A common adage soft-pedaled to many aspiring musicians is “don’t quit your day job.” That prickly little quip is often spoken by a parent, spouse, or other partner as an unsolicited epilogue to sentences such as, “Your band is good.”
If you’re in a band that is trying to make it, it’s an annoying and frankly unsupportive phrase to hear. Yet for session guitarist Mark Lettieri, it’s pretty good advice. His day job is playing music, after all. As a player, composer, and producer, Lettieri’s career has taken him all over the country as part of multiple groups. His main band, Snarky Puppy, has toured every continent except Antarctica, as well as three trips to Los Angeles to win as many Grammy awards.
Years before he walked on stage with Snarky Puppy to accept the band’s first Grammy (in 2014, in the Best R&B Performance category for their song “Something,” featuring singer Lalah Hathaway), he was a freshman at TCU, an out-of-state student from the San Francisco Bay area majoring in advertising/public relations and competing on the track team as a long jumper and occasional relay sprinter. He also played guitar, a hobby begun on his dad’s acoustic when he was 10 or 11.
“That led to lessons,” Letteiri said, recalling that his lessons started around the time guitar tablature exploded on the internet. By age 15, he was learning the proggy, technical perfection of shredders like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.
While at TCU, Lettieri formed a funk trio called The League, which lasted until around 2008. Lettieri worked as an account manager at a local company that sold promotional products, but he was building a name for himself in North Texas’s vibrant gospel and R&B scene as both a live and session guitarist. It took about two years before he figured out what he wanted to do.
“I remember waking up … on a Monday morning realizing I was going to be late for work,” Lettieri said.
Instead of being late, he left the job to pursue music full time. After The League disbanded, Lettieri joined Snarky Puppy, a group composed of players from the UNT. The band’s take on jazz delves into world music as much as it does funk and R&B.
Lettieri initially shared the Puppy gig with two other guitarists, and he took a summer off to tour with Dallas R&B legend Erykah Badu. But in addition to Snarky Puppy’s 2014 Grammy win, they also took home the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album in 2016 for Sylva and this year for Culcha Vulcha.
Puppy is about “75 percent of what I do,” he said.
The band tours nearly constantly. In April, the boys will tour Australia and New Zealand, after which they’ll head to Europe. In March, he will be on tour with gospel singer Anthony Evans (from season two of The Voice). In the past, he’s been on the road with gospel singer Tamela Mann and American Idol winner Phillip Phillips. He’s even performed with Pat Boone.
Then there’s his session career. His recording resume includes major gospel stars such as Kirk Franklin and famous names like Adam Levine, Keyshia Cole, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and David Crosby. He’s a member of Team SKP, a production collective led by Grammy-winning producer Symbolyc One (Kanye West, Beyonce).
Lettieri has also released three solo albums, Knows in 2011, Futurefun in 2013, and last year’s Spark and Echo. When he’s not recording or touring, he’s teaching lessons via Skype, plus all the social media maintenance that keeps the clicks – and the gigs – coming.
Snarky Puppy recently threw its own day-long event in Miami called the Ground Up Music Festival. Among the guests: David Crosby and actor/musician Harry Shearer.
“We did a Spinal Tap set with him,” Lettieri said. “It was wild.”
Following the April tour, Lettieri will sub out his Snarky Puppy touring duties for a little while, as his wife of five years will be having a baby. In the meantime, he plans to keep composing and recording (he said he’s “always wanted to do a film score”). He wouldn’t quit that job if you paid him to.
Mark Lettieri Trio
Fri, Mar 10, at Lola’s Saloon, 2736 W 6th St, FW. $10. 817-877-0666.