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?”‘
(I used to write a bi-weekly column, “RadioRadio,” for Players magazine in the Tampa Bay area. The following story about the late Q105 DJ Jon ‘Rock & Roll’ Anthony, originally appeared there in 1990. Read more about Anthony at TeddWebb.com.)
By Bob Andelman
Jon “Rock ‘n’ Roll” Anthony is looking for a job again.
The mercurial Power Pig (WFLZ 93 FM) afternoon drive personality for the last three years called it quits on Monday Nov. 19 at 5:15 p.m. – during his shift.
“I quit on the air,” he says. “Packed my bags.”
Anthony, 35, says he split due to a disagreement over the station’s Thanksgiving Day work schedule. He previously understood he’d have the holiday off and made plans with family, only to come in on Monday and find himself scheduled to work his regular 2-6 p.m. shift. When no accommodation was made, the DJ quit.
“I copped a ‘Homey the Clown’ attitude – I don’t think so,” he says. “Homey don’t play that – I quit.”
JON ANTHONY excerpt: “If you’re late for a staff meeting you have to stand against the wall with your nose against the wall. It’s like ‘Romper Room.'”
No indication was given on the air that anything was amiss.
“That was the icing on the cake,” says Anthony. “They had no respect for me. I am pretty bitter. I wasn’t treated right.”
The Power Pig became one of the brightest stars in American radio history when it debuted in late 1989, taking broad potshots at Q105 and presenting an aggressive dance music mix. The station rocketed to number one in the Tampa Bay Arbitron ratings in its first book and became the talk of the radio industry nationally.
Ratings have fallen since then and the Pig has cleaned up its obnoxious, take no prisoners act, leaving the sensationalism behind and becoming more and more like the old Q105 it once taunted into obscurity.
Anthony is the first of 93’s original staff to leave the station.
A few choice details revealed by Anthony:
o His salary – $30,000 annually.
“I was making chump change,” says Anthony. “All the DJs were making chump change. You’ve got people over there making $15,000. I’m not going to lose sleep over a $30,000 a year job. I never got a raise in three years. And I was one of the highest paid there, other than Jack Harris.”
o He was making $45,000 at Q105.
o And then there’s this weirdness:
“If you’re late for a staff meeting you have to stand against the wall with your nose against the wall,” according to Anthony. “It’s like ‘Romper Room.'”
This is the second time Anthony has left a top-rated station in Tampa Bay. Before coming to WFLZ in 1987, he followed Mason Dixon as the nighttime jock at the old Q105.
“I bounced back before, I’ll bounce back again,” he says. Anthony is already talking turkey with a trio of Tampa Bay radio stations.
A newlywed with a home in Brandon, a baby on the way and a lucrative mobile DJ service – Florida Suncoast Promotions – Jon “Rock ‘n’ Roll” Anthony says he’s going to stick around. “I’ll land on my feet,” he says.
(Management at WFLZ was unavailable for comment at deadline.)
By Bob Andelman (Originally published in Maddux Report, 1989)
Some might say that jingle writing isn’t an art, it’s just advertising.Maybe. But there is a certain melodical, redundant appeal to a well-done jingle that is at once irrepressible and unrelenting, two qualities usually assigned to our finest pop arts.
Bay area jingle writers concentrate on regional and local businesses. Sometimes their stuff becomes ingrained, as Mary Lind Jorn’s words did in Tampa Electric Company (TECO)’s commercials for the heat pump. Jorn got the heat pump assignment a couple years ago from the Bozell/Ellis, Diaz advertising agency. Searching for inspiration, she heard the music from a Polar Beer spot the agency prepared but never used. Jorn re-wrote the lyrics and wound up with two seasonal versions:
HEAT PUMPS WARM YOU UP
WHEN THE COLD WINDS BLOW;
YOU CAN STAY WARM
WITHOUT SPENDING MUCH DOUGH.
HEAT PUMPS COOL YOU DOWN
WHEN THE DAYS ARE SO HOT;
YOU CAN STAY COOL
WITHOUT SPENDING A LOT.
As anyone who listens to the radio knows, the jingle has gotten a lot of use with TECO. “The client liked it; it seemed to be effective,” according to Bill Diaz, who handles the TECO account for Bozell/Ellis, Diaz. “We’re entering the fourth campaign cycle using that jingle. It’s still got plenty of life in it.”
