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Rev. Stickman: A Musically Spiritual Experience

by Charlie Imes and FriendsFebruary 2024

In Remembrance of Mark “Reverend Stickman” Schmitt
Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.
—Confucius, The Book of Rites

I’m into the joy and happy.
—Rev. Stickman, from Listen Local Podcast #8, 2023

Mark Schmitt aka Reverend Stickman.

If there was ever a guy who embodied the joy and happy in his music, it was Rev. Stickman. Even when singing a song about broken hearts or another sad subject, he would sing it with a bit of a wink and a smile and, of course, back it with his tasty guitar playing. When the song was through, often he’d make a funny comment and laugh at himself. I’m gonna miss that laugh. We lost Rev. on December 22, 2023 at the young age of 59. A cruel reminder that life just isn’t fair.

Mark Schmitt was born on July 28, 1964, in Denver, but the family moved on when he was very young. If you asked him where he was from, he’d say “a lot of places,” but he found his home in San Diego. He settled in North Park and eventually became known and loved locally under his professional name, Reverend Stickman. (For those who knew him from Facebook, he used the name “Trev” on that site because they wouldn’t let him to use “Reverend.”)

I met him at a party for Christopher Dale back in 2008 or ’09 and was drawn to the man with the long red hair and the black hat. He introduced himself and told me he played guitar. We agreed to get together sometime and when we did, I was blown away with his lead chops. Even hearing a song for the first time, he played melodically, adding tasteful color behind the chords and vocals. When it came time to solo, he’d bite down and blow me away. I became part of the ever-growing ranks of musicians who called upon him to make us sound better.

Rev touched many lives with his talent and kind spirit and had many friends and musical collaborators. And all had a lot to say about him, on variety of subjects, such as…

On Songwriting
When Rev and I jammed together, we stuck mostly to my songs because I couldn’t play his tunes—his chord progressions were tasty and busy. We did work out a part for me on “Let’s Do Wrong,” which I don’t believe he ever released. It was funky, a little jazzy, definitely rocking with killer guitar playing. Then there was “Forty Dollars” from his Half Alive: Stories from Under the Black Hat album, which was just as musically fun as it was lyrically funny. But my personal favorite was “Crazy Too,” a slower, jazzy, bluesy number that he released on his excellent More Than Blues CD. To my mind, that was his signature song.

I met The Reverend Stickman and his dog, Adagio, at one of my Band Camp events in the early 2000s. His gentle, loving nature coupled with his mad songwriting and guitar skills drew me to him and we were BFFs from that day on. Some of my favorites of his songs were “Forty Dollars” and “Little Sharon.”Cathryn Beeks, Cathryn Beeks Ordeal, Medium High

Charlie Imes and Rev. Stickman on tour in Massachusetts, 2009.

Rev was a musical workman—constantly creating new songs—literally a “songwriting fountain.” His chord progressions sounded vaguely familiar but were original. He would refine his songs constantly until he was happy with them, all the while continuing to come up with new song ideas. He had an extremely insightful mind, proven by his songs’ lyrical content; it helped that he was a voracious book reader.Bob Bartosik, saxophone, producer

On Recording
In early July of 2014, Rev and I went into Jeff Berkley’s studio to record my Summer’s Here EP. The three of us recorded nine songs that day, with Rev on lead acoustic guitar and Jeff on djembe. We wanted that live acoustic vibe like we were playing on the beach, and Jeff did a masterful job of capturing it. While I don’t normally listen to my own CDs, I do occasionally enjoy this one for the performances of those two amazing musicians. Rev was particularly inspired that day, playing with a joy that was palpable. Our cover of Cathryn Beeks and Matt Silvia’s song “Drive America” stands out to me as a particular favorite. Rev always played that tune wonderfully, but that day was a unique experience… we captured a little lightning in a bottle.

