Mark Bilyeu is the founding member of Big Smith, a band of six cousins that played a mix of original songs and traditional Ozarks music. From the founding in 1996 to their last show in 2012, Big Smith enjoyed an enthusiastic following, recorded seven albums, travelled extensively, earning accolades along the way, including securing the “Best Band” category in both the southwest and central regions of Missouri, as awarded by Rural Missouri magazine via a poll of its half million readership. In the intervening years, fans and newcomers could see Mark and Big Smith in the context of the multiple musical branches of the Bilyeu family tree in the 2003 documentary “Homemade Hillbilly Jam,” now available on Netflix and other streaming services. On New Year’s Eve, 2016, Big Smith reunited for one night at the historic Gillioz Theatre in their hometown of Springfield, Missouri, fostering hopes that the final chapter of Mark’s tenure with the band has yet to be written.
Mark Bilyeu performs with Big Smith at the Gillioz Theatre in Springfield, MO on December 31, 2016. He is playing his Customized Primo Noce guitar.
Mark has also forged a partnership in music and life with singer-songwriter Cindy Woolf. Their longstanding collaboration culminated in their marriage and the formation of the band The Creek Rocks, whose debut album “Wolf Hunter” drew praise for the duos’ interpretation of 16 traditional tunes from the Ozarks.
Mark has also enjoyed a brief stint as guitarist and vocalist with the legendary roots-rock band The Skeletons, until their legendary figurehead Lou Whitney died of cancer in 2014. Mark stays busy in the Springfield music scene, gigging on the side with various friends and musical colleagues, some of whom he has served as record producer and recording engineer.
Since 2014 Mark has taught private guitar and music theory lessons at The Acoustic Shoppe, owned by the family bluegrass band The Chapmans. He was the subject of a feature profile in the March/April 2014 issue of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine.
Since the inception of Big Smith, Mark has played a 1946 Martin D-18 that was bought new by his great uncle Chester Bilyeu. Mark is proud to have his custom-made Mazzocco Primo Noce sitting next to the D-18 on stage, beginning with the December 31, 2016 reunion concert of Big Smith. “As much as I cherish my Martin, my Mazzocco allows me to accomplish things that I can’t do on the D-18, such as greater fluidity and endurance owing to the more forgiving thickness of the neck, and more control and expression when fingerpicking, due to the wider neck width. It’s a perfect companion to the Martin, and it strikes just the right balance for a player like me who likes to switch from flatpicking to fingerpicking over the course of a single performance.”
Visit The Creek Rocks at www.thecreekrocks.com.