As anyone who loves live music knows, a show can create a magic that you never forget but it can, just occasionally, feel you leaving massively let down. And from a musician’s perspective, that is the thrill of stepping up on a stage in front of a crowd… it is do or die.
So imagine for a second the feelings of Creed’s guitarist Mark Tremonti, lead vocalist Scott Stapp, drummer Scott Phillips and touring bassist Brett Hestla on 29 December 2002 who, after a gig, found their show being described as “one of the absolute worst performances ever done by a major-label band”; so bad in fact that four fans filed a law suit for over $2 million, which all contributed to the break up of the band.
The All State Arena in Romont, Illinois, has played host to artists of the stature of Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson and The Rolling Stones, and Creed were on a high having recently released Weathered, which had spawned six singles, debuted at number 1 on the US Billboard charts and led to a huge world tour.
Accounts differ but one story has it that Stapp, following back pain from a car crash, and a more recent throat infection, had become addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs, which left him in such a state that night that not only was he unable to sing the lyrics, but he actually fell asleep on stage. One report has it that he had downed a whole bottle of whisky just beforehand. Whatever the case, when he woke up a few minutes later and realised that the show was still going on, he tried once more to sing, before the band and their team decided that it was best to stop the show.
Creed later issued an apology, the law suit against the band was rejected and the management also said sorry… but not before they reminded the world that: “it’s only rock n roll [baby]!”
Mark Thomas Tremonti was born on 18 April, 1974, in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up between there and Wilmette, Illinois. He was 11 years old when he first felt compelled to buy himself a six string: “my first guitar was a Tara, it was a black imitation Les Paul – that was exactly what I wanted …it was my buddy’s guitar and he sold it to me for ten bucks!” he says.
When Tremonti was 15, his family moved to Orlando, Florida, where his mother became ill with lupus, which left him distraught. “She had lupus for a long time, she died from a brain tumour at 54, but she was sick throughout high school… it was terrible,” he said years later, having dedicated the beautiful song In Loving Memory to her.
It was in Tremonti’s high school years that he first met Stapp, who he didn’t get to know well at the time but who nonetheless impressed him. “I went to high school with Scott but he was a year above me, and there you really hung with people of your own grade so I didn’t really know him too well, but one thing that I really admired about him from the beginning was his kind of do or die attitude,” he says.
Tremonti moved to Clemson University in South Carolina to study finance but after a year decided to go to Florida State University, where he was able to reconnect with Stapp, and form a fledgling group. About this moment he has said “[…] no matter if we were a bar band he thought we were the biggest band in the world. He was a great poet back in college mixing Jim Morrison with religious-type ideas; his lyrics were always good.”
In 1994 Creed formed and started to gain interest by playing in local bars and a restaurant where they had live music. At this time “Atlantic were looking at us but passed and when you’re a kid it’s like [pulls a face] ‘screw Atlantic!’… Cherry Universal records were looking at us, but before anyone else made an offer Wind-up flew down to see us and made an offer. Scott and [long-time bassist] Brian Marshall signed the contract in blood, they were cutting themselves with a rusty piece of [grins in disgust] … so they had to reprint it because they wouldn’t accept it. That’s not in Wiki!” he says of that historic moment.
Tremonti and Stapp quickly established a prolific songwriting relationship, resulting in Creed’s 1997 debut album My Own Prison, which shifted over six million copies and spawned four number 1 singles on the Hot Rock Tracks Billboard: My Own Prison, What's This Life For, Torn, and One. More success followed two years later when Human Clay produced the singles Higher, With Arms Wide Open [which won a Grammy], What If, and Are You Ready.
Higher, in particular, became hugely popular, but the song began as almost something of a joke. “We used to play shows and Scott would always have a fun time putting us on the spot. [On one occasion we were] in front of 50 people and he said ‘let’s write a song on stage’ … there was a beat and for some reason I went to a higher chord progression … we taped all our shows so that we could listen to them afterwards, so we had [Higher] and thought it pretty cool… but it started as an improv on stage,” Tremonti explains of the song.
Following Marshall’s departure in 2000, Tremonti took over bass responsibilities and Creed released Weathered, from which came My Sacrifice, One Last Breath, Hide, Don't Stop Dancing, Weathered, and Bullets.
The tour to support the album’s success, although generally well-received, also led to the infamous concert described above. Tremonti later described the situation of the band, and in particular Stapp, in these terms: “there were a lot of pressures to put out a record to tour, and when you’re a frontman you are in the spotlight, people are always taking potshots at you, it just kind of weighed on him, and drinking turned to pills, turned to whatever; he was never really open about it, he would do his own thing and party but he would never tell us what he was doing…when we went out on the reunion tour Scott would ride on his own bus and the rest of us would ride on our bus. We all got on but the pressures built…”
In real terms the band split over a lunch meeting, after Stapp asked Tremonti what his plans were and the guitarist answered that the other members were going into the studio to record under the name of Alter Bridge. While Creed did later reform they never really enjoyed the same success again. “When Creed broke up we were doing very well and it was kind of hard to make that decision: [I asked myself]’ is it worth feeling like this every day, feeling uncomfortable?’… and it wasn’t,” Tremonti later said in a 2015 Loudwire interview.
In January 2004 Tremonti, Marshall, and Phillips formally constituted Alter Bridge, and released One Day Remains, which included the singles Open Your Eyes, Find the Real, and Broken Wings. Their follow-up album, Blackbird, received a much warmer welcome, with the guitar solo on the title track later being named as the greatest guitar solo of all time by Guitarist magazine in 2011.
AB III was released in 2010, with its single Isolation in particular receiving great acclaim. While Alter Bridge continues, it was at this time that Tremonti felt he wanted a solo project because what he was writing did not fit with anything he had done before. He said that his first album, called All I Was and released under the name Tremonti, would be "heavier than either Creed or Alter Bridge," and that it would have "lots of soloing.”
In 2015 Tremonti released Cauterize, which produced the single Another Heart; Dust in 2016 and A Dying Machine in 2018, which was accompanied by a novel co-written with science fiction writer John Shirley.
Tremonti was named "Guitarist of the Year" for three consecutive years by Guitar World magazine and was listed as the fourth greatest heavy metal guitarist of all time by Total Guitar. He is an enthusiastic collector of guitars but is often seen on stage and in videos with his beloved PRS Mark Tremonti Signature.
Outside of music, in 2002, Tremonti married Victoria Rodriguez, and had several children. He is a collector of pinball machines, an avid reader and continues to produce music, but despite the challenges of the rock n roll lifestyle, he has his priorities clear: “Family is the most important thing. You have to be there and provide for your kids…that’s what will always keep me out of trouble.”