(I used to write a bi-weekly column, RadioRadio, for Players magazine in the Tampa Bay area. The following story appeared in 1990.)
By Bob Andelman
They bid him farewell with a medley of Neil Diamond/Air Supply/Johnny Mathis and then “Fast” Eddie Yarb – master of voices, traffic, game shows from hell and song parodies – was gone.
“First place and you’re leaving now, Eddie?” kidded Ron Diaz. “When we were in 12th place, that was the time to leave.”
Perhaps the timing was ironic – Fast Eddie bid farewell to his buds at WYNF (95 FM) on July 19, just one day after the latest Arbitron ratings showed “Ron & Ron” had risen to the top of the Tampa Bay area morning ratings heap in virtually every category.
But for Eddie the chance to become creative director at easy listening WARM (107 FM) was too good to pass up. Besides, he may be leaving the station with the top-rated morning show but he’s signing on with a new station that has the highest overall ratings in the market.
“It is a position that I always wanted, a golden opportunity,” he says. “I’ve never really (wanted) to be on-air. I have no desire to do what these guys do, to be pressed to make ratings. Money was a small, very small part of it. Matter of fact, they counter-offered me very nicely. But I’m looking to see what creativity I have in the real world.”
Yarb has now completed his second cycle at YNF. He began at the station in 1983 as an intern/assistant to Diaz, who was then doing middays. “I made sure his office was in order,” recalls the formed flunkie. When Diaz joined up with Jack Strapp in the “Breakfast Flakes,” Yarb started doing “goofy things” for them. He left in ’85 for a stint as creative director at WTOG-TV (Ch. 44), then returned in ’87 as a producer of Russ Albums’ short-lived and under-appreciated morning show. That’s when he was “Eddie Moore,” as in “Albums and More.”
That rolled into Diaz’s return from a brief stint in Los Angeles and back to the a.m. and subsequent teaming with comedian Ron Bennington. As “Ron & Ron” emerged, so did Fez Whatley, Becky “Flash” Gordon and “Fast” Eddie, on-air traffic reporter and behind-the-scenes production and creative whiz.
“A lot of the game show themes are mine,” says Eddie. “A lot of the concepts are developed by me and fleshed out on a group basis. ‘Andy’s World’ was my idea, although I blatantly ripped off (Saturday Night Live’s) ‘Wayne’s World.’ ‘Catholic Jeopardy’ was all mine. So was ‘Pick the Pervert.’ ‘Awful Options’ – done to the American Bandstand theme – was my first attempt at harmonies.”
“I give him all the ideas for the morning show,” interjects Charlie Logan, who eavesdrops on all of Eddie’s telephone calls.
“Being a producer,” continues Eddie, “my job was to take voices and concepts and jazz them up. I can’t take credit for ‘Dykes on Bikes,’ but I gave them the format.” A pick-up group he calls Eddie & the Idiots – mostly Eddie – did the singing on most of “Ron & Ron’s” most famous bits.
One bizarre Fast Eddie concept was “Silk ‘n’ Jeans.”
“My favorite,” says Logan, picking up the phone again.
“‘Silk ‘n’ Jeans’ sounds like every bad spot you would hear over on WRXB or TMP,” says Eddie. “It’s your Don Cornelius (host of Soul Train) voice with a lot of echo. My latest is one is ‘Silk ‘n’ Jeans’ having a Marion Barry sale.”
An excerpt: ” … Clothes designed to cover up all your crack problems …”
“I think Eddie was a good player in the morning show,” says Program Director Tom Marshall. “He brought a lot more to the show than just the traffic reports. He’ll be missed, but we’ll move onward.” (Marla Stone will do afternoon traffic with Logan; no full-time replacement for Eddie in the A.M. will be named immediately.)
Eddie – whose 1988 wedding to Karen a one-time YNF secretarial temp, their honeymoon and the birth of daughter Melissa three months ago were all chronicled by Ron & Ron – says he’ll miss YNF.
“We really put something together,” he says. “It was tough to make the decision but I’m just looking down the road for myself. I’m really proud of what we created on the morning show. It’s been 100% blast.”
He Called! Finally heard from Randy Wynne at WMNF (88.5 FM), who confirmed the hiring of Greg Musselman as the new station manager of the alternative community station.
Musselman, who is currently a social worker with a Hillsborough County youth services program, is a familiar name to the station’s volunteer core and listeners. He’s been president of the board of directors since October and has worked on-air and behind the scenes himself as a volunteer for the past four years.
The hiring of Musselman ends a nine month search to replace Lisa McCormick, the embattled former station manager who last just one year at WMNF.
“I think a lot of people are hoping – because of the past experience – people are nervous about somebody they don’t know,” says Wynne. “Lisa was hired from out of town and they feel she didn’t have an appreciation for what the station was about.”
Musselman takes the conn Aug. 20.
From the Heart of Tampa Bay! I’m real late in reporting this but long-time WTMP (1150 AM) jock Mark Vann split the station in April for WYLD AM/FM in New Orleans. Alfonzo “The Fonz” Blanks picked up his slot and can be heard nightly from 7-11 p.m.
Anybody Remember? … Dr. Chuck Stevens, former music director and on-air guy at WLCY? WYUU (92 FM) is bringing him back on Sun. July 29 to do all-new editions of “Breakfast with the Beatles.” The show will air weekly from 8-9 a.m. and feature Moptop tunes, rarities and information.
Alert the Media! Have you ever heard WYNF – a.k.a. 95, 95 YNF, YNF or even the Pirate – ever called “Y95” ? Me either, yet the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times insist on referring to it that way.
Question for Mike Welch of St. Petersburg! What’s the frequency?
Say Goodnight, Ed! Famous Fast Last Words: “Meet a couple of guys who are number one in your hearts and they’ve got the ratings to prove it … Ron & Ron!” (Fast Eddie’s final intro, July 19, 1990.)
Ratings Blarney! Next issue, we’ll do our quarterly dissection of the latest Arbitron ratings. By now you’ve probably heard the basics, anyhow: 95’s “Ron & Ron” swept nearly every morning category for the first time; the Q Morning Zoo and the rest of 105’s lineup continue their tailspin; Power 93 is losing ground; and WARM and country kicker WQYK (99 FM) have shot to the top.
Here’s a few harsh notes from program directors around the dial on the latest ratings:
Scott Robbins, U92: “WHBO did not show! They’re gone. They’re not in the book.
“I’m sorry to see it happen. I am. Hey, I like Howard (Hewes) and Marvin (Boone). But they did it to themselves.”
Greg Mull, 98 Rock: “We’re happy that we’re still moving up. It wasn’t (as much as) I expected.
“The one thing I get out of the book is there’s only one morning show in this town in all formats. Until somebody puts a morning show on, all the Top 40 (listeners) are going to YNF.
“Cleveland – there’s a big vacuum over there (at Q105) where he’s sucking real bad. And the Pig – they’re doing what we’re doing, playing a lot of tunes.”
Tom Marshall, 95 YNF: “We try to be entertaining and informative to the listener but we also try to give them what they want. The ratings show the people prefer us over 98 Rock, at least in the demos we’re after.
“I think some of (the morning increase) is coming from Q105. The guys are hot. They may even be bringing in people who haven’t been listening to radio. And I think we’re getting people listening longer.
“(Power 93) spent a lot of money on cash giveaways and yet they dropped down. Maybe they’ve peaked a little bit. Maybe it’s just the audience sampling. Maybe because Q105 is going dance and urban, even though their numbers were down.
“(Q105) probably realized it’s a different situation than it was a few years ago. The heyday of Q105 is gone. The market is tougher and more fragmented. It’s tougher for any one station to dominate the way they had in the past.”
95! 95! 95! One place 98 Rock has been hurting 95 is in the evenings and at night.
“Nighttime has been a challenge for us,” says Tom Marshall. “It’s not unusual for a station like 98 Rock to do well at night. When AOR was core 18-24 adult, (night) was core. As they aged up, it was harder to get them to listen at night, they’re watching TV, playing with their kids.”
Marshall began a new assault on late-night listeners on July 23. He and Charlie Logan are fine-tuning the music from 7 p.m. on and adding something called “Revvin’ at Eleven” at 11 p.m.
“It’ll be an opportunity to air more new music and local music. It’ll be more sizzle, a little more of an attitude,” says Marshall. “Sometimes it could be a whole hour, other times it will be 20 to 30 minutes.”
