For 19 years, Lloyd Marcus dulled his unhappiness with booze. Toward the end, the two fifths of vodka he drank daily killed his sense of worthlessness, his self-consciousness about a severe stutter.
But it also killed his music.
Six years ago, Marcus kicked alcohol and in the process, found his musical voice. Now, having produced a new CD and tape of 10 of his songs -- "Lloyd Marcus, Life & Love" -- the musical career he has longed for is poised to take off.
The Pumphrey 43-year-old has attracted the attention of a national record promoter. He's received letters from record companies saying his work is being considered. And WJZ-TV, where he works as a graphic artist, made a video of one song, which the station uses occasionally on its morning newscast.
He still stutters, an affliction he's had since childhood. Only now, says Marcus, he's not self-conscious about it. And he doesn't stutter when he sings.
Richard Colonzi, his promoter, said Marcus' stuttering won't hinder his career. "Quite frankly, if people hear he stutters, I think jTC that could only be a plus. It makes him more human. People are impressed you can overcome these obstacles and make something of yourself."
Indeed, his client has overcome obstacles. Marcus, an artistic, painfully shy child, matured into an unhappy man. He drank to forget about his problems -- his failed first marriage, his dissatisfaction with his job and his life.
Then on Jan. 22, 1986, his second wife, Mary Parker, came home to find Marcus curled up on the bedroom floor in alcohol withdrawal. She drove him to a hospital, where he spent seven days in detox, then another 28 days in a treatment center. The physical sickness was painful, he said. Having to take a long, serious look at his life was worse.
But when it was over, Marcus said, he began to feel liberated. When he was sober, he found he could think more clearly. Almost immediately, music started coming into his head.
Sometimes, it would be just a snippet of melody or lyric. Other times, whole sections of songs would come. He started carrying a little tape recorder around to catch the music.
The had been singing since he was a boy in the choir of his father's church in Baltimore. But it was always other people's music.
Now, Marcus' goal is a national recording contract, which both he and Parker, who is also his agent and manager, believe is within reach.
Joey Welz, president of Caprice International Records, produced sampler CD including two of Marcus' songs, which is playing in Europe. "He could break through nationally," said Welz, who represents numerous artists. "He's got a timeless sound that's reminiscent of some great soul singers of the '50s."
"I really knew this was major-league material when I first heard it," said Colonzi, a national record promoter based in Nashville. After meeting with Marcus and Parker in Baltimore last month, Colonzi flew to New York and Dallas to introduce Marcus' work to record companies and radio stations.
For the first time in his life, Marcus said, he's happy. He is living life on his own terms and has stopped worrying about pleasing other people. He stopped cutting his hair and now wears a long ponytail and fedora. He sports an earring in his left ear.
And Marcus has stopped worrying about singing music that is "too white." For a long time, he was sensitive about attitudes of some friends and family members, who thought his musical preferences -- mostly pop and love songs -- did not reflect the taste of the African-American community.
His parents, a Methodist preacher and homemaker, wanted him to sing only religious music.
"I got sick of the religious thing. I got sick of singing for other people," he said. "Now I'm singing my own songs."
Marcus, the oldest of five children, started life in Baltimore's public housing projects on Orleans Street, born into a family he calls "dirt poor." The family eventually moved to Pumphrey to escape inner-city poverty.
His talent won him a college scholarship to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, but he flunked out after two years due to his alcohol abuse. He spent two years in the Army before returning to Baltimore and the art institute. Before he graduated, he landed his first job in graphic design. In 1978, he went to work at Channel 13 as a graphic artist.
The first song he ever wrote, "When I Look In Your Eyes," was written for Parker, to whom he's been married for 15 years. The song came to him while driving home from the alcohol treatment program six years ago, he said.
Most of Marcus' songs reflect his new-found optimism.
"People say they like my songs because they give them hope," said Marcus, who has performed locally at Pier Six, the BAUhouse and Martin's West. He also performs free at local hospitals and schools, bringing with him his message against alcohol and drugs.
He enjoys performing so much, he said, he will pursue his singing career as long as he's able. He knows making it big is a long shot. Promoters say at any given time, some 100,000 artists are looking to break into the national music scene. And the top-10 record companies sign only three or four new artists a year.
"Who knows what's going to happen? But I'm not going to stop working on this," he said. "I might be 70 years old, in a nursing home, saying, 'If I could just get that first recording contract. . .' "