Marcus Malone, singer songwriter and recording artist, chats with Kevin Cooper about growing up in Detroit with the sound of Motown, a missed opportunity for dance lessons with Tina Turner, opening for the late B.B. King at The Royal Albert Hall and his latest album ‘A Better Man’.

Marcus was signed by United Artists aged just sixteen. Moving to California he was managed by Ike and Tina Turner’s manager who encouraged him to move away from his Motown influence and embrace the rock genre.

Having married an American woman, he relocated to the UK and has since released seven studio albums, the latest being ‘A Better Man’ which was released in March 2017. This is the first vinyl production since the American release of the ‘Marcus’ album. Distributed by Cadiz Music and the album has been very well received and hailed as his best by many.

Malone has now established himself as a major blues-rock-fest attraction, appearing at The Royal Albert Hall with BB King. He has also joined forces with Jet Tricks, a group that he has been writing with for ten years, and although they do not tour, their label will be recording a new album featuring Malone.

Whilst getting ready for the festival season, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Marcus how are you?

I’m very well Kevin how are you?

I’m doing okay thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No thank you it’s great to hear from you again.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I can’t complain, I’m alive, I’m getting up in the mornings and going to the gym, working out, playing music, expressing myself so it can’t be bad.

I have to ask you how was Iceland?

(Laughter) Iceland was in fact just like the name (laughter). It was cold. Having said that I was lucky as I eventually got to see the Northern Lights. After that we took ourselves off to the Blue Lagoon and I have to say that alone was worth the price of the trip. It was absolutely amazing. So all in all the trip was fantastic.

I suppose that the most important question is, is the beer okay (laughter).

(Laughter) the beer was good, and so that is good enough for me. It was a shock to the system however when you are paying twelve pounds for a pint (laughter).

Anyway, we really should talk about you and your music shouldn’t we?

Yes we really should so fire away (laughter).

Why the move from America to the UK?

That’s easy. It was for me to get my head clear and I also got married to a girl in Los Angeles and her mother is from Newcastle, so I came over to the UK with her and she wanted to stay (laughter). I wasn’t doing anything in Los Angeles at the time so I thought ‘why not’. So I moved over here, decided to stay and give myself a fresh start. Meanwhile the girl that I married left me and moved back to Los Angeles (laughter). However, I decided to stay here for a while and work at my music. I started getting more and more work which enabled me to make a living from it.

Now I am remarried and have two kids. London is an English speaking city and for me it is like a hub for me going in and out of Europe, playing gigs and doing work. From here I can drive to France, Spain, and Germany where I am surrounded by music especially in mainland Europe.

Are the crowds in mainland Europe different from the crowds here in the UK?

The crowds here in the UK are good; they like their music but over there and I find that in the audience there will be both young and old people. Most of the festivals that I play are like that over there. I find that their brains are not so regimented by pop radio as they are over here in the UK. Over here they are beaten to death with KISS FM and Capitol Radio (laughter). So to the kids here in the UK that is what music is whereas you go over there, turn on a radio and there will be all sorts of music from African World Beat Music to Blues to the 60s; it is quite amazing. You literally have to search for a pop station almost (laughter).

You just have all of those different forms of music more readily available and played to people which I think is fantastic. Those people will literally go to see anything that is good or what they think might be good, just not necessarily a pop band (laughter). The crowds over there seem to be a little worldlier whenever it comes to music. Having said all of that the audiences here in the UK are fantastic; they love the blues and they like to rock so it’s all good, it’s all good (laughter).

What was it like growing up in Detroit?

Well I have to say that Detroit is very homogenous, in that anything and everything goes music wise. You had Punk, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Berry Gordy and his Motown, and it was great. There were all sorts of influences going on at that time; James Brown would come and visit twice a year, and opening up for him at the time I saw him was Dionne Warwick. Every year at Christmas The Motown Revue would play for seven days, where you could go in and watch the same sets show after show (laughter). We tried to do it but they kicked us out when they caught us. It was every hour and a half, and it was just like going to a movie because at the end of the show they tried to clear the theatre for all of the people waiting outside, but we were small then and we tried to duck behind the seats (laughter) so that we could watch The Temptations do it one more time. It was a great time; a fantastic time in which to grow up. I used to buy 45’s every week by artists such as Mary Wells, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and then I got introduced to Rock (laughter).