Scott Phillips, Robert Reed and Don “The Hitman” Capone maintain their positions as the overnight guys.
“I know they’re weird,” he said, “but I don’t care.”
The St. Petersburg-based jazz singer also has a distinctive tattoo on his left forearm.
“This was supposed to be Dennis the Menace, but the blond hair didn’t show up too good,” he said, joking. “I got it when I was in the Marine Corps, part of my crazy days.”
All of which had nothing to do with why this 36-year-old man can sing and “scat” with incredible precisions and style. But physical appearance is part of the image, and Johnson is pretty straight-arrow aside from these quirks.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t sing, since I was 4 years old,” he said. “It was just a gift that the good Lord gave me. It’s helped me jump some barriers that might otherwise have been insurmountable. Music is my life.”
When it comes to jazz in the bay area, more people will probably recognize Johnson ahead of any “name” performers at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday.
FOR THREE years a fixture at B.B. Joe’s management, Jim Reichle and Greg McCarthy, for much of his good fortune.
“I started at B.B. Joe’s about a month after it opened. Not too many guys that do improvisational music like I do keep a gig three years. We’ve developed both a professional and a personal relationship.”
Johnson came to St. Petersburg from Boston in 1977. He first turned up in these parts at the Hurricane Lounge in Pass-a-Grille with Bobby Kostreva.
Perhaps the brightest star in a small constellation of regional jazz acts, Johnson, together with Kamau Kenyatta, has forged a strong reputation in an area noted for limited support of live music in any category.
“It’s certainly an evolving area. I’ve been here eight years. I’ve seen the growth, and I’ve seen the changes in attitude. I really think the Tampa Bay area is fusing its likes. A lot of professional folks are coming out, more people are traveling between Tampa and St. Petersburg. I think they’re learning to appreciate it.”
JAZZ IS not the easiest musical art form to market. Club owners get afraid they’re not going to make the dollar they would if they put in recorded music.
“A lot of good concerts are coming to the area with Ruth Eckerd Hall Modern Jazz Quartet, Wynton Marsalis – I think that’s done a lot to educate the community about how varied the music is.”
Johnson blends popular and standard music with improvisational leanings. “There are people that say I’m not the purist I used to be,” he said. “What’s important to me is to give good quality, a feel, your own signature.
“When I started here, the audience was more into standards. I’ve moved more into the pop vein the past few years.”
This year, people will find Johnson a little more electric than in the past. The band has added a second synthesizer player and is performing a lot more original material.
Kenyatta, a triple threat on soprano saxophone, tenor sax and synthesizer, is the leader of Johnson’s group and writes much of their original compositions.
“KAMAU IS a very creative writer,” Johnson said. “We’ve been together as musical partners since 1980.” The two met in Detroit. “I consider him to be my best friend and my musical planet.”
Two of Kenyatta’s songs – “The Sailing Song” and “For Lady Day” -. have become. Johnson standards. Another, “All My Own,” which Kenyatta wrote with Mike Scaglione, is very special to the singer.
“Kamau said when he wrote it he had me in mind. It’s about a singer who goes out into the world and tries to make it:
As long as I can glue
I’ll keep shining, growing, singing, growing. . .
Now I’ve found others of the same mind
Now the road is not too hard to bear
I thank God, who brought us together.
“I’m sure that’s an example of a lot of groups, but that’s what it’s all about. When you Ian hnd people you know are really–on you-r side and support you, that’s what it’s all about.”
Together, Johnson and Kenyatta composed “Journey,” “I’m Glad to Know” (a recently released single) and “Regina” (pronounced HEY-zheena).
“Kamau is sort of the solidifier,” Johnson said. “He has the ability to put together a collection of ideas into a finished product. He has said he’s not sure of the finished product until I sing it. I’m basically just an interpreter. They give it to me and I blow that final breath of life into it.”
FILLING OUT the quartet are bassist Mark Neuenschwander; Scaglione, who can play alto sax, flute and synthesizer; and drummer John Jenkins.
This is the group that will play the festival. Guitarist Todd Dykman will join them on stage, and he will be replacing Neuenschwander in the group. Following the festival, Ted Thomas, formerly a drummer with Earl Klugh, will take Jenkins’ place.
“It’s hard for me to do that,” Johnson said of the replacements. “And you don’t want to put anyone out of work. That was probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to do, tell someone that I have to make a change. (But) as you grow, your direction changes.”
“For the first time in my life,” he added, “I’m considering having a manager and agent. I love this area, and I always want to work here, but my scope is broadening and I think it’s time to gain some national recognition.”
The fans started waiting around the parking lot at 5:30 p.m.
Most never got to see more than the back of Jimmy Page’s head, but it didn’t matter. They were there, and so was he.
Page arrived at rock radio station WYNF 95-FM just after 11 p.m. Monday night. Smiling slightly, he was surrounded by about a dozen people, including security guards, promoters and radio station personnel.
The guitarist was herded off to a studio, out of reach of the media and the 10 people who had been invited to the station to meet him.
Page, in the area rehearsing with the Firm for the kick-off of their 1986 concert tour at the University of South Florida Sun Dome tonight at 8 p.m. (tickets, available through Select-A-Seat are $15, reserved seating) came to be interviewed by people across North America during a rare remote broadcast of RockIine, a weekly, 9O-minute call-in talk show which is simultaneously broadcast via satellite to 135 stations in the United States and Canada.
“It is an honor to be speaking with you,” began Kurt from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma “I hope someday to meet you in person.”
Rockline normally originates from Los Angeles, where host Bob Coburn is a disc jockey at KLOS. The last time the program hit the road was to go to Texas last spring to talk to Page’s former mate from Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant.
“You can see the stature of artist that it takes to drag me out of L.A.,” says Coburn.
“We feel Jimmy Page transcends rock ‘n’ roll – it’s a cliche, but if there is such a thing as a legend, he certainly qualifies,” Coburn says.
Led Zeppelin released its first album in 1969, its last in 1982. “Stairway to Heaven,” a solemn, winding ballad, is the song that defines the essence of the band, but the Zeppelin could rock hard and fast, as on “Communication Breakdown “and “Whole Lotta Love.” The band’s followers remain fanatic in their devotion to Page and Plan” who reunited publicly for the first time at Live Aid last summer. Rumors are still strong that Led Zeppelin will officially get back together sometime this year- sooner if the Firm doesn’t pan out.
While Page was on the air with Coburn, the Firm’s bass player Tony Franklin wandered about the WYNF studios, chatting with fans and posing for pictures.
Janice Cohen was one of the lucky ones. She took a picture of her 14year-old daughter Joann with Franklin, then posed for a picture with them. Mrs. Cohen got the chance to beat the studio by winning a contest for the best excuse for being late to work. She refused to repeat the rea…, son, citing acute embarrassment.
One of the callers asked Page if playing with Franklin, singer Paul Rodgers, and drummer Chris Slade in the Firm was different from working with Led Zeppelin.
“For me, playing with the Firm it’s three new guys. The output of each guy is obviously different from Zeppelin. Hopefully, it’s something you enjoy; it appears you do,” said Page. Outside the studio, almost three dozen fans – mostly young men had car radios turned up or carried portables. Those in front of the building congregated beneath the window they decided’ Page was behind.
I wish they’d open the curtains,” an unidentified man said.
“He’s a great artist,” said Mike Edwards, 21, of St. Petersburg, when asked why he was standing in wet grass outside a two-story building after midnight. Edwards was wearing a T-shirt that read “Drunken State.”
“There’s only two groups that I’d do this for,” he continued. “One is the Beatles. The other is Led Zeppelin/The Firm. Wouldn’t do it for anybody else. I’d be out partying … I still can’t believe he’s here.”
A man called Rockline and asked Page about an album the guitarist played on called White Boy’s Blues.
“I don’t know anything about it,” Page said, irritated. “I don’t have any bootlegs.”
“Oh, I don’t think it’s a bootleg,” the man insisted.
“Tell me what titles are on it,” Page said.
“I don’t know,” the man responded. “I can’t read. I’m blind.”
“Well, if you don’t know the titles,” said Page, “I can’t help you.”
It was the only evidence of the guitarist’s legendary short temper, but the incident caused the guys sitting on their car hoods to shake their heads at their hero’s insensitivity.
At the back of the building, several men and women were waiting to see Page depart after the show.
