Mark is at first glance, the quiet member of The 77's. He seems to sit in the background, playing his bass, and amazing us with his BIG bass sound and talent. He gets a sound and prominence in the music that few would do, because they can't. Mark Harmon is just an awesome bass player! He's got the "balls" (for lack of a better word) to play lead on bass and pull it off perfectly!
He's married, with two kids, a dog, and a house that he complains he can't afford. Mark's the only member of The 7's to hold down a full time, legitimate "job". Needless to say, he is a very busy guy. I still fail to see how he pulls everything off, although his wife Cindy is due a lot of the credit. She's the most understanding person I've ever met, and really is the key to Mark's success in his busy life!
Anyway, here's the first part of an interview I did with him that reveals more :
D: How long have you been playing bass?
M: "I formally started playing the instrument around ninth grade. I had joined our high school jazz band with the intentions of playing guitar. Unfortunately, our bass player quit and our band director basically told me that the band needed a bassist more than a. So he gave me a choice - play bass or watch the ensemble from the stands. Actually it wasn't that big of a deal to switch to bass. I had been messing around with the guitar since I was seven. My brother had an old Sears Silvertone acoustic guitar that he left out and I would sneak it down to the basement and put on his rock records and my dad's jazz records. I would usually break a couple of strings which forced me to play the instrument like a bass anyway. Bass lines on records seemed cooler to me and I seemed to a knack for learning them easier than any other instrument. Anyway, once I made the decision to play bass, my band director set me up on an old upright acoustic that forced me to carefully listen to the other players. I later picked up an old P-Bass (that I still have to this day) and found myself drawn to a lot of different styles of music that featured the bass (i.e., Weather Report-Jaco, Yes, Rush, Beatles,etc.). I played a lot of jazz through high school, but once I got to college, I discovered rock-a-billy! I really dug the simple structures and emotion that emanated from that style. Since then, I've picked up a lot of technique and understanding that I apply to whatever I'm working on at the moment. Learning never ends..."
D: What other instruments do you play?
M: "Guitar, drums, keyboard, trombone - thank goodness you didn't ask me how well I play them!" (Actually Mark plays guitar very well!)
D: What other groups have you played with?
M: "I started sneaking into clubs when I was sixteen playing jazz and filling in on a few southern rock gigs (anything to make a buck - remember, this was Virginia). When I got to college, I joined a band called Suzie & the Homewreckers - a rock-a-billy band. The guitarist was phenomenal and so was the drummer. Suzie had a great voice and we were actually one of the most popular bands on the Virginia Tech campus and surrounding region. The band started to get some notice from some A&R people up in New York. We had made some demos and were considering a move to the city. Unfortunately, we were all pretty heavy into the drug scene and I chose to leave the band, because I knew if I didn't, I'd probably have end up dead on some street gutter. Anyway, my dad sent me to California to spend the summer with my brother so that I could dry out. Once I arrived out here, the Lord renewed our relationship and I spent some time guitarist not playing at all. My brother and I started writing together and we later met up with David Leonhardt to form the Strawmen."
D: Who are your personal influences / favorite bands?
M: "That's a hard question. There are few bands that I totally dig. I usually like some particular aspect of a band instead of the whole thing. I really liked the vibe of The Police - Reggatta De Blanc was a record that took you somewhere and dropped you off. NRBQ (the New Rhythm & Blues Quartet) was another band that I totally got into. The only rock band lately to get me going is Soundgarden. I love the creativity of those guys. Other bands/people that influenced me were Midnight Oil, early ZZ Top records, Jaco Pastorious, Steely Dan, Little Feat, and Mothers Finest. I also listened to a lot of Bluegrass growing up. My dad played that music all the time. Some of the best players I've ever heard were guys playing on the back of a tractor-trailer in the middle of some farm in Virginia."
D: You joined the band during a period of transition, it happened again last year...any thoughts?
M: "I'm really amazed that the band continues to exist through all of these changes. I mean, each record sees the band changing and exploring different territories, yet, we still seem to have a lot of potential that we haven't even tapped. That is the aspect of this band that excites me. I really like the band as it is now - Bruce has added a musical dimension that I identify with. I've got a lot more space now that we're down to one guitarist. I know this makes it difficult for Mike, but I love the space that exists in the band now. I wouldn't mind adding another person to the lineup that could play both keys and guitar. But that's not a priority at the moment. Our goal now is to work the three-piece in such a way that performances end up being a special occurrence for us and the audience."
D: Have you reached the frustration point with all the bad record and management deals?
M: "Yes. Unfortunately, we're not businessmen. We're just a bunch of musicians that dig what we do. That doesn't seem to work very well in a market that is driven almost purely from a non-musical point of view. You almost wonder if time is running out. But one never knows. I just got through reading an article about the band Garbage. Those guys are ten years older than me and they're hitting the market hard and doing very well now. Who knows?"
There's more to this story; next issue Mark digs into his faith and his family.....stay tuned!