It has been a while since singer-songwriter Mark Edgar Stuart has made an appearance in Little Rock, but it has been even longer since he performed in his hometown of Pine Bluff. Well, there was that one time ....
"My mom asked me to play for her 55th high school reunion last year," he says, "and only a mom could talk me into it.
Mark Edgar Stuart with Ben Harris
9 p.m. Friday, South on Main, 13th and Main streets, Little Rock
"That was kind of a strange gig. I'm not really sure they knew what they were watching. So I don't really count that as a real gig. I don't know if there are any places left to play in Pine Bluff, actually."
Stuart now calls Memphis home, or at least home base. He reckons he played more than 100 shows last year, over a 500-mile radius. He name-checked a "really cool" festival in Minnesota, plus the South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and the Folk Alliance conference, formerly held in Memphis, now a fixture in Kansas City, Mo.
Though he now spends most of his time on his own projects, he has performed as part of a host of Memphis acts, starting with a stint in The Pawtuckets, with time as a sideman (mostly on bass) with acts that have frequented central Arkansas, including John Paul Keith, Cory Branan, Lucero and Jim Mize.
"That was why I picked up the bass 25 years ago," he says with a laugh, "so I could stand in the background and mind my own business."
Stuart now spends time writing his own songs and making recordings before hitting the road to perform them. And he doesn't mind tilting at the windmills of politics and religion.
This week, he's releasing a 7-inch vinyl single (45) of his song "Don't Blame Jesus," which he hopes won't land him in the same hot water that a John Lennon comment about religion dunked the Beatles.
"I thought about waiting for the next album," he says, "but I wanted to get it out, since I do care, and I think that's the way the world is going -- with Jesus sitting on a cloud in heaven, saying he has changed his mind and he's not coming back. He might say, 'I gave you a great place and look at the mess you made of it. You can have it.'
"The flip side of that record probably won't get as much notice. It's 'Jihad John,' about a British guy who liked the Beatles. It kinda reminded me of another bad guy who liked the Beatles -- Charles Manson."
Stuart's debut CD, 2013's Blues for Lou, was a tribute to his late father, Galen Louie Stuart, who died two years before the album's release. He wrote the songs as he was facing his own health challenge, a lymphoma diagnosis, at age 36. The opening song, "Remote Control," is a tearjerker about how a 5-year-old Stuart eagerly ran back and forth to change channels on his dad's TV before the advent of remote controls.
Stuart released his second CD In 2015, Trinity My Dear, another collection of sweet songs, humorous tunes and contemplations (the "Trinity" is life, love and disappointment). It gave him the opportunity to work with one of Memphis' legendary Arkansas exports, producer/engineer Roland Janes.
"He was from the same part of Arkansas as my dad, in Clay County, and I'd gotten to know him when he was producing John Paul Keith's third record," Stuart explains, "He was really fond of my song, 'We Were in Bloom,' and did a lot of things to bring it to life on the new record. He was just a good dude, and he died a few months later."
One of the other songs, "Myra Gale," about the 13-year-old cousin singer Jerry Lee Lewis married (causing a career-interrupting scandal in 1958), led to an unexpected correspondence.
"I was always obsessed with Jerry Lee since I was born," Stuart says. "After the CD came out, I got an email from her and she wasn't very happy about it. But after I talked to her, I wrote her a song, 'Myra Gale, My Apology,' which will be on my next album. She ended up being so sweet, and I think I made a friend in the deal."
One of Stuart's funniest songs is called "Yard Sale Weirdo," and he attended a Lewis yard sale last weekend, "just across the state line in Mississippi."
"It was mostly a lot of junk, stuff like Mason jars and car seats and bottle caps. His Rolls Royce was for sale for $100,000. I didn't buy that; I bought what I could afford: a couple of postcards."
Weekend on 07/07/2016
Print Headline: PB-native songwriter Stuart tells Southern stories