High school band members reunite for Michael J. Fox Foundation parkinson's research benefit.
For Mart McMullan, it’s not adversity that defines you, but how you handle it.
In May, Mart was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease.
Months later, he and his high school band mates have helped organize and are set to perform at a charity concert benefiting the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
His band, now known as the Rock Project, is slated to perform between 25 and 30 songs – the same ones that made them a popular local group three decades ago.
“It’s not the disease that you’re afflicted with. That’s not what defines you, but how you respond to it,” he said. “I contribute a lot of this to my faith. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ve been sober seven years now. I didn’t do it – God did it.”
The concert is slated for Thursday, November 21, at Duling Hall. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m.
Mart is front man for the Rock Project, a 70s and 80s cover band founded years ago by three high school friends.
The band includes Mart (vocals), Jonathan Barrett (guitar), Clay Schultz (drums) and Alex Guidry (bass). Today, two members are practicing attorneys, one is involved in e-commerce and another is in medical equipment sales.
Jonathan, Clay and Trey McGriff formed the band in the late 1980s, around the time Mart was a freshman at Jackson Prep. Trey, who now lives in Atlanta, was the original bass player.
“They needed a lead singer and knew I sang. We learned 15 to 20 songs and started playing at local parties,” he said. “We played through high school and our first year of college, then we went our separate ways until a few months ago.”
The four covered all the greats, from Van Halen and Stone Temple Pilots to Tom Petty, Billy Idol and the Rolling Stones, and performed at high school events and local hangouts, including the now-defunct W.C. Don’s.
Mart went on to graduate from Jackson Academy in 1991, and then attended Mississippi College, where he was graduated in 1995 with a bachelor’s in communication.
Today, he is a sales rep for Baxter International. Mart’s father, Dr. Martin McMullan Sr., is a retired cardiac surgeon who was recently inducted in the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Hall of Fame. His two sisters, Misti Crisler and M’Lee Williams, are nurses.
“I had a love for the medical field, seeing patients do well and recover,” Mart said. “It’s a good profession and I enjoy it. I’ve been doing it 20 years.”
Jonathan Barrett received his first guitar when he was 12, a Christmas gift from his mother, “a Peavey T-15 that she bought at a pawn shop in Greenwood.”
“It was a game-changer for me and I began to play for hours every day,” he said. “I wish I still had that instrument.”
The Lexington native and his mom moved to the Northside in 1987, when he was in 10th grade. He attended Madison-Ridgeland Academy.
He met Clay and Trey through Shane Kellum, a friend from back home. The two were forming their own band, called Illusion.
“Shane introduced me to some people and word of mouth spread that I could play. I went out and played in front of Clay and Trey … and (they) asked me to form a band with them.”
Shortly thereafter, Mart joined the group. “We all clicked and a great amount of support from all (our) families. Mart’s mother and father went so far as to build us a practice room upstairs at their home.”
Jonathan continued to play in and after college. In 1999, he and band mate Clay Shultz opened for rock legend Joan Jett.
Jonathan received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi and a juris doctorate from Oklahoma City University. Today, he has his own firm, Barrett Law, PLLC, in Madison.
He pursued a law degree, because he wanted to settle down and raise a family, something that music might not have allowed him to do. He and his wife Leigh have been married 17 years and together have two sons, Nathan and Anderson.
Jonathan still plays music as a hobby. He has a music studio in his home and writes pieces for acoustic and electric guitars. Recently, the Northside attorney attended a Steve Vai academy in New York.
“It was a tough decision,” he said. “I think I made the right one.”
Prior to forming Illusion, Clay Schultz played with the Clampetts, along with Trey McGriff, Clayton Bonjean and Bernard Boothe.
“Jonathan came over and practiced with us sometimes,” Clay said. “Trey, our bass player, said ‘this guy’s really good.’ That was the genesis of a band that lasted through most of high school.”
Clay began playing drums around 10 years old. A few years later, in eighth grade, he received a drum set for Christmas, and went on to take lessons at George’s Drum Shop.
“Originally, I had the drums set up in my room. My parents lived in Eastover and we would get calls from up and down the street. Eventually, we learned that numerous neighbors had issues with the drums being so loud,” he said. “They could hear the thumping and banging two or three houses down.”
Clay would often put on his headphones and “rock out’ to Rush, while everyone else was cooking dinner, watching TV or trying to relax.
“I don’t know how they put up with it as long as they did,” he said.
Eventually, his parents insulated a room next to the garage, which really cut down on the sound.
Today, Clay’s drums are set up at his office in Ridgeland, where he runs a start-up health-related e-commerce company called Healthy.com.
“It’s a pretty decent place to play, where it doesn’t bother people,” he said. “It’s where we’ve been rehearsing lately.”
Alex Guidry was in a different band in high school but was still friends with Illusion’s members.
“I’ve known Mart since I was a little kid. I actually played in several bands with Clay and was in a band with Jonathan 15 or so years ago,” he said. “I was penciled in (for the fund-raiser) as bass player even before I got the official invite.”
Alex graduated from Prep in 1990. He went on to Louisiana State University for his freshman year but returned home to Millsaps College, where he finished his bachelor’s in political science.
He went on to earn his MBA from Millsaps, and at 30, enrolled at the Mississippi College School of Law.
Today, he is an attorney with Mockbee Hall & Drake downtown.
“I knew I was never going to be good enough to play professionally. I played in three bands after college and new very quickly that was never going to be my living,” he said.
Illusion, minus Trey McGriff, got back together in the spring, to perform for a fund-raiser at Jackson Prep’s Prep Fest Revolutionary Fair. The event was held in April, only weeks before Mart’s diagnosis.
Since then, the group has been practicing regularly to get ready for the November concert. The four expect to play 20 to 30 songs.
“My wife said get the band to play at Duling, create a night of fun and make it a fundraiser,” Mart said.
Mart is married to Holly and the couple has two sons, Connor and Sam.
Rock Project members say coming together has given them a chance to catch up and play some of the songs they still love. Plus, they’re eager to shed light on a serious condition and raise money for a good cause.
“It’s all in the way you respond to adversity and overcome,” Mart said. “I play music. That’s how I respond.”