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CentreStage Magazine asked Mark Lalama to list and comment on the Top five recordings that influenced him the most as a songwriter. Here’s what he had to say:

Wow, so many records and writers influenced and still influence me. Almost impossible to narrow it down to just five recordings, but let’s try. So five recordings that influenced me as a young aspiring singer/songwriter are, in no particular order:

1. John Hiatt: Bring the Family. This record really turned my ear toward rootsy, more country flavours. At the time I was immersed in jazz and fusion pianists such as Chick Corea and Michel Camillo. Tracks on BTF like: “Lipstick Sunset,” “Little Thing Called Love,” “Memphis in the Meantime” and of course, “Have a Little Faith,” combined soul and country and brought me back to how Ray Charles made me feel. I was hooked. It also turned me on to a new drummer that would influence my musical tastes forever, Jim Keltner.

2. Around the same time I was given the Tom Waits CD The Heart of Saturday Night and was totally pulled under water with that. Tracks like “San Diego Serenade” and “Diamonds on my Window” really influenced me. It also had some piano-based jazz which appealed to me.

3. I guess before these two records, the one that played a huge part was the Paul Simon One Trick Pony album. The writing was so cool and effortless; “How The Heart Approaches What it Yearns,” for example. Wow. “Late in the Evening” was impressive on so many levels and managed to be a huge pop hit as well - very impressive Mr. Simon. And the players: Steve Gadd, Richard Tee, Tony Levin, Eric Gale…COME ON! This led me on a journey to listen to anything these guys recorded and really influenced my playing and my idea of musical brotherhood and band culture. I bought the Richard Tee instructional VHS. Yes, VHS! No Youtube back in the day kids!

4. Jumping ahead, again to Tom Waits: Mule Variations was one that soaked into my bloodstream,


possibly because it played in my car for years without interruption. High energy bashers, quirky off-kilter musings and fragile confessionals are equally represented on this. I think it’s one of the finest collections of songs ever assembled. There are singer- songwriters whose instruments and voice are an important compositional tool. Marc Jordan and Bill Withers for example.

5. The Bill Withers Greatest Hits CD was my best friend for a long time. These songs differ from most of my other choices, because they were radio hits. Yet they had a gravity - a weight of authenticity and importance to them. The simplicity of “Grandma’s Hands,” for example. It is written with such innocence without any dumb attempts at cleverness (pun intended). This in combination with his undeniable vocal tone still moves me. His writing showed me that you can lead the listener with musical inference, tone, and you don’t have to fill in all the gaps. Give the listener some creative license. His band also deserves a shoutout, particularly James Gadson on drums - check out the live version of “Kissing My Love” - woah!

I should stop here? Is that five? There are so many other influences but these were the main ones when I was coming up, I’d say. These days, I mostly listen to, and am influenced by, people I am working with. I am just finishing a record with Gary Taylor. His songs are so biographical and personal and visual, so touching and haunting. Daniel Romano and Kevin Breit are also really inspiring me these days.

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