Surf music and the blues seem like an odd combination. One seldom finds a radio station that has the Beach Boys cued up to be followed by Muddy Waters. Yet there is a band that superbly executes both the shimmering pop of a Brian Wilson-led ensemble and salt of the earth blues, be it from its originators or second generation masters such as Eric Clapton. Enter the 77s.
While the 77s have been around since the 1980s, the band remains mostly unknown save to the loyal few. There was a brief flicker of notice in 1987 when the band’s eponymous release, its first (and only) one on the Island label and third album overall, garnered a positive review in Rolling Stone. Unfortunately, there was no way the album could find a place in the public spotlight; more on that in a bit. The 77s, along with their compatriots The Choir and Daniel Amos, form the Big Three of that seeming paradox for those prone toward overly literal interpretations: Christian cult bands.
The 77s, originally known as the Savage Young Scratch Band (good thing they changed the name), has always had guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Michael Roe at its center. Roe is a legitimate master of his instrument, wielding his Stratocaster and regularly delivering blues-infused fluid fiery riffs and melodies that stand toe to toe with acclaimed giants of the six string. He is an equally adept songwriter, one capable of both hook-laden gut-level blues and achingly beautiful acoustic or gentle electric pop tunes. Lyrically, Roe plumbs the depths of human emotion and relationships with a raw frankness the likes of which Christian music has not seen since the late Larry Norman’s heyday. The gospel message is not muted, but Roe reminds one and all with devastating power that Christians, too, suffer broken hearts.
This strength has long confused the marketplace. Is this the 77s?
Or is this the 77s?
Or is this in fact the 77s?
The answer, to the fans delight and the music industry’s puzzlement, is yes.
Anyway, back to the band history. The first lineup recorded its first two albums on the tiny Exit label, it being owned by Warehouse Ministries in Sacramento which served as the band’s home base. Word spread about the band and other artists on Exit, such as Charlie Peacock, so much so that the head of Island Records gave the 77s a listen and signed them along with Peacock to his label … sort of. Rather than being full-fledged Island recording artists like the label’s most popular act at the time (some Irish four-piece that sang about streets with no street signs), the 77s and Peacock quickly realized that while Island would indeed distribute their releases on the Island label, it was as far as Island was concerned strictly a distribution deal with the absolute minimal, if any, promotional effort being made by the label. Thus, the aforementioned eponymous third album disappeared into the vinyl abyss. The resulting tensions effectively split the band in two, and it looked for all purposes like the 77s were finished.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to the “where are they now?” file. A Christian alt rock label offered Roe and company an opportunity to tidy up loose ends by releasing a compilation disc of previously unreleased material. This idea came to fruition in 1990 with Sticks and Stones, which in complete opposite fashion to how such things are supposed to work was so loaded with quality material it became the band’s best-selling release. Roe then revived the band, keeping drummer Aaron Smith who had joined the first lineup after its debut album and whom on his resume listed the San Francisco alt band Romeo Void among other credits. He added Mark Harmon on bass and David Leonhardt on guitar and keyboards, both having previously been working together as the Strawmen. This quartet recorded two albums, after which Smith and Leonhardt both left. Roe next’s move was keeping Harmon while bringing in Bruce Spencer on drums and carrying on as a trio, which is the band’s current configuration although it has often brought in a fourth member for live work.
Regrettably, there is no compilation of the band suitable for serving as an introduction. To hopefully at least in part fill this void, the latest episode of Cephas Hour features over an hour’s worth of uninterrupted 77s goodness for your listening pleasure. The show link is here (https://cephashour.com/2021/08/11/cephas-hour-episode-twenty-three-release-date-august-11-2021/); a detailed song list is below:
|Related||originally from A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows, alternate radio mix from 20 Years Gone|
|This Is The Way Love Is||from Sticks and Stones|
|Begin||from A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows|
|Woody||from Pray Naked|
|Dig My Heels||from Direct|
|Nowhere Else||from Sticks and Stones|
|Mercy Mercy||from All Fall Down|
|Holy Hold||from Pray Naked|
|The Rain Kept Falling In Love||from Pray Naked|
|What Was In That Letter||from Seventy Sevens|
|Alone Together||from Drowning With Land In Sight|
|Frames Without Photographs||from Seventy Sevens|
|Make a Difference Tonight||from All Fall Down|
|Caught in an Unguarded Moment||from All Fall Down|
|Miserable||from More Miserable Than You’ll Ever Be by 7&7iS|
|Dig My Heels||from Direct|
|The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes & the Pride of Life||from Seventy Sevens|
|Nobody’s Fault But Mine||from Drowning With Land In Sight|
The 77s music is available on the band’s Bandcamp page.