Photo By Todd V. Wolfson
Let’s talk rock star. Or define the term, for purposes of discussion.
Many levels of rock stardom exist, but few have real staying power, and that’s what counts. There’s the wristband level of rock star, the one who rules his/her home base. They can attract enough paying customers to make them a hot contender for weekend gigs and a natural opener for roadshows. These rock stars often rise like water to their own level, but seldom above it. That doesn’t keep them from popularity on their own turf, yet it doesn’t necessarily translate to longevity.
Then there’s the gold-badge level of rock star. This level is complex. Some are a variation on the wristband rock stars, except these acts enjoy continuing success outside their hometown, like Omar & the Howlers in Europe. Others are regional stars, whose names are synonymous with their geographical location, like Marcia Ball. Texas and Louisiana are full of them. Goldies may have excellent CD sales, sometimes falling into the arena of supernova commercial wonders like Christopher Cross. Others are forever worshipped by collectors and guitar nuts regardless of their level of activity (Jimmie Vaughan). Cult bands are often a staple of this category.
Finally, there’s the platinum tier of rock stardom, the Cheers of the music world, where everyone knows your name – or at least your band’s name. For them, it’s the world of arena stages, limos, lengthy riders, award shows, hit videos, slick magazine covers, decades of record sales. Admittedly, there’s a gray area here. Los Lonely Boys, Trail of Dead, and Eric Johnson count large followings in and out of Texas, but they’re not mono-name rock stars like Bruce, Dylan, and, of course, our very own Willie.
Mark Andes reached this latter level long ago, like his fellow platinum badger Ian McLagan. Andes scaled the slippery mountain of success and reached the elusive Everest of the music business with Heart, playing bass with them for 10 years during their Eighties MTV reign. His tenures as a founding member of Spirit and Firefall laminated his platinum status, not to mention tenures with Stevie Nicks, Canned Heat, and Jo Jo Gunne.
Andes grew up in the golden glow of Hollywood privilege, the Philadelphia-born son of movie star Keith Andes. Handsome beyond reason, Andes moved from Taos to Austin in the latter half of the Nineties with Eliza Gilkyson. The relationship disintegrated, but Mark stayed.
Growing up Golden
Mark Andes’ South Austin house is neat as the proverbial pin. Not simply orderly in its spare furnishings, but almost antiseptically clean. The front door and all doors within are painted the custom colors of classic guitars: candy apple red, surf blue, sun yellow. Inside the off-white bathroom, all knobs and drawer pulls have been replaced with silver guitar knobs backed by pick-guards cut into diamond shapes.
The house reflects a Southwestern feel, filled with Native American iconography and personal altars that reflect Andes’ pantheistic spirituality. Thoughtfully chosen art decorates the walls, many pieces painted by his brother and fellow Jo Jo Gunner Matt Andes, who lives in Dripping Springs. The well-ridden saddle from Andes’ beloved horse Henley perches by the kitchen table, stirrups and reins dangling; a picture of Henley sits close by.
Keith Andes and Marilyn Monroe from Clash by Night.(Marilyn asked Keith to escort her to a UCLA function. Mark’s mother said no.)
The trophy room, tidy and bright with natural light, offers the most personal view into Andes, a man who’s conquered the art of being open and friendly to the public while maintaining a guarded privacy. Here in this inner sanctum of his past are the framed tales of his history. Collectible posters of his years with Canned Heat and Spirit adorn the white walls, along with Salvador Dali drawings, and a black-and-white photograph of his movie-star beautiful mother in profile.
One of the most striking images is a magazine cover of his father Keith with Marilyn Monroe in a love-clinch. Mark resembles his drop-dead handsome father, who began his film career in 1947’s The Farmer’s Daughter with Loretta Young. By 1952 and Clash by Night, he was smooching Marilyn Monroe, then starred as ship surgeon Edward Maynard in Blackbeard with Robert Newton. Stage success with Lucille Ball in Wildcat and a stint as Don Quixote in the touring company of Man of La Mancha, as well as numerous television roles later in his career kept Andes working until his suicide last November.
It was a privileged, albeit tough life for a kid, one that the musician admits has “not been normal in any way, and there’s been a dark side to that.” Mark and his brother Matt (”we’re Irish twins, not quite a year apart”), grew up around film sets, chorus lines, dressers, and, he laughs, “make-up artists who made us up to look like we’d been beaten up.”
After moving around the world, once on location to Europe, the Andes family settled in the San Fernando Valley. The Andes boys attended a military school where the snap of a snare drum diverted Mark’s attention from parentally guided piano lessons before he took up bass. He absorbed the music of the times – Richie Valens, Eddie Cochran, and Link Wray – while forming surf bands like the Marksmen. He also met other aspiring musicians with similar interests.
