Mark Goffeney and his band, Big Toe, performed at the East Tennessee State University Martha Culp Auditorium Friday night. (Tony Casey/Johnson City Press)
Mark Goffeney says he grew up differently from the other kids. His nose was a little big.
Oh, and he had no arms.
But neither of those things made a difference in how he was going to grow up. When he picked the guitar, his parents looked at him like he was crazy, but because of the San Diego family’s motto — no sniveling — Goffeney wasn’t going to let his impairment stop him from doing what he wanted.
He said he didn’t like having his options limited to being either a soccer player or a Riverdancer. In school, he and a friend who had no legs were kept separated from the others and both wanted to play with what were called the normal kids, so they snuck through a fence and tried to blend in with the crowd. He jokes that he has no idea how they got caught.
Almost 30 years later, Goffeney has experienced just about all there is to experience. He’s traveled the globe, becoming a big hit in Korea, starred in Super Bowl commercials, worked with some of the top music producers on the planet and helped raise massive amounts of money for those in need.
Now he and his band, Big Toe, are a highly sought-after gig, and Goffeney, with his unique style of putting the guitar on the ground and picking it with his feet, came to the East Tennessee State University Martha Culp Auditorium on Friday night and rocked the place.
He was brought in by the ETSU Office of Disabled Services and played many covers and original songs to a crowd comprised of a great number of people with disabilities. His lyrics, stories, and jokes and were relayed by interpreters to the audience.
The guitar he was using was a borrowed instrument from a friend of his named Ben.
“Ben, a new friend who’s visually impaired,” Goffeney said. “He treats me the same, which is good because he can’t see how strikingly handsome I am.”
His set list included tunes from Johnny Cash, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Soggy Bottom Boys, Green Day and more. He said he first got into music because of his parents’ expansive record collection. Some of his favorites were the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, and his styles haven’t changed, although he says you could catch him listening to anything from Beethoven to Pantera and everything in between.
A single father, Goffeney has two daughters and a son, all of whom are musically inclined like their father. He said they’ve even gotten together and jammed a bit.
Driving a regular automatic transmission vehicle with no alterations since he was 16 years old, he said he enjoys the looks he gets from the other drivers out in California, and said he needs to look out for their driving rather than the other way around.
When he’s not performing on national or international stages, Goffeney does a great deal of public and motivational speaking. He speaks to children at elementary schools, continues to do a great deal of fundraising and, lately, has been recording his music.
One message he likes to put out there is to keep it positive, to overcome diversity and to be independent.
“We should all look for similarities instead of differences,” Goffeney said. “And the world would be a better place.”
For more information on Goffeney, check out his website at BigToeRocks.com.