Music Player Magazine – Mark Kassa – Slight Return
Mark Kassa has been a part of the Detroit music scene since 1985 when he decided to play guitar after seeing Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Meadowbrook Amphitheater. Kassa is still rockin’ it out with his band Slight Return, for the 4th consecutive year their songs have landed on the first round Grammy Awards ballot. This year it’s “Warriors Soul” performed with Andy Vargas on vocals (Santana’s vocalist 2000 –present) and “Just Win Baby”. Kassa, born and bred in Detroit is such a die-hard supporter of the “D” that he is called Dr. Detroit by his alumni at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. This passion for music and his compassion for people along with his strong family values are inspiring. Music Player Magazine had a chance to learn more about Kassa and the impact he has left on the Detroit music scene and the community.
Music Player Magazine (MPM) Describe your music career path – How did you get your start in music, who inspired you?
Mark Kassa (Kassa) The first time I saw Stevie Ray I was blown away. From that point on I knew wanted to play guitar. My musical influences were Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana and Robin Trower. In 1990 I graduated from Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California. I was working in the family grocery store since I was young, and we didn’t have any musicians in the family but luckily, my parents accepted my vision and supported me. It was an incredible experience. I got to learn and jam with so many great players including band members from The Time, Sheila E, Steely Dan…
After graduating, I started my first band Tower, a 5-piece progressive rock band. My next band was named Slight Return and was funky and bluesy. Our bass player Mark Dabrowski and I left to form a new lineup with Alberto Rosal on drums and we recorded a few albums that gained the attention of 3 major labels and we were offered contracts and tours.
I declined because I didn’t want to miss precious years with my young children. We were recording another album when Alberto passed away from cancer – I was devastated… I stopped playing for a year until my wife encouraged me that Alberto would want me to do what I love. For the past 25 years, I have played with my band Slight Return that’s included great musicians including Garry Villasenor, Ronnie Karmo, Tony Mitchell, William Pope, Mike Schneider, and Robert Bennett.
MPM What are some of the highlights of your career?
Kassa We recorded the Corporate Pig album, featuring Welcome to the D (my trademarked phrase) and then opened for Robin Trower, CCR, Grand Funk Railroad, Tesla, Eddie Money…
At the time we were the only independent band on Comcast Concert TV‐ right in between Stevie Ray Vaughan and The Scorpions- it was amazing to be featured next to the musician who inspired me to play.
Since then, we’ve released the albums; Information Overload, Welcome to the D, Vicious Tides, The Sideshow, Don’t Take The Bait, and Candlepower (which has been in the vault for over 17 years – recorded before Alberto’s passing).
MPM Who have you had a chance to work with over the years?
Kassa I’ve been blessed to have recorded/produced with funk legend, George Clinton, Billy Cox (Jimi Hendrix) Dennis Coffey (Motown Funk Brothers), Andy Vargas (Santana), Dennis Chambers (Steely Dan) Tony Green (Snoop Dogg), Pete Thompson (Robert Plant) Glenn Letsch (Trower), Victor Ghannam (National Arab Orchestra), Rich Mansor who introduced me to Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden) and Chris Hanzsek (Deep Six Album) who have provided top-quality mixing, mastering, and production.
MPM How did you end up at Mi5 – Universal Music Group?
Kassa A while back I met music executive Tom McDonough. He heard the Vicious Tides album and felt it was marketable; the songs were released through Mi5 and Ted Mason at Universal Music Group. We were fortunate enough to have 2 songs Vicious Tides and Warrior Soul reach #13 on the DRT Global Rock Charts. The songs remained in the charts for a combined 7 months. We’ve had 8 songs on the Grammy Awards first-round ballot over the last 4 years.
MPM You co-host “Welcome to the D” what are some of your favorite interviews or celebrity stories from the show.
Kassa In 2014 Bill Von Linsowe and I started the TV Show; Welcome to the D. Our guests included Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), George Clinton (P-Funk), Gil Bridges (Rare Earth), Reeves Gabriels (David Bowie), Dennis Coffey (Detroit Funk Brothers… Now the show is co-hosted by myself, Tom McDonough, Tara Madej and Amanda Pniewski-Brooks with a fresh new format.
