Picking The Noodle Of Mark Tootle

Mark Tootle I have always admired Mark Tootle for his singing, playing and composing abilities. During my high school years both "Renaissance Man" and "Another Nail" were always very high on my favorite tunes list. He continued to grab my attention with songs such as "Do It For Love", "Nowhere Else", "Don't This Way", "Locked Inside This Moment", and "Love Without Dreams", all of which were penned by Mark.

I dare to wager that few people were more upset than I when I discovered that Mark had left the band in 1989. Unfortunately, it had been longer than that since he and I had talked, probably 1987 was the last time. So needless to say, the renewal of our friendship was long overdue. It was a real pleasure to talk to "Marky" again, and I hope that some of the questions I asked are the one's that you've been dying to know the answer to for some time now.......

D: "Believe it or not Mark, you still have a lot of fans all over the place."

M: "Yeah? I hear about it every now and then."

D: "I get e-mail on a constant basis asking how you've been and what's been up with you...so how have you been, and what have you been up to?"

M: "Where to start?....I'm a family man, I've been continuing in music. I'm the music director here at The Warehouse..."

D: "That's right! I went to the Christmas show The Warehouse put on a couple of years ago that you had led with Brent Bourgeois...that was great!"

M: "Exactly. Every Christmas we go out and we try to do about a 45 to 50 minute set in a few local shopping malls and generate some interest in the big Christmas production that we do here. We do that, Easter concerts, weekly worship and specials, and back up any guest artists coming through."

D: "So you're the one putting it all together then?"

M: "Yeah, I direct it. So I'm rehearsing everybody, preparing them, booking..."

D: "That's really great Mark!"

M: "Yeah, it's fantastic. I really like it a lot. I've done some writing and some arranging in there."

D: "So you're still writing then?"

M: "Oh yeah! You bet. I'm always writing, mostly for the weekend services here at church. I picked up a music composition degree.

D: "Really?"

M: "I got it back in 1982. And so, I'm still writing for string quartets, brass quintets...."

D: "Well no wonder Mike calls you a musical genius!!"

M: "He's just being nice. From one genius to another, I guess if you look at it that way. But, I'm writing with my wife who's a great song writer/lyricist, and we've got a band going. Plus I worked on Steve Scott's latest release which is available through Rad Rockers. We've gone back and totallly did new arrangements on some of his tunes like "Ghost Train" and "A Different Kind Of Light".

D: "That's right! Mark (Proctor) told me that he saw you performing at his church. What is that all about?"

M: "It's an alternative folk thing. Kinda high energy folk. We call the group "Trying For Human"."

D: "And I hear you're on guitar!"

M: "Yeah, I'm on guitar, believe it or not! We decided to keep it stripped down, just drums, bass, and acoustic guitar. So you know, we're writing for that. She writes the lyrics from her background which is, um, she's had a lot of,...she's had a hard life. To put it mildly. So a lot of her lyrics come from her life, her abuse as a child, her growing up and losing two fathers to divorce. Her mom died just a couple of years ago. There's this one song about a dream she had of her mom walking out into the light at a window. So she writes about a lot of very wild, but very cool stuff. For me it's great to get a lyric like that and try to find some interesting music to put to it.

We demo every now and then. It's a slow going process because we're both so busy. We've got a 3 year old daughter."

D: (Obvious news to me) "Really! Congratulations Mark!"

M: "Thanks. Her name's Eliza...she's a blast! I've got a 17 year old son named Chris. Just got his driver's license."

D: "Oh no!" (Kidding)

M: "The age difference is amazing. Those are my kids. That's what's going on in my life. I'm very happily married. Working hard, praying hard. Trying to work it all out with "fear and trembling"..

D: "That's great to hear man. Ya' know, I just wanted to tell you that I'm still a huge fan of the stuff you've written with the band. Every time I sit and really listen to "Nowhere Else" I break down. That song to me is one of the best songs you've written that I've heard. Oh man, it just sends chills up and down me every time I hear it."

