MARATHON LOST ONE OF THE GREATS: MARC DAVIS

I don’t usually listen to my old music, but today I’m making an exception. Currently playing in the background as I write this column is the album I put out with my old band, “John Bartus & Storm Watch • Live at the 2009 Marathon Seafood Festival.” The music is bringing back some wonderful and bittersweet memories of performing with some amazing musicians and good friends … and is especially emotional today after learning of the passing of Marc Davis.

I first saw Marc at an early-2000s July 4th Celebration as he was encouraging young musicians to play their best. At the time, he was the band director for Marathon High School and was in charge of coaxing music out of youthful hands and voices. He was really engaged with his students, dressed in a white button-down shirt and skinny black necktie, long gray hair flowing with the wind. As we got to know each other better, I found out he was a pretty decent keyboard player who possessed one of the most soulful voices I’d ever heard — equal parts Joe Cocker, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong.

Not long after, the keyboard and bass chairs opened up in Storm Watch. I’m pretty sure it was Glenn Faast who brought Marc into the band. Marc’s son Christian followed soon after, playing both bass and amazing guitar. Marc was an instant fit, bringing with him some great songs other bands just didn’t cover, like Steely Dan’s “My Old School” and Toto’s “Rosanna” and “Africa.” His irreverent sense of humor fit right in with the band as well. Marc also wrote songs that we played, and he and Christian made that band both fun and musically exciting for Glenn and me. We had a lot of fun and made some great music in that band.

Playing live was one of Marc’s passions. But so was music education. Marc had the knowledge and skills to both explain the intricacies of music and inspire young musicians to want to play. It didn’t matter if it was in the Monroe County school system or other avenues like School of Rock at the Methodist Church — Marc truly inspired generations of young people to take up instruments, find their voices and pursue music as a passion all their own. That is an amazing and worthy legacy for any musician.

Another of Marc’s legacies is his son, Christian. While still in high school, Christian came into Storm Watch as a full member, contributing solid basslines and locking in the rhythm with Glenn. When Christian and I switched instruments, he lit up any venue we were playing with some amazing and incendiary guitar. He was literally smoking hot on those strings, and blew people away every time we played. He also learned very early the nuances and subtle phrasing that made the guitar parts for songs like the Eagles’ “New Kid In Town” and Steely Dan’s “Hey, Nineteen” so essential and tasty.

Christian would likely be the first to say that he got his love of music (and the talent to play it beautifully) from Marc. They played great together, and Marc encouraged Christian to explore making music his life’s work as well. As one might suspect, Christian has followed his father’s dual path of both performing musician and music educator. Worthy legacy, indeed.

So it hit me like a gut punch when I found out about Marc’s passing literally minutes before I took the stage at last Sunday’s concert in Key Colony Beach. Like all musicians, myself included, Marc was a complex individual. It likely has to do with chasing the muse we all follow — something non-musicians just can’t understand. After Christian’s graduation and Marc’s leaving Storm Watch, he remained active in the local music scene. Marc played stages at local venues and in the worship band at the Methodist Church, and he would occasionally send me the funniest texts and tag me in his Facebook messages.

As I listen to our 2009 Seafood Festival Storm Watch set, I am reminded of just how good a band we were, and just how big a talent (and heart) Marc had. Rest in peace, my brother. I hope you finally found that muse.

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Catch John Wednesdays at Herbie’s, Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, this Friday on Facebook Live for his Social Distancing Concert, and Saturday night at the Key Colony Inn. Music available wherever you get your streaming.  www.facebook.com/john.bartus

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