Below is the transcript of an interview with Mark Francis conducted by popular rock DJ "Big Joe" at Rock 95.5 FM in Meridian, Mississippi:

Big Joe: Well it's good to see you again Mark, you've been away for a bit! How does it feel to be back in Mississippi?

Mark: Awesome Joe! Awesome. The great state of Mississippi as I call it! Good to see you again too man, it's been a while.

Big Joe: So what have you been up to brother, what's been keepin' you busy?

Mark: I've been super busy man. Writing books, building up my collection, attending a lot of the artifact and relic shows around the country. Still involved in my snake research projects. Working on getting the wildlife show on television, that's looking good. Working on getting the Southern Rock podcast online in 2019. Been screen testing and auditioning for some movie roles. But that loud black Les Paul keeps whispering in my ear.

Big Joe: Have you written some new music?

Mark: Yes, I have enough material for a new record, so realistically I would like to see that come to fruition at some point. I also have six or eight songs I wrote that we were playing in Cottonmouth the last year of the band that were never recorded, I just have the rough demos. And I really like several of those songs. But I have enough songs for a full length CD, yeah.

Big Joe: Do you have any plans to tour and play some concerts any time soon?

Mark: No. Unless I have the new record out and have a new song or two on the radio and can maybe land an opening slot for an entire tour with AC/DC again, or Aerosmith again, or ZZ or somebody, there would really be no point. Right now there would just be no point to hire and rehearse a new band and go out and start playing shows next year.

Big Joe: Well you certainly know how to bring it Mark, I mean we're talking some loud, rockin' music!

Mark: Thanks man, I really appreciate you saying that, because that's what I want it to be. An incredible rock-n-roll experience. A rock concert is a gathering, a celebration. It should be something spectacular or memorable or you're not doing the audience justice. If they just want to listen to your songs they can stay home and play the CD. A rock concert is a party, a gathering of like-minded souls and you have no choice but to "bring it" every night or you're cheating yourself and the crowd.

Big Joe: Well, we see so many of these old Classic rock and Southern rock bands phoning it in, it's really pathetic. Some of these guys should just retire and stop, don't you think?

Mark: Sure, I can think of several. It gets to the point where it's not authentic anymore. You don't have to have all the original members, you don't have to play the songs note for note like on the record, or sing every harmony just perfect because they know you're not 25 years old anymore... but you do have to be authentic. Your performance has to be real and stand for something or they'll know. The audience will always know. And with the internet and You Tube and people recording and taping live footage with their cell phones, there's no hiding from it anymore. 

Big Joe: Speaking of old Classic rock and Southern rock bands, you've certainly been waving the Southern rock banner for a lot of years now.

Mark: I have. Loud and proud! And sometimes it feels like an uphill battle because music has changed so much. Rock music has changed. There aren't a lot of people out there in younger concert going age brackets that even know what Southern rock is. The people that remember Skynyrd, Hatchet, 38 and these guys are in older age brackets now; married, divorced, work hectic jobs, and don't really go to concerts, festivals or motorcycle rallies anymore. Those audiences are getting smaller every year. So to keep it going and keep the music alive, you have to keep playing and trying to turn on new, younger audiences. And I think a lot of these bands have done just that. Hatchet, 38, Skynyrd, all still playing. You now see a lot of the newer country artists out of Nashville tipping their hats to the stylings of "Flirtin' with Disaster" and "Hold on Loosely". The new version of Blackfoot is doing quite well with that and is appealing to a younger, new audience. It's encouraging for the genre.

Big Joe: Well Southern rock has always had a stigma attached to it with mainstream rock media always looking at it as just a bunch of rednecks with guitars. Skynyrd with Ronnie running around barefoot onstage and the use of the confederate flag and all that.

Mark: Well what I can tell you is that none of the guys I know are just "rednecks with guitars" and I know all of them. Sometimes people ask me to describe what Southern rock music is and it's difficult to explain because there are so many elements to it. People often get it confused with modern country music and all of the generic noise coming out of Nashville because it's loud and pounding and has electric guitars, or what people call country rock. Southern rock and country rock are very different. Very different types of music.

Big Joe: Well you came up Mark, a city boy from Cleveland, Ohio and played and sang in different bands throughout your career, some of which were heavy metal bands, correct?

Mark: Absolutely. But I have lived in and spent a lot of time in the South for over half my life.

Big Joe: Well how did you gravitate towards Southern rock?

