By Todd Houston
If you go to Mark Ricotta’s Facebook page, the cover photo simply says, “Writer.”
Mark has been writing for years in one form or another, whether it be for a local publication or a national piece providing his opinion of an artist or an album review. His passion for music is evident, having provided insight into the music world with his column in the former RAM (Rockford Area Music) magazine, and being the founder and administrator for the popular facebook page Rockford Vinyl and Music News.
This week, Rockford Rocked Interviews catches up with Mark.
RRI: Good morning Mark. What have you been up to?
MR: Well, first, I want to thank you and The Rock River Times for coming out for this interview today. I have a few things I’m working on right now, including a book project; helping to resurrect a very revered annual concert event in Rockford (with Joe Hines); a couple of web articles and a magazine article in the works; and the Facebook Group Rockford Vinyl and Music News, which Joe Hines serves as co-administrator. Trying to stay busy. As you know, I have some serious medical issues that I have to manage every day, but that will never compel me to sit on my couch, watch reruns of Law and Order, and atrophy! I’ve found the best way to get it out of myself is to be of service and bring love and joy to others. My writing allows me to do that to a large number of audiences.
RRI: When did you first discover you had a passion for writing and journalism?
MR: About 40 years ago when I wrote a “love letter” to a girl named Rhonda and she responded! I knew right then and there I possibly could be good at this. But seriously, music journalism and critique are forms of writing I’ve always felt comfortable with and had an easy way of communicating what I was feeling and trying to explain. For sure, it takes an understanding of the basics of journalism; but it takes more than that when you write about music. First of all, you’re trying to connect to what the musician is trying to convey through his or her soul as it comes out through their music, and then give it your best shot at conveying that to an audience that cares enough about what you’ve written in the past to give this new article a go and read on.
RRI: We spoke briefly before about a column you wrote in RAM magazine. Tell us more about that.
MR: That was offered to me by the late, great and legendary Gary Wilmer. Gary was a wonderful man and a living legend nationwide when it came to Rockford area rock ‘n’ roll and more. He will never be forgotten. At first, Gary asked me to write CD reviews and long band interviews, which was fun… from Bare Bones to Cheap Trick to RIPT to Second Sunday and so many more. But what was even more enjoyable for me, as a writer, and hopefully my readers, was a monthly column Gary let me establish and write monthly called, “Rockford Sound Check.”
RRI: RAM magazine eventually dissolved sometime during the late ‘90s. Why do you think we never saw another RAM-type magazine after that?
MR: About the time RAM dissolved, the age of the internet was in its embryonic stage. Enough said, really. A couple of valiant publishers-to-be gave the ole standard print format one more shot here in the stateline, but it became easier for readers to find quality writing more easily online and for advertisers to find more effective use of their ad budgets. Illinois Entertainer still works as a print publication in the Chicago market and ‘burbs, but its circulation is significant. RAM magazine is a piece of Rockford history in the strongest sense, and we’re working to see it get archived in the Rockford Public Library, as it so richly deserves.
RRI: RAM wasn’t the only entertainment magazine here in Rockford though was it? Do you remember NOW, Lively Times and some of the others?
MR: I remember them, but not too well. I’d look at them mostly for the pictures of the women. The writing usually was copied and pasted from a syndication service. There may have been some very short local music articles with a photo and cutline. But without doubt, there were some great local ads in those newspapers that remain classics to this day.
RRI: Tell us a bit about your passion for vinyl records and your Facebook page, Rockford Vinyl and Music News.
MR: Well, I established Rockford Vinyl and Music News on March 26, 2016. We now have about 5,000 group members. I get tremendous joy from connecting readers in the group to each other by allowing them to share personal experiences related to music. In our family, all music was considered to have “value” and we were open-minded enough to listen to anything we could get our hands and ears on, then discuss. Regarding vinyl, I obviously am biased as to the superior sound of vinyl over any other musical source, including digital. I could write a dissertation on that.
RRI: Word on the street says that you and a couple of your fellow constituents are working on a publication regarding Rockford area music. Can you provide any insight at this time?
MR: Some things just simply need to be chronicled and reported. That, for me and many others, would include the culture, zeitgeist, historical events, photos and stories about what really happened here in the Rockford area during the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Music and otherwise. It looks like I – along with you, (Todd Houston) and Mike Bunjan (managing graphic design) – are going to produce a coffee table book of sorts that chronicles the Rockford rock ‘n’ roll scene in the late half of the 20th century. How about that? (laughs)
RRI: Wow! I had no idea! (laughs) Okay, Mark: I’m going to say a word or phrase and you answer with the first thing that pops into your head. Ready? Coop Records and Tapes (former Rockford record store and head shop).
MR: Patchouli incense, candyland, after-school education.
MR: Martha Quinn, colors, and Martha Quinn.
RRI: Italian cooking.
MR: Too much is never enough.
RRI: The last show you saw at Rockford’s Coronado Theater.
RRI: What’s next for Mark Ricotta?
MR: I would prefer to have the question phrased, “Who’s next?” Stay tuned! R.