By Keith Sharp
If Merle Haggard recorded a duet with the heavy metal group, Pantera (produced by Kevin Churko) it would probably sound like Cory Marks’ latest single “Blame It On The Double”.
Blending Country with hard rock has become the trademark of this North Bay Ontario native with vocal support from Theory Of A Deadman’s Tyler Connelly and former Five Finger Death Punch guitarist Jason Hook supplying the incendiary instrumental support to Marks countrified vocals on his latest single.
This comes as a follow-up to his gold-selling “Outlaws And Outsiders” track which featured support from Travis Tritt, Motley Crue’s Mick Mars and Five Finger Death Punch’s Ivan Moody. Hardly surprising then that Mark will serve as the opening act on eight dates for Theory Of A Deadman when Connolly and Co launch their 2021 U.S tour in September.
“I’m not sure about the Merle Haggard-Pantera comparison but It would sound something similar,” laughed Marks from his North Bay area residence. “I grew up listening to my parent’s Country Music collection which featured artists like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Brad Paisley and Vince Gill but as a 10-year old drummer, I also played along to bands like Rush, Deep Purple and Ozzy Osbourne so I always envisioned somehow blending the two distinct forms together.”
Being a Country rocker wasn’t Marks’ initial career choice as he enrolled at the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston Ontario, to pursue a goal of being a fighter pilot while also performing as a decent hockey player for the RMC team.
But a friendship struck up with local performer Jay `Smitty’ Kingston lead to Mark performing five songs during a Kingston set break while appearing at a local bar called The Brass and the audience was so impressed that they inquired when Marks was playing again.
Disillusioned by his RMC stint, Mark returned to North Bay and started forging his sound by playing local bars. A couple of singles (“Smartphone” and “21”) released in the summer of 2014 lead to the release of his debut EP `This Man’ on Big Star Records in July 2015. A release that impressed top producer Kevin Churko (Ozzy Osbourne, Shania Twain, Five Finger Death Punch) enough that he agreed to produce Marks’ follow-up album release `Who I Am’ in August 2020 on Better Noise Music, recorded at Churko’s Las Vegas studio.
“To think I grew up listening to Ozzy Osbourne and then I ended up working with Kevin who produced a lot of Ozzy’s records.” Marks enthused. “Kevin (Curko) and I have a lot in common, he is a drummer and performed with his family band when he was a teenager.”
But it was Churko’s recording skills that impressed ace producer Mutt Lange enough to take him on as an assistant and he ended up working on Shania Twain albums which re-wrote the rules for country-pop in Nashville. The Moose Jaw Saskatchewan native then moved on to record the likes of Ozzy, Disturbed and Five Finger Death Punch and obviously saw the potential of fusing Country with Hard Rock.
“I design my albums like I’m performing my live show,” Marks informed. “Come out of the gate with a banger or two to get the audience going and get people singing along and then slow things down with more melodic tracks like “My Whiskey, Your Wine” and the title track and then pick it back up again.”
Considering that Canadian Country Music is dominated by major label artists like Dallas Smith, Brett Kissell, Meghan Patrick and the James Barker Band, it’s hardly surprising that most listeners will not be familiar with Marks or his achievements. Even while his “Outlaws And Outsiders” release was attaining gold status while he was touring Canada with Travis Tritt, Marks received virtually no major airplay.
“Music being played on Country Radio right now is like pop music, it’s not Country at all,” remarked Marks. “But I think I have proved that you don’t need airplay to achieve sales success and I am not prepared to follow existing trends. By merging Country with hard rock or even metal, I want to be a part of a change that will appeal to a younger audience. I am constantly surprised at how young some of my fans are. I’d expect them to be into Justin Bieber but they seem to like what I am doing.”
With solid booking support from Jim Cressman’s Invictus Group in Canada, but as important, a major U.S booking agency, Pinnacle Entertainment, Marks is able to connect with U.S dates (with Theory Of A Deadman) this summer even though Canadian dates might be on hold until 2022.
“I guess you can call ‘Who I Am” `Modern, Classic Rock Country’, it’s just that I refuse to conform to what is considered normal,” Marks allowed. “I’m happy just doing my own thing.”