Mark: My two favorite bands in the world are Lynyrd Skynyrd and Iron Maiden. And to me, they are exactly the same. Great vocals, great lyrics, great stories in the songs, awesome guitar playing. It's just the approach and attack that's different and maybe some of the subject matter. I grew up on Southern rock music. I met Freddy Salem from the Outlaws when I was 12. The father of one of the guys I was in a band with was his insurance agent. Freddy is from Ohio, the Akron area. He was going to try to get us an opening slot for an Outlaws show, but at 12 we were still a little too wet behind the ears. But we've been dear friends ever since. He was a big influence on me.

Big Joe: I loved the Outlaws, they reminded me of the Eagles. Catchy songs, them good harmonies.

Mark: Well that was because they had the same producer, ole slick-Pete himself Glyn Johns. I loved the Outlaws records. Green Grass and High Tides is still one of my all time favorite songs. I almost joined the Outlaws back in 1994. The only reason it didn't happen was that Hughie got a call from Rossington about joining Skynyrd and he shut the Outlaws down. Chris went to Marshall Tucker after that. I would have loved to stand up there next to Chris Hicks, he's such a talented guy. That would have been a blast.

Big Joe: You made quite a name with the hard rock scene as well. Wasn't Ronnie James Dio a good friend of yours?

Mark: Yeah man, Ronnie was one of my true friends in show business. He was a true friend and always helped me when he could, always gave me wonderful career advice. He and Wendy taught me a lot about the "business" end of the music business. I could ask him anything, no matter how stupid the question was, and he would always explain things to me. I first met him when I was 19. He was always so supportive and encouraging. Getting to know him in a personal way, not just from a fan standpoint, and to have his respect and approval has been one of the highlights of my life. I truly miss him. I enjoyed our conversations over dinner and drinks and his wit and charm. He was a brilliant, educated man with a wide scope of interests and a huge sense of humor. I don't think he ever really realized what a superstar he was. My only regret is that I never got to record with him or play guitar in Dio with him, that would have been incredible. I actually have some personal items of his that I bought out of the estate. A few guitars that he owned, a Marshall head from the Dio stage gear, a letter that George Harrison of the Beatles wrote to Ronnie that Wendy had framed. I own his microphone, the corded AKG he used for years onstage. I also own his Gold Record for the Black Sabbath "Heaven and Hell" album.

Big Joe: Say what? How'd you get that?

Mark: I bought it out of the estate after he passed away. There are only 4 in existence and Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward have the other 3. I have Ronnie's.

Big Joe: From the Recording Industry Association of America.. the actual Gold Record award with his name on it?

Mark: Yes sir.

Big Joe: Well that's pretty damn cool.

Mark: Yeah. Next I'm after Ronnie Van Zant's hat or that big old Dixie flag Skynyrd used to use as their back drop.

Big Joe: What the hell would you use that for?

Mark: What else man, hang it up in my garage! But I think Johnny told me they buried Ronnie with his hat.

Big Joe: You've taken a little bit of slack over the years because of some confederate flag usage in your band Cottonmouth's logo, on the CD cover, don't a few of your guitars have confederate flags on them? You ever think about removing them to be politcally correct?

Mark: Absolutely not. I don't care what it is politically correct or what the popular flavor of the month is. The Dixie flag never stood for hate, and it's a shame some hate groups decided to use it. But they they also use Coca cola and ketchup, are we going to get rid of those things too? No I will never take the Dixie flag stickers off "Georgia" they were on it when I got the guitar. It's an original 1969 Fender telecaster and in the 70's it was owned by a country player from Macon who backed up Merle Haggard so hell no I'm not taking the stickers off that guitar.

Big Joe: What about playing for somebody else Mark. You ever consider joining another band?

Mark: That's a tough question Joe. My first answer is no. I like being "Mark Francis" and playing my own music. I've built up my own reputation with rock music fans worldwide and have some new exciting TV and film projects happening and really want to go in and record a new CD at some point. I'd also like to go out and do an entire tour as support for AC/DC or Aerosmith again before these guys are done. I'd love to play Texas Stadium with ZZTop again, that would be great to do support on another ZZ tour. And that would be as Mark Francis.

Big Joe: Ok....

Mark: But my second answer is yes. It would depend on who it was and what the situation is. I have been asked to play guitar by four or five National acts and have turned them all down, and for the right reasons. I have to really love the songs and love the show or I just don't want to do it. It's not about money, I don't need money. What I need is to step onstage every night playing songs I love and doing something I believe in. To me, that's what's inspiring. Doing something you love. Again, it goes back to what I said earlier about being authentic. There's one particular very famous "outlaw country" legend that has asked me to play with him at least three times in the last ten years and I have politely declined every time because I do not like any of his material and have no respect for him as an artist. There are only two bands right now that I would truly love to join but I don't see it happening. And both are based out of Jacksonville ironically. One's ready to retire.