How did music start for you?

I first started singing in the choir. My mother paid the church choir leader to give me vocal lessons which helped to train my voice when I was about five years old. And then I had my first scary moment singing live in front of, how can I describe it, The Blues Armageddon (laughter) who were all church goers who looked at you and said “is that the Blues” (hysterical laughter). I still remember the song that I sang and it was ‘Listen To the Voice Of The Saviour’. That was the first song that I sang in public. I trained for that for a couple of months but I was shaking so much that I’m surprised that I didn’t p&ss myself (laughter). But I soon realised as I got into it they were all saying “sing it son, sing it” and I soon realised that I liked the attention.

I think that if you can break through at an early age and start singing then you get used to the attention and you start to like it. It becomes an addictive thing, being on the stage, being in front of people, getting their approval, it’s an addictive thing. I also started writing at an early age too. I always liked to make up my own melodies, sing along and yes, sing my own songs (laughter) ever since I can remember. My mom and dad used to dance to B.B. King and they had 78’s (laughter), now we are going way, way back. I remember those big, black 78’s. I didn’t know that it was B.B. King at the time but later on I realised that it was. I started to recognise some of the songs such as ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’; I’m pretty sure that was one of his songs that they were playing. They used to move the dining room table, have a dance and some beers and a fight later (laughter). It would always finish with a fight between them.

While on the subject of B.B. King back in 2007 you opened for the great man himself at the Royal Albert Hall, how was that?

That was fantastic; I have never met such a gentleman. You would expect him to be a bit puffed-up but he wasn’t puffed-up in the least (laughter). He was just a down to earth gentleman, very helpful, very generous, very gracious, and being on stage opening for him was fantastic.

How would you describe your music?

My music I guess is what many people call in layman’s terms rock blues. I like to think that my music is me pretty much. I always feel that it is a cross between rock blues and pop with perhaps a little bit of R&B thrown in there for good measure (laughter). I try not to always write in one particular genre. With my last album ‘Stand Or Fall’ I did actually attempt to stay in one genre which is the very first time that I have attempted to do that. By doing that I found that I had actually recorded twice as much material as I physically released. So I have to admit that there are a few songs that don’t quite fit in with that theme, which I will hopefully be putting out at a later date (laughter).

I would also say that it is very personal music to me in fact I would go so far as to say that it is almost autobiographical. It is all about my personal experiences in life. I think that it is very rock orientated simply because I am a Hendrix freak (laughter). I love him, I love his rhythms and I also think that if you listen closely you can also hear a James Brown influence in there too. Having said that I would have to say that I have been educated and hit with everything during my youth, including The Beatles. I remember vividly when the English Invasion started I got hit with all of that information. I had some white friends who introduced me to The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and from that moment on I have never looked back.

And around that time didn’t you have a rather famous backer?

Yes we did, we really did. At that time I was playing with my first band; we were all sixteen years old and we managed to get signed to United Artists. They moved us out of Detroit and into California and we found ourselves being managed by Ike and Tina Turner’s manager. Ike was supplying the money, and he was in fact bankrolling us. Not only that he also allowed us to practice at his studio. I personally have a lot to be grateful to Ike Turner for.

But not regarding dancing?

(Laughter) no certainly not regarding dancing. Tina was supposedly going to teach me to dance but unfortunately Ike kept here well out of the way (laughter). I lost out on that one. It’s a shame that Tina never had the chance to show me some of her dance moves but it was alright because I had enough of my own (laughter).

And being a kid of sixteen years old in California, would you agree that defined your style of music for the future?

Yes I would, I truly would. It was right about that time that I first made the decision to go down the rock route and rebel against all of the Motown that I had listened to whilst growing up. But eventually I think that as I have grown older I have managed to fuse the two together. I certainly don’t do Metal anymore although when I tour over in Europe sometimes the audience have a copy of the one heavy metal album that I made many years ago now. It was called ‘Marcus’; it was released on EMI Records and people still come up to me with the album asking me if I will sign it for them (laughter). That always happens in Europe because I have to come clean and admit that I have only ever signed one copy over here in the UK (laughter).

