CVIndependent

Wed12022020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Mark Gregg is one of the most easily recognizable musicians in the Coachella Valley.

He’s been playing shows here for almost two decades—and he’s still going strong. He has a regular gig at Sullivan’s in Palm Desert on Thursdays and Saturdays with his band, Dude Jones.

Gregg decided he wanted to play the guitar at the age of 13—but his parents made him wait until his 14th birthday to give him his first guitar. Like many great guitar players, Gregg is largely self-taught, although he did take the occasional lesson.

Gregg arrived in the Coachella Valley in 1994. He and his band, Dude Jones, had no problems getting gigs, and Gregg and quickly established himself.

“I came here to just play some gigs. I got a bunch of high-profile gigs, and I started dating a girl down here,” Gregg said. “The first place I played was Redondo Don’s, which eventually turned into Bananaz, then GG’s Island long after. … (I also played at) B.B. O’Briens, which was a legendary place out in Palm Desert.”

One gig that Mark Gregg will always remember is when he played with Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant.

“It was like your feet not touching the ground, and it was like your knees not being able to hold you up,” Gregg said. “Led Zeppelin was my religion when I was growing up. It would be like meeting the pope if you were a devout Catholic. It was an overwhelming experience.”

Gregg said one of his biggest challenges has been keeping familiar audiences happy over the years.

“Usually, when a band plays original music, they have a set. It’s one set, and they do that over and over and over again, so it’s not really sustainable in one area,” Gregg said. “That’s why a lot of the younger bands go out on tour. They have to expose their music to new and different audiences. If you see my band play, I have a varying repertoire that will change from night to night or venue to venue.

“Seems to me, there is a lot of original stuff going on in the valley; some of the local venues are dabbling in it, and some (venues are booking bands) strictly doing original material—places like The Hood, for instance. My son (Derek) is a good songwriter, and he plays a few gigs that are specified as original. He’s doing gigs at the Palm Canyon Roadhouse, which is strictly originals, and they don’t allow any cover music there, and it’s kind of a classic rock joint.”

And speaking of Mark’s son, Derek: It’s not surprising that Derek has managed to become a talented guitar player and songwriter in his own right. Derek is guitarist and frontman of The Vibe, and he also plays solo acoustic gigs. Mark and Derek have played gigs together, too.

“Derek is pretty smart. He’s going to try to take advantage of anything. He and I play together, and he considers it a good opportunity and good thing for him,” Gregg said.

“My feeling about it is if you’re a musician, you have to do everything. You have to be able to play all kinds of music. I think the real musicians have encyclopedic knowledge of music. Guys I know through my business, such as guys who play with Sheryl Crow and Eric Clapton, those guys can play anything and know every song. If you asked them to play something, they can play it. They have encyclopedic knowledge. That’s what I try to press on Derek: If you’re a musician, you’re a musician. If you take any gig, you’d better sell on it. I think that’s what he gets from me.”

While Gregg is a great musician, he’s also crafty when it comes to guitar-maintenance and guitar amplifiers. He owns his own company, Magus Innovations, which sells its “Ultimate Attenuator.” His customer list includes Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, Peter Frampton and Steve Miller, just to name a few.

“An attenuator is for guitar-tube-based amplifiers. They run on tubes instead of transistors. It turns out in guitar amplifiers, the tubes really lend themselves to a certain expression that you can’t get as well from transistor-based amplifiers. The problem with tubes is you have to crank them up to get a good sound out of them, and it’s generally too loud. What an attenuator does is dissipate some of that voltage as heat; however, the problem is it ruins the sound, so we came up with a way not only to control the volume, but preserve the sound and feel. It’s a one-of-a-kind invention.”

Gregg’s music-biz innovations don’t stop there.

“I have a patent on a guitar pickup called the Silverbucker. (I) have a repair facility. I have a manufacturing facility, and I also have overseas manufacturing in Asia. I have a bunch of working prototypes for a new product that I hope to get patents on in the near future.”

While Gregg is a successful entrepreneur and musician, he still has bigger career ambitions.

“The next step for me is to secure a tour with a name band, maybe a band that was big in the ’70s and ’80s, and add credentials to my name, so I can be Mark Gregg from this internationally known band and Mark Gregg from Dude Jones.”

The Vibe is known primarily as a cover band—but the band members are in the process of changing that.

They are currently at work on their debut album, and they now play regularly at Palm Springs' Fireside Lounge.

Patrick “Tricky” Mitchem, the band’s bass player, said multiple circumstances led to them forming as a group back in October 2012. Mitchem played in much-loved local band Dude Jones from 1999 to 2001 with Mark Gregg, and he’s known Mark’s son, Derek Gregg—who sings and plays guitar for The Vibe—since Derek was a kid.

Mitchem left the valley for Florida, touring the country with various independent bands before moving back two years ago—around the same time Derek Gregg moved back to the valley from Oregon. The two spent some time playing and writing music, and decided to put a group together.

Back when downtown Palm Springs’ Village Pub used to have Sunday jam nights, Mitchem met the person who would become The Vibe’s drummer, Sean Poe.

Despite The Vibe’s brief existence, the band has been successful in landing shows at the Palm Canyon Roadhouse in Palm Springs, and The Grill on Main in La Quinta. While the band plays covers, they are generally covers that you don’t hear other bands play; one of their more unique covers, for example, is Tool’s “Sober,” which Gregg performs with an acoustic guitar.

They are now including original songs written by Derek Gregg, just 23 years old, in their sets.

“Derek has had so much passion since I’ve known him,” Mitchem said. “I’ve heard songs he wrote 5 years ago, and I’ve heard songs he wrote two weeks ago. It’s always been impressive and amazing. He’s a fantastic songwriter.”

Mitchem describes Gregg’s songwriting as a blend of folk with a hint of Dixieland jazz. Gregg—who plays guitar with the unorthodox finger-picking style—also has the ability to create melodies with a lot of emotion.

Thanks to The Vibe’s mixture of Gregg’s melodies, and unique takes on alternative and reggae covers, the band has no problem playing to diverse audiences. However, that does not mean it’s been easy for them to find their footing; after all, it can be tough to be a local band in the Coachella Valley.

“I’d say the challenge is getting your foot in the door,” said Poe. “A lot of these places already have built-in crowds and built-in bands. They’re playing the same stuff over and over again. You bring to the table that we’re playing something different, and you have to get (venue managers) to embrace the change in music.”

Regardless, the band is enjoying both their songwriting and their regular shows at the Fireside Lounge.

"It's one of those places that only the locals would know about right now. I wish a lot more people knew about it," Mitchem said.

The Vibe play regularly at the Fireside Lounge, 696 Oleander Road in Palm Springs; 760-327-1700. For more on the band, find them on Facebook.

(Editor's note: The original version of this story mentioned that the band plays regularly at The Grill on Main in La Quinta. However, since the article was originally posted, the band was apparently removed from its regular gig there. We apologize for the confusion.)