Big Joe: I know which country guy you're talking about. And there were two well known rock singers, old classic rock guys, that asked you to work with them and you turned them down. Does Southern rock mean that much to you? I mean come on Mark, what if Justin Bieber or Madonna asked you to join their touring band?

Mark: Jesus H Christ... (laughing) are you serious? Madonna? Of course not, I don't even think she has electric guitars in her music. 

Big Joe: But the pay would probably be awfully good!

Mark: Justin Bieber? I'd have to beat him up first. Or take him out back to the wood shed and bend him over a pile of wood and teach him man's lesson. One or the other.

Big Joe: (Lauging hysterically) Yeah, but that kid's a multi-millionaire, playin' all his "Disney rock" for the teenyboppers. He might pay you good (laughing more).

Mark: Well like I said, I don't care about that, what I care about is not wasting my time doing something that I don't care about. Southern rock does mean that much to me. I am a part of that scene and I am known in that scene, those are my peers and my friends and I want to keep it moving forward so we can turn on younger rock music fans to it while it's still going on. Because at some point, the scene is going to die, the players are all going to die, but it's the music and the songs that will live on.

Big Joe: Well you've certainly done a good job of it over the years Mark and I know you have a lot of fans and friends here in Mississippi.

Mark: Yeah man, the music fans in Mississippi have always been so kind to me, I truly appreciate it!

Big Joe: We've talked about this before, but it seems to me that all these kids are into this rap scene and rap music instead of rock-n-roll nowadays, how do you feel about that?

Mark:  It thoroughly disgusts me and offends me. We have begun to teach 14 year olds to fear the electric guitar instead of worshipping it. These kids shouldn't have anything in common with thugs, drugs, bitches & ho's and all of the garbage contained in that noise. It's not even music. None of those rappers are musicians or singers. They don't play any instruments. These 14 year old boys should be out buying Kiss and Skynyrd records instead of that garbage.

Big Joe: But it's not 1978...

Mark: Then let them go buy an Avenged Sevenfold CD. Or a new Foofighters CD. But it has to start with the parents. The parents have to learn to say "No, you're not going to listen to that, you're not going to dress like that and you're not going to talk like that" regardless of what all the other kids are doing.

Big Joe:  I agree, it has to start with the parents. It's been a fun hour man, it goes by fast, make sure you call me again and come on down next time you're around. You goin' out to the swamps on this trip?

Mark: Yeah man, tomorrow, I can't wait, I love it.

Big Joe: Where you going this time?

Mark: Honey Island Swamp, up the Pearl River basin, other side of the state, tomorrow.

Big Joe: I think that's where they got that swamp beast or swamp monster ain't it?

Mark: Exactly.

Big Joe: Well, I know you know your gators and snakes, but you better not go messin' with no wild eyed wolly booger of the swamp!

Mark: It'll be alright, when I'm out there Joe, I own the swamp. The beast better watch out for me or I might stuff a black Les Paul up his ass!

Big Joe: (Laughing) You just said ass on the radio. I think I'm gonna be in trouble.

Mark: (Laughing) Wait a minute.. you just said ass on the radio. Oh crap, now I said it twice.

Big Joe: (Speaking to producer in booth) Kelly.. Kelly.. can we say "ass" on the radio? (Kelly nods yes) Really? She says it's ok. You're allowed to say ass.

Mark: Well it is an animal. A beast of burden. What are they gonna do, start banning animals from being mentioned on the radio? Can't mention duck, chicken, goose.

Big Joe: Ya know Mark Francis, every time you're here I get in some kind of trouble.

Mark: The last time, and the time before that were both your fault.

Big Joe: You were talking about these crazy, naked biker women you guys see at these motorcycle parties and it got my wife's panties all in a twist. She was really mad about it.

Mark: Hey, come on now, (singing) "them Delta women think the world of me"!

Big Joe: Not that one.

Mark: Well you're the one talking about her panties on the radio.

Big Joe: You always get me in some kind of trouble.

Mark: Hey.. now there's a title for my new CD.. Some Kind of Trouble.

Big Joe: Alright, we're out. Thanks again Mark for stopping down, I'll see you next time!

Mark: Thanks for having me back and thanks to all the Rock 95 listeners who still love foot stompin' American rock-n-roll!