Based out of the Myrtle Beach area, this next artist we had the privilege to interview is a keyboard player extraordinaire who has left his mark in multiple genres. Mark Ackles has been a long-time player in the reggae music scene and has played with many of the greats, touring and playing countless shows, spreading the message of peace, love and unity through music.
Recently, I got to ask him a few questions about his musical journey.
RF: What is your backstory and how you came into music?
MA: I was always around music growing up. My mother is a singer and had a great record collection, lots of country and early rock and roll. She would always sing in the car and I would join in.
RF: What are some of your early influences that inspired you?
MA: I bounced around from genre to genre as a teen. From R&B & disco (like Michael Jackson & The BeeGees) to heavy metal (especially Black Sabbath & Ozzy), punk rock & hardcore (like The Ramones & Black Flag). British ska bands like The Specials & English Beat were huge influences for me.
RF: What was the name of your first band and other early projects you were a part of?
MA: I started out playing the bass guitar at age 15.My first band was called Scott Free, the first punk band in Myrtle Beach. We recorded a cassette and released it in 1986 called What’s This World Coming To. Elements of ska and reggae are in some of those songs.
RF: How did you get into reggae music?
MA: It was The Clash that first exposed me to reggae. Songs like “Rudie Can’t Fail,” “Police and Thieves,” and “Bankrobber.” After that, it was Bob Marley and The Wailers (of course), and UB40 “Labour of Love.”
Then, when someone gave me a bootleg cassette tape of Steel Pulse’s True Democracy, I was so blown away that I knew I wanted to play reggae. I tried to get my hands on every reggae album from every artist that I knew about, so much so that my friends started calling me “Kingston,” a nickname that has stuck with me.
At that time, I hadn’t yet begun to play the keys. I was a bass player, and as you know there is nothing better than a classic reggae bass line. I played Steel Pulse “Rally Round” over and over again. I started jamming with friends both at the beach and in Columbia, South Carolina, where I went to college (University of South Carolina), especially Dan Lowe (who performed in Scott Free, Judgenot, Kindread Soul and Reggae Infinity).
The first band that really stuck was Judgenot Reggae Band (1990-94). That’s when I started playing keys with the encouragement of bandmates, especially Ras B (currently of the band Reggae Infinity). That’s also where I met and first played with Ras Rick of Mystic Vibrations. Rick is a great teacher who really showed me a lot about chord structure and music theory.
I later joined a band called Kindread Soul (1994-97), with whom I began to sing some lead as well as play keys. We toured extensively around the southeast and recorded an album Keep The Faith. Along the way, I met Ras Bonghi in 1995 or so, and began singing and playing with his band, The Ras Bonghi Allstars, soon after and to this day. I did some nationwide tours with national & international artists as well. Among them, Rising Lion (Orlando FL), Ronnie Davis & Idren, The Itals, and Everton Blender. Here’s a video from an Itals show I was on, Vermont Reggae Fest in 1999.
RF: What are some of the current projects you are working on?
MA: In the last few years, I’ve performed with a number of regional and national artists. I have performed with and worked on an album with JahSon & The Natty Vibez (Columbia SC) called “Rasta Heart Free,”released in 2020, and a new single called “Seven Times” featuring Last Disciple. I also have performed with Amani Smith & Give Thanks Band, and Steve Martinez out of Wilmington, N.C., (thanks to you).
Right now, I also sing and play with a band based in Charleston, South Carolina, called Operation Irie, with the drum and bass players John Picard and Vasily Punsalan, among others. In addition to our own shows, we back many regional artists including Papa Robbie, and a new artist to the area, Monsoon Bedward. Here’s a short clip of Operation Irie with Ras Bonghi live.
I have been singing and playing with a variety band in Myrtle Beach called Ntranze since 2006. For the last several years, we’ve been working with a singer named Mariah Faith, who is now on American Idol. In addition, I love playing at church on Sundays these days, at Wellspring Church in Myrtle Beach.
RF: What is your message to the people and younger bands inspired by reggae?
MA: Between the many bands I perform with, duo and solo shows and DJ events (DJ Kingston), I do roughly 300 shows a year, so I stay pretty busy. Music, particularly reggae music, changed my life and has driven me since I was young. It’s a great thing to find a passion to sustain you through good times and bad.
My father gave me some great advice of sorts when I decided to become a musician full time. He said, “It’s not gonna be easy son.” Truer words were never spoken, but it’s definitely worth it. My love for music has only grown. When it hits just right, there’s really nothing like it. Shout out to all of the brothers and sisters that I’ve had the joy to share the music with. Blessings and love to your readers and to you, my friend. Thank you so much for your interest in me and continued good works.