Hear Me Out with Lee Shook

As one of the most versatile and sought-after drummers on the Birmingham music scene, over the course of his nearly 50-year career Mark Lanter has made a name for himself as a go-to player with the ability to inhabit just about any role thrown his way. From big band jazz and fusion, to thundering rock, groove-laden funk, gutbucket R&B, country, and into the farthest reaches of the Southern avant-garde, his deep musical knowledge, broad rhythmic palette and adventurous spirit have made him an indispensable member of a long list of some of Alabama’s most respected outfits—including everyone from Black Jacket Symphony to Topper Price and The Upsetters—stretching back into his earliest days as a teenage phenom in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, where he was known as a self-taught prodigy capable of picking up whatever anyone else was putting down.

Having gotten his start as a dedicated disciple of the ’60s and ’70s rock and roll of his youth—particularly the music of groups like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who and Rolling Stones—Lanter began his first forays into the world of professional music in 1972 as a 14-year-old upstart playing in local teen touring group the Bonnevilles, who played hits of the day at fraternity parties, proms and officers’ clubs at military bases around the state. Followed quickly by an audacious recording debut in 1975 as Bill “The Kid” Dap on the legendary ‘Pataphysical Revue LP from Tuscaloosa’s Surrealist-inspired art collective Raudelunas—featuring the Dada-esque big band musings of Rev. Fred Lane—he soon found himself at the epicenter of Alabama experimentalism working with revered artists like Davey Williams, LaDonna Smith and composer Anne LeBaron. Having recorded a second (partially) live album with Lane in 1976 taken from an anarchic stage show called “From the One that Cut You,” by the time he was 17 he would already have his name attached to two of the world’s greatest underground cult records that would later go on to find an international following.

Rapidly graduating into a world of gigging after high school that would see him hone his chops in a variety of musical settings, in 1980 he would join popular Tuscaloosa-based “R&B fusion” group Forecast, which led to a fruitful 15-year musical partnership that would morph into Magic City standouts The Cast and eventually Vova Nova—whose funk/rap/metal hybrid was inspired by seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More at The Nick in 1987—after moving to Birmingham in 1984. All three bands would share the same core members—including guitarist Glen Butts, vocalist Libba Walker and bassist Milton Davis—and maintained a regular touring schedule around the Southeast, with Vova Nova eventually getting signed to Chameleon Records in 1991, releasing their sole eponymous album the following year. Despite genuine interest in the band, and industry showcases in legendary clubs like CBGBs and headlining gigs with buzz worthy artists like Atlanta’s Follow for Now, unfortunately the band would soon run its course and leave Lanter in search of a new musical direction.

Having pursued a lifelong ambition of becoming a musical educator in fits and starts over the years, after finally getting his graduate degree from the University of Alabama in the late 1990s, Lanter would go on to become an adjunct professor at both his alma mater and UAB, teaching jazz theory and history while also maintaining a steady stream of private drum students, which he continues to this day. Helming several more popular local Birmingham acts such as Downright and Bonus Round in the new millennium, starting in 2009 he was called to anchor the rhythm section of tribute artisans Black Jacket Symphony, returning him to his rock roots covering era-defining albums from his youth “note-for-note” to the delight of sold-out audiences all over the Deep South. Having also created a spin-off boutique concert experience called The Maverick Lounge Series, a “rockumentary”-style multi-media show based at WorkPlay highlighting the history and music of classic artists through storytelling, song curation, and archival photos and video, Lanter has found himself once again at the heart of so much of the music that inspired him to play in the first place. Still maintaining a wide range of musical interests playing in jazz combos and outfits like the Celtic/Americana fusion group Henri’s Notions, he’s also recently taken on a new role as producer, heading up a big band homage to one of his biggest personal influences with Big Band of Brothers: A Jazz Testament to the Allman Brothers Band, featuring contributions from one of the band’s original percussionists—the great “Jaimoe” Johanson—as well as vocalist Marc Broussard, all of which promises to make for a very busy 2019. And for someone with as long and varied career as Lanter, that’s really saying something.

Photo: Rob Hereth

3 Responses to “Hear Me Out with Lee Shook”

  1. I have seen Mark perform with BJS and Maverick Lounge on 10 different occasions. I can honestly say that his techniques in drumming these different artist is second to none ! It shows his intense background, as you stated in your article, and in my opinion he will be around, in some form, on the music scene for as long as he wishes.

  2. Cissy Ward says:

    Great article!

  3. Stephanie says:

    Mark I will sum up my feelings about your teaching and performances in a few words. Mark Lantern YOU ROCK! Thank you so much for sharing your talent with so many. I feel proud to know you!
    Stephanie B.

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