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