Story by Dick Hildebrand
You could call Mark Chichkan the musician’s musician! Just ask him about his career and you’ll get a detailed, unabashed look at a man who loves what he’s doing. In fact, he proudly states, “music is the only thing I’ve been doing since I was 20 years old.”
Having turned 50 in June, Mark is showing no signs of retiring, although he claims to have cut down on his playing schedule a bit – to 3 or 4 nights a week. Then again, as a member of four bands: ‘United Snakes Seventies Rock’, ‘Bombsquad’, ‘80s Inc’ and Riot House along with a highly successful solo act to boot, the question is – where’s he cutting down?
Mark, who was born in Windsor, has virtually been surrounded by music since he was a toddler. His mother was a singer, his father played the guitar and his grandfather, who had come to this country from Russia, was a multi-instrumentalist – not to mention that his grandmother also played the guitar and sang. Aunts and uncles chimed in with their musical talents, while Mark’s older brother was a drummer. No wonder that with all that geneology in his background, it wasn’t long before little brother showed a musical interest of his own – and naturally, he didn’t want to be outdone by his sibling! He got his first guitar – an inexpensive acoustic model on his 7th birthday. It was a gift from his parents, coming at a time when he says, “I was sitting in the corner of my room spinning Elvis records.” Turns out the King has been Mark’s biggest influence in the music scene. “When I got that guitar, I had no idea what I was doing”, says Mark, “but I knew that music was going to be part of my future.” Anyway, without any formal training and limited knowledge about the guitar, it remained idle for several years, until Mark picked up what he calls “a mediocre electric guitar” and decided to go for lessons.
One of his instructors was an excellent player, who led his eager student down the path of rock and roll picking – and combined with his excellent ear for music and his ability to patiently practice for long hours at a time, Mark himself became an accomplished guitarist. He was still in grade school when his dad, having heard him play, decided it was time to upgrade the equipment…and young Mark finally got his first professional guitar, a Gibson Les Paul model…which, after 40 some years, he still uses today!
He was only 15 years old, in high school and a member of the bands ‘Mynx’ and ‘Marauder’, when he started making money by playing in clubs. “I was doing something I loved,” he recalls, “and it was intoxicating.” After high school he immediately went to work at the former GM Trim Plant on Lauzon Road (currently the site of the WFCU Centre). However, driven by the music bug, Mark auditioned for, and was hired as lead guitarist for ‘Mindstorm’ an Aquarius Records group that had just released its first album and was getting set to produce a second one. After being granted an unprecedented six-month leave of absence by the automaker, Mark joined the group for a Canada-wide tour. He also gained some notoriety as a member of Windsor’s popular ‘Hitmen’ in the late 80s, continued gaining a reputation as an excellent solo performer and teaching music during the day to make ends meet. “Nobody said this business is simple,” he muses. Some time later he hooked up with ‘Helix’, a gold and platinum-winning Canadian band which toured the country a number of times and recorded two albums which contained a couple of Mark’s tunes. ‘Wrecking Ball’, which he co-wrote with other members of the group was featured on the album titled Half Alive and ‘Devil’s Gate’, his very own composition, can be found on the album Bsides. He remained with the group for five years. His days at GM were history.
16 years ago, Mark formed ‘Bombsquad’, a four-piece combo with a diverse musical repertoire that’s enabled it to cash in at area casinos. The group remains together today with the original members – Mark is lead vocalist and guitarist, Tony Calabrese is on keyboards, Brian McDonnell is on bass and Phil Charette is the drummer. A diverse group, the guys do everything from rock, to Motown, soul, disco and funk, along with “the current stuff on the radio.” They’re featured regularly at festivals, corporate events, weddings and any other celebrations requiring a high-octane sound. And they still grace the stage at casinos on both sides of the river. More information about the band can be found at bombsquadboom.com.
His groups have shared the national stage with some legendary performers, like Randy Bachman, Trooper, Peter Criss of Kiss, Georgia Satellites and Foghat just to mention a few. And yet, it’s Mark’s solo act that continues to be his bread and butter. “I play everywhere on both sides of the border,” he says, “being solo still is my main source of income.” In 2012, Mark was inducted into the Windsor-Essex County Musicians Hall of Fame… “a moment,” he says, “I’ll never forget.”
To find out more about Mark Chichkan, his music and his busy schedule, check out his website at markchichkan.com. Also, log on to the United Snakes site, unitedsnakes70srock.com, for information on what this innovative tribute band is all about.
Certainly not lacking in ambition, Mark says he would like to record a solo album in the future…which would be a collection of his best original material. And he adds that musicians from his four bands would obviously be a major part of the project. At the moment, though, that’s in the planning stages. For now, Mark is quite content with his life. He and his wife, who’s a pediatric nurse at Met Hospital and their pets spend a lot of time together and he continues to do what he loves…making music, on his terms!