Shortly after meeting him in 2008, I recorded a sax solo on his song “Forty Dollars,” released on his Half Alive album. We became great friends and started working together on production for his 2014 More Than Blues album (2014 SD Music Awards Nominee) in 2011. We met consistently on Tuesday evenings for a few years working on that album. In late 2023 we had begun work on another project and were re-recording some songs we had scrapped previously. Then, in October, the Reverend started feeling so tired that we couldn’t meet anymore. We planned to get back to it eventually, but that’s not going to happen now. There is no new music I would feel comfortable about releasing—they’re all just unfinished fragments of ideas and I’m certain Rev would not want them to come out.Bob Bartosik

He taught me a lot. How to write the perfect song for one. He taught me how to sing better. We clicked! We didn’t even have to look at each other and could match up our vocals perfectly. I was shocked when he asked me to sing lead on the song “Too Late Now” from the CD More Than Blues. I was so nervous, but he taught me very well. Since his passing, the words of that song are even more meaningful to me now.Jenene “Neener” Lambert, singer

On his Musical Ability
I’ve played with so many bands on short notice where they’re saying, ‘Hey, we need a guitar player and we need him tonight. Can you do these songs?’ And I’m like, ‘No, I can’t but I’ll be able to do them by the time I get there.Rev. Stickman

Rev was amazing in his adaptability. He played heavy metal with Fuzz Huzzi and Verge of Distortion, more exotic World Music with Bahman Sarram for a few different projects (Bviolin, Mystic Groove, Evolution Station), Americana with the Cathryn Beeks Ordeal, beachy laid-back, jazzy rock with my band, The Hodad Surf Club as well as light, breezy covers with the Summer Breeze Band, and classic rock covers and originals with Medium High. He also had his own solo shows, performing his jazzy, bluesy originals for years with Janene at his side and recording with sax great and producer Bob Bartosik.

The Rev and Jeff Berkley

I had the pleasure of working and hanging out with Rev. He was an amazing talent. He was always ready to take the ball and run! He could do it all but he had his own sound and vibe. Full of joy, brightness and power.Jeff Berkley, producer, singer/songwriter

We started playing music together around 2008; I met the Reverend at a jam session and we immediately meshed musically. We each seemed to know what the other was going to play before we played it. When that happens, you know you’ve got to work with the other person. Rev was a great lead guitarist. His songs were blues-based but the man could play flashy metal guitar leads effortlessly.Bob Bartosik 

Rev was so versatile in his guitar playing. Whether he was playing jazz, rock, fusion, folk, or disco, he could morph his licks, rhythms, and chord voicings to fit the song perfectly. He was a songwriter’s guitarist. I never heard him play for himself; Rev always played for the song and always made it sound better.Marcia Claire, bassist, Cathryn Beeks Ordeal, Lady Psychiatrists Booth

Rev. Stickman with Neener.

We had a great time touring with Fuzz Huzzi. That’s how we got some Hollywood gigs. My rock band, Verge of Distortion, introduced him to Pat Travers, who taught him a little riff and he was so excited. He said, “Pat Travers taught me, the Reverend, a riff!”Jenene “Neener” Lambert

I heard about that Travers hang. I thought it was funny. If you ever heard the Rev play lead guitar, he should have been the one teaching the lesson.Bob Bartosik 

On Performing
Rev was a guitar virtuoso but not a showoff. He played to what the song needed. He knew when to lay back, when to add subtle colors, and when to lean into it with an inspired solo. We played many gigs as a duo as well as with the Hodad Surf Club. He really enjoyed trading solos with Chris Klich on sax/flute/clarinet or occasionally sharing time with Dave Gladish on dual lead guitars.

My strongest memories of Rev stem from the quiet moments on break when I had a chance to hang and talk with him as well as the strength that he brought to the HSC. I thought that the band really shined when both Dave and Rev were on stage together due to the difference in their styles. They complemented each other so well.Jamie Moyer, bassist, Hodad Surf Club

The latest band the Rev was in, Medium High. With the Rev., Rob Garbowski, Cathryn Beeks, Chuck Roberts.

He joined the Ordeal with Matt Silvia, Rob Garbo, Marcia Claire, and me around 2005 and we rocked faces for years. You can hear his incredible guitar solos on various songs on Mood Swing by the Cathryn Beeks Ordeal. When I returned to San Diego last year, I started a cover/original project with Rob Garbo, Chuck Roberts, and Mark. We called ourselves Medium High, and we had less than a half dozen shows, but each one will be burned in my memory forever. — Cathryn Beeks

When it came to the countless Christopher Dale and Friends shows, I loved to not only to shine the spotlight on my talented friends but also have the pleasure of performing with them. Rev joined in more than anyone else, by far. His songwriting, musicianship, and ability to follow anyone’s lead always added great value to the show and gifted me with so many treasured moments and song renditions that were uniquely ours.Christopher Dale, singer/songwriter