“With the heat pump,” says Jorn, “we had a simple message. We wrote a simple lyric that expressed that.”
Jeff Arthur, Tampa Bay’s “King of Jingles,” has written words and music for AMC Theaters, Anheuser-Busch, Eastern Airlines, Sun Bank, (“THUMBS UP, THE SUN IS SHINING, BRIGHTER EVERYDAY … SUN BANK, THE BRIGHT WAY TO BANK”) the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, Wendy’s and many shopping malls in the Tampa Bay area. He has done crematories (“NECRON CREMATION DOES OUR PART, BY LEAVING LASTING MEMORIES IN YOUR HEART … WHEN CREMATION IS THE CHOICE YOU NEED, NECRON TRIBUTE ™ HANDLES IT TENDERLY .. IT’S BEST TO PLAN AHEAD YOU’LL SEE, MAKE THINGS EASY ON YOUR FAMILY”) and passed on escort services. But Mary’s Bonding Service, now there is a dilly of a ditty.
“Mary gets bail bonds for people who get in trouble,” explains Jeff Arthur, one-time national recording artist turned jingle writer. “She has a really good reputation as a grandmotherly person when you get in trouble.”
So this is what he came up with a few weeks ago for the Pinellas Park business, sung in the mellow, folksy style of James Taylor:
SOMETIMES THINGS DON’T GO AS PLANNED;
THAT’S WHY MARY’S THERE.
MARY’S GOT A WAY OF BONDING
THAT SHOWS HOW MUCH SHE CARES.
SO WHEN YOU NEED A LITTLE HELP,
CALL YOUR OLD FRIEND MARY.
MARY’S BONDING AGENCY, 571-H-E-L-P.
As the tape of Mary’s jingle plays, Arthur bounces around Studio B, laughing at the humor he hears in his own lyrics. He describes the ideal scenario of effectiveness for this commercial: “Can you imagine a cop, driving with a guy handcuffed in the back of his car, and the cop is singing, ‘Call your old friend Mary, 571-H-E-L-P.’?”
Arthur is laughing … all the way to the bank.
Don’t get the wrong idea: production of jingles is not a major industry on Florida’s west coast. It is, however, a clever, often hysterically funny medium requiring highly specialized talents. Not every copywriter in an ad agency can write a good jingle. That’s why most echo from Jeff Arthur Productions in Clearwater and a small but growing coterie of independent writers working at home or in studios no larger than a broom closet.
“I think Jeff Arthur does more straight jingle work than anyone else,” says Tom Morris, studio manager of Morrisound Studios in Tampa. “Jeff is kind of the jingle king around here.”
Jingles are 60-second musical dervishes that attempt to sell products and services with catchy lyrics, some rhyming, some funny. “It’s a little epic, only 60 seconds long,” says writer Howard Kleinfeld. “You have to make your point and get out.”
“People have a tendency to think of jingles as cute little things,” says Arthur. “Music is the soul of your advertising copy.”
JEFF ARTHUR audio excerpt: “Whenever I call a client and read lyrics, I say you have to understand, it’s not going to be the same without music. When you put your words to music, they becomes 400 times more memorable than the spoken word.”
Work done locally is typically assigned by out-of-town clients and advertising agencies. Jingle work that originates here is commonly farmed out to Atlanta, Miami, Orlando and New York, which accounts for the narrow marketplace.
“In advertising, there seems to be this mindset that, ‘We can’t do this in our hometown,’” says Morris. Morrisound is one of many Bay area studios doing technical jingle production; it is also home to two independent jingle writers, Kent Smith and Lex Macar.
When the Tampa-based advertising agency of Bozell/Ellis, Diaz needs a jingle, it sends the business out of town.
“I guess there’s not enough people doing it here,” says agency president Bill Diaz. “It’s a very competitive business. Maybe the reason we feel more comfortable going out of market is (the work) is not as mature here. There’s people doing good work, but it’s not that mature.” Diaz adds that with multi-million-dollar accounts, he can’t afford to take chances on untested talent. “I think Jeff Arthur does a pretty good job. (He is) probably the best here. He seems to have a style about him that is recognizable; therefore you have to see if his style will suit what you’re trying to get.”