M: "Wow. Thanks a lot!"

D: "So you're still writing. Man, I have to hear some of that."

M: "Well, O.K. We haven't got a lot of demos or anything, and we really don't play a lot. We've had a great time going out to the Boy's Ranch, and to Juvenile Hall."

D: "Really?"

M: "Oh yeah! And it's amazing. There's this great translation of the New Testament called "The Message", a modern language translation. Tracy (his wife) will read from Romans chapter 8...."Who could separate us from the love of Christ..." and go through all that, and it's like you could hear a pin drop, they're just soaking it up! And this is at the Boys' Ranch!"

D: "I've actually got a friend who's done time there."

M: "Oh yeah? The 77's use to do a lot of concerts at "Juvie", "The Ranch", correctional centers, and prisons. You know, there's nothing like getting a whole room full of guys listening to t he Word of God, and then applaud!"

D: "Really!!"

M: "I mean, they're not applauding for the band or the music. They're applauding for the Word of God."

D: "Right on!"

M: "It's great. It really is. We've been together for about 2 years now."

D: "Really?"

M: "Yeah." (Laughs)

D: "Wow...You were talking about the 7's going places. Now, when you started out with the band, it being a ministry and all that, how long did those free ministerial shows go on? Did that keep going on until '89 (when he left the band)? Or did that stop at some point?"

M: "That stopped at a certain point and I can't remember when. But, we did it for years. We'd go out to Ione (Mule Creek Prison) or one of the many other places. When we first started we did a lot of high schools and colleges, and it was one of the main ways we started performing. And of course we'd do "The Warehouse", then the odd gig once in a while at some other church."

D: "So what was the oddest gig you remember doing with the band?"

mark tootle w/77's M: "The oddest gig?.......Whew.......been a long time......how would you define odd? I remember we played at Mabuhay Gardens (notorious San Francisco punk club) and being pelted with ice chunks. Then we were at some correctional facility playing in the football field, and the wind was blowing really hard. Mike had a broken leg, and he was playing sitting down with his leg propped up in front of him. There was a helicopter landing in the same field, and the wind blew one of Mark Proctor's cymbals over and it came down and cut the guitar cord in half. Just cut it. You know, it's been such a long time I'm probably throwing three different concert experiences together in one little scene here...."

D: "I don't know if you remember this or not. It was back in 1984 or '85, and you guys were playing Juvenile Hall. Aaron had started to go into "You Don't Scare Me", and your key bass wouldn't work. I remember you looking over and saying "Well, here goes nothing..." while you picked up Jan's bass and started playing it instead of the keyboard..."

M: "Yeah, I could do stupid things, I guess, and just go for it at times. Yeah, we did that in some small club somewhere, and we had a 5' x 10' area to set up all our equipment on, and I think that was the first time I picked up the bass to play "You Don't Scare Me", because there wasn't any room for my keyboards."

D: "So you didn't play keys at all that night?"

M: "Yeah, if I remember right I didn't play keyboards at all that night. I might have....I don't know. I don't know! I'm really bad at remembering things like that. You know, you get these little snapshot remembrances and pretty soon they just get all jumbled together. All this could've happened at one concert for all I know." (laughs)

D: "I was wondering if you could describe for me the transition that went on between All Fall Down and The Seventy Sevens (a.k.a. the Island record) when Mike started taking on all the lead vocals. What was going on during all of that?"

M: "As much as I can remember that was a decision for band identity, and to get the one lead vocal. That was Exit Records, Mary Neely who was the executive of the company, and the band's decision."

D: "What was the writing like back then? There wasn't a whole lot of collaboration between you and Mike that I remember..."

