MARK ANDES INTERVIEW
By Trace Keane
Trace: Mark, tell me about the first time you remember meeting or seeing Tommy Bolin?
Mark: Spirit and Zephyr were doing shows in 1970 together, and the first time we did a show together, and actually this is well documented because Bruce Page is a great guy and he’s doing the Spirit Archive, and he has charted out every gig Spirit did. I called him earlier today, the first show that Spirit did with Zephyr was the Eagle Auditorium in Seattle on January 2 and 3, 1970. Spirit headlined, Bread was the second act, and Zephyr opened the show, I definitely remember Tommy. Tommy’s whole persona, he had hair down to his butt, you know the whole thing was quite striking. Candy and David, and the whole show were very remarkable, distinctive for sure. Tommy just stood out in a big way. He and Candy were quite dynamic together, have a girl being a lead singer was really pretty big. Bruce still has a handbill from that show. There was also a show in Minneapolis at Mr. Magoo’s New City Opera House on March 8, 1970. Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom with The Flying Burrito Brothers, Spirit, and Zephyr. After I left Jo Jo Gunne we moved to Colorado and put Firefall together with Jock Bartley, who would later go on to replace Tommy in Zephyr. I’m still in contact with David Givens to this day. He and his wife have a great jazz group and play any number of festivals and shows, and they reside in Sandusky, Ohio. Spirit and Zephyr all got along really well musically as well as personally. Tommy was just a sweet guy, really kind hearted, he hung out with us quite a bit. He and Randy California really hit it off and recognized each other and there was no competitiveness, it was a very cool vibe.
Trace: Mark tell me what were your thoughts when you first heard Tommy had joined Deep Purple?
Mark: Well at first I thought it a strange coupling, I thought it somewhat odd at first, but I also thought they pulled it off very well.
Trace: At the time I had always thought it a different ménage of Purple’s metal and speed sound with Tommy’s jazz fusion type of play. I’m not sure how well it was received at the time, but as years go by it has really stood up as truly groundbreaking material. As time goes on the music hasn’t changed, but I think the fans have evolved and matured.
Mark: I agree and I think he softened their sound in a good way, more melodic for sure.
Trace: I’d always wished he’d gotten more time on vocals when he was with Purple.
Mark: Yes he had a really good sound to his vocals that really shone through in his solo work.
Trace: Looking back, what are some of the recording that you are most satisfied with over the course of your career?
Mark: I would have to say that the first Spirit record is pretty remarkable, and The 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus were two standout Spirit recordings. The original soundtrack to The Model Shop which was this kind of horrible movie that Spirit did the soundtrack to that has just recently surfaced that captures Spirit in a complete way especially with John Locke coming up to the forefront. Firefall had some high points, but I’d have to say the high point of the modern area was with Joe Walsh on The Confessor. I think Heart’s “These Dreams” was a really wonderful track.
Trace: Heart was really at its peak then, what stands out to you from those times?
Mark: The wonderful power of the band, the best vocalist I’ve ever worked with. Top to bottom the group was so strong. We would kill in the studio and onstage it was during that dressup era that I was never a big fan of. There was some dissension in the band in regard to the band’s image and I was just for us being our own selves instead of this poofed up image.
Trace: You weren’t into the glammed up look that was so popular back then?
Mark: Right, it was fun, but it was obvious that Heart was about the music, not about the image so I kind of regret we took that road down glam, when we could have ushered in the “grunge scene” and could have been a little more real with our audience instead of trying to be gorgeous all the time. What I remember about Heart was not the MTV stuff but the great shows we did and great records we made. I also regret we didn’t write as a band like could have. The songs that management wanted us to do with the writer they wanted us to work with and the way they dressed us. It took away from the band in a way, I think that the girls actually were responsible for that, they actually like it. I thought it a bad move creatively and business wise.
Trace: When you reflect on that era, how much influence do you think MTV had on these decisions?
Mark: I think MTV had a huge impact on image and how you present yourself, and Heart was right in the middle of that, when everyone was diving into that world. I remember looking at Chrissie Hynde and thinking here’s a girl that is totally sexy in t-shirt and jeans and we don’t need all these hair dressers and clothing designers, all we need is our music. We’re all good looking people, and if Ann had a weight problem then that’s OK. Why stretch, edit or airbrush your image if that’s not who you really are, you know, why would you do that? Let’s just be ourselves, and be who we are musically. I guess they’ve toned it down and it’s all really good now. I had fun to be honest with you, I feel like I pulled it off, I was in my 40’s at that point, and to be a rock star at that age, (I’m 61 now) and I have to admit it was fun for me. I sensed my intuitive feeling was the group got on shaky ground once we went down that road.
Trace: Tell me what are you working on these days Mark?