Arthur, noting that only 20 percent of his company’s work is derived from local sources, believes Diaz and others simply don’t appreciate the creative and technical talent available to them in the Bay area.
“People here have not yet taken full advantage of local broadcast production quality,” he says. “There’s a great selection of quality (radio and television) stations but what they’re running on those stations is not given the thought it should be. They are buying radio and television and, because the costs are high for broadcast time, they are taking it away from their production quality. I say, run less time with a creative, professional piece, rather than more time with something of less quality.”
Jingles are meant to be sung. The words alone aren’t as emotional and jarring in print advertising unless the music has been working for a long time. With an established jingle — such as Chevrolet’s “Heartbeat of America” — when it’s tag line is printed, it should trigger the reader’s memory to the sound of the jingle.
Reading jingles here, in print, for example, cannot possibly convey the bubbly, infectious elements found in the best jingles. It’s not the message in jingles as much as it is the way the message is delivered: putting a sales pitch to music is a kinder, gentler way of reaching an audience.
“If music didn’t work,” says Arthur, “you wouldn’t have 97 percent of all major advertisers using it. I guarantee you, McDonalds and Coke know what the hell they’re doing.”
“The jingles you hear that are bad have everything thrown in,” says Jorn. “They’re print copy that people sing. You just can’t set everything to music and figure that’s going to do it. A jingle has to catch the essence of your message. You use phrases you wouldn’t use in print.”
What would “Oh, What a Feeling! Toyota” or “Welcome to Miller Time” be without music? asks Arthur. “Whenever I call a client and read lyrics, I say you have to understand, it’s not going to be the same without music. When you put your words to music, they becomes 400 times more memorable than the spoken word.”
And if anyone could speak authoritatively on that subject, it’s Jeff Arthur. At 37, his name is synonymous with jingles after seven years in Tampa Bay, 18 years in advertising and a few more in a recording group, Arthur, Hurley & Gottlieb. His lobby walls are covered with awards; there are two Clio Award statuettes in his private office. Between the Clearwater facility and a new office in Raleigh, N.C., he keeps very busy.
“I went to Raleigh last week and I got nine jingle (assignments). I’ve already got 25 running there,” he says.
Jeff Arthur Productions is the largest producer of music for shopping malls (“I’M FEELING TYRONE TERRIFIC, BUT TO BE MUCH MORE SPECIFIC, YOU’LL FEEL TERRIFIC, TYRONE SQUARE MALL”) in the country, owing to a longtime association with the DeBartolo Corp. “That’s a huge source of our income,” according to Arthur. His company also does a lot of business with furniture stores. Arthur’s company created the familiar music used nationwide by AMC Theaters (“THERE IS A DIFFERENCE YOU CAN SEE / THERE IS A DIFFERENCE WITH AMC”) and the theme songs for Super Bowl XVIII, “Be a Super Host” (“IF THEY LOVE US WHEN THEY LEAVE US, THEY’LL BE BACK”), and the Tampa Bay Bucanneers (“HEY, HEY, HEY, WE’RE THE BUCANNEERS”).
After several years spent establishing himself in Tampa Bay, Arthur says he’s just now starting to see a payoff.
“People don’t understand the incredible expense it takes to do all the commercials and keep a studio open seven days a week,” he says. “You spend 95 percent of your time selling the product and five percent creating it.”
Most recently, Arthur was commissioned by the Defrain Stemm advertising agency to write music for Larry’s Olde Fashioned Ice Cream Parlours.
“We wrote the copy,” says Vivek Rao, director of production for Defrain Stemm. “But he made enough changes that it almost became a Jeff Arthur original. It was just beautiful. I was so happy I’m going back to him with another commercial.”
Arthur often lifts a style from a familiar pop artist, according to former employees. “He used to put on the top of every spot ‘a la Wendy’s’ or ‘a la Coke,’” says one. Not that he denies it. A mall in Texas wanted its jingle to sound like Paula Abdul, a singer who is currently selling a lot of dance-oriented records. Arthur reproduced the rhythm track from one of her songs and gave it a new but similar melody to satisfy his client.