“I met Jay Ferguson in junior high, but we didn’t become friends until we were on the high school student council,” recalls Andes. “He was president, and I was the social VP. He was into folk, and I was into rock, so we started a band with my brother Matt and Denny Bruce, who ended up managing Leo Kottke [and the Fabulous Thunderbirds] as the Matt Andes Twist Combo. We entered the high school battle of the bands and kicked ass.”
The Family That Plays Together
Andes performed in a variety of bands as the SoCal sun warmed the L.A. rock scene, and in 1965 formed the Red Roosters with Ferguson and a jazz drummer named Ed Cassidy. Early the next year, the band broke up when Cassidy moved to New York City in search of work. Cassidy returned to California in 1967 with his family, including step-son Randy Wolfe, whose guitar prowess had grabbed the attention of one Jimmy James in New York. James dubbed him Randy California before he himself left for England and reclaimed his real surname, Hendrix.
Cassidy and California reconvened with Ferguson and Andes, who’d done a brief stint playing passionate hippie blues with Canned Heat. Adding keyboardist John Locke, they became Spirits Rebellious, then Spirit, which floated onto the scene at the end of the Sixties as a trippy, jazz-inflected progressive rock band. They had a huge AM hit with the exuberant rocker “I Got a Line on You,” and the fusion sound that informs The Family That Plays Together, Clear, and Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus became a staple of the emerging FM rock format.
Spirit based itself in Topanga Canyon, breeding ground for Andes’ next band. He and Ferguson left Spirit in 1971, taking with them Spirit’s hard-rock edge. Matt Andes reteamed with them and drummer Curley Smith as Jo Jo Gunne and the group enjoyed the sweet fruits of a Top 40 hit, “Run Run Run,” before things went further south and Andes was fired.
“I was heartbroken when Jo Jo Gunne fired me because they didn’t like my then-girlfriend/wife-to-be,” says Andes, shaking his head. “They were right, but to fire me, Jesus! I was like, ‘Fuck L.A.!’ and went to Boulder, Colorado.”
Mark’s mother, Jean Cotton, as a model for Vogue
The timing was fortuitous for Andes: Boulder was a haven for L.A. escapees, including Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke of the Byrds, and former Burrito Brother Rick Roberts. Andes joined Clarke and Roberts in backing Hillman before the band spun off into their own as Firefall in 1975, one of the most successful Seventies country-pop bands. Their hits “Just Remember I Love You” and “You Are the Woman” are supermarket favorites and still rake in royalties, though not for Andes.
“Firefall was so disappointing,” he says. “Such a druggy band. Heroin, cocaine, so self-destructive. I never made more than $500 a week. All the money went to the writers. I was gone by ‘81.”
Firefall was Andes’ most successful stint at the time, and their tours included performing in Japan with Seattle’s best known sister act, Heart. In the mid-Seventies, Heart pumped new life into the blood-drained, drug-saturated hard-rock genre, the very sound that set the stage for the punk rebellion. Yet by 1980, Heart’s image failed and sales were irregular as Ann and Nancy Wilson looked for new blood. Andes, meanwhile, had moved to Venice, Calif., with his mother, working on boats in the marina to make money. In 1982, he ran into Heart keyboardist Howie Leese, whom he’d met in Japan.
“He invited me to the studio where they were mixing Private Audition, I think, and I sat down with Nancy in the little courtyard. She said very sweetly, ‘Okay, play something,’ so I did, auditioning, I guess. And she went, ‘Wow, that was nice. You’re in.’ And that was it.”
That was it for 10 years. In that time, Heart reinvented themselves as MTV darlings and their albums went multiplatinum. Massive singles piled one atop another: “What About Love?” “Never,” “These Dreams,” “Alone,” and “All I Want to Do Is Make Love to You.”
“Heart wasn’t any less self-sabotaging or drug-oriented than Firefall,” reveals Andes. “To be honest, when I got into the band it was their low point. They were pioneers, though, and had kept their edge and figured how to morph from dress-up divas. We were a rock band. I really championed writing our own songs and stuff, but then they got into this pop thing that was so frustrating.
“I didn’t agree, especially when Ann started to get big. They were hiding it from the fans. I thought, ‘You’re a goddess. You have the voice of a goddess. Be yourself. Be real.’ People were shocked because the images on video were really good and thinner and airbrushed. Then the morbid obesity thing came out, but Ann is who she is.
“I was really letting it rip then. I’d had a vasectomy after my son was born so … man, I was woooo!”
