Sound man Mark Ashworth back making sounds of his own

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 28, 2013 

Mark Ashworth, Bellingham

Mark Ashworth

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Longtime Bellingham resident Mark Ashworth, who was born in Seattle in 1949, is known by his buddies as "Porpoise" and as a sound-man perfectionist whose goal is to create the best acoustics possible for any performing group he works with.

Lately he's been brushing up his vocal and guitar skills and has been playing around town at smaller venues. Next up is a gig with Mark Kelly on saxophone and flute and Hadassah McGill on vocals and keyboard at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, at Vinostrology Wine Lounge & Merchant, 120 W. Holly St.

Question: What's your day history?

Answer: My day job is learning to play music and trying to finish a remodel.

In a former life as my nickname, "Porpoise," I worked around Whatcom County as a sound man for local groups, outdoor events and any other gig I could find to scrape by.

I got seriously bored in the '90s and went back to college at age 40. I earned a bachelor's degree in physics at Western Washington University and then jumped into computer programming for web applications. That was exciting for a number of years, but eventually dried up for me.

Q: What's your musical history?

A: I went to summer camp as a child and we sang folk songs in the dinning hall. I was impressed by the people who played guitar and led the songs. My mother decided that I should have a guitar and lessons.

I had lots of radios as a child. I found adults willing to help with basic electronics in most of the towns I lived in. I often woke up in the middle of the night and listened to vocal standards, UFO reports and evangelists. That's what was on the AM band late at night. Shortwave was fun too.

Back in the '80s I did sound for a group that featured Al Failing on sax, playing standards that he had been performing since he was a child. I asked if I could sing a couple of tunes and that led to a stint of gigs. I spent many hours listening to old records with Al and his wife, Mary, to learn new material. Fond memories.

Q: Then what?

A: When that ended I put my guitar and voice away for many years. In 2009 I was about to turn 60. I invited musicians I knew from my days as a sound man to a party at the Chuckanut Ridge Wine Bar (now the Redlight). Everyone took turns playing and I sang a couple. That's when I decided to get back into the music community in one way or another.

I unpacked my guitar and charts and began to relearn. My friend and "mad scientist" collaborator David Jennings wanted me to build some small speakers to sing through, so we began another project as we had in the old days. I keep thinking, just one more.

Q: What's been happening currently?

This year I began taking guitar lessons from John Miller and that has opened some new doors. It would be much easier to sing with a good backup band and not have to play at the same time, but those opportunities are limited. So I practice a lot and worry about those deer-in-the-headlight moments that can happen during a live performance.

Q: What kinds of music do you enjoy listening to?

A: I really enjoy the high-quality jazz concerts in this area. Sometimes I help them with sound. I go out to hear vocalists who are backed up by our local jazz musicians.

I also like the old recordings done by Frank Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Hartman and other folks from that era. I also love Antonio Jobim songs (but I can only sing then in English).

I still love Hendrix; Cream; the Beatles; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and the rest of the boomer favorites, but I can't do them justice so I rarely try. I prefer the original versions over any covers I've heard.

Q: What do you like about living in Bellingham?

A: Two things about Bellingham that are really important to me: the natural beauty that is close by, and the feeling of community.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com.

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