A friend of mine who lives up in Birmingham informed me that you really have to search for the album here in the UK and when you do find one it sets you back around thirty quid (laughter). That was a heavy metal album but over the years I have started to write what I feel and I have kind of learnt how to fuse the two; metal with the R&B, so for me my music comes down to being more like a rock blues music rather than either straight rock or straight blues. However, if you go back far enough then some of my earlier albums obviously will have a straight rock song on them, but what keeps it all together is the fact that my voice is soulful. So because of me having a soulful kind of voice I am not screaming anymore (laughter). The soulful voice brings it all into the newer Marcus that I am today which is most definitely the rock blues.

You mention your voice and I have to say that having recently listened to all of your albums I personally feel that your voice is getting better with each album. Would you agree with that?

Oh wow that’s great, I didn’t know that I had so many (laughter). I would have to agree with you, I think that the voice is getting better with age. It has matured and I think that it has reached a point now where I sing stuff and I actually enjoy it. I think also that the music that I am writing and the voice are finally coming together now.

Staying with your voice, does it not rankle with you that people keep putting you into a Paul Rodgers kind of pigeon hole?

Yes, I would have to say that it does get on my nerves a little bit now (laughter). Simply because I personally don’t feel that I sound anything like him (laughter). I think that what it is is that I approach my singing with a soulful attitude and a soulful kind of voice in the way that Paul does. He approaches his music in the same manner. He sings rock but he could just as easily record a soul album if he put his mind to it. However, I have to say that if you are going to be compared to somebody then I love Paul Rodgers although whilst I don’t think that I sound anything like him, I think that we both have the same vocal approach to our music.

Over here in the UK the press simply have to pigeon hole everybody. Does it happen over in the States?

(Laughter) listen, I have been pigeon holed ever since I have been in existence (laughter). I honestly feel that they pigeon hole you no matter where you go. Even when I was younger they would try, they couldn’t, but they tried because I was black and was probably one of the first black artists to be signed to a major label after Hendrix. But even back then they would try to put me into a pigeon hole and even though I was playing heavy metal someone would say that I sounded like Rod Stewart (laughter). They are always looking for something to compare you to. Maybe they do it in order to help the record buyers; I don’t know what it is but they really do like to find you a pigeon hole.

Coming right up to date, I have to say that I honestly never thought that you would be able to better your previous album ‘Stand Or Fall’. I really think that you have smashed it with your latest album, ‘A Better Man’.

Really, you thought that it was as good as that?

Yes I did, I think that it is a fantastic piece of work.

That is truly wonderful to hear. Thank you very much. However, I have to say that I had lots of help on that album. I basically wrote all of the songs on the album but had some help with the arrangement which I think helped to make it the album that you can hear today. Writing the songs and then arranging them with the band, and letting them put something into the songs was great. I was listening and took things on board which I think also made the album sound more of a band album and most certainly more cohesive. In the long term I think that approach has paid off for me.

But there is a big difference between albums isn’t there?

(Laughter) yes there is and I know exactly what you are talking about Kevin, ‘A Better Man’ is available on good old fashioned vinyl, am I right (laughter). I have to say that I truly believe that you get the best of the journey on the vinyl edition from song to song. I love listening to it on vinyl; it is so warm, there is a nice mood to the album, and it feels so good.

I take it that you are happy with the finished item?

Yes I am, I truly am very happy with this album. I spent about a year getting this album just as I wanted it to sound. So it was most definitely a labour of love (laughter). I changed things and put them back, then I changed them again. I drove the guys crazy when they were trying to mix the album (laughter). I was mixing it and I drove myself crazy (laughter).

So no thoughts as yet as to putting the album out on cassette?

(Laughter) god no, cassette in my opinion is going way too far back plus I am not thinking of going out and buying a cassette player any time soon (laughter). There will be no more twisted tapes for me I’m afraid; I have had enough of those to last me a lifetime. More than that I don’t think that I have enough pencils to enable me to get all of the twists out of the tapes (laughter). Vinyl is great, you just have to be careful with it. I recently went out and bought myself a new turntable because I didn’t have one and then after I had bought a few albums I suddenly remembered just why I didn’t have one (laughter).

Plus, I also find buying vinyl now is quite expensive compared to what it was like back in the day. After I had bought the new turntable I went straight into the record store, full steam ahead and started buying albums that I wanted to listen to but when I got to the checkout with my five newly selected vinyl albums it was well over a hundred pounds so I put one back (laughter). I walked out the store after limiting myself to four albums (laughter).

