Shooting for the Pop

Tommy Anthony refuses to take the easy way out

Tommy Anthony doesn't look like a pop star. He has the rough-hewn features and stocky build of an ex-football player. (In fact, if you pry a bit he'll admit he played a little semi-pro ball with the Miami Storm.) The bandanna he frequently sports atop his head gives him a tough-guy edge. No meticulously set ringlets of hair cascade just so down his shoulders. He does not pout or primp. No matter how famous he becomes -- and he probably will become famous -- grown women will never faint at the sight of him. If he's good-looking, it's in that manly man sort of way best exemplified by Anthony's one-time idol Larry Csonka. Tommy Anthony couldn't be a poser if he wanted to.

Luckily, he doesn't want to. He meets your gaze straight on, shakes your hand firmly, and speaks with easy confidence. Dale Carnegie would be proud. The UM marketing grad converses in a can-do tone of voice and favors bold, declarative sentences. "Dennis Britt is the single greatest musical talent Miami has ever produced, bar none. Undiscovered or otherwise," he'll tell you when asked to assess the abilities of his one-time Beat Poets bandmate. "Greater than Gloria Estefan. Greater than the Mavericks. Greater than Jon Secada." Tommy Anthony (no relation to the author of this piece, despite the fact that the Miami Herald occasionally confused the two in its club listings when Goza first began playing gigs around town) does not beat around the bush, at least not when he talks.

Which is why it comes as such a surprise when you hear his music. You expect a guy who looks and gabs like Anthony to sing in a throaty, gritty macho baritone, like Robbie Robertson maybe, or Iggy Pop. Guess again. Simply put, the dude has the pipes of a pretty boy. Imagine Michael Bolton without the pretensions to soul manhood; Jon Secada by way of Kenny Loggins. Anthony wraps plaintive, willowy, ethereal vocals around exquisitely crafted but tame pop ditties with titles like "I Don't Know You Anymore," "Smile," and "Heaven's Where I Wanna Go."

"The pop tag isn't really given its due," Anthony contends. "The clubs down here all cater to alternative, progressive, or hard rock A anything you can name but pop. But I've always maintained that it's much harder to write a quality pop song that 100,000 people can be moved by than an alternative tune that's very personal, very deep, very abstract, maybe very profound, but that reaches an audience of maybe 30 and goes over most people's heads."

Nobody familiar with Anthony's body of work would accuse the 29-year-old aspiring popmeister of shooting for the deep-abstract-profound end of the songwriting spectrum. Although his influences run the gamut from Jane's Addiction to Anita Baker, Anthony has a lot more in common with ABBA than with, say, Guided By Voices. Anthony formed his band Goza (Afro-Cuban slang for the art of "living life to the fullest") in 1991, dedicated to the pursuit of pure pop. "If there's an angle, this is it: American pop with a Latin rhythm," the forthright front man avows. "I'm not sure we're much like Secada, but maybe we reach the same niche, pop with Latin rhythm. Another parallel, we both do bilingual songs. [Anthony, of Cuban-Italian heritage, records both English and Spanish versions of many of his tunes.] The Latin rhythm and percussion in our material is a lot more up front, and I think our stuff is a little edgier than his is."

Tommy Anthony and Goza recently pulled off a coup that even Secada never managed. They landed a single -- "I Don't Know You Anymore" -- on the playlist at Top-40 powerhouse radio station Y-100 without the backing of a major label. "It's only the second independent record ever played on Y-100," Anthony proudly claims. "The first was by Expose."

"Our station's geared toward playing name artists that people are familiar with," elaborates Al Chio, program director at Y-100. "We try to bring in local talent, but no one's really come out with anything that fits our format. I heard a few songs from the [Mondial] CD and I thought the single, 'I Don't Know You Anymore,' fit our sound. Pop music, hooks, lyrics people can identify with. He [Anthony] has a good voice; I thought of the ballad as sort of a Michael Bolton-Jon Secada deal. We played it for several weeks and it did pretty well."

Chio cites the album's fusion of pop, rock, and Latin influences as an appealing combination, but one that makes it difficult for a station specializing in only one of the three genres to work Goza into its mix. "I heard some other songs on the album that had some very attractive elements also, but they weren't quite right for us," the program director remembers. "I hope they'll catch on with someone who can really get behind them and develop and promote them."

Pop has held a special allure for Anthony since he put together his first band, the Tomboys, as a teenager in 1979. "I was just a kid, like fourteen," Anthony recalls. "We did back yard or high school parties, anywhere anyone would let us play." The Tomboys and their subsequent incarnation, power pop band the Basics, featured a bassist with a pretty fair singing voice of his own A a fellow named Raul Malo whose current band, the Mavericks, corralled country stardom in Nashville.

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