The Song Remains: Mark Germino (1950 – 2024)

A songwriting star to those who knew his work.

Guest writer Richard Leader pays a heartfelt personal tribute to Mark Germino.

The poet, singer and songwriter Mark Germino has died aged 73.  His is not a name which is particularly well-known, and I suspect he was fine with that, though his music definitely deserved to be heard by more people. Hardly the most prolific of artists, he only released 5 albums between 1986 and 2021. But each of those albums was a gem, and one in particular, a pretty dazzling gem.

Born in North Carolina in 1950, Germino originally became a poet but, in 1974, he moved to Nashville, bought a guitar and became a singer, apparently it was easier than reciting poetry. Like many around him, making a living solely as an artist wasn’t possible so he also drove trucks to pay the bills. I don’t really remember how I came across him, but when I was around 15 or 16 I started getting into folk music. Well out of step with the world, while my friends were listening to The Smiths, I was discovering Joni, Neil Young and English folk, Fairport Convention especially. And here, in 1987 was an album that crossed those worlds. Firmly American – what we’d now call Americana, but recorded just a few miles from me at the legendary Ridge Farm Studio in Surrey. It featured a bunch of English musicians, in particular the late Martin Allcock (then of Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention and incidentally, the best fretless bass player I’ve ever seen), Christin Collister and the legendary Simon Nicoll. The record was produced by former Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith.

“Caught In The Act of Being Ourselves” is that shining gem of an album, and the final track on side 1 is Germino’s masterpiece. The story of a rebellious small-town radio DJ who gets into trouble for not spinning the tunes the bosses want him to play. ‘Rex Bob Lowenstein’ was the track I heard first, maybe played by Roger Scott or Bob Harris, and I’ve treasured it ever since. Of course, it’s a favourite of radio DJs, it’s how we secretly all see ourselves.

Germino hung around with that group of artists who were never going to be famous, never going to headline Madison Square Gardens or play a residency at the Opry. But they played memorable shows, swapped songs and told stories. He was great friends with the late Malcolm Holcombe who wrote a song partly about him, ‘The Music Plays On’. While Holcombe was a prolific writer and anxious to get his music laid down, Germino was much less hurried. His albums are hard to find and the streaming services don’t have the full catalogue despite its brevity. His debut was in ’86 with “London Mood and Barnyard Remedies”, “Caught In the Act of Being Ourselves” was recorded in ’87 but is now a rarity. “Radar Town”, with his band The Sluggers came out in 1991 (and also featured a version of ‘Rex Bob Lowenstein’) and then we had a five-year wait until “Rank & File” came out. Then nothing. So it was a real surprise to get an album from him in 2021, “Midnight Carnival”. And what a fine album it was too, featuring the great Kenny Vaughn on guitar among a number of very fine Nashville session musicians.

Germino will be missed by many, the tributes online from people who know him are warm and talk of him fondly, remembering their conversations, the songs and the man. For me, and I’m sure for many, his crowning moment was the story of a man who was 47 going on 16 who barricaded himself into the studio at Radio W.A.N.T,  ‘Rex Bob Lowenstein’.

His website contains a link to be able to contact him directly, rather than through the usual music business agent or management company. I’m only sorry I never used it to thank him for making such fine records.

About Martin Johnson 414 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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Alan Peatfield

Sad news indeed. I was lucky enough to pick up on Mark’s music back in early 90’s with Radar Town. For years I took great delight introducing “Rex Bob Lowenstein” to friends and acquaintances; in fact anyone I met!! As you said, never prolific but great quality.

Don Dolby

Very sad to hear of Mark Germino’s death. First heard him when Roger Scott played Rex Bob Lowenstein on his show. Still the proud owner of Caught In The Act Of Being Ourselves on vinyl. Another favourite is Leroy and Bob’s Totalitarian Shakedown on Radartown.

Andy Lefley

Mark Germino was a genius and like Martin I have been a fan since his earliest work. He went be a sad loss. His masterpiece is Mark Germino and the Grenade Angels – Atomic Candlestick. This is an amazing album that never achieved general release as far as I have been able to find out. My copy came as a download from a fan who posted it online as too good for other fans to miss
Perhaps seeking to get this a full release would serve his memory well

Alastair Thomson

Only knew his work through “Caught In The Act Of Being Ourselves” – bought largely for Fairport session players – never found anything else but really enjoyed what I heard. Sad news.