“This band here started rock ‘n’ roll,” said Scott Henkel, 20, of Clear-OJ’ water. “If it weren’t for them, there wouldn’t be no bands. Zeppelin is the number one band. I wouldn’t be here if it was any other band. I wish they were still together. They mean a lot to me. If it wasn’t for Led Zeppelin, I don’t know if I would listen to music.”
Night disc jockey Charlie Logan was thrilled about Page’s appearance at the station.
“I’m excited about it and I’ve been in rock ‘n’ roll for a long time. But when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, is there a bigger name? Mick Jagger might be a bigger name in a certain demographic, but Led Zeppelin I’ crosses all demographics. My brother-in-Iaw would love to be here. My 8-year-old nephew would kill to be here.”
Logan was quite an attraction himself. Several women asked him to pose with them for photos.
“This is a very big moment for the station,” he said. ‘4We’re getting a lot of exposure – it’s because we have a lot of respect nationally that we were able to do this.”
WYNF was just one of the local places the Firm could be spotted in the past two weeks. The first sighting was made at the Del Fuegos concert at London Victory Club last Thursday; several band members reported1ywentbackto the Tampa club last weekend. The group rehearsed this past week at the Sun Dome.
After the interview, contest winners were escorted in pairs to meet Page and get their pictures taken with him. (He had autographed albums for them earlier.)
“I thought it went very well,” described host Coburn. “Jimmy’s manager was even commenting on what fine form Jimmy was in.”
Curelop agreed. “He was a very gracious guest, seemed very glad to be here. Sometimes you hear about people and their bad reputations- I didn’t see any of that tonight.”
Singing in a recent episode of the syndicated TV show Fame, helping the students of a performing arts school understand the importance of speaking up for their futures relative to a nuclear freeze;
Singing in the upcoming July 13 “Live Aid” concert in Philadelphia – alongside Mick Jagger and Duran Duran – in a benefit for the starving in Ethiopia, and;
Singing at Ruth Eckerd Hall before a sold-out crowd on Sunday night, despite the lingering after-effects of a bout with laryngitis. ,’.
Baez, is more visible in the summer of 1985 than she has been in years, full of irrepressible spirit and determination, still ambitious to educate minds and change perceived injustices, yet balanced by the times rind their limitations.
Baez played 13 songs in about 70 minutes, apologizing frequently for the condition of what she felt was a ravaged voice. Actually, the 43-year-old singer hit her notes more than she missed and even if she did miss, there gill are very few people who could do better.
Besides her music, the most entertaining taste Baez left was not of her left-wing politics and convictions for her humor.
She introduced a new song called “Recently” this way: “This is the song I wrote for people my age who get married, had children, got divorced, went through bitterness and then more bitterness . . . This song helped me – for about an hour and a half.”
Her impression of friend Bob Dylan near the end of “Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts” (which he wrote) was hilarious, as was her jabs at Tina Turner before singing a surprisingly touching acoustic cover of “Private Dancer.”
There were political moments, of course. “Everything happened in the ‘60s, but if we don’t do anything in the ‘80s, we won’t have the ‘90s,” she said before singing “Children of the ‘80s.” The funny, sometimes poignant lyrics ticked off current interests, music, style in health and fashion – and their attendant hypocrasies.
“Warriors of the Surf” had the best line of the night:
“You prove you’re needy by eating dog food;
“One of these days, the Alpo’s gonna hit the fan.”
Another song, “Freedom,” had a pedigree as riveting as its lyrics. Baez said she had once sung it to wake up Martin Luther King Jr., as well as to the dissident Sakharovs in the Soviet Union, from the roof of a building in Hanoi during a bombing raid, and more recently, for Bishop Desmond Tutu in San Francisco.
To give her voice a break, Baez read an excerpt from a book she is, writing. It provided vivid imagery, first from her kitchen window, then out into the heavens of Star Wars, down to earth in Nicaragua and the American farmland, off to the American hostages in Beirut, to Israel for the release of Shiite prisoners “not because of pressure but because it’s a good time of year,” and finally back to things flowery and sweet. It was “Doonesbury,” “Bloom County,” the Democratic Party and everything to the left rolled into one, and left a desire for a look at the rest of the book in the future.
Mike Reno, the lead singer, gave her a big hug and a kiss.
So did the other four members of the rock ‘n’ roll band.
They also signed her handmade, blue Loverboy scrapbook- full of pictures, headlines and ticket stubs, with a page devoted to each musician – and a white hotel towel with an arrow green stripe down the middle. “I got this towel- it was around Mike’s neck at the Blossom in Ohio,” recalled Kelly Thorsby. “I tried to get ‘onstage and a roadie gave me this.”
Miss Thorsby, a 17-year-old high school senior dressed in green blouse, skirt, beads and earrings, was quaking with joy, shaking in disbelief.
SHE WAS one of more than 700 fans of the rock ~ Loverboy to stand in line for autographs, pictures. arid’ kisses in the Peaches record store on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. The band stopped by Friday afternoon on the way to play a concert in Lakeland.
Are you okay?” asked her friend, Kelli Kovalchik, 18, who flew in from Ohio with Miss Thorsby.
“No,” Miss Thorsby answered. “I’m gonna pass out.”
“She paid $400 for a plane ticket to fly here for the weekend to see them,” her friend explained.
Told by her sister to calm down, Miss Thorsby- in tears – said, “I can’t, I can’t! This is my _dream, my ultimate dream. to Seconds later, she burst out: “I knocked Paul (Dean) off his chair! I can’t believe I did that!” Mike Reno’s response to his fan’s devotion?
“HE LAUGHED at me. Mike Reno… he kissed me! Did you see it? He’s going, ‘Just don’t attack me.’ … He got marker on my hand. I’ll never wash it.”
The surprising thing was that Miss Thorsby traveled so far just to get an autograph. She wasn’t planning to go to the concert, referring to wait until the hand plays Cleveland next week.
“She’s not to going to see us at the concert?” drummer Matt Frenette asked later. “(She) just came to see us here? Unbelievable.”
A vast majority of the autograph seekers were women. And for a band with hits like “Get Lucky,” “The Kid Is Hot Tonite,” “Lovin’ Every Minute of It” and “Hot Girls in Love,” there could be no more appropriate fan.
Pretty women – chosen by band members – were taken aside by the band’s road manager and tempted to the night’s show with back stage passes.
IN THE meantime, mother surged their daughters to kiss the boys in the band while they took pictures.
But one of the most interesting interactions between the band members and their fans came when a woman carrying a small baby arrived at the front of the line.
“Oh! What a cutie!” sighed Frenette. “What’s her name?”
“Tiffany,” said the mother.
“She a good kid?”
“She’s a very good. kid.”
As mother and child took their leave, the 32-year-old musician waved.
There were three times Saturday night when a person in the more than half-empty Ruth Eckerd Hall could have forgotten that Jermaine -Jackson was you-Know-Who-With-the-Gloves older brother.
The first was during a handsome version of his biggest hit, “Do What You Do.” Jackson pushed his voice and emotional range to its limit in making a strong vocal and visual demonstration. It was the first time ali night he sounded like a lead singer instead of someone in the chorus.
The second and third instances came immediately thereafter.
“Feeling Free,” a funky chestnut from one of his first Motown solo albums, was the peak of an extravagant light show, hot band and Jackson himself melding together for the first time. Unfortunately, it was the penultimate song of the evening.
For his encore, Jackson pumped up his most recent single, “I Think It’s Love.” And in a rare relaxation of house rules, people were allowed to rush to the edge of the stage and shake hands with Jermaine, creating an electric atmosphere as he sang a nine-minute version of the perky tune.
The closeness with his fans was exactly the opposite of what his brother might have done and that left a good impression.
So much for the good news.
The first 50 minutes of Jackson’s 70-minute concert was simply a disappointment.
Appearing onstage half an hour late and without an opening act, Jackson wore a gold lame cape, jacket, slacks and suspenders. Under the jacket he wore a white muscle T-shirt.
For the first four song, “Dynamite,” “Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’,” “Come to Me,’ and “I Hear a Heart Beat,” Jackson couldn’t be heard over the percussion.
Between then and “Do What You Do,”; the three female back-up singers were the lead vocals, or so it seemed. Jermaine sounded as though he was still doing harmony parts behind Michael’s faisetto in the Jackson Five.
Speaking of which:
“Seventeen years ago, my brothers and I created a musical force that captured the world,” Jermaine said, modestly, of course. “All we wanted to do was give love, peace and harmony through our music.”
And here’s where Jermaine, on his first solo tour ever, made a tactical error, performing a medley of J5 hits that Michael originally sang lead on “I’ll Be There,” “I Want You Back,” “ABC” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.”