“Jingle writers aren’t ripping off pop performers,” he says, bristling. “Because everything that’s been done has been done before. It’s how well you do it. It’s having an attitude in your music that’s contemporary with the feeling you want to achieve.”
Mary Lind Jorn, 36, works as a freelancer out of her home in Hyde Park and maintains a loose partnership with Rayna Lancaster in Two Writers/No Waiting. The former SARASOTA HERALD-TRIBUNE reporter coined the phrase “the un-newspaper” for SUNRISE, the CLEARWATER SUN’s twice-weekly entertainment tabloid. It was a situation when a jingle was desired by the client but was not the best way to sell the product.
“The agency called me because they liked the heat pump (jingle),” says Jorn. “I re-lyriced ‘Surfin’ Safari.’ But I had a problem because I could not figure how we were going to sing ‘The Un-newspaper.’”
In the search for schtick, Jorn received a funny message on her telephone answering machine and the offbeat, topical answering machine relationship of Rollo the Nerd and Jasmine the Yuppie was born. “A lot of people say, ‘I want a jingle.’ Sometimes it’s just not the right thing for them,” says Jorn. “You really can’t sell a very complicated product with a jingle. Jingles are reserved for products where people already know what they are.”
One of Jorn’s favorite gimmicks is to rewrite the lyrics of once-popular songs to make a connection with a product. That’s why she initially tried to fit SUNRISE to “Surfin’ Safari.” “I’ll go through old music books looking for a lyric, something that triggers memory banks,” she says. “I like ‘Surfin’ Safari’ because of the familiarity of the era. (It) takes you back to when you were 18, cruising down the road.”
Writers have to be cautious in balancing the best way to sell a product with demonstrating how clever they are or how wide-ranging their vocabulary is.
“You’re not writing literature; it’s business,” she says. “If you’re just doing puns and plays on words, you’re taking the easy way out. If you can find a cliche and it works for you, that’s the best way.”
Don Poole, an engineer at Ron Rose Studios in Tampa, moonlights as a jingle writer and composer. The 27-year-old relies heavily on the memory of a Macintosh computer to give him the power of a studio orchestra.
“Musicians hate guys like me, who uses computers,” says the author of jingles for WFLA Radio, Cellular One, Charter Hospital, the New York Daily News and 3M. “A lot ofjingle writers are using it. I can use a trumpet as a lead instrument; if a client doesn’t like it, I can change with the push of a button.”
The best-known of Poole’s work is probably what he wrote for WTSP TV-10:
WATCH THE NEWS EVERY DAY
BECAUSE WE’RE IN TOUCH WITH TAMPA BAY.
WHEN YOU THINK OF NEWS,
THINK OF 10.
“It’s sort of repetitious,” concedes Poole, “but that punchline — ‘Think of 10′ — that hits home.”
If Jeff Arthur rules the Bay area’s jingle fiefdom, Howard Kleinfeld and Kent Smith are his rock ‘n’ roll princes. Both are graduates of the Arthur jingle mill, grateful for the experience but anxious to make their own marks.
Kleinfeld, 31, grudgingly relinquished a career as a rocker to pursue a lucrative, rising reputation as a different kind of jingle writer.
“I try to make my jingles sound like songs,” says the director of On The Air Productions in St. Petersburg. “Jeff played a tape for me about how a jingle evolves. It was really well done. But that’s not the way I work. I sit down and play like a real rock ‘n’ roll guy. I play loud — REAL loud.”
A jingle by Howard Kleinfeld sounds completely different than a Jeff Arthur jingle.
For a frenetic, high-energy track created for Orlando-based Ron Jon Surf Shops (“WE’RE NOT ONE OF MANY / WE’RE ONE OF A KIND”), Kleinfeld took his inspiration from new wave British rocker Thomas Dolby. “I wanted to match the flavor of their billboards (which feature cartoon images illustrated with bright, neon colors) with the sound.” The music is so convincing, the writer plans to use a longer version in a song. “It doesn’t sound like a jingle,” he says. “When we present something like this, they’re blown away.”
The first jingle Kleinfeld wrote was for Thoroughbred Music in Tampa. Many of his clients come from the Orlando area, including a nightclub called Hollywood Nights (“THESE ARE THE NIGHTS TO REMEMBER”); Central Florida Magazine; Luigi B.G. Pizza Factory; Shoppes at Olympia Place; and St. Luke’s Cataract and Intraocular Lens Institute in Tarpon Springs.
