Arts and Entertainment

Pacific Music instructor honored by Washington Blues Society

Redmond resident Tom Miller (left) and his instructor Mark Riley jam for a few minutes before starting their formal slide guitar lessons at Pacific Music. Riley was recently named Acoustic Blues Guitarist of the Year for 2012 by the Washington Blues Society. - Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter
Redmond resident Tom Miller (left) and his instructor Mark Riley jam for a few minutes before starting their formal slide guitar lessons at Pacific Music. Riley was recently named Acoustic Blues Guitarist of the Year for 2012 by the Washington Blues Society.
— image credit: Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter

Mark Riley picked up his first guitar when he was 12 and now only a few months shy of 60, has never let go.

From working as a roadie with touring bands during his high school summers and attending Cornish College of the Arts, to building custom guitars and teaching music lessons at Pacific Music in Redmond, Riley has lived and breathed music. And this dedication has been recognized as the guitarist, instructor, songwriter and all-around music man has been named the Washington Blues Society's Best of the Blues (BB Awards) Acoustic Blues Guitarist of the Year for 2012.

Riley has received this award nine times since 1998 but said he plays music because he loves it, not for the awards.

"If it happens, it happens," he said.

However, Riley admits it's nice to be recognized.

"I'm kind of proud of it," he said about his Acoustic Blues Guitarist award.


Riley has also received BB Awards — as an individual and as part of his various bands — in a number of categories including songwriting, band and traditional act.

The four bands Riley currently plays in are the Mark Riley Trio, The Bill Mattocks Band, Blues Redemption and Snake Oil Blues Elixir. He has also played with Little Bill and the Bluenotes — whose frontman "Little Bill" Englehart has been in the music business for 57 years.

Riley grew up in Renton and now lives in Federal Way, but during those in-between years, he has spent time in Nashville — a city known for its music scene — recording music and immersing himself in the industry. He also spent time in Los Angeles.

"Music has been my passion," he said.

That passion has led him to open for blues legends Sonny Landreth, B.B. King and Taj Mahal. He has also played with Sam Andrew of Big Brother and the Holding Company (the band that once featured the late Janis Joplin) and Merrilee Rush, who sang "Angel of the Morning" and owns and operates and MerriMac Farm just outside of Redmond.

Riley has five CDs out on the market and is working on a sixth. And while he has come in contact with music royalty, he acknowledges that most people outside of the blues community probably haven't heard of him.

"I'm not a household name and I don't need to be," Riley said.

He just loves to play.


Riley said one of the things he loves about music is that it is the only art form that can be created, executed and appreciated all in one moment. Riley tries to pass this appreciation on to his students at Pacific Music, where he has been teaching for 14 years, and make them understand where music comes from and that someone has to write, create and perform those songs they download.

For Redmond resident Tom Miller, those lessons have stuck. The Overlake Hospital emergency physician has been taking slide guitar lessons from Riley for almost two years and said he has learned more than just how to play.

"(Riley) actually knows a lot about music theory," he said.

Miller said he finds this extra knowledge helpful in understanding what genres have influenced the different techniques he is learning.

Riley said he tries to be a musicologist and find the source when it comes to the methods he teaches and pass on to his students how and why those techniques came to be.

Miller said he enjoys the theory lessons and just talking about music as much as he enjoys learning music.

"I think Mark is a master," Miller said.


Gary Weyand, owner of Pacific Music, also praised Riley's teaching skills.

"(All of our instructors are) incredible and Mark's at the top of the list," he said.

Riley shrugged off the compliment and said with a laugh, "I'm just the oldest."

Weyand said he can't imagine a nicer, more talented person than Riley and his dedication to music is reflected not just in his lessons with students, but also when Riley does guitar repairs for the store.

Weyand said Riley will take an hour working on an instrument whereas another repairperson would take only 10 minutes. Weyand said this is because Riley is a musician and can relate to his fellow guitarists and understands the importance of having his instrument in perfect working condition.

And while repairing instruments and giving music lessons may not seem that glamorous, Riley wouldn't trade it for anything.

"I get to do what I love," he said. "That's what it's about for me."

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