It was a mistake because it invites comparisons. And “Jermaine just doesn’t compare to Michael.
Wait “a minute, though. Who can compare to Michael Jackson?
The point is that Jermaine invites the comparison and it isn’t necessary. Compare him against other current R&B acts with big l0-piece band & and Jermaine shines. As a solo artist, he has had plenty of success with good songs, from “Let’s Get Serious” to “Do What You Do.”
In a relatively brief show like this one, Jermaine early on needed to attain the level he reached at the end of his Eckerd Hall concert, then top it. Undeniably, he has- the-tools; he just needs more practice asserting himself and what he is today, not what he was part of a decade ago.
(The following story first appeared in Tampa Bay Life Magazine in 1990 and was reprinted in the book Navigating the Yellow Stream.)
By Bob Andelman
First things first: I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs. Never have.
So, why did I fail my drug test?
It was May 1987 and the Tampa Tribune had just hired me to replace long-time pop music critic David Okamoto. To celebrate my first day on the job – and his last – Okamoto and I went to lunch. I ate a fried grouper sandwich on a poppy-seed bun and a root beer.
My second day on the job, I became only the second new employee of the newspaper to be subject to a drug test, which were then coming into vogue. I drove to a lab on West Kennedy Boulevard, peed in a cup and went back to work.
I wasn’t thrilled that the Tribune was subjecting me to this – it is an invasion of privacy at the very least – but I went along to show I could toe the company line. There was some justifiable hesitation to hiring a 26-year-old who had never had a full-time job despite years of being a correspondent for the Pulitzer Prize-winning St. Petersburg Times (which does not test employees for drugs) and other publications. I wanted to prove to the editors and myself that I could play the game.
And besides: I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs. Never have. There was nothing for me to worry about.
A few days after the test, a terse, middle-aged woman called me from the testing laboratory. She said I had tested positive for opium and heroin. The tests showed these drugs in my body.
“You’re crazy!” I screamed. “You obviously mixed up the tests.” She said that was impossible. I told her to run the tests again. She said they had already done that. I distinctly suggested that the test was flawed. She said the tests are infallible. She told me to take the matter up with the Tribune’s personnel department, which had already been informed of the positive results. I cursed her and hung up, stunned.
Personnel was quite dubious. Who wouldn’t doubt that a rock ‘n’ roll critic was a drug user? seemed to be the prevailing attitude. No one was surprised that I failed, which was extremely disheartening in terms of the way you are perceived. I took the matter up with my editors, who were uneasy. They knew my professional reputation to be pretty good but personally, they knew me not. To their credit – and my relief – they decided to support me.
Because I was one of the first Trib employees required to urinate for a paycheck, there was considerable interest in the newsroom in the results. My own loud anger made it easy for my deskmates to guess what was going on; I filled in one or two of them and word got around fast to the rest.
Features writer Warren Epstein, who now works with Okamoto at the Pulitzer Prize-winning Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph (which does not test employees for drugs), had just read a wire story on the types of foods that can cause false results in drug tests. That’s when we developed the poppy-seed theory: Poppy is the plant from which opium is derived. We suspected that my grouper on poppy-seed bun skewed the tests.
(For the record, opiates are detectable in the bloodstream for two days.)
Expecting to clear myself, I called the lab back and described my lunch. The technician stonewalled me. Poppy-seeds, he bloodlessly informed me, do not affect urinalysis. I protested to no avail.
Armed with this information, however, former BayLife editor Judy Hamilton accompanied me to former managing editor Paul Hogan’s office. (The Tribune ain’t who it used to be.) Hogan clearly had his doubts. I was ready to tell him to shove my job. We agreed to a second, binding test. This time, Michael Kilgore (now assistant managing editor for features) would have the joyless task of watching me pee into yet another jar to be certain the results weren’t tainted. He literally followed the path of the liquid to the lab.
Then I waited. I fielded endless inquiries from my new colleagues at the Tribune – and my old friends at the St. Petersburg Times who knew me better and were astonished. What impressed me was how fast the results of my CONFIDENTIAL drug test were broadcast across two counties. I heard from people I hadn’t talked to in years, including story sources. Reporters are notorious gossips – especially about each other.
The results came back – negative. The lab tech who called this time denied the first test was flawed, but couldn’t argue the end result. No opium. No heroin.
I was cleared as far as the Tribune hierarchy was concerned, but for the six months I stuck around – things didn’t get much better after such a lousy start – I never quite felt the stigma was erased. People who got to know me realized I wasn’t stoned on or off the job, but those who didn’t know me and heard the story doubtless believed I had pulled a fast one.
The irony is this: Three years after the Tribune began drug testing of new employees, it reprinted an editorial from the Baltimore Sun which read, in part:
“It seems the black poppy seeds sprinkled on some bagels and rolls leave a residue in the system that may resemble heroin in urine sample tests.
“The seeds don’t make you high, of course. But try explaining to your boss that you weren’t really taking drugs Friday night – just pigging out on bagels and cream cheese.”
“This is like the guy next door that you grew up with,” says Russ Albums. “If you wanted to have a best friend, this would be the guy. He’s a prince.” It’s one of those nights.
Saturday night at Tampa’s Rock-It Club and a few hundred people are crowded together, ready to party. Pretty young women in skin-tight half shirts, mini-skirts and teased hair. Rugged young men in tight jeans, leather boots and air guitars strapped over their shoulders.
One man has brought them all together.
Unfortunately, he’s got about a million other places he’d rather be right now.
It’s not the club, the audience, the pay or anything else but him. Bobby Friss plays rock ‘n’ roll 300 nights a year — tonight he wishes it was only 299 nights.
But standing outside in the cool air after his first low-key set, Friss is mentally preparing to give his best when he goes back in, whether his heart is in it or not. That’s just the kind of guy he is.
“It’s one of those nights,” he says with a shrug, that silly grin coming up from under several pounds of blond hair. “You play the same thing so many times. I have played 300 nights a year for 15 years. So playing a Saturday night in Tampa is not an ‘I can’t wait to do it.’ ‘Cause I do it every night.
“My days for 15 years have been, get up, take care of business, take a shower and come to work and play music. Just ’cause people get revved up and say, ‘I’m going to see Bobby Friss!’ — it’s just another rock ‘n’ roll night to me.”
The grin becomes a frown. Friss — by all accounts the most professional, workman-like musician in the state of Florida — knows what he’s said is the truth but it’s also a mood. It will pass — in fact it already has. “I’m going to have to turn myself up a gear,” he says to no one in particular. “A night like tonight, to be honest, I need a kick in the ass. I came in here tonight apathetic.”
Trouble is, an average night in Tampa before his hometown fans pales after the experiences of the last few weeks. Overfl ow Spring Break crowds in Daytona Beach and Panama City. Opening gigs for Otis Day & the Nights and comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Over 40,000 people in Pensacola. “Then I come to the Rock-It Club on a Saturday night and it’s a little anti-climactic,” he says. ” People don’t understand. They work days at a computer, they slow down, take a break. I can’t do that. I’m on stage. I control the crowd. If I’m crazy, they’re crazy. If I do nothing, they sit there like flounder. I want them to have fun.”The Act
“You have to do more. Nobody is blown away by virtuousity. They work all day, they want to be entertained at night. They don’t want to see guys getting off playing guitar.”
“You have to literally reach out and strangle the audience. There’s just too many distractions. I’d love to be Bruce Springsteen, singing just my songs. But you’re the sideline at the club, you’re not the main act. That’s why I’ve become the guy who jumps on the table, slugs down a beer. Whatever it takes. I can’t stand having a room full of p eople milling around, not watching what I’m doing. The only thing worse than playing to an empty house is playing to a packed house that’s not watching. Whatever it takes, I’ll do.
“Once, a guy at a club had inversion boots. I hung from scaffolding 30 feet above the stage playing my guitar. I’ve gone across streets and stopped cars and played on their roofs while the band is playing indoors. I invited the whole audience on stage one night at the 49th Street Mining Co.
“I randomly select somebody every night and slide a Miller Genuine Draft down my guitar neck into their waiting hand. I do it every night. It’s predictable, but everybody gets up to see it. It’s like Sammy Davis Jr. doing ‘Candyman.’
ART HAEDIKE, owner, Porthole Lounge, Tampa: “He’s played his guitar in the parking lot. Once, he was singing in the john with the microphone and you’d hear the toilet flush.”
