You may not know Mark Healey by name, but chances are you've heard his band's music. As Badfinger's bassist, he sets the mood in the live versions of "Day After Day" and "No Matter What."
The Madison native can hardly recall when he didn't know every word and note of these tunes. When a friend called him up in 1986 and asked him to audition for the legendary power-pop band, he jumped at the opportunity to fly across the country and show off his bass guitar skills.
"I was nervous and tried not to show it," he remembers. "These guys were my heroes."
Pretty soon, Healey was inducted as the newest member of the re-formed group, which found itself touring the world anew.
The newly busy schedule was a triumph, to say the least, for a band that had fallen further - and harder - than most. In the early 1970s, Badfinger was the act critics had dubbed The Next Beatles, and for good reason: Badfinger worked closely with John, Paul, George and Ringo, and sounded a bit like them, too. But after numerous tragedies, including the suicides of two original members, the group was at a standstill, not climbing the charts.
However, since Healey signed on, the band's released three live albums and four compilations, as well as a 1974 recording called Head First, which had been shelved when the band entered a legal dispute with Warner Brothers. While Healey doesn't consider himself a magic bullet, it's hard to deny that he's been a positive force in the group and a steadfast believer in the power of power pop.
After years of living in L.A., working as a recording engineer and globetrotting with the band, Healey developed a sinking feeling that something was missing. That something was Madison, it turned out, and he wanted to get as close as possible to the place that had given him his first band, his first protest and some of the most unique and endearing people he'd ever meet.
The Madison of the 1960s, where he grew up, was a time of legendary concerts, from Jimi Hendrix at the Factory to the Doors at the Dane County Coliseum, he says. Even shows by the Mendelbaum Blues Band, a local group of musical hippies, were groundbreaking. As a freshman at West High, Healey started playing with a band of 20-somethings called the Fine Young Men, who got him hooked on playing bars and Beach Boys covers.
"I used to have to put on glasses and hide behind the amp because I wasn't supposed to be in there," he says of his tavern-touring days. "Of course, the glasses made me look all of 15."
The prospect of getting closer to these memories, and to his parents, who still live in Madison, lured him to Minneapolis. Then, in 2003, he drew even closer, to a small town on the Chippewa River, just outside Eau Claire. Healey's still needed in the Twin Cities, where Badfinger is based, so living full time in Madison hasn't made sense thus far.
"I'm still 180 miles from Madison, but I'm getting closer, and it's still Wisconsin," Healey says. "Even when I was in Minneapolis, I missed Wisconsin. I missed Madison."
Proximity to Madison also led him to create his first solo LP, Inside Out, which has been spinning on WSUM, WORT and Triple M for the past several months. Madison guitarist Doug Orcott and vocalist Viva Long contributed to the disc, as did several Badfinger members and Healey's son, Austin.
What informs the album's tracks - and Healey's move back to Wisconsin - is quiet. Not the quiet of a small town, per se, but the mind-calming effect of coming home.
"Recording in the studio, 10 hours a day, it's great but it takes a lot out of you," he says of his time on the West Coast. "I had tons of my own songs I wanted to work on, but at the end of the day, I just wanted to watch Gilligan's Island and make all the noise in my head go away. I had to get back to the basics: where I wanted to be and who I wanted to spend time with."