When Neil Young and friends hosted a benefit concert in 1986 at Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mark White was there. Every time the Grateful Dead took the stage at the outdoor arena, White was there. When the famed drummer of Rush was kicked out of a restricted area backstage, White, unfortunately, was there, too. “Some guy had come down the truck ramp on his bike and I told him that he wasn’t supposed to ride there, and of course, he takes his helmet off, and it’s Neil Pert,” recalls the CEO of A&L Pool and Spa in San Jose. “I cowered and thought, ‘Oh my God. Are you kidding me? I just kicked out my idol, the guy I always wanted to meet and idolized my entire life.’”
At the time, the self-taught drummer and singer was performing regularly in a cover band while working as an assistant electrician.
Designed by Bill Graham, the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Calif., was constructed over an existing landfill. During its opening season in 1986, several audience members reported small fires after lighting cigarettes because methane gas was leaking from fissures in the soil. To prevent future incidents, a $2 million gas extraction system was installed, and White was appointed to be part of the of methane gas recovery program. Ultimately, he spent six years, from 1986 until 1992, shining spotlights on some of the most notable musicians of all time and protecting patrons from safety hazards.
White first pursued his entrepreneurial goals in 1991 by opening his first swimming pool business, The Pool Guys. The following year, he took his talents on the road as the announcer, merchandiser and lighting technician for the R&B/soul band Tower of Power. By 1993, White determined it was time to focus on his pool company, so he took a 16-year hiatus from working concerts and touring with other bands. During that time, he still managed to perform and at one point was playing up to 100 gigs a year.
White’s focuss shifted at age 46 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He immediately returned to doing some of the music activites he enjoyed so much in the past.
“Everything happens for a reason,” says White, who was diagnosed early on and is now considered cured. “You never know what’s coming around the next corner, cancer or no cancer, you gotta take life as it comes, but continue to rock.”
And that’s exactly what White did. Although he had played the drums since fifth grade, he never took lessons. So he decided it was time to get formal training. The perfect opportunity came about in 2010 when White went to see one of his favorite bands perform in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Unbeknownst to White, his childhood friend and bandmate was the drummer of the popular ‘70s hard rock band Y&T (formerly Yesterday & Today), so White approached him, rekindled their friendship and set up drum lessons from Mike Vanderhule.
It didn’t take long before he was right back in the music world. He got a job as drum tech for the band, a role that morphed into guitar tech and eventually announcer. Now, he travels with Y&T on its U.S. tour dates and is responsible for making sure all the equipment is operating properly and transported safely. The experience has been very rewarding.
“Here I am, back again, traveling and getting to see the U.S. and getting paid for it,” he says. “Even though I’m not playing, I get my musical fix. I get to set up the drums and guitars for a band I have loved forever. I still slap myself that I am even working for them.”
Every so often, White even gets his 15 seconds of fame when the band invites him on stage to do a cameo using a vibraslap (a hand-played percussive instrument) at the beginning of the song “Black Tiger.”
Although White’s illness motivated him to return to his roots, but it also encouraged him to take on a new challenge as the owner of a brick and mortar retail store. He returned to the swimming pool industry with a bang on August 1, 2011, taking over a San Jose, Calif.-based retail and service company, renaming it A&L Pool & Spa. It also just so happened to coincide with his new job with Y&T.
“Right when I took over the store, I left to go on the road for a week and a half,” he recalls. “My friend said, ‘Go big or go home.’ I’ve made it a year back in the pool business, and I get to go on the road, I have beautiful twins and a beautiful wife. Without risk, there is no reward.”
Today, when he’s not touring with Y&T or working at his pool store, White can be found writing and recording music at his home studio. He’s also a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 134 chapter in San Jose and has returned to work as a stagehand at HP Pavilion in San Jose and Shoreline Amphitheatre.
“You have to have a good time or life ain’t worth living,” he says. “You can sleep when you’re dead. I get the opportunity to do all this because I am the captain of my own ship, and this ship has set sail.”
- Bill Graham designed the Shoreline Amphitheatre to look like the Grateful Dead’s skull logo, but this shape can only been from an aerial view.
- The Grateful Dead was supposed to play the opening show at Shoreline Amphitheatre but cancelled after Jerry Garcia fell into a coma.
- Drums are the oldest known instruments appearing as early as 6,000 B.C. The design and shape of the drum has remained largely the same since then. A variety of animals, including primates, rodents and kangaroos, have been known to beat on objects like a drum as a form of language.