M: "Yeah, we collaborated on some things. A lot of it ended up on Sticks And Stones. "Love Without Dreams" was a four-track demo thing, he helped a lot on that. He worked on "Don't This Way", "The Days To Come".... he and Steve Griffith worked on it because it was a real arrangement problem....the song didn't peak on the chorus or something and so they added a vocal melisma at the end."

D: "So what was writing with Mike like?"

M: "The times that we would actually sit down and try to write.....our approaches are completely different so it would take us a while, and a lot of times it just happened after he played the songs for a while in rehearsal or something and he would have a way to change it, make it better. There was band input too."

"Because of my background, I would start sometimes with a total concept and try to work it out theoretically. Mike's not like that. He's an "off the cuff", gut kind of player.... So sometimes it would just go nowhere, and other times it would be "Yeah!! That's got it!!".

D: "Can you describe for me what the transition between Mark Proctor and Aaron was like? What was that all about from your perspective?"

M: "We worked for over four years with Mark, did an album with him, so it was hard to see him go. We were involved together as a unit doing things that were important to all of us, so we really had a relationship happening. It was hard to see him go. At the same time it was great to see Aaron come in. Ya know, someone who could fill the shoes and who was a tremendous player, so it was a happy time too. So, there were a lot of mixed feelings. Very mixed feelings."

D: "So how long did this change take place?"

M: "Good question...I don't know. I don't ever remember actually sitting down having a band meeting where we said "We need to go out and find a new drummer." I remember it happened over a period of months, because Aaron came in and started playing a lot for Exit, and at the time he was playing with a band called "Peterbilt", which was a power trio from the Bay area. I think we met Aaron for the first time opening for Peterbilt.

"It's funny, I still remember being in the bathroom stall with the door shut, and Aaron walks into the restroom with the bass player, I think. We had just finished our set and they were talking about us, and I remember overhearing Aaron say "Yeah, they were pretty good. They need more work though."

"Ya know, what was I going to say? "Hey! You're talking about my band!!""

D: "So have you kept up with Aaron and what he's been up to? Have you heard about the Rich Mullins tragedy and all that?"

M: "Yes I have. As a matter of fact, when I first heard about it someone was saying "We heard that the husband of one of the Johnson kids was killed in an accident with Rich Mullins." And I thought "Who are the Johnson kids?" They told me that Jim Abegg married one of them. So my first thoughts were "What? Jim Abegg killed in an accident?" Then somebody called me from Stockton informing me they heard on the radio that Rich Mullins died. So I'm thinking "Oh no! Rich Mullins, Jim Abegg, which probably means Aaron too!"

D: "Yeah, we were freaked out for nearly half a day here..."

M: "So I decided to call Aaron, and find out. I couldn't get through! So in my mind it meant that it was all true! I did finally get ahold of him the Monday after the accident and he told me all about it. Of course, he was affected deeply by that."

D: "I'm just real thankful that I was able to see Rich for the first time this year at Cornerstone."

M: "You never know when we're gonna go..."

D: "Well, what was it like making 3 great albums, having two of them distributed by major record labels (A&M and Island), having the hopes and expectations real high for each of them, and then watch them sink into oblivion commercially?"

M: "It's disappointing. Incredibly disappointing, but at the time we just kept on keepin' on. I wasn't involved in the business aspect of it, so I can't talk about it from that point of view. But as a member of the band, it was always hopeful, then disappointing when everything petered out...."What? We gotta go get distribution from somebody else again? Stuff like that. Now, after time has passed, I'm incredibly thankful for all of it. Because, The 77's and where they played in the area that God gave us at the time....it worked. So we weren't a big success, we never had a gold or platinum record or anything like that, but...."

D: "But you did win a Dove!" (For the video "Different Kind Of Light")

M: "We did win a Dove, yeah! And that's great! There was just so many positive things happening. I got to go to a bunch of places and play for different people that I normally wouldn't have had the chance to. I just look at it as a great opportunity..."

D: "Now the first time you guys went to Europe with Aaron right after Proctor left was for what? Who and what were you playing for?"