RUSS ALBUMS, WYNF (95 FM) disc jockey: “”He’ll sit down and schmooze with the audience and let them play his guitar while he has a beer.”
RICK RICHEY, childhood friend: “I rember walking through the parking lot of Mr. T’s Club 19 in Clearwater and he was standing there with his cordless guitar, wailing away. I was trying to figure out what was going on.”
“It’s a ‘slap’ society. People want something to slap them in the face. You get overlooked if you’re subtle.”
“We play about four or five originals a set and I better do some damn good cover material in between because these people are too primed to hear it.
“It’s too bad. We should be able to just play our own music. But I think even Led Zeppelin — unknown — would have a problem doing three sets of original material.
“The bands in Tampa Bay playing one or two nights a week — I guarantee they’re doing day jobs and starving.
“I run a business. The band is on salary. As soon as I decide we’re only playing originals, only playing concert-type shows, I take away the tightness of the band. In order to sustain their lifestyles, the guys would have to get day jobs. That’s what breaks up bands. Some weeks you don’t work, you work one night. The music becomes a sidelight. Right now, this is what we do. No distractions. During the day, we write, we record. We work on furthering our careers.
“Stranger and myself gross the most money among bands in town. That’s not to say there aren’t a town of other bands that aren’t as good as we are or better. The thing is, we’re the ones playing cover songs on Tuesdays and Wednesday nights. These other bands don’t want to do it. That’s great, but they’re not going to have the big money, they’re going to have to get a second job.
ART HAEDIKE, Owner, Porthole Lounge, Tampa: “When they say Bobby Friss cleans up at the Porthole, they’re right: we have him sweep up and he washes my car.
“He’s a good, consistent act. One of the best, if not the best, rock ‘n’ roll entertainers in Tampa Bay. Bobby works the crowd. A quick wit, lots of extraneous stuff. He gets more money than most of the other bands that play here. Maybe they haven’t rubbe d elbows with the right people yet. But they’re probably the best club act working. The nights are a little better when he’s around.”The Studio
Returning to the studio early in 1990 to record his second album, Friss took a long hard look at his first effort and decided it wasn’t the best he could be. There were only a few songs — “Long Way Down” and “Can’t Come Back,” which has become a local radio staple — that he is fully satisfied with two years later. It is driving him to do be more critical this time around.
“I learned a lot,” he says. “There’s good parts, but I don’t think, overall, the songs hold up.”
There are two roadblocks for Friss on his new record. First, because of his budget limitations, he must once again produce the album himself. Despite the engineering expertise of Morrisound Chief Engineer Jim Morris, that can be a drawback in the experien ce department. “I know what sound I want,” says Friss. “But I don’t necessarily know how to get the sound.”
Another problem is time. Being on the road five days out of every six cuts into available recording hours. That’s why the first album was done over four months instead of four weeks. “I just go in and do it when I can,’ says the guitarist. “It’d be nice to go in and do a month straight but I can’t afford the time.” When he’s on the road, Friss reviews tapes, making notes and plans for alterations.
Friss will rarely sample a new song in a club before it’s been recordedIt’s His Band
Note the name of the group: The Bobby Friss Band.
When he first formed a quartet in 1983, one thing was established from the beginning: “It was going to be my band,” says Friss. “I make the decisions, the song selections.”
Friss likes to be in control. He follows and believes strongly in his own muse, to the point of writing and composing almost all of his band’s original material. “We haven’t collaborated that much because if we get a record deal, I’d like to get it with my material,” he admits. “Not so much for my ego, but I’d like to show I have that capability.”
“My career is directed. I know what I’m doing.
Friss’s older brother Jay — a.k.a. “Ray Blade” — is the drummer in the Johnny G. Lyon Band.
His younger sister, Susie, is a schoolteacher.
His father Dick — “the oldest rock ‘n’ roller in the universe,” according to Friss — is the night auditor at the Paradise Lakes nudist resort in Land ‘o Lakes. He is also the older gentleman at every Friss Band show wearing a black satin “Bobby Friss Band” jacket.
“They say you must be proud,” says Papa Friss. “But if your kid is in sports or music, you go see them play. If you’ve got a kid who sells socks at Maas Brothers, you don’t go see him work. I’ve got a daughter who teaches school but I’ve never seen her teach. But why should I sit home and stare at a TV when Bob’s in town? I t’s entertaining.”
Dick and Bobby’s mom, Jackie — who lives in Rochester, N.Y. — were divorced in 1973.
Michele Wyatt, Friss’s new bride, met the musician in Michigan when he was managed by her brother Warren. Warren was reportedly not too happy with the arrangement at first. The Wyatts have a third sibling, Brett, who is quite close to Friss. Growing Up
Music wasn’t Bobby Friss’s first love. That would be sports — particularly basketball.
“Bobby’s an obsessive kind of guy,” says his dad, Dick Friss. “He was not a natural athlete, not gifted. But he forced himself. He shot baskets until after dark. He’d shoot and shoot and he made varsity at Largo High. He was never going to be a built-in basketball player, but he forced himself to get better by persistence. The same thing with the guitar. Nobody said, ‘We want you to take up the guitar.’ He went into room his with a Sears Roebuck guitar and just practiced.”
Dick says his youngest son was not the kind of boy to announce his intentions to the family — he’d just go out and do things. Like the day he took up pole-vaulting. “I said you’re a what? A pole-vaulter? He said running around a track eight times wasn’t a s much fun.” Or when the Largo Sentinel hired him to write about sports at his high school and the family found out about it by accident — seeing his byline in the newspaper. Friss was paid by the inch, so he wrote about everything from badminton to tiddylwinks, including describing his own play in basketball games — “Friss scored 10 points” — in the third person. “That’s just the way he’s always been,” says Dick, laughing.
“I was really into sports as a kid,” says Friss. “I didn’t pick up the guitar until I was 17. I missed the Beatles and Motown — I had to go back to them because I was out shooting baskets.”
Rick Richey has known Friss since they were in 7th grade together. He remembers when his pal would take his guitar out to Indian Rocks Beach every summer night and sit on the seawall, playing for the passing crowd. And Richey was road manager for the first Friss band, U.S. Steel, which played its one and only job at an apartment complex dance.
Not that Largo teen life was all dribble and strum.
“My senior year in high school I was not in the crowd I needed to be in,” says Friss. “”Let’s just say I was experienced with everything. It wasn’t a healthy environment. I was probably hanging out with people who are doing the same things now they were then.”
“By his own smarts, he rejected the things many people find it hard to reject,” says Dick.
After graduating from Largo, Friss packed a pillowcase full of clothes, grabbed his guitar and hitched rides north to Michigan. He moved in with family and eventually enrolled in journalism at Central Michigan University. If he didn’t apply his basketball intensity to studying, he at least invested his time well in practicing the guitar.
“I didn’t know anybody and the winter cold was ungodly,” says Friss. “I stayed inside and played and played. That was the year that secured my love for music — there wasn’t anything else to do.”
Higher education lasted less than two years, but Friss went on to a higher calling. He formed his first band, Force, and toured with it for six years from Michigan to Florida. He left the group in ’81 and spent six months seeking work as a songwriter in New York before relocating to Orlando. The Bobby Friss Band was formed there in 1983, although all the faces save Friss’s have changed through the years.
As Real As It Gets
In 1981, the Rolling Stones were the first rock ‘n’ roll band to have corporate sponsor — Jovan. Since then, it’s hard to find any act on the road that isn’t shilling for some product or service. Paul McCartney does it for credit cards; Tina Turner does it for cars. So it wasn’t too surprising that when Miller Beer was looking to make a long-term promotional investment in its Genuine Draft brand years ago, it searched the country for young musicians with bright futures who needed a leg up. For 10 years now, the brewery has provided promotions and music equipment for bands such as the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Del Fuegos, the Rainmakers and, since 1987, the Bobby Friss Band.
“It’s a validation of his talents that Miller would pick him up,” says Bill Templeton, editor of Players magazine in St. Petersburg. “He’s paid his dues here, always ranked as one of the top bands in town. When people see him, they know they’re going to get the goods.”
“You play for eight or ten years without corporate sponsors and you know the daily grind of paying $4 for a guitar string,” says Friss. “Then they come in and say we’re going to give you strings, instruments, guitars, posters — all these things that otherwise come out of my pocket. They step in and become big brother. There’s no cash exchanged — just equipment and promotion.”
