Sugar Ray’s lead singer Mark McGrath told the Everett Independent on the eve of his performance at Village Fest that he loves to perform and relishes opportunities to play the band’s best songs in front of crowds like at Village Fest.
But the long-time bandleader also finds himself with unique opportunities on television, where he holds the distinction of once being fired by Donald Trump on ‘Celebrity Apprentice, and also on the radio where he now hosts a weekly show on Sirius Radio on Friday nights.
“We started this band 30 years ago last summer in 1988,” he said. “There were four of us and we managed to stay together 23 years. Now there are two of us still playing. Rodney Sheppard has been with me on guitar since day one. Like me, he can’t picture life without the band and we continue on. It’s something we’re born to do. We may not be in the public eye anymore or be #1 on the charts, but we love to be able to continue performing. I am so excited to be able to still do events like the Everett Village Fest an to perform on the road…I just love performing so that’s what I am doing. I’m blessed to be able to do that. My stage time is free, but I get my travel paid for. In the end, we consider ourselves truly blessed with these songs that people love to hear.”
Sugar Ray started in the late 1980s, but came into prominence in the 1990s, particularly with the hit single ‘Fly,’ among a handful of other hits. His times in the 1990s are particularly telling on his Friday night show on the Sirius channel 90s on 9. There, he reminisces and talks about the things he saw and what the band did at their height. He said his performances and the radio show do enter into the area of nostalgia and it’s not a word he shies away from.
“Nostalgia is a word a lot of bands don’t want anything to do with,” he said. “That is a word that Sugar Ray embraces. Nostalgia is defined as remembering a happy time in your life. If you don’t want that to describe you, then there’s something wrong…In a lot of ways, with the radio show and other things, I think I’ve become the ambassador of all things good and maybe all things bad in the `90s – forgive me for the highlights (in my hair).”
As a rising star in the music business during the 1990s, McGrath was singled out to do other things on television. While he continued with the band, he also embarked on a career path of hosting awards shows, and then becoming a host on the TV entertainment news show ‘Extra!’
“I think it’s a willingness to be open to new experiences, ideas and chances,” he said. “In the `90s, Sugar Ray was seen everywhere and on the charts too. I got asked to do things or introduce an act at the MTV awards. It wasn’t easy, but I could do it. I could chew gum and read the monitor at the same time. It’s not brain surgery, but it is a skill.”
Those opportunities led him to several game show appearances and a robust reality TV career that also included ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ in 2011. That led McGrath to have the unique opportunity of being “Fired!” by now-President Donald Trump.
“I do have the distinction of being fired by Donald Trump,” he said. “I can double down on that. It was between myself and Gary Busey and I got fired by our now President Donald Trump. Gary Busey, myself and Donald Trump spent eight hours in a room together and one of us is now the president of the United States. It’s seriously a strange trip we’re on now.”
McGrath said he found Trump and his family to be very nice to him, and Trump actually offered to write him a recommendation letter if he ever needed it. That letter, now, might come in handy, McGrath joked.
“If I was going to jail or have a tax problem, with how things turned out, I’m going to cash in that reference letter for sure,” he joked.
Sugar Ray formed around four high school friends from California, though McGrath was born in Hartford and spent his first eight years cheering for the Whalers and all things Connecticut, he said. The four friends hit it big and were inspired by all kinds of music, from rap to rockabilly, but for McGrath, it was the Sex Pistols that inspired him to get on stage.
The band was one of the first to feature a hip-hop DJ on stage with the instrumentalists. They also had influences from rock to hip hop to reggae in their music, which is why they appealed across the board.
“After we were signed, we started getting better about writing and playing our music,” he said. “We started honing our craft and stumbled on this song called ‘Fly’ and about four or five others and that’s what brought us to Everett’s Village Fest now…In our music, you can hear a hip-hop feel, an acoustic feel, and a `70s Yacht Rock feel. That’s what made Sugar Ray so palatable.”
It’s also what brought crowds of more than 10,000 people to Santilli Highway on Saturday night to hear one of the best acts to come out of the 1990s.
“Those four biggest hits for us are a joy to perform,” he said. “I’ll never get tired of getting up on stage and seeing the joy in people’s faces when we start playing ‘Fly’ or the other songs they came to hear. It’s why I get on stage…As a performer, that’s what you want…There’s nothing better than to be on stage with the crowd and then to deliver a number one song.”