That is the problem with vinyl at the moment, it is almost cost prohibitive.

It is, but what you have to remember is that CD’s are still selling at less than ten pounds. I personally sell all of my CD’s at ten pounds but with production costs and shipping I have to sell my vinyl albums for fifteen pounds which is another five pounds more. But in my opinion, for the improvement in the sound and quality of the songs on the vinyl album, then the extra five pounds is so worth it. Also I read recently that vinyl is now outselling CD’s and in some parts of the world is even outselling download from the likes of iTunes which has to be a good thing. It’s going to take some time but the kids now are going back to listening to music on vinyl.

Where did you have your vinyl albums pressed, here in the UK or over in Europe?

(Laughter) well here’s the thing. I sourced it from a company here in the UK called Key Productions but having spoken to them recently it transpires that they in turn had to source it from Eastern Europe. I have to say that I was very lucky because there was only a six week turnaround with my album. In fact I received the test pressing almost immediately. They were pretty quick.

Was that an exciting moment for you when you held the test pressing in your hands?

Yes it was, it really was (laughter). I was like a kid at Christmas with a new toy (laughter). The difference in the sonics when listening to the album on vinyl was just amazing for me. All of the separation is so clear.

I personally find that there is something warm and fulfilling about the whole experience of owning and playing a vinyl album.

I totally agree with you. In my opinion there is nothing better than to sit back and listen to a vinyl album playing after you have physically held it and put it on to the turntable. That way you certainly get what I had intended as an artist. You get to go on a journey with the artist, his experiences, his writing, and his music. As you know my music goes from spectrum to spectrum but hopefully without jumping too widely. I do tend to move from rock to straight blues.

There are a couple of standout tracks for me on the album which I would class as being straight twelve bar blues. They are ‘Feelin’ Bad Blue’s and ‘Complications’. Would you agree with that?

(Laughter) yes I would, I would totally agree with you. Those two songs are both as good as a straight twelve bar blues song as you will ever get.

Tell me a little about some of the other songs on the album from your point of view?

Well ‘House Of Blues’ is another twelve bar blues song but it doesn’t come across that way and then Better Man is a typical rock song. I would never consider ‘A Better Man’ itself to be blues per se whilst ‘Too Long Gone’ could almost be a Status Quo track (laughter). It is a real rocker but it has got that heavy blues moody feeling to it.

I have to say that the one track that I keep going back to is ‘The Only On and I personally feel that there is an essence of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in there. Would you agree?

Well, firstly let me say that is actually my favourite track on the album. I had never thought about it in that way but now that you mention it, yes it does sound a little like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I love Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young so I will most definitely take that as a compliment. That’s great, thank you. I will have to listen to that again now (laughter).

What is the story behind that particular track?

That would have to be homesickness as usual with me I think (laughter). I was sitting thinking that you sometimes have to simply give up everything and move on and I came up with “Topanga Canyon has left its scars, there’s no going back to Hollywood Boulevard.”. Which I obviously did, because I am now based here in England. Sean Nolan, who now plays the guitar with me came over to my place one evening and while we were working together he actually laid down that piece. However, I didn’t pick up on it until six months later when I listened to it once again and really liked it. So I took it, worked on it and finally pieced it all together in some kind of order (laughter). I had already written a verse but then I started thinking back to a time when I had come out of Los Angeles and all of the stuff that went along with that. And that is where ‘The Only One’ came from.

I have to say that I think that Moz (Gamble) has done an outstanding job once again on the keyboards.

Yes he has. Moz is brilliant. He has now been with me for years and years and he also plays with 24 Pesos now. Every now and again I get him to record with me and yes I have to say that his playing is absolutely excellent.

Anyone who sounds that much like Booker T. Jones (Booker T. & the MG’s) has to be a great keyboard player in my opinion (laughter).

(Laughter) yes that’s right, I know exactly what you mean. Moz certainly has that style of playing.

Do you still enjoy touring?

Oh yes, of course I just love playing. For me playing is where I get the chance to express myself. I love writing the music that I write, going out on the road playing it live and seeing the people enjoying it. Whenever I play some of the older material I see a lot of the fans who have seen me before have come back and it feels great when I see them all singing. It is such a buzz for me when I see that they know all of the words to my songs (laughter). It really is nice to see them singing along. I love it.