Whenever I played with him, I could tell he had pure joy in his heart, and he loved to share that.Chris Klich, sax/flute/clarinet, Hodad Surf Club

One of my favorite Rev stories is this gig we got at this country club where they stuck us outside and far from all of the patrons (to this day, I don’t know why they did that), but Rev started playing this Em to A7 thing and we organically morphed into playing “Speak to Me/ Breathe” by Pink Floyd. Since no one seemed to care (or notice), we ended up playing the entire first side of Dark Side of the Moon. And he was nailing all the Gilmour stuff. We never rehearsed it or played it since, but it was magic. We were just having fun and it showed. It was sort of a big middle finger to whoever booked us, but in the most artful way. Truly a legend.Kevin Wall, bassist, Hodad Surf Club

When he did his stage show, The Reverending Story, live (as a CD release show for Half Alive: Stories from Under the Black Hat), it was a very ambitious one-time show with a large cast of musicians and singers with the Reverend at the center of it all doing many of his original songs. There’s a documentary on YouTube about it. I was amazed that this one man could bring together all these musicians, singers, and production crew while still pulling off the performance.Bob Bartosik

On Touring

Steve Poltz with the Rev.

Over the years, we played all around San Diego County, up in L.A., Catalina Island, San Felipe in Mexico, and around the US. We had some very memorable adventures in Florida in particular, playing and making friends in Key West, Anna Maria Island, the Space Coast, and the West Coast.

One of my favorite Rev stories centered around a show we played in Cedar Key in 2013. Around sunset, someone requested a James Taylor song, so we obliged with “Shower the People.” When it came to the part where the vocals harmonize on the refrain of “Shower the People You Love with Love,” the whole crowd sang along beautifully. Without planning or prompting, Rev stepped forward and slowly and tastefully built on  it, using those vocals like a canvas to paint on. He ended up playing this beautiful, inspired, extended solo. It was a magical moment. The audience responded with a lengthy standing ovation, leaving Rev and I laughing and smiling from ear to ear. The next day, several of the Cedar Key locals made the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Tampa to catch our next house concert. People around Florida still ask me about Rev. Stickman.

He had the most appearances of anyone at my C. Dale and Friends Beachin’ Acousticness events down in San Felipe. That’s because above and beyond his main performance slot, he would set up a small amp on the hotel veranda overlooking the Sea of Cortez and play guitar instrumentals for hours during the day, using his looping station, as the guests and I would be chilling on the beach. He’d just do it because he felt like it, just sharing what brought him joy and came naturally. He loved being the soundtrack to the beautiful scenery and was the perfect fit. I gladly had to continue to invite him back.Christopher Dale

On Mark Shmitt, the Man

Mark was a man of great empathy with a kind heart and strong disdain for liars and those who would take advantage of others. He believed in truth and fairness. He believed in spreading the joy he felt through his music, and at that, he was a master.

Rev was good man. I saw him step up and do the right thing so many times in his personal life. No complaints. He just did the thing that needed doing whether it was hard or not. I miss him.Jeff Berkley 

Rev was such an understated character, which flew in the face of his virtuosity on the guitar. He was humble and had such a wonderful sense of humor.Marcia Claire 

I’m utterly dumbfounded by his passing. He was as genuine and nice to me as a person could be, and it seemed to me like he played with so many people, which says so much about him and his talent. Way more than a decade ago, he and I once helped Neener build a deck or something. It was the most time I’ve had the pleasure of hanging with him. He endeared himself to me forever by just being himself.Jimmie Lunsford, musician

I remember a recent evening rehearsal at Rev’s home. We walked over to Luigi’s with Chuck Roberts for a slice and a soda afterward. On the way back, I poked my head into the Lafayette Hotel to take a peep at the renovation while Rev and Chuck engaged with the passersby. We were kids again, a band, if for that brief moment.Rob Garbowski, drums and percussion, Cathryn Beeks Ordeal, Medium High

He was my best friend for 17 years. I’m lost without him. I loved him so much and we had so many happy fun times with music. He was crazy and I loved every minute of it. I’m very thankful to have our CDs and will cherish them and our friendship always. I don’t know what to do now. No one sings or plays like him. He was the most amazing person and I tried to soak up everything I could.Jenene “Neener” Lambert 

Reverend Stickman was my best friend and I’m devastated that he’s gone.Bob Bartosik

He will always be a star. I miss him.Cathryn Beeks

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