Mark Andes

Son of Straight Arrow
Son of Straight Arrow

There probably aren’t too many fathers of rock stars who’ve had a song written about them, but such is exactly the case with veteran actor Keith Andes. His son Mark has been the bass player with such bands as Spirit, Jo Jo Gunne, and Heart, and is now backing up Dan Fogelberg on tour.

Mark Andes has been in the public eye since the late Sixties, when Spirit’s loping “Mechanical World” first began to be heard on what was then termed “underground radio” by some listeners. When Vintage Guitar talked with Andes, he was preparing to go back out on the road with Fogelberg, but we started his interview by inquiring about his youth:

Vintage Guitar: Is it fair to say that you grew up in a show business family?

Mark Andes: Definitely; my father was an “up-and-coming leading man” in the late Forties and the Fifties. He has his own television show called “This Man Dawson”; he also went on to act in series such as the original “Star Trek” and movies such as …And Justice For All.

I always thought Keith Andes had such a distinctive, resonant voice.
That’s why I think a lot of his best work was done onstage, in plays like Man of La Mancha. His voice could really be “featured” in that kind of format.

Regarding the Spirit tune “Straight Arrow”, which was written about your father; was that the name of some character he played on TV?
(chuckles) My father was a disciplinarian; that’s where the title comes from. Jay Ferguson, whom I’ve known since the seventh grade, wrote that song as kind of a good-natured lampoon; there was a “Dudley Do-Right mentality” about it. (laughs)

But growing up within a show business family had some unique things going for it; my brother Matt and I got to go to Europe for a year while my dad was working over there, and people like Rod Steiger would visit our house. Dad worked with people like Marilyn Monroe and Robert Ryan. I went to school with Roy Rogers’ kids.

As far you ending up in the entertainment business yourself, how and why do you move towards music instead of acting?
My father was against Matt and I pursuing any theatrical stuff; he wanted us to go to college and get a commendable career; we got into music, which is just as bad and just as unpredictable as acting! (laughs) There have been some times in my adult life where I’ve pursued acting a bit, but those were when the musical career was in a lull for me; like the time between Firefall and Heart. And I discovered that as far as music goes, I picked the right path in entertainment; I didn’t have any hidden acting talent.

One of the first songs I ever heard that got to me was Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans”; it was a ‘gimmick’ song, but I fell for it. I liked the groove with the snare drum cadence. Then when surf music came around with players like Dick Dale, I figured I could play that kind of instrumental music, so by the time I was twelve or thirteen my brother and I were playing surf instrumentals on acoustic guitars; one of them was an old “The Gibson” that we had in our family. Then my grandfather got us a couple of Epiphone solidbodies in a cherry finish with a single pickup. That was sort of a “green light”; the elders realized we’d put a lot of energy into playing those acoustics, so they helped us out; by 1964 we had a high school band called the Marksmen.

I knew Jay by then, and we’d decided that we might want to do something musically. He went off to UCLA, and when I got out of high school I was asked to join Canned Heat. Their producer at the time was Barry Hansen, who is Dr. Demento; he asked me to join.

There was a surf band called Dave Marks & the Marksmen; any connection?
No; we were the Standells for a while, but another group with that name got pretty big; we were constantly changing our name. (chuckles)

You started on guitar; when did you switch to bass?
During the high school band time; the bass player left and I switched over out of necessity. I was able to borrow a friend’s Jazz bass and Bassman amp, so I was lucky to have an initial experience with that instrument using good equipment; I think that’s one reason I’ve always loved the instrument; I still play guitar and write on guitar, but I never went back to it as a performance instrument.

The first bass I got for myself was a ’63 or ’64 Precision; I put a ’57 Precision neck on it when I was in Spirit, and that’s the instrument I used for years; I still have it. Originally it was a three-tone sunburst; at one point I stripped the finish off of it, then sometime later I got a guy in Nashville to put a two-tone finish on it, and I put a gold anodized pickguard on it as well; so these days it looks pretty much like a ’57.

So how did Spirit form?
While Jay was going to UCLA, he and I actually played with Randy Wolfe, who became Randy California later, and Randy’s step-dad, Ed Cassidy; we were called the Red Roosters. We played places like the Ash Grove a lot. When that group broke up, Randy and Cass moved to New York; I was just barely eighteen but Barry got me into Canned Heat. The other players were Henry Vestine, Bob Hite, Al Wilson, and Frank Cook; other than me that was their original lineup. We played a lot of great gigs, and right about the time Randy and Cass came back from New York, Canned Heat was about to sign with Liberty Records. Jay and I had been talking again about putting a band together with Randy; when we looked up Randy, he and Cass were playing with John Locke and an upright bass player, doing a jazz gig. Jay and I thought it was interesting, so after talking with them we decided to form a band, and I left Canned Heat; Larry Taylor took my place.

