Mark Josephs is known as a uniquely stylized rhythm guitarist, an expressive harmonica player, and an imaginative songwriter. He continues to follow a musical journey that started in his hometown of Ventnor, New Jersey, outside of Atlantic City, and which has taken him to Manhattan, Buffalo, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, Albuquerque and Los Angeles. He presently resides in Santa Monica, California.
As a player and songwriter. Mark's musical career has brought him on-stage at legendary clubs like the Troubadour, the Bottom Line, The Cafe Lena, The Town Crier, Passims, the Bijou, the Main Point, the Steel Pier, My Fathers Place, the Childe Harold, Somebody Else's Troubles and the Club Shaboo to open for many great musicians: Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, Horace Silver, Bucky Pizzarelli, Johnny Shines, Don McLean, Steve Goodman and many others. This lifetime of greatly varied musical experiences and constant exploration have culminated in Mark Josephs' debut solo album, Born Playing Rhythm.
Playboy magazine described Mark as "an artful song writer." Phil Ciganer, owner of the Towne Crier Cafe says, "Mark Josephs' versatility continues to amaze and delight me! He is one of the finest harmonica players I have heard anywhere, and an absolute master on rhythm guitar. In addition, Mark is an excellent songwriter who manages to combine tradition and innovation most effectively!" Mark's rhythmic approach and haunting melodies make his songs a special breed.
He began studying guitar in Ventnor Heights at the age of 9 and immediately focused on rhythm guitar. "I wanted to play rhythm guitar like the Everly Brothers. I loved power chord changes. I'm always searching for some cool chord change." Some songs he has written were created just to preserve some particularly unique, stumbled upon chord change -the engine that makes his songs move.
As a lyricist he was influenced by O'Henry's short stories and by Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, where life takes a twist and departs from the obvious. Mark's songs work on many levels. Some he views as mini soap boxes, to get a moral point across, some reveal intimate stories and some are humorous fantasies. All are filled with intense imagery and a heritage of musical diversity. Mark also looks at songs as paintings with form, theme and color to be constructed in an infinite number of different compositions. Music, words, and pictures all play their part in Mark's songs.
Mark Josephs started playing harmonica when he was seventeen. "My friend Joe Barton advised me to always have a harp handy, so I've always kept one in my back pocket and I still keep a harp within easy reach in my car."
Over the years, Mark has picked up techniques from many other players. "At first I just blew in and out like Bob Dylan and Woody Gutherie, then later I learned how to bend the low notes and play blues style. Bill Dicey at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1977 showed me how to bend the top three notes blowing out, Jimmy Reed style. This was an exciting breakthrough for me. There weren't many books on harmonica techniques so the only way to acquire knowledge was to meet other harp players and ask questions."
Mark joined a swing trio in 1974 and toured the East Coast colleges and coffee houses. "That's when I met great harp players like Mike Turk, Brownie McGhee, Shakey Horton and Reverend Dan Smith. Mike Turk taught me how to get a richer tone from breathing from the diaphragm. I watched "Shakey" Walter Horton on stage at the 1976 Bicentennial Smithsonian Folklife Festival. He put a small round crystal mike directly on his vocal chords - that was a cool technique. I had the privilege of sitting in on stage with Steve Goodman on several occasions and I also played harp on a Frankie Avalon recording session."
Mark credits the first time he became aware of the power of the harmonica to touch the soul as the day he heard an early Paul Butterfield album. "His tone and emotion sounded like the wail of an infant." Paul Butterfield and Little Walter remain Mark's two all time favorite harp players. "I focus on finding a comfortable groove and the right spot to solo. Then I try to get the best tone and pick the best notes in order to be as expressive as possible."
One of the things Mark enjoys most about soloing on harp is the opportunity to improvise. He creates the solo as he goes along, thinking about how he wants to slide in - like some surfer catching the perfect wave - then he lets emotion take over and with the harp he begins a musical dialogue with the song.
Mark's harp collection is a source of great pleasure and he is always on the lookout for something unique. He has a Koch Chromatic, a 64 Chromonica, a two-sided Tremolo. a Steve Baker, Vest Pocket, a 360, a Miesterclasse, two Suzuki Promasters and numerous Lee Oskar harps including his Melody Maker, harmonic and natural minor. "Out of all of the harps I own, I play Lee Oskars the most. They don't stick, they have a deeper richer tone and they sound louder. In the studio and on stage, I use Lee Oskars exclusively. There is no better harp, I highly recommend them."
Mark has also been playing rhythm guitar since the age of 10, adding harmonica at 17. "Over the years I noticed how people responded more emotionally to my harp playing. That's why I made a conscious decision to feature the harp pretty extensively on my first solo album, Born Playing Rhythm. Out of the eight songs. all but two feature harmonica. In fact, all the parts normally played by a lead guitar are played on harmonica. People tell me the harp work on this album is the best work I've done so far. That makes me extremely proud."