Remembering Mark Rubel


Mark Rubel was a local music pioneer whose impact reached far and wide. His passing last week at the age of 65 was felt by many in the industry and beyond, and many of his former students and artists he worked with over the years took to social media to talk about his influence.

Sasha, Rubel’s sister, made the announcement on Rubel’s Facebook page.

“I’m sorry to share sad news, but my brother Mark Rubel passed away peacefully at home earlier today,” Sasha said. “Please know we hold you all in our hearts, and that Mark‘s love of music, teaching, his students, the extended music community and his dear family (his nieces and me) lives on.”

Rubel has been an educator to thousands of students on subjects such as audio and music technology, the history of rock and music business at different colleges and universities. 

In 1980, Mark and some friends started a band called “Captain Rat and the Blind Rivets” as a ploy to get free passes to the intramural pool at the U of I. The show ended abruptly when Tim Veer, their guitar player, launched himself off the high dive. They ended up banned from the pool, but people liked the band, and they were asked to play more gigs around town. “Captain Rat and the Blind Rivets” would entertain crowds all across Central Illinois for the next 40 years.

“You don’t really expect to be in a band long enough for everyone to become grandparents,” Rubel said. “But if you’re going to get older, being in a rock band is the way to do it.”

From 1980-2013, Rubel’s Pogo Studio in Champaign produced over 1,000 recordings for musicians such as Alison Krauss, Rascal Flatts, Ludacris, Adrian Belew, Luther Allison, Jay Bennett, and many more.

He also served as Audio and Recording Director and Instructor at Eastern Illinois University’s $70 million Doudna Arts Center. He left that position and the Champaign-Urbana area in 2013 to pursue what he called his dream situation, to start a music recording academy from the ground up.

“I was happily ensconced in my studio, in a community that I dearly loved,” Rubel said, “But I had the absolute opportunity of a lifetime, to essentially start the recording school I had been building in my head. I had to do it.”

So Mark and his wife Nancy packed up and moved to Nashville, where Rubel became the first Director of Education at Blackbird Academy, part of legendary Blackbird Studio, owned by John McBride, husband of Martina McBride. Mark and John had become friends and when Martina would perform nearby, Rubel would bring his classes and John would speak with them about the music business. On one occasion, John mentioned to Mark that he wanted to start a school dedicated to music recording.

“I said “John, I’m going to be your teacher.”, Rubel recalled. ‘That’s it. That was the conversation. And it took a while, but we’ve done it.”

Mark leaves behind a legacy that stretches from Champaign-Urbana in the early 80’s to one of the recording capitals of the world in Nashville. Along the way, musicians and students alike have learned from his calm yet steady presence in the studio.

“I think it's useful in a studio to have somebody who's calm and relatively in control and can sort of steer from behind.” Rubel told us about his recording style. “The part of the process really is knowing what not to say and when not to interfere. So I think it's helpful to have the bass player's personality, which is, you're supportive, you're laying the groundwork, but you're not necessarily, you know, upfront.”

Although anyone who has been to a “Captain Rat and the Blind Rivets” show can tell you, his stage demeanor and his studio demeanor were quite different. He commanded the stage for over 40-years with his whacky, showman-like antics. 

“I'm a little different on stage,” Rubel told us. “This is actually the costume. On stage is the real me.”

Rubel leaves behind his younger sister, his wife, Nancy, and his two nieces.


Here is a look back at some of the segments that WILL and Illinois Public Media has done over the course of Mark Rubel’s career.