Bassist/guitarist Mark Goffeney, who was born without arms and played with his feet, reportedly passed away on March 2 at the age of 51. He and his wife were found dead in their El Cajon apartment on Tuesday.
A degreed martial artist with around nine years training in Okinawan kenpo, he was ranked number 9 on VH1's 2013 list of 10 Musicians Missing Body Parts, which included Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Iommi, Paul Stanley, and Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen.
Goffeney's career began with him literally serving as a poster child for overcoming a disability, appearing on telethons for March of Dimes and Variety Club charities. As he once told the Reader, "I remember one time I had my feet rubbed by Jill Whelan, who played Vicki, the Captain's niece on the Love Boat, while drinking Champagne on Air Canada first class. We were 13 and 14. Met and worked with many more celebs as a poster child."
One of his biggest early brushes with fame occurred at a celebrity fundraiser. “I was once asked by the former Prince Charles if he could put his finger in my prosthetic hook. I said yes. He hesitated and asked if it was going to hurt.…He offered me the olive from his martini and I declined. Looking back, I think he just wanted to see me eat with my feet!”
His playing technique was decidedly unique. “I play left-handed, although I’m right-footed,” he said of the way he strummed with his left foot while fretting with the right foot. His guitar pick, the Dunlap Shark Fin Cutaway, was designed with a groove that enabled him to hold it between his toes.
Lacking limbs was rarely a stage issue, as he said it was usually other things that caused problems at live gigs. "I got a terrible shock from an un-grounded PA system at the former California Theater," he recalled. Also, "At the 2001 I.B. sand castle competition, we blew 103.7 the Planet’s PA system. I was using a bass effect unit I didn’t know how to use.”
One of his early bands, Wicked Misfit, was heavily inspired by Kiss, who he said staged the best concert he ever saw for their 2000 Farewell Tour. "First off, it was the very last show before Peter Criss quit, so all four original members played for the last time. Also, Ted Nugent opened for them and offended oncertgoers in the second row, causing them to leave their seats open for myself, and my date. We were squatting after having sneaked onto the floor." Goffeney also also played with Tha Clairemonstaz and West Coast Iron Works.
He and his most successful group Big Toe, founded in 1992, regularly played area venues such as On the Rocks in El Cajon, the Road House in Ramona, and Joltin' Joes in La Mesa. "Our band is in the genre of Chili Peppers, STP, and Foo fighters," he said. Their self-titled debut album was produced by Steve Dudas (Aerosmith, Ringo Starr), and they were featured in a Discovery Channel special called Born Without Arms, chronicling one of the band’s European tours. The band also appeared as contestants on the TV talent competition Star Tomorrow in 2006.
“We recorded one of our live shows at Lestat’s and mixed two video feeds along with audio,” says Big Toe singer/guitarist Dave Gilbert of the tape that landed them on Star Tomorrow. “We were accepted and went up to L.A. to audition for the judge, David Foster, and guest judge Travis Barker. They liked us so we recorded four more songs live - two covers and two originals.”
On the show, Grammy-winning producer David Foster said of Goffeney's performance that “It’s impossible to truly evaluate this. I mean, what this guy does is amazing, he’s a good bass player…he doesn’t sing great, but he’s a phenomenal human being. You should be able to use anything to get there, whatever the gimmick is.” Big Toe also appeared on the FOX TV show The Next Great American Band, and Goffeney was among the stars of a Fox TV commercial called Feet, which aired during the Super Bowl in 2000 and 2001 and was nominated for an Emmy Award.
Goffeney's online presence also helped boost his profile and career. His Balboa Park performance of “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down scored over two million views. One night, while preparing to open side stage for Tom Petty and Beck, Petty's Manager approached Goffeney and informed him that a Youtube video of Goffeney performing "Mary Jane's Last Dance" had more views than Tom Petty's. Worried, Goffeney asked if he was in trouble. "We think its great" was the reply.
“That video was at one time the most-watched video on the internet in a day, period,” said Goffeney proudly, although he tended to downplay all the attention paid to his cover tunes. “My own music is an appeal to the listener to drop their guard, open their mind, and let me in.”
Goffeney’s 2016 San Diego appearance with Maná
When the band Maná came to town in September 2016, Goffeney sat in for two numbers, with the resulting video going viral over the next few days, racking up over 100,000 hits. The appearance and its high online profile led to an arena tour with Maná, and a plane ticket to Miami to appear on a popular Telemundo TV show.
Born in San Diego in March 1969, one of four sons of a British mother, Goffeney recalled for the Reader in 2001 that he never got special consideration for lacking arms. "One of my jobs was to water the lawn, and my father used to go out there with a shovel and check that the ground beneath was soaked. If it wasn't, I had to keep going."
He considered pursuing a career as an actor and was considered for a role in The Young and the Restless playing David Hasselhoff's son, but was ultimately rejected. He played trombone in the school band, and then picked up guitar after his dad brought one home from the dump that only had four strings. Taking lessons from a neighbor led to also learning the bass and starting up his own heavy metal band.
As he got older, he developed an interest in the paranormal. "I've had many supernatural encounters, I'm somewhat of a supernatural magnet," he said, "most too personal to publish. I have on several occasions dreamed the future. Not mere Deja Vu, I mean dreamed of the future! Word for word conversations, identical scenery, events, everything. Also, during dark times past, I've had street lights pop out as I past them, as many as three in a row. Sounds like coincidence, but I kinda had a certain feeling each time, just before it happened."
A Grossmont College alum, Goffeney was known for giving rides to local events and meetings, driving his specially outfitted car with his right foot. He supplemented his music income with motivational speaking and occasional standup comedy. “If I stumble, I can always fall back on playing a song,” he said.
He told the Reader that there was only one occasion when he really regretted not having hands. "It was two in the morning, and I was coming home from a show. I passed what looked like a crime scene and was pulled over. I expected the normal 'Wow, you're driving with your feet. Do you have a license to do that?' that I usually get from police .... So I look in my mirror and the guy has already pulled out his gun and was pointing it at my car. Then he says through his speaker, 'Put both hands out the window.' So I shouted. 'I have no arms.' And he tells me, 'I'll shoot, I'll shoot,' and ends every sentence with 'My gun is out.' Then he tells me to get out of the car and lay down. For me to unfasten my seat belt and get the door open involves a lot of squirming around and jerking, so I knew if I started all that, he'd shoot me. So I shouted again, 'I have no arms.' Next thing, he's at my door and his eyes were wide and full of adrenaline."
"Finally, he realizes what's going on and he says, 'Okay, okay. But do you know how many people we've had to shoot this year?'"