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Mark Heard

singer-songwriter Alt-country christian All rock

John Mark Heard (1951-1992) was a record producer, singer, and songwriter originally from Macon, Georgia.

Mark Heard released 13 studio albums in his lifetime (as Mark Heard & Ideola) also 1 album with Infinity Plus Three), and produced and performed with many other artists as well, such as Daniel Amos, Sam Phillips, Pierce Pettis, Phil Keaggy, Vigilantes of Love, Peter Buck of R.E.M., John Austin, The Choir, Randy Stonehill and Michael Been of The Call. Heard produced part of Olivia Newton John's The Rumour, which also included a cover of Heard's "Big and Strong".

On July 4, 1992, Heard suffered a heart attack on stage while performing with Pierce Pettis and Kate Miner, at the Cornerstone Festival, near Chicago, Illinois. Heard finished his set and went to the hospital immediately afterwards. Two weeks after being released from the hospital, Heard had a cardiac arrest and died in August of 1992. Sadly, this happened at a time when Heard's musical career never looked brighter. Not only had he just released three albums (Dry Bones Dance in 1990, Second Hand in 1991, and Satellite Sky in 1992) that many hailed as his best work to date, but he had also just been included on a sampler from Windham Hill's High Street label.

Heard's early work was often marked by strong, poetic lyrics; but musically he lingered in a generic folk/folk-rock style. But Heard continued to experiment musically; his most extreme was perhaps the elaborately-produced electronic rock on the album Tribal Opera, which he released under the name iDEoLA. With Dry Bones Dance, however, Heard's music blossomed into an intense folk-rock fusion, marked by driving rhythms, virtuosic instrumentals, passionate vocals, and interwoven elements borrowed from styles such as Appalachian folk, zydeco, bluegrass, and country (though Heard's music is none of those). Second Hand returned to a more acoustic guitar-based folk sound, but retained the energy and creativity discovered through Dry Bones Dance. His final official album, Satellite Sky, was again more like the latter.

Mark Heard's lyrics are deeply grounded in a Christian view of the world, though explicitly so only half the time. He was often critical and had an eye for emotional pain and spiritual desolation, yet he remarkably avoided cynicism. When his lyrics turned to expressing hope or joy, they were powerful. As a poetic lyricist, Heard cultivated verbal sound (e.g. with internal rhyme), strong images and elaborate personae, while avoiding the cheap punch-line metaphors popular in much contemporary folk music. Some of his images, most notably "bones," can be found repeated and richly varied in their meaning across years of songwriting.

In 1994, many artists came together to record a tribute album called Strong Hand of Love. Artists lending their talents to the project included Victoria Williams, Chagall Guevara, Buddy Miller, Julie Miller, Daniel Amos, The Choir, Rich Mullins, Bruce Cockburn, and the Vigilantes of Love. The project was later reissued as a 2 CD set with additional tracks and retitled Orphans of God.

Mark Heard has published photos.