5 questions with…adjunct professor of law and rock star, Mark Avsec

Mark AvsecCleveland native Mark Avsec’s big break in the music industry came in 1975, when he was asked to play keyboard on a new song by the Steubenville band Wild Cherry.

That famous song, “Play That Funky Music (White Boy)” served as the jumping off point for Avsec’s long, successful career in the arena of rock ‘n’ roll.

Avsec’s career includes time as a member of Wild Cherry and Donnie Iris and the Cruisers, and earning an American Music Award, nominations for two Grammy Awards, and performances at Madison Square Garden and the Grammys.

Surely, one of these moments would take the cake as his most memorable musical experience, but instead that honor goes to his opportunity to play with Cleveland’s own band James Gang, which included Joe Walsh, Jimmy Fox and Dale Peters.

“The James Gang was ‘my’ band in high school,” Avsec said. “To think I would one day play with that band—that was it! I made it.”

Avsec’s career path took an unexpected turn during his time as a member of Donnie Iris and the Cruisers. He was sued for copyright infringement for a well-known song he wrote called “Ah! Leah!” The case went to a jury trial, as Avsec believed he did nothing wrong and refused to settle.

“Donnie and I won,” Avsec said. “I lost a lot in attorneys’ fees… and the plaintiff was pretty judgment-proof anyway.”

His experience inspired him to attend Cleveland-Marshall College of Law to better protect himself. But in the process, he realized he loved copyright law.

After law school, Avsec joined Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan and Aronoff, LLP. Now, he is a partner and vice chair of the Intellectual Property Practice Group.

In addition, he serves as an adjunct professor in Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law, where he teaches “Law of The Music Industry.”

“I have to keep up with the cases in fair use and infringement,” Avsec said. “There is an old adage, ‘If you want to really know a subject, teach it.’ Besides giving back, this is a great reason to teach.”

Even with Avsec’s busy schedule, he still finds time to get in the studio. A few years ago, Carlos Santana covered “Angel Love (Come for Me),” a song Avsec wrote. Also, he spent time collaborating on Donnie Iris’s holiday CD titled, “Ah! Leluiah!”

When Avsec isn’t teaching, working or creating music in the studio, he is spending time with the people he loves, practicing his piano and reading.

“I do not golf,” Avsec said. “Music is my life besides law and my personal relationships.”

Find out more about the rocker in this week’s five questions.

1. If you could do any job in the world for one day, what would it be and why?
Truly, I love my jobs, which includes teaching law school and performing music. I can honestly say, today, that in the aggregate I am doing what I love. I am stressed sometimes—OK, more than I would like—but I cannot think of another job. I already was a full-time artist/musician until I was in my late 30s, so it’s not like I have some fantasy about that.

2. What’s your favorite activity to do in Cleveland?
Cleveland has so much to do. I now love going to Severance [Hall] to see the orchestra, and I love the theater here. I enjoy the West Side Market and the many fine restaurants. I just spent two days at the art museum. And I love the towpath. Cleveland has it all

3. What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Besides gum under my shoe or even on a sidewalk, it would have to be long-winded responses or dissertations at meetings. I really appreciate it when people get right to the point. Even in a restaurant if I know I am not eating meat, and the server begins to tell me about the filet special, I have an urge to just tell him or her to move on—but I am polite and do not.

4. What is the best class you’ve ever taken—from elementary school through higher education—and what skills or lessons did you learn that you still use today?
I took many fine classes with many fine teachers/professors at St. Ignatius, Cleveland State University and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. But the best class I ever took was a freshman typing class at St. Ignatius when I was 14 years old. I type about 100 words a minute with few mistakes. That skill has served me very well.

5. What is your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
I love my colleagues, working with Professor [Craig] Nard and Professor [Raymond] Ku has been very rewarding. I love the students. My favorite thing about Case Western Reserve is that I have become a better lawyer by teaching.

Bonus fun fact: I am a sleepwalker.  I have a lot of stories in this regard—most of them are funny and embarrassing.