Fabulous Flip Sides – Interview with Firefall bassist Mark Andes

Mark Andes played bass for Canned Heat, Spirit, Jo Jo Gunne, Firefall and Heart from the mid ‘60s through the early ‘90s. In recent years, he has returned to Firefall, with two other original members, Jock Bartley and David Muse.

By Warren Kurtz

Mark Andes, photo by Todd Wolfson, courtesy of Mark Andes

Firefall formed in Colorado in 1974. Rick Roberts and former Byrds drummer Michael Clarke, who has since passed away, had been in the Flying Burrito Brothers together. Jock Bartley came from the band Zephyr, where he had been Tommy Bolin’s replacement. Larry Burnett was a singer, songwriter and guitarist from Washington D.C., brought in by Rick Roberts along with his high school friend from Florida, David Muse, who plays flute, saxophone, keyboards and harmonica. Mark Andes came from a variety of bands and had relocated to Colorado in the ‘70s. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1976.

GOLDMINE: In addition to touring with Firefall, you also have focused on instrumental music in recent years with your “Real World Magic” CD. The title track, “Valerie,” dedicated to your wife, and “A Song for Ted Greene” provide a nice melodic acoustic guitar and bass backdrop, like the gentlest of Hot Tuna’s music.

MARK ANDES: Thank you. Valerie encouraged me to record the CD. The cover photo is of the Andes Mountains shot from space. I dedicated that one song to Ted Greene, who wrote guitar music books and was a big part of the L.A. music scene.

GM: That L.A. scene included you in the early days of Canned Heat at a very young age.

MA: Yes, I was only seventeen, before I was with Spirit. With Spirit, we auditioned to be the Monkees, before Peter Tork and others and got the job.

GM: I certainly enjoyed Spirit’s “I Got a Line on You,” and songs from the “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” album including “Morning Will Come,” and especially the flip side of “Mr. Skin,” the ecology song “Nature’s Way.”

MA: We now perform that at Firefall shows and get a huge reaction. We include other acts we have been associated with, like a family tree of Firefall. People get so emotional with that environmental message. One of my favorite obscure Spirit songs comes from the soundtrack to the 1969 film “Model Shop.” It is one John Locke wrote called “Fog,” which is so haunting. It is influenced by jazz pianist Bill Evans and includes a flute.

GM: You and Jay Ferguson left Spirit to form Jo Jo Gunne. On the debut album cover, I see the two of you in the middle of the car. The album included the pretty “Flying Home” and both sides of the Top 40 single “Run Run Run” and its flip side “Take it Easy,” which at first glance, on Asylum, I thought was an Eagles’ cover until I heard that bluesy number.

MA: Well, we were signed to Asylum at the same time as the Eagles. We were all in Topanga Canyon. Bernie Leadon and I were good friends. Randy Meisner would come over and give me bass tips. He was so sweet.

GM: After Jo Jo Gunne you headed to Colorado and Firefall was born.

MA: It was a knee-jerk reaction to leave L.A. and take a bus to Colorado, but it felt safe there. Jock Bartley had gone to the University of Colorado at Boulder and is a solid guitarist and songwriter. David Muse is playing better than ever with his flute, sax and other instruments and is responsible for some of our signature moments.

GM: I bought Firefall’s first charting single “Livin’ Ain’t Livin” and really enjoyed the flip side “Love Isn’t All” as well.

MA: Wow, that’s a real blast from the past. That flip side is so good and essential Firefall too. This is Larry Burnett at his ballad writing best. The beat is steady and gentle. I sure miss Michael Clarke.

GM: When I wrote my 1978 album review of “Elan,” I highly praised Jock’s “Sweet and Sour,” comparing it to the sound of Stephen Stills’ Manassas. By then “Strange Way,” from the album, was doing very well as a single and would ultimately reach number 11, just like “Just Remember I Love You” the year prior.

MA: After the success of “You are the Woman” in 1976, which reached number 9, we were very pleased to almost match that success with “Just Remember I Love You,” in 1977. Timothy B. Schmit added backing vocals to it. Like Randy Meisner, he was another Eagles bassist who would come over my house with bass tips. We toured over those years, which included opening for Heart, and I became friends with their guitarist Howard Leese. A few years later, after I moved back to Los Angeles, I was rehearsing and I saw a guitar case which read “Heart – Howard.” I handed a guy a note with my number on it, to let Howard know that I had moved back to L.A. One day he called me and asked, “How would you like to be in Heart?” He met me and Nancy Wilson at Red Lion Studios in Burbank. I played Nancy one of my little deals that I do and I joined the band, I mean, how could I refuse. We, the entire band, wrote “How Can I Refuse” which was a good single.

GM: The entire band wrote some pretty powerful flip sides in the mid-‘80s including the flip side of “What About Love,” called “Heart of Darkness,” along with “The Wolf” and “Bad Animals.”

MA: We did great work. The “Bad Animals” album featured our biggest single, “Alone,” which spent three weeks at number one.

GM: 30 years ago, while others were buying Michael Jackson’s “Bad,” I was buying Heart’s “Bad Animals.” Thank you for that entertaining album and all your work with Heart.

MA: You are welcome. Some say God is a female, well Ann certainly has the voice of God.

These days you, Jock Bartley and David Muse are back with Firefall and touring. Your reunion album certainly captures a great variety of your songs including another favorite single from the “Elan” album that I wrote about in 1978, “Goodbye, I Love You.”

MA: Yes, Firefall is a band on tour with three original members, which is certainly saying a lot, and we are having so much fun.

David Muse, Jock Bartley, and Mark Andes, 2012, courtesy of Firefall

Firefall was inducted in the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in 2015

Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, on WVCR radio as part of “Moments to Remember.”

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