The promotional boost is probably the best part. Each year, all 26 bands in the Miller Network attend a seminar on upcoming promotions, expectations, and public relations. They are skillfully taught how to talk to disc jockeys, reporters, club owners and fans. Then the Miller machine guides them from city to city with local advertising, parties, in-club posters, glossy pictures suitable for autographs and plenty of media contact. Friss has also recorded nationally broadcast radio commercials in which he sings the brew’s jingle and is I.D.’ed as “Florida’s Bobby Friss Band” at the end.
Miller has been a dream come true for Friss’s agent, Omni Talent vice president Rick Young. “He’s very easy to book,” according to Young. “He’s popular in nearly every city in Florida. Miller’s been very helpful with that.
“I go to Louisville, Kentucky to do a one-nighter and the PR people at Miller have already set up interviews with two radio stations,” marvels Friss. “They usually play a song or two off our record. Here I am, unsigned to a record company, getting airplay on a major station.
“Advertising money talks,” he adds, referring to the power of the beer company’s enormous marketing budget and its potential to pull dollars from uncooperative media.
Is there a downside for Friss?
“If there is,” he says, “I haven’t seen it. At no point in the night do I hold up a beer and say, ‘Let’s have Miller Geunine Draft.’ That’s not what they want you to do. They want to be associated with you. (The audience) will figure if you’re affiliated with it, it must be good. And if it wasn’t a good beer, I wouldn’t drink it.” (Trivia: While in Michigan, Friss was a Stroh’s drinker; prior to the Miller deal, he preferred Budweiser in Florida.)
What does Miller get out of the connection?
“We feel the Bobby Friss Band has a lot of potential,” says spokesperson Mary Houlihan. “We want to help Bobby as much as we can. We think he’s going places. Miller wants to take the burden off promoting their tours. If they’re going to do six weeks of one-nighters, it takes their concentration off the music. We want them to do what they do best — perform their music.
“Miller is looking for a positive lifestyle association with these bands. They’re looking for people to go out, have a good time listening to the bands and the want Miller Genuine Draft to be a part of that. We don’t want them to be salesmen for the beer. One mention would be nice.”
“They’re trying to promote their Miller Genuine Draft Beer,” says Friss. “They’re looking for men 18 to 35.”
Participating bands don’t have to do much once they’re chosen for the Miller program. They place a banner behind them that reads “Miller Presents … ” They are introduced on stage the same way. They are not asked or even encouraged to shill for beer, although if they drink on stage or in a club, the company prefers they be seen with Miller products.The Studio
Drums make a variety of noises depending on how, where and how hard they are hit. Cymbals are even trickier.
Friss is behind the sound board in Morrisound Studios’ main recording studio, listening to drummer Leroy Myers bash the skins and cymbals. Neither is happy with the “crash” coming off the cymbals so they load up in Friss’s band and head for Thoroughbred Music on Hillsborough Avenue. This rock ‘n’ roll supermarket is to musicians what Home Depot is to handymen and Workplace is to small business people: Mecca. The Friss party immediately gets sidetracked by amps, the guitar museum, friends and fellow players.
“It’s a sweetheart isn’t it?” says Friss, caressing a ’62 vintage Stratocaster guitar. “It’s like Christmas everyday here.”
Morris, checking out amplifiers, says working with Friss in the studio is a unique experiencing. “He knows exactly what he wants,” says the engineer. “He’s one of the few self-produced artists who knows what he wants. He makes my job easier. He’s businesslike, efficient. It’s not a party. We get down to work and get results. He’s a very directed guy. I imagine he’s that way about the rest of his life. Planned out, doesn’t leave a lot to chance.”
Eventually, the group catches up with Myers in the drum department and Friss narrates the play-by-play.
“We’re in the drum department,” he begins. “This is the least interesting part of the place. It’s guys who beat on plastic and metal for a living. They pretend it’s music, but we know it’s just noise. Drummer are just diddlers … ”
Myers takes three cymbals at a time into a sound-proof room and Friss, Morris, Brett Wyatt and I make the mistake of following him in. Stick in hand, Myers bangs on each one numb to the Crash! in the rest of our ears.
“They all sound the same to me,” says Friss.
“They’re all different!” protests Myers as Friss laughs.
Myers has lasted longer than any other player in the Friss band — six years. They met as rivals in a Michigan “Battle of the Bands” competition in ’79. Years later, Myers was vacationing in Florida when Friss called. Now, when the band hits the road, Friss and Myers are roommates. (Myers likes his hotel rooms freezing, Friss prefers moderate.)The Next Day
Returning to Morrisound for the last time before the band hits the road for most of April, Friss is concerned about a ballad he has recorded, “Lonely One.”
“It’s still got some holes in it,” he complains to Jim Morris. “It’s hard to believe we have as much as we do in there — it’s still empty.
“It’s good to have some holes,” rebuffs Morris. One recurrent critical blast against Friss is his habit of putting to much sound on his recordings. He’s not from the less is more school of thought.
Rock radio station WYNF and the old Mr. T’s Club 19 sponsor a benefit concert for the Children’s Home of Tampa — a residential treatment center for abused and neglected kids — featuring local bands and master of ceremonies Bobby Friss. They raised $5,000.
For Friss, it was a major turning point: the star turn helps break him out of the pack of club bands and begins his association with the Children’s Home. The connection has grown from playing and organizing the annual holiday show to regular trips to the non-profit’s villas, where Friss plays his guitar, shoots baskets and presents youngsters with a positive role-model. It has also put him in a position to rub elbows with the Children’s Home’s better-known benefactors, including the Bullards and Steinbrenners.
Friss donated proceeds from the song “Suzie Darling” off his first album to the Home. And he’s hoping to organize a “Christmas in July” concert to benefit the Home this summer.
“I did it at first because it made me feel good, giving something back. At Christmas, it’s nice to think about other people,” says Friss. “Now it’s just part of me. It’s not, oh, I gotta do my Christmas thing. I go out there all the time. I break the stereotype of what a guy with long hair who plays in a band can be. They don’t need me to tell kids right and wrong. They like me to come out and be a friend. I like to go because the kids are cool.”
“The kids love him,” says Michele Pernula, public relations coordinator for the Children’s Home. “Your initial thought of a rock ‘n’ roller is not Bobby Friss, other than the long hair. He’s just been a wonderful person, a great role-model for the kids, too. He tells them to keep hanging in there, work hard, and you’ll do well.
Year-’round involvement is important to Friss, because it helps dispel the notion he’s involved just because it makes good P.R. For instance, while he has a basketball court in his own backyard, he prefers to play at the Home.
“I use it all the time,” he says. Then, laughing, “I helped buy it.”
Birdies and Bogeys
When he’s in town and not recording, Friss hits the links with WYNF (95 FM) air personality Russ Albums and Greg Billings of Stranger.
“He’s got that rock ‘n’ roll swing,” says Albums. “It’s a pure powerfade with a grunt like you heard when (boxer) John Mugabi gives you a punch in the solar plexus, a rush of wind like Hurricane Elena through your ears. Then we go looking for the ball.”
On a good day, Friss says he’ll shoot a 90, but 100 is more likely. “I just haven’t turned the corner,” he says. “I’ll shoot a couple good holes, then I fall apart.”
They play “wherever they want to comp us,” says Friss. “We’re fortunate. We have a lot of golf courses that like my music and Russ’s show.”
Golf has been good on the road as a soft public relations tool.
“Most DJs seem to play,” says Friss. “A lot of club owners play. It’s good to get to know people on a more personal level.”Mr. Business
There are three bottles of Miller Genuine Draft beer in the Friss refrigerator and one well-aged bottle of Seagram’s Wild Berry wine cooler. Bobby Friss may have his drinking tricks on stage, but at home, he’s stone cold sober.
“He’s almost a poster boy for the ‘Say No’ syndrome,” according to his father. “He uses (alcohol) in his act, but not in his personal life. You can’t be as busy as he is and be in a fog all time.”
That must be a significant difference between Friss and other local band leaders because virtually everyone interviewed about the musician commented on the sober focus he keeps on business matters.
“He’s been the most business-oriented musician for both the band and the club,” according to Art Haedike of the Porthole. “It’s always been, ‘What do we need so we can both make money?'”
Friss — whose band can draw anywhere from $500 to $4,000 for a night’s work — takes his role as benevolent dictator (his brother Jay jokingly refers to the position as “D.H.” — “Designated Hitler”) seriously. He is responsible for a six-man, full-time payroll — paid weekly in cash, incidentally, because that’s the way the band likes it. The four musicians and two roadies working for him rely entirely on the popularity and market value of the name Bobby Friss.
