thing he did with his feet -- 2/16 with one foot and 3/16 with the other -- while soloing on top.
Two high points in my career were my auditions with Stevie Wonder and James Taylor. At one point, Stevie was thinking about changing drummers and I got a call to audition. When we started playing You Are the Sunshine of My Life, I knew we were progressing pretty well. But ultimately, Stevie decided to keep his old drummer. I also auditioned for James Taylor, and I got a call back when it was down to two drummers. Carlos Vega got the gig and I was really glad for him. It was an honor just to be in the running.
Over the years, I've read a lot of books, which has been helpful. Deepak Chopra and Bernie Segal's books have helped with my attitude and learning to choose happiness. Thomas Moore's books, Care of the Soul and Re-enchantment of Everyday Life have helped me to appreciate small things. My dogs have kept me happy and I've had great people in my life my family and friends a very good life.
In 1998, Mark moved out of his house in Woodland Hills and settled into a home in Sherman Oaks with his girlfriend, Abby, and their dogs. Mark enjoyed regular lunch dates with friends and family at Valley restaurants like Stanley's, Four 'n Twenty, Something's Fishy, and The Little Café; he was especially fond of dog-friendly spots like Jinky's and Ruby's that would welcome Mark's lovely Pharaoh hound, Tess. He gave drum lessons to select students, did occasional sessions, and visited his mother faithfully.
In September, 2004, Mark returned to South Dakota to play drums on the first project of Aberdeen Recording Studios, with Tim Andersen and other friends. Tracking was scheduled around time for dialysis, rest, and frequent visits by friends, family and fans who stopped by the studio. The session was one of that year's highlights for Mark.
In November, 2005, UCLA Medical Center suddenly called and Mark endured the kidney transplant process for the second time.
Mark struggled with many diabetes-related health complications, including wild swings in blood sugar due to drug interactions. In spring of 2005, Mark and Tess moved in with friends Rick Livingstone and Rae Tanner in Simi Valley, where he enjoyed philosophical chats by the fire pit and made plans for the future with his cup of tea and occasional cigar.
By August, 2005, Mark was feeling strong enough to travel to South Dakota to record with friend Tim Anderson of Aberdeen Studios. But on August 18, the day before he was to board the plane, fate intervened with a stroke. The stroke occurred in the brain stem, the area of the brain that controls breathing, swallowing, and speech. While in the hospital, Mark contracted pneumonia and a staph infection, which led to a month in ICU and a week on life support.
Although he suffered no brain damage, Mark never regained his ability to swallow. Unable to eat or drink, he was put on a gastric feeding tube and a tracheotomy tube. Since the trach tube didn't allow him to talk, he learned to communicate by pointing to letters on an alphabet board. A month later, he was put on a different trach tube, one that allowed him to reconnect with his world through conversation.
By October, 2005, Mark's health stabilized to the point where he could take part in rehabilitation therapies in various sub-acute care facilities. Despite Mark's heroic efforts to recover, his weakened state and resistance to antibiotics were no match for pneumonia's tenacious grip. Mark passed away quietly in the early morning hours of November 26, 2005 at Sherman Village, a long-term care facility in Sherman Oaks.
Throughout his 3-month ordeal, Mark maintained his stoic will, sense of humor, and generosity of spirit. Despite the indignities of hospital life, he never lost the soulful character in his eyes, his concern for others, nor the irreverent wit implied in his raised eyebrow. In those last months, Mark's sister Jeanne kept vigil, along with a steadfast community of friends, family, and fans. Although Doane and Gregg were on tour a fair bit that Fall, Mark kept in close touch with them by cell phone, as he did with Abby and others he held dear.
On December 10, 2005, hundreds gathered to say goodbye to the sage of the skins at Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City, California. Remembrances were shared by Mark's sisters Jeanne and Anne, Rae Tanner, Doane Perry, Jeff Fayman, Michael and Bob Fisher, Mike Miller, Joe Vannelli, Barry Schneider, and Gregg Bissonette in a heartfelt celebration of Mark's life and contributions. Others shared impromptu stories and expressions of gratitude for Mark's influence in their lives -- Dean Zimmer, Doug Rezac, Tim Anderson, and Kevin Katich among them.
Mark was interred in a private ceremony on December 12, 2005 at Oakwood Memorial Park in Chatsworth, California, near a lush rose garden which, quite fittingly, overlooks one of the recording studios in which Mark recorded tracks for the Brother to Brother album and other projects. On March 8, 2006 old friend Al Berven and others held a hometown memorial honoring Mark at the Radisson Empire Hotel in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Upon hearing the news of Mark's passing, singer Ian Anderson posted a tribute on the Jethro Tull website, which read in part,
"Mark wrote the following words which I think might sum up his generosity of spirit, his love of his friends and music and above all, his strength, determination and optimism better than any epitaph I could write:
You all know how I feel
I'm very blessed
Life is a celebration
Thank you all
Expect good things
Make the Connection
God Bless, Mark. Drum on, big man from South Dakota."
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