M: "It was for a youth camp in England, and it was for an entire month. We were the guest band that played. I led a little worship. We worked on material for All Fall Down."

D: "Did you write any of the material for this over there?"

M: "Yeah, during the rehearsals. We didn't get to rehearse as often as we wanted. But we worked on "Another Nail", I remember..."

D: "What are your thoughts about the controversy surrounding "Something's Holding On"?"

M: Well, the people that we really wanted to reach were people who didn't really consider themselves Christians and that was the reason for a lot of what we did. We wanted to give them something that they could relate to maybe, then think about what's going on. And, of course, if you do something like "Something's Holding On" , then there's Christians who react to it. Sorry for offending people, but I don't think we did anything wrong. It was just a story of a guy trapped in lust from a first- person perspective. And the song stressed pretty much the chains of lust, the trap of lust...."

D: "Nearing the end of our time here, I must be honest and say that I've been hesitant on asking you this next question because I consider you a dear friend, but when you left everything wasn't really "copasetic", and was far from a "Love Fest", but from your point of view what was your departure all about? What was going on?"

M: "Well, more than anything, they were business decisions. Everybody in the band wanted to move to Nashville, and cut ties with Exit. But I didn't feel like I wanted to do that. So from my point of view, I think I stayed and everyone else left..." (ED. NOTE: Ironically, Jan Eric was the only group member to actually move to Nashville at that time, and was subsequently fired from the group for doing so! Aaron eventually moved there several years later and was also dismissed according to Mike Roe, who claims to have never intended on such a move either then or ever.)

D: "That's a good way of putting it, I suppose."

M: "It's a natural thing that can happen with any group of people that's together over a long period of time. But I don't regret for a minute being involved with The 77's."

D: "I was wondering if you've heard any 7's and/or Mike's solo material since Sticks And Stones, any thoughts on any of them?"

M: "I've heard 'Pray Naked' when it first came out and some cuts off of others. They sounded great!"

D: "What did you think of '88' and the box set (1-2-3)?"

M: " '88' was a great recording of a spectacular 7's concert. Thank God for Roger Smith and Mark Harmon! Isn't there a legal problem with 1-2-3? Is it still available?" (NOTE: 1-2-3 is still available.)

D: "Do you ever miss being in the band or around the guys?"

M: "Yeah, especially Aaron."

D: "If the opportunity arose for a reunion concert/album/tour with the original members of The 77's, would you be interested?"

M: "I don't think so. I've gone on to other things, and besides, I can't dance the way I used to!"

D: "Do you feel any sense of loss and/or responsibility regarding the lack of dialogue with the fans since your departure? Example: "Don't This Way", and it's powerful effect upon scores of people in their personal life and their walk with God, etc. (That's just one song out of many we get asked about)?"

M: "I never really had much dialogue with fans. Jan and Mike usually handled all that. But the few times I did, it was humbling to think that someone could be interested enough to write or call."

D: "Is it strange knowing that Mike and the guys continue to sing and play your songs to audiences year after year?"

M: "I always hoped, and worked, for longevity in my writing. Longevity in the sense that a song could be listened to over a period of time and still retain something of value for that particular moment it's listened to. I'm very thankful that some of the 7's stuff I was privileged to have a hand in is still out there. But, of course, you can't discount the performance. A great performance of an old song can make all the difference."

D: "Ya know, earlier you mentioned how much respect you have for Jan. I have that kind of respect for you also. You and Jan were always willing to stop, talk and pray with me whenever I approached either of you. It's something I look back upon now and learn from and cherish very much. Thank You!!"

M: "Wow! That's great to hear, that's really encouraging."

We've set up an e-mail account for Mark Tootle on the web page, so if you feel led to write him a note and ask him anything I may missed, write to him at tootle@77s.com. I can't guarantee a personal reply, but know that he reads everything he receives, so let's keep him busy reading!!!!

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