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"I met a guy from England and started working on the latest demo tape," Molina says. "This is late 1989. I did a couple sessions, mixing mostly, with Johnny Thunders, met a lot of people, sent my demo tape out to the labels, and got some response."
Molina then moved to Bridgeport, where his wife has family and where he can more easily commute to New York City and knock on doors. "There was no scene in the Philly area," he says. "Everyone was more into heavy metal, pop, sugar-coated rock. So you can understand why my stuff didn't go over."
There's still label interest, but no deal, which is surprising in that an A&R person would have to be nuts to shun the potential exhibited by the powerful tracks on the rough demo. While "Medicine Bow" might be too intelligent (or, as they say, controversial) for radio play, denouncing, as it does, racism, other songs are AOR ready, though no less substantial. For example, the rocking "Walk Tough" draws from the hang-in-there, there's-always-hope well that irrigated Springsteen's work for so long: "I've got 47 dollars and this old guitar/Agent man tellin' me I won't get far," Molina sings in such a way you know it's true, not whining but defiant. "Yeah, my boss man says I gotta toe the line/Gotta punch that clock, do my nine to five." But that life's okay if you "Walk Tough."
The absolute leap-out-of-the-speakers, gotta-be-a-smash track is "The Band Played On," a doubly infectious piece that nods to another of Molina's influences, Bob Dylan, with its twisted imagery and intricate word play, beginning with the first line, "Moguls and mongrels fight in the canyons." A talent scout would have to be a few snorts short of a gram to ignore a song so rich and sticking, but then again, as its lyrics say, "Nero played fiddle while the piper collected/It's the 21st Century and I'm still disconnected."
With irons in the fire, Molina is already making tentative plans for a band. Long-time collaborator Ray Harris is still in Atlanta, but, Molina says, "If there's any signing, I want him involved. He's the greatest unknown songwriter in the world and the best bass player I've ever heard." Chicago-based guitarist Terry McInturff played on the demo. "When I heard him play the first time," Molina recalls, "I thought, Where's this guy been all my life?" And Molina also continues to work with guitarist Heppy Pettit.
"I'm dealing with the people who are interested in the demo," Molina says. "I'm trying to record a new set of songs to keep fresh. I don't want to sit on this too long. I'm going to California for a two-week project. And I'm waiting, hoping a decision is made."
Just as he wasn't attempting to be a Springsteen clone in his Coins days, Molina isn't about to hop on the New Troubador bandwagon. "At the time when we wrote `Medicine Bow,'" he explains, "I wanted to write something with a lot of gut. I didn't want it to be overt - stop racism and this and that. I thought it was something like a Dylan song, maybe. I always loved his lyrics, because even when a song was dated back to the 1800s, it would have a modern feel. When I was working with Mick Taylor, he had a live tape by Mississippi Fred McDowell, this guy who played with a soup bone on a slide [guitar]. That, and Dylan of course, is what inspired `Medicine Bow.'" The sad thing is that the public can't hear the song. Ten years down the road, and Michael Molina is still dancing at the outer edges of the big spotlight. There must be a better way. "Maybe, but I can't bend that far," he says. "I just can't go that commercial route, where I'm writing things that make me gag.