San Diego native Mark Stuart moved to Austin four years ago for two reasons. “I needed a change. I just had a divorce.” Plus there was that music thing. The singer-songwriter-guitarist was behind country-rock band Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, which he formed in ’95, and Austin had a lot more full-time career musicians than San Diego.
“There are over 300 music venues there. A lot of my friends had already moved there....” Stuart namechecks SD refugees Dave Gonzales of the Paladins, Cella Blue of the West Coast Pinups, and Billy Bacon of the Forbidden Pigs. “Rosie Flores was my next-door neighbor.” Stuart and his band had played South by Southwest six times and shared the stage at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July picnic. “That thing draws 20,000 people.”
Stuart, who moved back to San Diego last month, has written and recorded four BSOJC records, including last year’s Bend in the Road, which was distributed by Dualtone. He says he produces two or three albums a year for other artists. In August, the Bastard Sons song “Train’s Gonna Roll” was featured in an episode of HBO’s True Blood. The BSOJC have opened for Merle Haggard, the Mavericks, Chris Isaak, and Asleep at the Wheel.
“Last year, I spent about 180 days on the road, so I could actually live anywhere.” But, he says his new wife, a Texas native, fell in love with San Diego, which triggered Stuart’s move to La Jolla. “It’s where I was born. As much as I loved the Austin music scene, it wasn’t so amazing that it would keep me from moving home. It’s nice to not have to come home from a tour to 100-degree heat.”
But things are a little different now. The Belly Up was one of the Bastard Sons’ more popular venues before the move. Weekends used to be reserved for original bands, but now cover bands may play the Belly Up on any given Friday or Saturday.
“I’m just trying to get a handle and find out where somebody like me fits in [in the San Diego music scene] and see what venues are still out there. I’m still trying to reconnect with people. I’m going to find out what scene is still here and try and create our own piece of Americana with whatever industry and scene is still here. I think there are plenty of outstanding roots musicians in San Diego, whether the support network is out there or not.”
Stuart says he has regrouped with three members of the Bastard Sons who were with him before the move to Texas. They’ll appear December 19 at the Shakedown.