A Young Person’s Guide to The 77’s

I’ve come to release that a lot of my favorite bands from my college/high school years that were, sadly, confined to the CCM ghetto are quickly fading away. Many of my younger friends have no idea who these bands are or what they sound like, so I’m creating a series of posts to educate the young listener. I figured the 77’s would be a good one to do next since I just missed their concert here in Atlanta. Boo.

Who Are They?
The 77’s are a rock band that emerged out of the Sacremento Warehouse scene in the 80’s. Michael Roe is the only member of the band to be in the band for the duration. Roe is the singer, guitarist and primary songwriter, though Roe has always maintained that the 77’s is a collaborative effort as he also has a solo catalog of his own. The 77’s were primarily a new wave band in the 80’s but slowly turned towards their roots of influences from classic rock artists such as Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, Led Zepplin, the Rolling Stones with an additional influence of blues music.

Brief History
The 77’s originally started as The Scratch Band in the early 80’s and released their first album, Ping Pong Over The Abyss under their new band name in 1982. Original drummer Mark Proctor left after the first album and was replaced by Romeo Void’s drummer, Aaron Smith. THe band released their next album All Fall Down and earned enough recognition to be signed to Island Records. In 1987, the 77’s released their self-titled album and had the unfortunate timing to release the album at the same time as U2’s The Joshua Tree. When The Joshua Tree exploded in popularity, Island Records diverted all their promotion to U2’s album and the 77’s album withered on the vine.

The band continued to tour in the late 80’s but entered a nebulous time where very little material was released. Roe released a solo album under the moniker “Seven And Seven Is”, a name he would reuse time and again for projects outside of the 77’s. By the end of the 80’s, guitarist Mark Tootle and bass player Jan Eric Volz departed the band. Roe and Smith joined forces with David Leonhardt and Mark Harmon of the band The Strawmen to form the second iteration of the 77’s. During this time, the band released a live album from 1988 appropriately titled 88 and also a collection of b-sides and demos called Sticks and Stones.

The band signed to Word Records in 1992 and encountered resistance from the label when they wanted to title their album Pray Naked and thus released a second self-titled album (though fans still refer to this album by its original name). During this time, Roe began collaborating with Derri Daughtery of The Choir, Gene Eugene of Adam Again, and Terry Taylor of Daniel Amos to form the supergroup Lost Dogs. The band encountered troubles in the year after when Leonhardt was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. The band channel their dispair and frustration and once again found the label censoring their music on their next album Drowning With Land In Sight. Shortly after the album was released, Leonhardt left the band and Aaron Smith also left the band to tour with Rich Mullins.

Roe hired former Vector drummer Bruce Spencer to form along with Harmon a power-trio that is essentially the core of the band today. The band released Tom Tom Blues in 1995 and Roe released solo albums, Safe As Milk and The Boat Ashore. Spencer and Harmon joined an assortment of other musicians to tour as the “Safe As Milk Band.” Roe also toured frequently as a solo artist in the following years.

In 1999, the 77’s regrouped and released an ep simply titled ep and resumed touring on a regular basis with the addition of Scott Reams on guitar, keyboards, and percussion. The band released A Golden Field Of Radioactive Crows in 2001 and then a series of leftover songs from that session on an ep titled Direct in 2002. The band then entered a period of dormancy, though Roe and Harmon did collaborate together, releasing an instrumental album titled Orbis and a Seven And Seven Is album titled Fun With Sound in 2004.

Where Are They Now?
The 77’s are in a period that Roe likes to call “semi-retirement.” The band performs infrequently, though they have just released a new album Holy Ghost Building which is based off old blues songs. The band is touring (as of June 2008) with David Leonhardt joining the band. Roe continues to tour as a solo musician and also still works with the Lost Dogs. Bruce Spencer still performs as a touring drummer with several musicians. Mark Harmon still performs on bass on occasion, but also works in the corporate world outside of music. Jan Eric Volz is probably best known for the trials that his son Eric Volz underwent in Nicaragua for conviction for murder and subsequent release on appeals.

If You Bought Only One Album….
The later albums in the 90’s and 00’s each have moments of brilliance but tend to be uneven. The best of those albums are probably either Pray Naked or Drowning With Land In Sight. However, the 80’s material tends to be stronger and the strongest album might actually be the collection of demos, Sticks and Stones. However, this album can be difficult to find, so I will recommend the first self-titled album The Seventy Sevens as the place start.

Get Thee to iTunes! Or Make Your Own Mix Tape for 10 bucks
Amazingly, there is no music by the Seventy Sevens on iTunes or Amazon.com, so you will have to do some hunting on your own:
1.) Caught In An Unguarded Moment (All Fall Down)
2.) Do It For Love (Seventy Sevens)
3.) MT (Sticks And Stones)
4.) Nowhere Else (Sticks and Stones)
5.) The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes and The Pride of Life (88)
6.) Self-Made Trap (Pray Naked)
7.) Nobody’s Fault But Mine (Drowning With Land In Sight)
8.) Don’t Leave Me Long (Tom Tom Blues)
9.) Unbalanced (ep)
10.) Dig My Heels (Direct)