Wasn’t Spirit one of the first bands that signed with Lou Adler on Ode Records?
We were the second signing; Scott MacKenzie, who sang the song about San Francisco “wear some flowers in your hair” was the first artist. Jay and I had originally wanted a band with Randy to be a kick-ass rock and roll group, and Spirit was capable of doing that, but we also got into this esoteric concept of bringing a lot of influences together; the jazz experiences of Randy, Cass and John were one facet. At that point, the record companies were very supportive; they didn’t require singles and such. The whole nature of airplay, radio and concerts was so different back then. Now it’s so “corporate”, even on the independent label level. In a way, independents still allow some creativity, though, but these days with the major labels and MTV figuring into the business, it’s really hard to “bust out”.

It seemed like you had a chance to do more bass solos back then, on songs like the extended “Elijah” on the first album, “Dark-Eyed Woman”, “1984” and “Animal Zoo”.
Those were all done on my P-Bass with a pick. On “Elijah” I think I was using a Fender Dual Showman amplifier; around the same time I got into using Acoustic 360s. “Elijah” isn’t on the Time Circle anthology that came out a while back; there’s another CD anthology that has some things like demos and such; it’s called Chronicles and “Elijah” may be on there. I do know that the first Spirit album isn’t available as a CD itself, and that would be a good one to have on Compact Disc.

There’s another song you didn’t mention called “Silky Sam”; at the end of that there’s a weird sounding part on the bass. Lou was listening to the playback and discovered I’d blown out the microphone in front of my amp; it was distorted but it worked; it sounded real crunchy.

Why wasn’t “1984” released as a single? It didn’t show up on an album until the greatest hits anthology.
I’m not really sure, but one reason may have been because we were trying to have a hit record; we always felt like we had to struggle to get our material heard. It was also released at a time when things had slowed down a bit. It had been a bit ironic that the first hit we had was “Mechanical World”, and it busted out of Florida. We would have loved to have had more hit records.

Do you recall any best or worst gigs?
I remember playing the Newport Pop Festival with Hendrix; there was also a New Year’s Eve gig we did once at a theatre-in-the-round which was close to Topanga where we lived. There were some magical concerts we did back in those days.

There was one gig many years later that might have been a combination of “best” and “worst” (chuckles); I was playing in Firefall, and we opened for a Spirit reunion; I was playing in both bands! I invited Neil Young onstage to jam with Firefall, but when I called him back out from the wings to jam with Spirit, Randy flipped out and shoved him offstage. (laughs)

You and Ferguson departed to form Jo Jo Gunne after Spirit’s Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. Comment?
Things were pretty nuts; some people were going through changes, and the dynamics of the group were very strained. Jay and I talked about doing something that would be an unpretentious rock band, and by the time he and I left, we knew we were going to form a band with my brother on slide and Curly Smith on drums. While we had been in Spirit, a lot of the stuff that had been really “liberating” at one time seemed to get “confining” or “restrictive” later on; Jo Jo Gunne was sort of a reaction to that; we wanted to have more freedom and wanted to rock more.

The headquarters for the band was my guest house. We had a powerful beginning; we worked with Tom Dowd on the first album. But the vibe between Jay, my brother and me sort of deteriorated, and I left. I was very hurt and discouraged, and I was burnt out on the whole L.A. scene; I moved to Colorado. While I was there I ran into Rick Roberts, who’d taken Gram Parsons’ place in the Flying Burrito Brothers. He said he was putting a band together there in Colorado, and was I interested? I said sure, and that turned into Firefall. Boulder was rocking in the Seventies more than a lot of people realized; Joe Walsh and Stephen Stills were there; it was awesome and a lot of fun.

But the stereotypical image Firefall conjured up was that of a mellow country-rock band. Wasn’t the first hit “Just Remember I Love You”? That’s pretty laid back.
(chuckles) It was worse than that, it was “You Are The Woman”. I think Firefall was a better band and rocked harder than we ever captured on record; our hits were sugary, syrupy ****. (laughs) Not exactly my favorite stuff, but in retrospect I can see how going from Canned Heat to Spirit to Jo Jo Gunne to Firefall gave me a wonderful perspective that I ended up using in Heart. I was on five albums with Firefall; still used the P-Bass.