For Luigi B.G., Kleinfeld created the kind of schticky, Italian tune he might have written under Arthur’s aegis:
COME IN TO EAT
A PIZZA TREAT …
HERE’S WHAT WE GOT
FOR NOT A LOT.
“That’s a REAL jingle,” says Kleinfeld. “I like doing that. It’s a real challenge because I’m not familiar with Italian folk music.”
Kleinfeld has found himself in the position of having to redirect clients, as he did with the Sea Market, a seafood restaurant. “They said, ‘Make it sound like a Red Lobster commercial.’ I said, ‘Why? You want people to think of Red Lobster when they hear your ad?’ It takes time to build a good rep. And you’ve got to be aggressive.”
Kleinfeld is learning to be more aggressive in selling his own product; he’ll mount his first direct mail campaign this summer.
Kent Smith, proprietor of SoundSmith Productions in Tampa, began composing music at the age of seven. He has spent time in bands, but never saw where his talents would take him until Jeff Arthur was a guest speaker in one of his classes at USF in 1980.
“He said, ‘Not everybody can write jingles,’” recalls Smith. “I said, ‘I can.’ I started working for him a week later.”
After two years in Arthur’s employ, Smith moved to North Carolina for a time. He advertised nationally and attracted a loyal stable of clients who have stuck with him over the years. He does or has done work for: Flama Cola (a Puerto Rican version of Pepsi, only spicier); Carolina Circle Mall in N.C.; Four Seasons Realty in St. Paul, Mn.; Fresh Market in North Carolina; and Belk Lindsey.
One of his most amusing aural jingles, for Sheraton Hotels’ Charlie Goodnight Restaurants, won an Addy Award:
ROUND UP YOUR HEARTIEST APPETITE
AT (Sound of a whip cracking) CHARLIE GOODNIGHT.
BEST OF THE WEST
COOKED DAY AND NIGHT
CHUCK WAGON FOOD IS DYNAMITE (SOUND OF AN EXPLOSION).
Smith, 31, says his greatest thrill came this spring when a promotional ditty he wrote for WTVT TV-13 aired during a commercial break in the Grammy Awards. “I thought — ‘My music made it to the Grammys!’”
Despite recognition and plaudits for their work, neither Smith nor Kleinfeld are gaining new business or recognition as fast as they would like for their jingle work.
“To be a successful jingle writer you have to have a sales force,” says Smith, who works alone and relies on word-of-mouth and referrals. “That’s something Jeff has done well. That, and getting his name out.”
Perhaps the most striking contrast between Arthur and his graduates is their studios. Arthur has a large, traditional recording facility with a baby grand piano, soundproof glass, two production studios and a full staff. Smith runs SoundSmith Productions from a room the size of a closet with keyboards and recording equipment stacked from floor to ceiling; Kleinfeld operates On The Air Productions in a spare room of his home. Smith and Kleinfeld are one-man-bands, writing, producing and even performing their own work. (Kleinfeld does have a partner in Orlando, Tim Coons, who acts as salesman and helps polish the finish product.) Another difference: personal computers. Smith has stored thousand of digitized instrument sounds, from synthesized strings to saxophones, on a Macintosh Plus.
“The Mac is librarian for everything I do,” he says. “When I first started out people said, ‘Those are strings?’”
Smith’s computer didn’t come easy. It wasn’t just a case of saving up to buy it or taking out a loan. He earned it through his work. It seems that sometimes, jingle writing requires more than just a fertile imagination; occasionally it calls for a mathematical sense of meter. At least that’s what it took Smith to write his Addy award-winning theme for “Carolina Biological Supply Computer Store”:
IF COMPUTERS ARE YOUR GAME
AND YOU’RE LOOKING FOR THE NAME
OF THE BEST DEAL AROUND FOR SURE,
TRY CAROLINA BIOLOGICAL SUPPLY COMPUTER STORE.
“They wouldn’t let me shorten the name or anything,” says Smith, still amazed he accomplished the job. “That’s how I got my computer. They figured anybody that could sell a name that long deserved it.”