Interview: Damon Marks Founder of "The Traveling Guitar Foundation"
Wed, 10 Jul 2013 16:04:05
Damon Marks is keeping music education alive. As the founder of "The Traveling Guitar Foundation", he goes into schools everywhere, meets students face-to-face, performs clinics, and donates tons and tons of guitars. He's introduced a whole new generation to the instrument, and his work keeps expanding as he's recently teamed up with the USO and gone farther than ever before. Still, there's a lot more on the horizon...
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, "The Traveling Guitar Foundation" founder Damon Marks discusses the initiative, what's ahead, and so much more.
How did the idea for The Traveling Guitar Foundation come about?
It started around 2009. When I finished doing everything with Jermaine Paul on the Alicia Keys tour, that's when I pushed this through. This whole idea came about when I was young and I first started playing. At a certain point, I wanted to give back and help the kids out similar to what I had gotten when I was younger. The whole concept of the way we donate, the performances in schools, the interactions one-on-one with kids, and clinical guitar courses. We make it different, exciting, and fun. That was all from my brain. I sat there and thought about it for a while, and that was what I wanted to do.
Was it important for you to cover an entire spectrum of genres in terms of who was involved?
Absolutely, my whole thing is diversity. When I grew up, I was always into hard rock and heavy metal. As I started to progress as a guitarist and years went on, I realized if you wanted to survive in this business, you had to become diverse as a player. That's when I started getting involved in R&B. I was lucky enough to get in front of Alicia Keys's management at the time. They handled all of these other artists as well, and that encompassed the R&B spectrum. From being on tour with Alicia, I met her husband Swizz Beatz, which brought in the hip-hop aspect. That whole thing in of itself made me realize the guitar is universal. To be a great player, you can't just sit on one type of music. You need to be diverse and play all forms of music. That's a point we try to get across to the kids. You can spread out in what you like to do and play that way.
What was your experience like on the USO shows? The soldiers are the most grateful group of people out there…
They are. I have to say it was pretty life-changing for me. It was definitely something that fell into my lap. I always knew of the USO. Getting a USO tour of my own was a humbling experience. When you go out on to different bases and you work with these people, it's so incredible. We never see the day-to-day of what it's like for troops. One of the most moving experiences happened out in Germany during the tour. There was a hospital where injured troops who were ready to go home to the States came to before they boarded the bus for the flight line. We performed for a bunch of troops there. Then, we found out there was one soldier who was too injured to get off the bus from the stretcher. So we went right on to the bus with our acoustics and performed there for him. It was amazing. It was totally life-changing. We were able to give back. We left a bunch of guitars over in Germany at the different bases. A lot of the soldiers love guitar.
Was this all part of your original plan?
None of this was actually part of my original plan [Laughs]. My initial plan was to get into some schools in the local area, help some kids out, and try to make a difference in their lives because of the opportunities I was given with my musical career. It just evolved and worked into this huge thing I didn't expect. Every month something new pops up. The U.S. embassy actually contacted us on behalf of the promoter who was organizing this island chain of concerts. We did Barbados first. We performed and gave back to the students there. We went to Antigua. We're leaving for Grenada in a few days. The last stop on the chain of Caribbean islands will be St. Vincent.
What's next for The Traveling Guitar Foundation?
I always like to keep it grassroots. We've got a very streamlined look at how we do things. As we move and go forward, I want to identify schools that need the help and use what we give. I know, no matter what, something is going to come out of it. Whether they add it to their curriculum or make an after school program that even 15 or so kids come to, it's something good. I want to make sure we're taken care of in as many places as possible. We have some great stuff in the works.
Check out The Traveling Guitar Foundation!