MPM You have been active in the music scene for many years, how do you stay relevant and inspired especially during COVID
Kassa The industry has changed so much with COVID shutting down live music. I’ve kept motivated by releasing 3 more albums and I’m almost done writing another. We’ve played some private live shows. I’m also collaborating on a song with artist Christian Vegh, a great young musician who has been on the charts, and the DMAN Foundation artists. It’s important to stay focused during this difficult crossroads in entertainment.
MPM You are an executive board member and volunteer at the DMAN Foundation (Danny’s Miracle Angel Network) and many other charity events – what influenced your philanthropic path?
Kassa God has blessed me in many ways with amazing parents, family, friends, and mentors. My Dad was the most influential and caring person I have known. He was a tireless worker and a man of faith who helped anyone in need. If a hungry person shoplifted in our store, he would load up a cart full of food for their family and they would leave in tears. The most fulfilling part of life is the privilege of helping others and giving back. I’ve been fortunate to work with many mentoring programs, churches, food pantries, outreach programs, veteran charities, soup kitchens…The DMAN Foundation, started by Ziad Kassab in memory of his brother Danny, helps people with disabilities produce music while achieving clinical goals. The organization also improves lives through events like the Woodward Dream Cruise, Helicopter Rides, and the Halloween Gala. I’m proud to be an executive board member of the foundation.
MPM You attended the Musicians Institute in California, how important is a formal music education to shaping your career? Do you have any advice for young musicians?
Kassa I loved my time at Musicians Institute, I studied music theory, fingerboard harmony, improvisation, and performed hundreds of times per semester in the Funk, Odd Meter, Rock, Blues Pro Series. I’m an advocate for music education as it expands your knowledge of scales, modes, chords, writing skills, etc. and builds your cognitive ability, math skills and creative thinking process.
My advice to young musicians, don’t let success get to your head and don’t let failure get to your heart. Do not be discouraged by those that criticize. Music is subjective. You will fail many times but you have to keep going. Many major record labels have refused most of the iconic bands you’ve heard on the radio, but they pressed on and eventually succeeded.
MPM Besides Hendrix, who would you most like to share a stage and who would be your dream band to play with?
Kassa It would be incredible to share the stage and record with Carlos Santana! Carlos represents the depth of a player that continued to grow and reinvent himself. He has such a distinctive style. When Santana plays a solo, it is instantly recognizable because of his incredible melodic phrasing which is a result of a lifetime of living the music. My dream band would be Jimi Hendrix on guitar, Larry Graham on bass, Dennis Chambers on drums!
MPM You are a true-blue Detroit supporter and even have trademarks for Detroit and merchandise tell us about them
Kassa I’m born in Detroit, and my family has had businesses in the city since 1936. I worked for over 25 years at our store K&G Food Mart at the corner of Linwood and Davison, and have met a lot of great people. Detroit has always been such a hub of innovation, with the auto industry and musically with Motown, Rock, Blues, Funk, EDM… I’ve always promoted Detroit, even before it’s comeback, and wrote songs like Welcome to the D, The D, and Shake Your Detroit Right (feat. George Clinton), So Detroit w/the AI Fam. I own the trademarks for Welcome to the D, The D, So Detroit (co-owner), It’s a Detroit Thing, It’s a D Thing and has a full line of merchandise at welcometothed.com
MPM You play a huge role in helping young musicians do you have any advice for them and did you have mentors who guided your path?
Kassa I’ve had so many great mentors and teachers. My Dad was the biggest influence teaching me the importance of working hard and pursuing what you love. Musically, my teachers from Musicians Institute were incredible. I love being able to help other players. There’s a great feeling when you see somebody positively affected by your advice and/or teaching.
MPM What’s next for you and for Slight Return?
Kassa I’d like to continue writing, recording, performing, producing music, mentoring others, and working with guest artists. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll record with Santana. I’m blessed to have such great bandmates and brothers in music: Ronnie Karmo on drums, Tony Mitchell on percussion and William Pope on the bass.