Speak Easy

Mark Humphries, a West Florence graduate, performs with his band, Speakeasy, during Florence School District One's Musically Exceptional kickoff event in 2017.

FLORENCE, S.C. -- For the first time in more than 20 years, Mark Humphries has the time to focus on music.

After a long career in sales, Humphries recently left his day job to concentrate solely on the job he’s always loved most: playing music and live gigs.

“It was definitely a leap of faith, but I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time,” Humphries said. “I’m making some changes, and I finally just decided I wanted to live a life I’m happy with. I don’t want to be stressed out all the time. I just think there’s more to life, and I want to be happy, not worrying about my next sale or the unknown. I’m having to cut some corners and make some adjustments as far as finances go, but I’m much happier. And in the end, that’s what matters.”

So far, so good for the Florence native. It’s only been a few months and his calendar already is filling up with live gigs, many of them solo or duet performances; but there are some gigs with his full band, Speakeasy, mixed in here and there.

Though Humphries writes plenty of his own music, his live gigs and his band performances are filled with a ton of familiar covers. In the beginning, many of those were Grateful Dead and jam band covers, but Humphries said he’s changed things up in recent years.

“We’ve kind of gotten to a point where we’re playing more songs that everyone knows,” Humphries said. “We love the Dead and still love all their music, but general audiences don’t know these songs, so we’ve changed things up a bit, as far as covers. We do ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and more popular covers like that now, and people seem to enjoy it.”

Humphries is a multi-instrumentalist. He sings and plays guitar and piano. But his original instrument was the trumpet, which he can first remember playing at age 11 during church services at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church on Cherokee Road. He still sings in the St. Luke’s choir every Sunday.

“I started young on trumpet and then picked up the guitar,” Humphries said. “I was probably 17 when I started playing in front of live audiences, back in the days of The Edge and Coconut Café. I started out playing with Derek Hoke. My goal was to play with some well-known musicians so I would become a well-known musician. At 29, I started on piano, so I try to mix it up, do some different stuff.”

From the beginning, Humphries has found inspiration in artists such as the Dave Matthews Band, Ben Harper and Jack Johnson. But he explains his style as pretty eclectic.

“I guess you could say I like a little bit of everything,” Humphries said. “I definitely try not to get stuck in this genre or that one. I’m pretty open to whatever and always looking to learn something new.”

A lifelong Florence resident, Humphries feels plugged into the music scene in town. He knows a lot of his fellow musicians and performs with many of them, including the “Godfather of Florence Music” Allen Johnson. He now boasts regular gigs at The Swamp, J Michaels Bar & Grill, Southern Hops Brewing Company, Red Bone Alley and the Country Club of South Carolina.

“I’m pretty connected with all the local musicians, it seems,” he said. “I think I’ve gotten to a good place, but I’m always looking to grow, and right now, I’m especially looking to expand my market outside of Florence. I’m open and ready for wherever I can play.”

Already, Humphries has more than 100 gigs booked for 2019, but he’s still looking to book more shows. Playing live, he said, is what makes him tick. But when he’s not on stage, he is a full-time single dad to daughter Marlee, who already is carrying on the family musical legacy in Knight Edition at West Florence High School. And as if he has any spare time, he still writes his own music when he can.

“My goal is to put out a CD in the next few months of all original music,” Humphries said. “But I’m really just trying to enjoy the moment. That’s what’s important.”

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