Mark: I’ve just finished my solo album that I was telling your nephew Brion Taylor about. It’s an instrumental album called Real World Magic, it’s my first solo record, it’s got some folk and surf guitar. I play all the guitar and bass myself. It’s got eleven tracks and it’s available at www.markandesmusic.com. I’m looking to get into scoring film work in the near future. I’ve been touring with Ian McLagan for the last five years and have recently taken a break. Just to refocus. I’ve moved to Austin from New Mexico where I was playing with Dan Fogelberg for many years, and now have just moved to the Houston area for the solo record. Now we’re working on a Spirit Tribute project. We’ve lost Randy (California) and John (Locke), but we’ve approached Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, some of the Steely Dan guys, Al Cooper might get involved. It would be an all-star tribute to Spirit and Randy and John. Probably my brother Matt who was in Jo Jo Gunne with us and Curley Smith and of course Jay. It may coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Miami and Palm Beach Pot Festivals; I’ve been in touch with those guys. They’re hooking up with Michael Lang from Woodstock. It’s looking like they’re really putting an event together, they’re looking to get Howard and Mark from the Turtles, all these great players and learn a half hour set of some Spirit, it could be a wonderful tribute. Mick Skidmore who is the executor of the estate of Randy California is looking to do a tribute to the recording of Randy, and I’m helping to make that all come together.
Trace: What more can you tell me about Real World Magic?
Mark: It’s very simple, some is just me on an acoustic doing some folky finger picking stuff. There’s one bass solo song, four songs that have drums. It’s a very personal statement by me musically. It came about by playing at home around the coffee table each morning. I played with John Fahey’s Yellow Princess album. So I grew up listening to and learning from these great guys with that finger picking style and have picked up these little melodies over the years. My wife Valerie said “you should really record this stuff,” it’s just very mellow stuff. It’s very ambient and pleasant to listen to, and could see it working its way into a film. There are a couple of things that are pretty funky. It was a joy to go into the studio and do my own thing. I’ve been a collaborator for so long, doing all this stuff and always being part of a team effort. Now it’s just me going in with a couple of guitars and this great engineer David Murray in Austin Texas and coming up with this record it was really cool.
Trace: Will you have the chance to tour and support your new disc?
Mark: That was what the HP trade show was going to be, a short solo show. That got me really motivated, so I did work up a set, probably four or five little instrumental things. I bought one of those little loop stations so I could loop my rhythm guitar and add guitars to it so I could actually sound like the record. My stuff is very cycle songs or circle songs so I can add layers. I thought I’d sing “Nature’s Way” and “Out Of Line,” maybe a Firefall song and I picked “Just Remember I Love You” and got my vocals worked up. But the live music wasn’t going to work for this event so it ended up being scratched.
Trace:Tell me a little bit about the trade show where you met my nephew Brion Taylor from Microsoft? I would have never gotten this interview without that happening.
Mark: That was really interesting, Hewlett-Packard is using one of my solo songs. It’s a download that has to do with back to school promotion and it has to do with blogging. It was a great way to give away some of my music courtesy of HP. I was so out of my element, they took my iPhone and set me up with a Twitter account. They got me up and running and treated so so well, it was very cool.
Trace: Looking back over the years, what do you see as your big break that got you into rock and roll?
Mark: That’s easy for me, that’s due to Barry Hanson, who was Dr. Demento. He was a very key figure at The Ash Grove Folk House in Los Angeles, during the 60’s every folk house had it’s own following. The Troubadour had The Eagles guys and the Linda Rondstat crew, the Ash Grove had the Rising Sons with Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal. Randy California’s uncle owned the Ash Grove. We put together a band called The Red Roosters before Spirit. When Barry Hanson got involved, Randy California had moved to New York, he had been playing with Jimi Hendrix who was playing as Jimmy James and The Blue Flames. Jimi Hendrix nicknamed Randy Wolfe “Randy California” because there had been two Randys in the band. My big break came when Barry hooked me up with Canned Heat, I was the original bass played with Canned Heat.
Trace: Tell me about your time with Canned Heat.
Mark: We played The Human Be-In in Los Angeles. I still have the poster from the Avalon Ball Room with The Grateful Dead, Otis Rush, and The Canned Heat Blues Band, I still have it on my wall today. I left the band just before we recorded our first record. I kind of regret it, but I left in a way that kept the door open to reforming with Randy in Spirit. During the formation of Heat we met at Frank Cook’s house (who was the original drummer). On Gretna Green in Beverly Hills when I was 17 years old. I was living at my mom’s house when Bob Hite picked me up taking me up to the Topanga Corral to play up there. I was there when John Hartmen and Skip Taylor took us on and started managing us, Liberty Records got involved.
Trace: What would you point to as the high point in your career?
Mark: I remember walking around in Topanga Canyon with my bass doing scales out into nature, and being immersed in the whole thing around 1967 and thinking how cool it was to be involved in all that was happening in the music scene. Walking into Wally Hunter studios after I had written a song with Jay called “Mechanical World” and hearing an orchestra conducted by Marty Page playing my song, it was incredibly heady. Meeting Jimi Hendrix at The Miami and Palm Beach Festivals. The Atlanta Pop Festival was amazing, getting my first Firefall Gold Record five weeks after the record came out, coincidentally I got my second gold record that same week for Dr. Sardonicus which had been five years old at that time. It’s really come full circle, here I am 40 some odd years later playing with Ian McLagan and we’re humping our own gear and driving ourselves and I couldn’t be happier. I’m so grateful that I can still play as well as I am. I’ve never gotten so attached to any group or lifestyle so I have always been able to commit to the music I’m playing at the time. It’s a wonderful meditation to be able to be totally committed to that song at that moment and I look at now in retrospect that this meditation has been so good. I’m just so grateful to have been on this journey.
Mark Andes has been the bass player for Spirit, Firefall, Heart, Canned Heat, Jo Jo Gunne, Dan Fogelberg and others. Special thanks to Brion Taylor of Microsoft for putting Trace in touch with Mark.