While I don’t want to downplay the loss of John Lennon 25 years ago, I’m not going to be one of the millions of bloggers commenting on that today. I want to recall another musician unknown to most people.
Yesterday’s edition of my local newspaper brought the news that drummer Mark Craney, a Sioux Falls, S.D., native, died Nov. 26 from longstanding health problems. Craney was more than just a local music standout. He toured with Tommy Bolin (a Sioux City, Iowa, native) and Jeff Beck and recorded with Jean-Luc Ponty and Gino Vannelli in the late 1970s before joining Jethro Tull. (Ian Anderson, who initiated the idea of a Craney 1997 compilation CD on which Craney and many notable artists perform, has posted a tribute at the band’s website.) Craney also toured with Tower of Power before kidney problems forced him out of the business. Following a kidney transplant, Craney ended up touring again, this time with the Eric Burdon Band. A few years later, though, the transplanted kidney failed and Craney was forced off the road for good in 1996.
Yet those credentials aren’t why I remember Mark Craney. And, to the best of my knowledge, I never met Mark. Yet he and a few of his friends had a dramatic impact on my musical interests.
One of the South Dakota-based bands Craney played in was Zero Ted, a jazz/rock-oriented group. One night back in 1971 or 1972, the band played at the Watertown (S.D.) Auditorium. I went more for the hell of it than anything else. At this time northeast South Dakota still was largely a music wasteland if you wanted much beyond the Top 40 occasionally played on local AM radio. Word of mouth, music magazines and late night megawatt radio stations like KOMA out of Oklahoma City or Little Rock’s KAAY were your options to find something a a tad more innovative.
Now, nearly 35 years later, I still recall watching Zero Ted play Traffic’s “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” that night. It may now be a rock classic but, as I sit here today, it probably was the first time this then teenage kid heard it. Why that performance of that particular song on that particular night has always stuck out in my mind I can’t really say. Maybe I realized that my home state could produce top notch musicianst. Maybe actually seeing see such music performed live helped reinforce a broader musical horizon, one I was already starting to stretch via other sounds of that era. I know I bought the Traffic album of the same name at my first opportunity.
Sure, it was kind of neat to pull out Ponty’s Imaginary Voyage in college and see Craney’s name. Still, whenever I hear “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” I think of Zero Ted. Whenever I have heard or saw Mark Craney’s name, I thought of that night. I know it immediately came to mind when I read of his death Wednesday morning.
Mark Craney’s passing is surely a loss to his friends, family and fellow musicians. Yet I am sure I am far from the only person he unknowingly affected with his life and talents, affected in a way that made my life better and which I will always remember. That says a hell of a lot about his life.