In the early days, Friss followed a simple philosophy: “In tune, on time, with clean hair.”
And forget about hoping to die before he gets old. This is a home-owning man getting married this June 17 with plans to have children and a future.
“Being 34 — if somebody else started working with a firm at 21, they’ve got 14 years of pennies put away by now. I don’t,” he says. “I’ve got to be prepared for that. But a guy in my position is always thinking you’re going to make that big jump, that you’re going to have so much money, which keeps you going, I guess.”
Leroy Myers says his boss is shrewd.
“We get more airplay than we probably deserve around here,” says the drummer. “That comes down to the fact that Bob, on a daily basis, deals well with people. I’m sure the disc jockeys and club owners see him differently than guys in younger bands who come in and say, ‘Hey, dude,’ and ‘Mind if I smoke a joint?’ They see him as an equal, a guy running his own business.”Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow
“He just needs that one break to make it to the big time,” says friend Rick Richey. “There’s no one more deserving than Bob.”
“In the nine years I’ve known him, he’s really changed a lot. If you really want to be successful at something like music you have top be single-minded and directed. But he has a good balancer and hasn’t lost that direction. He’s always looking the step ahead. He might be happy where he is,” but he’s not satisfied,” says Michele. “He’s never content to pat himself on the back and say, yeah, I’m doing okay. I think that’s why he’s making progress. And he’s very talented.”
“I like my house. I like being with Michele. This number one in my life. My number two life is being on the road,” says Friss. “But if I get a record deal and it means six months on the road opening concerts for Whitesnake, you can bet your ass I’m going to do it! When you get your shot, you have to take it.”Back to Work
Break over. Back to the stage of the Rock-it Club.
Steeling himself, doubts are dispelled and the party animal is back. As Friss makes his way back to the stage, he autographs pictures for his fans, shakes a lot of hands and says hello to a lot of people whose faces he can instantly attach to a name.
As the red LED crawl for “Ruben’s Bail Bonds” — “Traffic-Criminal-Narcotics … 24-Hour Service … 3 Generations of Successful Bail Bondsmen” — goes across the ceiling of the dance floor, Friss comes clean with the audience.
“I’ve got to admit when I came to the club, I could’ve cared less. Then I started to think about how lucky I am. I’ve got a great band, we’ve got a new album, I’m healthy, I live in the greatest country in the world — what do I have to be pissed about? I feel a little like Jimmy Stewart. I’m the happiest, luckiest man alive! This is the greatest night of my life!”
And he means it.
FRISS BITS Home: North Tampa
School: Largo High
Love Life: Married girlfriend of nine years, painter Michele Wyatt, on June 17
Professional Secret: Is a Bucanneer season ticket holder; schedules concerts around football games
Personal Flaw: “He doesn’t have a lot of patience with hammers or screwdrivers,” according to Michele.
Conversational Tip: “When I get with my close friends we don’t talk about my last gig. We talk about their kids or Michele’s art classes.”
Listen For: Many Friss songs contain Tampa Bay references. On his new album, the song “Welcome Home” mentions Lowry Park and playing pool at Mr. Stubby’s in Clearwater
(This story originally appeared in Music magazine, May 17, 1984.)
By Bob Andelman
The name refers to a military state of readiness, the highest level of nuclear war anticipation.
DEFCON-1, a term made familiar to millions in last summer’s film War Games, is an attention-getting sure thing.
Encountering DEFCON-1 is something less than walking into a war zone, though. An off-the-wall, amusing, rocking demilitarized zone, maybe.
Lance Rodgers is the front man for the band. He is a man to be reckoned with and respected, first because of his size, and second for-the many talents he possesses. Along with lead guitarist Larry Lynch, Rodgers composes most of the original music performed by DEFCON-1 and writes all the lyrics.
Take a look at excerpts from his song “Third World Girls””:
Snell Isle spoiled child
Raised in a rich style
With some alien “help” to raise a preppy clone
“Mummy & Daddy” just didn’t have the time ..
Third World, Third World Girls They’re the ones with his
They’re his refugee redemption
Third World, Third World Girls Cambodi bodies not too
Other curious compositions include “Low Rent/High Life” and “Grovel For Love.” Of the latter, Rodgers has a vivid ending to the llve version done on his knees before a dancing, gyrating female.
To introduce “Sex” at Club Detroit a few weeks back, Rodgers barked, “This song is for those Tyrone girls over there … Heterosexuals—Dance!!”
“Some people take Lance the wrong way,” admitted keyboard player Chad Dobransky. “Well, he’s not crazy—he’s just very vivid. They can’t understand how a guy his size moves so fast.”
DEFCON-1 has 10 original songs in their club set, only one of which is slow and/or serious: “Gray Blankets.” For the rest of the evening they cover Thomas Dolby, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads and early Joe Jackson.
Even as Rodgers adds the vocal colors to much of DEFCON-1’s work, Dobransky presents a flavorful sound on his synthesizers. The rest of the band fills out with Monte Video on bass and recent addition Bob Breault on drums. They are a strong outfit, leaning heavily toward power-pop strains.
Previously known as Doc, the band originally featured Rodgers on drums and congas with a woman singing lead. That didn’t work out and Rodgers moved from occasional to full-time front duties.
Between them, Rodgers and Dobransky make the band a visual humanscape. The larger Rodgers is nonetheless fleet of foot, while Dobransky in a character in the Rick Nielsen mold, like a cartoon, bald on top, wearing a pencil-thin mustache on the tip of his upper lip and an equally narrow necktie.
Dobransky’s home is both endearing to his personality and to his band. There are his record, hat and cork collections on display, dozens of mirrors on the walls from his days as a liquor salesman, nearly 200 of his trademark ties, and a bomb shelter (with its two-foot thick walls, “it’d be the ideal place for a band to rehearse”) in the front yard.
The living room is a tribute to his friend Rodgers, featuring a trio of black and white photographs by the singer, airbrushed with color. The sharp images of old cars and female legs with off-color hues are impressive, as are the homemade Christmas cards Rodgers sent his friend.
Rodgers has found many outlets for his abilities. Some of his paintings will hang at the Tampa Museum this summer, the result of being noticed at the Gasparilla arts festival, and he also designs all the DEFCON-1 promotional materials. That includes the: individually hand-painted buttons the group sells for a dollar and a monthly new wave calendar the band sends out.
Promotion is an important part of DEFCON-1 and it is all done in-house by the band members. They blanket bulletin boards and liquor stores with flyers announcing heir gigs. On his coffee table Dobransky has “The Entrepreneur’s Manual” by Richard M. White, Jr.
“It costs the club owner $20,” Dobransky said of the publicity blitz, “and it’s the best 20 bucks he ever spent ’cause we hit everywhere.”
As Doc, this band once peaked as opening act for the B-52s at Tampa Jai-Alai last year. But as DEFCON-1, they were “Rock Stars” for 2,000 screaming, supercharged, nubile young ladies at a Girl Scout Jamboree at the Florida State Fairgrounds recently.
“All the girls were between the ages of 12 and 17,” Dobransky said. “In the contract was written ‘No obscene gestures and movements’ … Bob Breault changed his shirt between sets and they attacked him … We’re all signing autographs and I remember thinking ‘These are the kids that buy records!’ … I was so pumped up.”
(Note: The following story originally appeared in the St. Petersburg Times, where I was a correspondent for many years. It was fun for my then-fiancee (now wife) and I to ask everybody we met, ‘Is Bruce Springsteen coming tonight?’)
By Bob Andelman
November 3, 1987
ASBURY PARK, N.J. – One well-placed rumor swells attendance at the Stone Pony on Sundays. And there is only one rumor that matters: Bruce Springsteen is coming. Although for the past decade Sunday has been the night reserved for the popular local band, Cats on a Smooth Surface, it is also the night New Jersey’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll son has been known to make surprise appearances: whether it’s to catch a new act, maybe sing a song with Bon Jovi or Marshall Crenshaw – or shuffle in with his entire E Street Band.
“Tell you the truth – we never know ’til he walks in the door,” says disc jockey Lee Mrowicki, who acts as spokesman for the Stone Pony. He has seen every announced and unannounced Springsteen appearance in the nightclub since it opened 13 years ago. That was before Springsteen was on the covers of both Time and Newsweek, heralded as the future of rock ‘n’ roll.