Whenever you are writing, are you aware that you are trying to reinvent the wheel every day?

Yes I am, pretty much. It is a problem that writers are faced with every time they try to write a new song or piece of music. The way that I am currently recording it all sounds original to me. If I think about it if I went through a bunch of songs I would most probably eventually find it (laughter). For me it is the vocal style that I have together with the lyrics I am trying to express my soul and my spirit through my music, hopefully bringing people together. Hopefully I am saying something that means something. On this particular album I feel that a lot of the lyrics are pretty good for me and do actually express what I am trying to say. It does jump around a little but it doesn’t go off the rails. I feel that it is more connected (laughter).

What comes first for you, lyrics or melody?

For me it is always the lyrics. I want them to go a certain way so the lyrics for me always seem to come together (laughter). In order for me to sing them then they have to come to me in a certain gait I guess like poetry. The melody has to be conducive to that style.

I want to ask you about writing an instrumental track. Do you set out to write an instrumental track or is it simply a track that you decide works without lyrics?

To be honest with you I have only recorded one instrumental track and I did set out to do it that way. At the time I was heavily into David Bowie and I loved his instrumental tracks. I was still in Los Angeles and I had written a track that was based around the keyboards. It was very Bowie-esque but that was the idea, the melody was in the guitar. It was very moody with such a long build-up, we used to use it to open our set with and basically I had written it to be an instrumental.

Who has musically inspired you along the way?

Oh god I would have to say that in terms of song writing it would most definitely have to be Holland–Dozier–Holland, James Brown, The Beatles; I absolutely love The Beatles, I love Hendrix, and after that I went into a David Bowie phase, I even had my hair like David’s for a while (laughter).

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

One of the highlights of my career has to be when I met B.B. King at the Royal Albert Hall, I really did enjoy that. But I would have to say that for me every day is a highlight. I’m still here (laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

The first record that I bought was ‘Bye, Bye Baby’ by Mary Wells, she was one of the first recording artists over there. Then it would have been The Supremes and then The Temptations who were always my favourite band. I simply couldn’t live without them.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

My first live concert would have been The Motown Revue which came to town every Christmas. After that James Brown would come to town every summer and he would play for between seven and ten days. And let me tell you, I would be there every day (laughter). I can remember seeing James Brown at The Fox Theatre in Detroit which is such a beautiful theatre. The good thing for me is that I actually managed to get to play at The Fox Theatre before I left Detroit. That for me was such a thrill. The most important thing that I learnt from James Brown after watching him perform many times is that no matter how many people are in the audience, whether it is one person, two people or ten people you must always deliver to them the same show. James Brown would still do exactly the same thing even if there were twenty or thirty people in the audience. He really was fantastic and he would give it all that he had.

What was the last piece of music or song that made you cry?

That was ‘Pretty Maids All In A Row’ by The Eagles from their ‘Hotel California’ album. I was once playing that particular on my iPod and I fell asleep and I started to dream. When I woke up I heard the song playing in my head and I thought “what is that song?, it’s so beautiful” (laughter). I was crying when I woke up simply because that song is so beautiful.

What next for Marcus Malone?

Well I have already got a deadline to have four new songs written and ready for the next album in two weeks (Laughter). One of them at the moment is called ‘Feel The Burn’ and it is sounding pretty good to me. That is how I work, I will book four sessions in the studio and I will try to have four different songs written and read for each session. I will let you know how that goes once we get started (laughter). I like to keep working so that is what I do. Obviously I would like to line-up a few more live dates with a band which will hopefully be quite steady by then. I am meeting with other musicians as we speak.

Haven’t you recently joined another project?

(Laughter) who have you been speaking to (laughter), yes that’s right, I did join another project. They are called Jet Tricks and for me it is such a different kind of music; it has more of a retro feel to it. I have literally been writing with them now for ten years, they don’t tour, they just write songs and put them out on vinyl for the clubs and things. Because I have been writing with them for so long their label now wants to record a whole album of me with them (laughter). So that is a project that I will be doing this year.

Marcus on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been a pleasure. You take care and I hope to see you sometime soon.

It was good to speak to you again Kevin. You take care and bye for now.