The “woooo!” factor stands among rock stardom’s most vaunted privileges. Woooo, the babes! Woooo, the way they lick their lips and dress scantily to catch your eye! Woooo, they way they hustle to get backstage and display themselves for your picking. Woooo, the lengths they’ll go to score that one-night stand! Woooo, indeed.
Jimi Hendrix mentored Spirit guitarist Randy California and admired the band’s work
Not that Andes hadn’t been around it all his life. He was a startlingly good-looking young blond California boy, and by the time he first entered the rock-star ranks with Spirit, image was everything. The sunny surfer-boy bangs gave way to golden flowing locks that cascaded nearly to his waist by the Firefall era. He began Heart with the neatly shorn look of the early Eighties, but hair defined the band’s look, the bigger the better. Soon, Andes sported a megamullet, moussed and styled to halo his head like a feathered headdress. It was as rock & roll as you could get, and the women flocked to it – even one of his bosses.
“Ann came on to me several times, really hard,” admits Andes. “She’s a gorgeous girl, very sensual, but not a very nice person. So we’d kiss and all that stuff – she was flirtatious – but I was married. Not really, my second marriage was a sham, but I think me putting her off, and being married, and carrying on while on the road was part of my being fired.
“The band was a classic band, and every band I’ve ever been in seemed to be underachievers. All my bands had a position they could have held and had respect and none of them did, including Heart because we sold out. They wanted me to join the band, but in reality they didn’t. In the process, I’d exercise my opinions and say what I thought because I am a very direct person. Howie told me, ‘Tone your shit down, or you’re going to miss out.’ I got myself into big trouble, and they fired me in ‘92.”
Andes barely skipped a beat with his departure from Heart before he joined Stevie Nicks on the road in 1992. Not long after, he toured with Boulder buddy Dan Fogelberg. On the bill was a singer-songwriter and one-time Austinite named Eliza Gilkyson. “I dropped off the radar after Heart and Stevie,” notes the bassist. “I was really exhausted. Then Eliza and I get acquainted and get romantic during her opening for Dan Fogelberg.
“I was drawn to Eliza as a woman and an artist. We did a lot of work together living in Taos, N.M. A lot of what I did with her was encourage her to take charge. I was in a supportive role, and I think that maybe doomed the relationship. We couldn’t separate the relationship stuff, and it became off-balance. It was a bridge that got damaged, so Eliza and I are not friends. I have the utmost respect for her, but we pretty much trashed us. So I’m taking time out.”
The breakup soon occurred after Andes and Gilkyson relocated to Austin. Yet the professional relationship was successful in that their co-written song, “Beauty Way,” was a turning point for Gilkyson, whose career began a new phase of critical acclaim. Andes shrugs off his not insubstantial compositions, which include Spirit’s “Mechanical World,” Firefall’s “Anymore,” Heart’s “How Can I Refuse?” and “Take Your Place” on Alejandro Escovedo’s The Boxing Mirror.
“I don’t consider myself a songwriter,” shrugs Andes. “I really enjoy playing parts that happen to be accessible. I don’t like overplaying. I don’t like to take solos. I’m not a virtuoso.”
Nevertheless, in Austin, he’s the bass player of choice, having done time with Gilkyson, Kelly Willis, Iain Matthews, and Jon Dee Graham. Even now, he divides his energies between Escovedo, Ian McLagan & the Bump Band, Jo Carol Pierce, and 3 Balls of Fire, as well as guiding son Luke’s career. With a tour imminent for The Boxing Mirror, Andes knows the value of the rock & roll buck.
“Royalties trickle in,” he says. “They’re dwindling, but I get maybe $2,000 a year from Spirit. Maybe $3,000-$6,000 twice a year from Heart. My needs are modest, and I don’t have any dependents. Last year I toured with Mac and Alejandro, and I was not quite making a living. It made me realize I haven’t quite settled yet.
Mark and son Luke Andes during Firefall days
“But I have a good time. I know the illusion of being a musician, even in an Austin sense. Look at what Mac does at the Lucky Lounge. He plays, and it becomes magic. Or Alejandro, who is poised to have this new record really do something. Or playing with Jo Carol and 3 Balls of Fire. This is satisfying to me. It’s not grinding out 30-year-old set lists.
“What I really love about Austin is its sense of community. Austin gives me the chance to play with wonderful artists and that’s what I do best. Somehow or another I do make a living, so I’m not totally in debt. So I’ve had good fortune. And I love my life.”
Short Bandography of Mark Andes
Matt Andes Twist Combo
Jo Jo Gunne
Farrah or Fabio? In the Eighties, the hair made the man.
The Shakin’ Apostles
Jon Dee Graham
Ian McLagan & the Bump Band
3 Balls of Fire
Jo Carol Pierce