“Before Bruce went on tour in ’85, he was here every Sunday. It was a regular thing. If he wasn’t here, you were worried,” he says.
The club is convenient for Springsteen to drop into from his home in nearby Rumson, N.J. And amid life here in this tired old beach town, the bulky warehouse of a building has become the beacon of the Boss’ mystique, an unassuming landmark in the world of a rock ‘n’ roll legend.
A few blocks away from the Pony, on a recent Sunday inside the Asbury Park Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum (Please see related story, below), curators Billy Smith and Steve Bumball think tonight may be one of those impromptu visits.
Smith has heard that Springsteen and the E Street Band have been practicing songs from the new Tunnel of Love album and may try out material around 1 a.m. “We have good vibes,” says Smith. “It’s a good night.
Something’s going to happen. The band’s been rehearsing new songs all week. I heard they’re going to bump Cats tonight.”
Because the word is out, Smith and Bumball arrive early at the club to stake out positions along the edge of the small stage.
Backstage at the Pony, guitarist Ray Anderson has heard the rumors and is becoming convinced Springsteen will join Cats on stage later in the evening.
“It’s awfully crowded tonight,” he says. “The buzz is around town about the Boss. Who knows?”
While fans look for signs of Springsteen, one surprise guest does arrive. Guitarist Bobby Bandiera of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes joins the band during Cats’ second set. And John Eddie, another local favorite who released his debut album on CBS last year, is roaming the Pony.
Surveying the growing crowd, Mrowicki points out fans who have come from as far as Washington, D.C., on the remote chance they’ll catch a glimpse of Springsteen in his “home” club. “The problem is, a lot of the time, if (Springsteen) doesn’t show, somebody takes the blame,” he says. “We got a letter last week from an irate customer.”
Whether Springsteen shows up, of course, is beyond Mrowicki’s control. He just serves up a steady diet of Bruce tunes, which helps to whip up the hopes of the rumormongers.
The Stone Pony is truly unspectacular, inside and out.
Just a stone’s throw from the aging Asbury Park boardwalk and Atlantic Ocean, the long white building will never win any awards for architecture. Although the fire marshal limits crowds to 554 people, the club feels roomy, with a square, walkaround bar near the entrance, another one at the rear, two smaller bars in-between and a stage and dance floor. The difference between the Pony and any other nightclub in the world is that no matter how ordinary, this is the one Bruce Springsteen calls home.
“Everybody likes to have a place they can go and see familiar faces,” says Billy Smith. The Stone Pony, he adds, is a place Springsteen “can go and, to a certain extent, be treated like a normal person.”
Bruce Pielka, owner/manager of the club, and his partner Jack Roig, aren’t as sentimental about the things that happen at the Pony as the fans are, so the place isn’t overwhelmed with memorabilia. They also are cautious not to commercialize the visits of their famous guest for fear of frightening off the Boss.
“You don’t see a whole wall of Bruce,” says Mrowicki. “We just don’t want to play it up. If you were coming just to hang out, you wouldn’t want to see your face all over, either.
“We never advertise that he comes here,” the DJ continues. “It’s a word-of-mouth thing. We’ve never sold tickets … We have gotten strange letters. We got one from someone in Staten Island who thought he could get tickets by clandestinely sending us $100 a ticket.”
The cover charge on Sundays is actually $4 whether Bruce plays or not. Stone Pony T-shirts are sold, but nothing that even refers to Springsteen appearances is available. There are collections of snapshots on a few walls from special nights when Springsteen and other locals – Southside Johnny, Bon Jovi, John Eddie, Glen Burtnick – have shown up to play together or separately. A Born in the U.S.A. poster at the door congratulates “Bruce” on reaching the top of the Billboard charts in 1984.
The Stone Pony has become as special a club as any in New York City, including the old Max’s Kansas City – which launched Springsteen almost 15 years ago – The Bottom Line, CBGBs or the Roxy. It is as revered and as identified with Springsteen as Liverpool’s Cavern was to the Beatles in the early 1960s.
“You get a feeling when you’re in there,” says Bumball. “You know it’s special.”
Ray Anderson, the Cats guitarist, is a Bruce fanatic.
“Born to Run – that’s my bible,” says the musician shortly before going on stage. “The first time he asked me to sing a song with him, I felt thrilled. He knows my name! That’s warmth. I’m a fanatic about him. I can’t put it into words.
“A couple of times, he’s just come up alone and we’re his backup band. We’ll huddle and he’ll teach us a song on the spur of the moment.
“I’m gonna feel strange doing one of his new songs, Brilliant
Disguise, tonight,” adds Anderson.
Hans-Peter Schulle, who has been Cats’ on-again, off-again keyboardist for 10 years, tries to reassure Anderson.
“One of the things Bruce said to me before he started joining us,” says Schulle, “was ‘I like the way you guys do my stuff.”‘ “Really?” says Anderson. “Wow.”
Depending upon whom you talk or listen to, the Stone Pony may not offer the Boss a home away from home much longer.
Bruce Springsteen performing with Cats on a Smooth Surface at The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ (1982)
Plans are being explored to pull the land at Ocean & Second Avenue out from under the club as part of Asbury Park’s overall redevelopment efforts. Developers have told the Pony’s owners they have between two and five years before the land will be needed.
“We don’t know what our reality is,” says Mrowicki. “I’ve said I’d stand in front of the wrecking ball. They’ll have to go through me.”
No one involved financially or emotionally wants to see the place come down.
“It’s certainly a bit of history now because of Mr. Springsteen,” says Anderson.
Steve Bumball and Billy Smith of the rock museum hope the end never comes.
“It’s sort of an institution,” says Bumball, “a major tourist attraction. It’s really helped this town stay alive. People hear about Asbury Park through Bruce. They go to the Stone Pony and Madame Marie’s. If not for Bruce Springsteen and the Stone Pony, this town – as you can see, it’s not very alive.”
“We consider ourselves real spoiled because we’re minutes away from a club where things are constantly happening,” says Smith. “There’s Bruce fans all over the world that would kill to see him there once.”
“It’s the kind of club people go to to hear the music, see the band,” adds Bumball. “It’s not the kind of club people go to to pick up girls or even to drink. There’s nothing pretentious about the Pony.
It’s nothing fancy. I think that’s what I like about it; you feel that it’s real.”
Springsteen never does put in an appearance. Bobby Bandiera joins Cats at 1 a.m. for their second set, but with hope of seeing Bruce extinguished, many in the crowd go home.
Maybe Bruce changed his mind, maybe he was never coming in the first place. Maybe the club just generates rumors each week to keep people coming to this otherwise desolate, deserted seaside resort, where most businesses have long since closed up for the season or for good.
Maybe Bruce will never come back again. He has been known to make bunches of appearances and then disappear for long stretches of time.
No matter, say the fans.
“People will keep coming,” says Smith, “hoping he will.”
Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum in Asbury is a Springsteen fan’s wild circus
As museums go, the Asbury Park Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum is tiny. The Museum of Modern Art it is not. Even the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas is many times its size. But few treasure troves of trivia could match this celebration for fans of New Jersey rock ‘n’ roll. Outside of private collections, it would be difficult to find posters touting a concert featuring “Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom with Bruce Springsteen” circa 1971. Ditto the long-haired, baby-faced pictures of Springsteen in his earliest bands, Child, Steel Mill and the Castiles. One of his guitars from that period is housed in a glass display case.
There are handwritten lyrics to two Springsteen classics, Backstreets and Meeting Across the River. His 1974 California driver’s license is here, too.
The Asbury Park Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum opened its doors a year and a half ago on July 4th – Independence Day to some, a Springsteen song title to others. Billy Smith and Steve Bumball, diehard local music fans, founded the facility to “completely and accurately portray the development of the Asbury Park (music) scene.”
Besides an inordinate amount of Springsteen memorabilia, the small room just inside the Palace amusement center – and just two blocks from the Stone Pony – pays homage to other local legends, including Southside Johnny, Little Steven and Bon Jovi.
“We don’t want to be just a Bruce Springsteen museum,” says Bumball. “The people that come in have a genuine interest, not just in Bruce but in all the bands from the area.”
Jon Bon Jovi has patronized the facility. Southside Johnny autographed a wall devoted to his work. But, so far, no Bruce.
“He has no objections, from what we understand,” says Smith. “The whole thing with him is he’s not interested in looking back. I’ve told him I’ve got an old Steel Mill poster and he says, ‘What do you want that for?”‘