Heart and Firefall did a lot of shows together; we went to Japan in 1979. We had a good relationship and the same manager at one point. I left Firefall, and one day while I was rehearsing at a rehearsal studio in the Valley, I saw Howard Leese’s gear there, so I left him a note telling him that I’d left Firefall and that I was back in L.A.

I was struggling, playing bar gigs at night and trying to do sessions. It wasn’t an easy time. Howard called me about a month after I’d left him the note, inviting me to audition for Heart if I was interested. I told him I thought it would work; and everyone else in the band thought so too, so I joined in 1982, I played in Heart for ten years, until 1992; I did five albums with them. The circumstances under which I left really sort of hurt, especially since I thought I was always a person who had a “group-oriented” attitude, but I do think it was probably a good decision to part ways.

What’s happened since then?
I worked with Stevie Nicks; I went on one tour with her. After that there was actually an attempted Jo Jo Gunne reunion; Curly Smith called me up and noted that it was the twentieth anniversary of when that band had formed; Steve Lukather took us into the studio and we recorded a lot of new material, but it didn’t go anywhere.

Then Curly, my brother and I got a new project called Little Brother going with a couple of other guys. It sounded great; sort of like a cross between the Eagles and Little Feat. We spent about a year trying to make that work, and there were some dark personal experiences that happened during that time. My brother lost his wife, and I lost my girlfriend in a car wreck. Obviously, it has a very trying time for more than one person in the band.

Robert McEntee, who was one of the other players in Little Brother, had also been with Dan Fogelberg for several years, and he got me hooked up with Dan. The Fogelberg band now consists of Joe Vitali, who’s a veteran drummer that’s played with Joe Walsh and Crosby, Stills & Nash, Alan Fitzgerald from Night Ranger on keyboards, and Robert and me. Things have been quite tumultuous over the last couple of years, so I’m glad to have this opportunity.

I’m sort of playing devil’s advocate here by noting that Dan Fogelberg doesn’t have a reputation for “rockin’ out”; you’ve alluded to your experiences in “kick-ass” rock and roll bands.
Actually, this whole tour has been billed as sort of a “semiacoustic” concept; he leans more on his acoustic-type songs, but the band does a great electric set.

What about tour instruments?
I’m using a Modulus Graphite five-string bass; I really like that low B string. I use a Marshall stack; my rack is powered with two eight-hundred watt Crown amps and a James Demeter preamp; I don’t use any effects. I’m also taking a reissue Fender P-Bass as a backup.

Do you collect?
I’m not a big collector; I like to play any instrument that I happen to have around. I have a beautiful ’61 “stack knob” Jazz Bass, and a ’57 Les Paul Goldtop that Howard Leese traded me. I also have a Martin D-21 that was made in 1965, and a Guild acoustic bass; there’s my old P-Bass, the reissue I just mentioned, and a fretless P-Bass; a Warwick Thumb five and a Thumb fretless, a Modulus fretted five-string and fretless five-string. I have a gold reissue Strat from Fender’s Custom Shop that’s gorgeous, plus a reissue of a ’59 Les Paul Sunburst. That’s my “arsenal”, but I use them all for recording; I don’t have guitars and basses that I don’t play.

Do you anticipate that the Fogelberg gig will go on for some time?
I think it’s a good association; the whole bands connects in a big way. Depending on his goals and plans, I can see this continuing and being mutually beneficial.

I know that I’ve been at sort of a crossroads in my own life; I’d like to find a niche where I can play music in clubs and at small concerts; hopefully there’d be a record deal as well. I’m grateful that the opportunity to play with the Fogelberg band came along when it did; anytime you can go out on the road, playing music that’s worthwhile and fun, it’s an honor and a privilege.

The opinion of this writer is that the last comments made by Mark Andes weren’t done in a “light-hearted” manner. Considering the experiences of the veteran bass player, his attitude about his past and present situations have given him a keen perspective on his future plans; here’s hoping that what lies ahead for Mark Andes will be “in the plus column” of his musical career.

Circa 1970: Mark Andes onstage with Spirit in Salt Lake City. (From a photo by Brian Record,
courtesy of Bruce Pates.)

July ’95 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.