The Sixth Step to Getting Signed

It's about the last thing you'd ever expect to see on a Saturday afternoon of mall prowling: the Goods, local rockers legendary for their anti-corporate tilt, playing at Dadeland Mall. And not just at Dadeland, mind you, but inside the young men's junior department of Burdines. Surely this is a hallucination. Or a prank. Or some kind of ironic performance-art piece. Right? Right? Wrong. The band is here in all seriousness, performing a brisk 40-minute acoustic set as part of a Burdines promotion.

For a band whose first LP, Five Steps to Getting Signed, mocked the notion of kissing corporate ass, gigging in Burdines marks an obvious change in direction. Change -- that's a big word with the Goods these days. After eight years of turning out brilliant, radio-friendly songs but failing to secure a record deal, the North Miami-bred popsters have made some major changes: a new manager, a new band member, a new lineup, and a new attitude.

"What we're trying to do now," says keyboardist John Camacho, "is increase our odds."

They have. The group's new manager, Jack Utsick, is a millionaire entertainment mogul who has always dreamed of taking a deserving young band to the top. The band's third disc, slated for release this winter, will be produced by Miami resident and music legend Tom Dowd, who has handled the boards for Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers, Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, and a host of other stars.

Since forming in 1989, the Goods -- with the lineup at that time of brothers Jim and John Camacho (bass and keyboards respectively), Kasmir Kujawa (drums), and Tony Oms (guitar) -- have pretty much done things their way. Consider the 1991 development deal with Columbia Records: The band's reluctance to compromise its sound doomed the agreement. When it came to the music, the Goods weren't interested in corporate mandates. A noble attitude, but not the right way to increase your odds.

The aborted Columbia deal, however, did yield creative dividends. The following year the band released its debut disc, Five Steps, a tongue-in-cheek factory map for other rock bands hoping to make it. With songs such as "Managers," "Creating a Buzz," and "Showcase," the band drew heavily on its own frustrations. The disc painted an ominous picture of the music biz: a minefield of dotted lines, opportunistic "friends," and men in loud suits making absurd promises. The moral of the story was believe in yourself and the business side will take care of itself.

That wasn't exactly true. While the band has never had a problem attracting local crowds, the members continued to pine for broader recognition. The then-quartet's second CD, Mint, released three years ago, was a thirteen-song survey of musical styles, from the operatic "Sweet Like a Song" to the country-inflected "Slow Down" and the driving, metal fuzz of "Minnesota Girl." The band's eclectic sound won it critical kudos, but not the major-label deal it coveted.

The recent spate of changes was set in motion two years ago, when a friend in the music business urged Utsick, a Miamian who has promoted tours by the likes of the Rolling Stones and U2, to check out the Goods at one of their regular Tobacco Road gigs. Utsick was immediately smitten and signed the group to his yet-to-be-named label. "I thought they had what it takes to make it," Utsick says. "Jim's voice and his stage presence really caught my attention."

Last year Vicky Hamilton, a friend and champion of the band, took renowned boardman Dowd to a Goods show in Key West. Dowd was likewise impressed. Afterward he told the band pointblank how things would have to be if they wanted success: Jim Camacho would abandon his bass and become the band's frontman, brother John would provide backing vocals rather than share lead vocals, Tony Oms would drop his guitar and take over bass, and the band would have to find a new guitarist.

"With Jim having to keep time on bass, it inhibited his singing," Dowd explains later. "People buy records when they hear a great voice, not great bass playing."

The band members, who range in age from late twenties to early thirties, have embraced the changes as necessary steps toward fulfilling the larger goal of getting their music before a national audience. "It was a sacrifice, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make," Oms says. "I could wonder, 'Is my guitar playing not cutting it?' But what's wrong with changing instruments? It's been fun. I know what kind of guitar player I am. It doesn't matter to me. You throw your ego out the window and do what's best for the band."

John Camacho agrees: "We've always been the kind of band in which no one person is more important than anybody else. So it's really not any kind of sacrifice for me."

To aid them in choosing a new guitarist, the Goods gave each candidate a tape of the song "Rise," with instructions to "be creative with it." Most impressive was the elaboration of local player Stewart Simone. "I didn't think I really had a chance," Simone says. "I heard these other guitarists playing who had all this professional-sounding stuff put together. All I had was something thrown together at the last minute." The Goods, themselves inveterate improvisers, loved Simone's approach. He was hired two weeks later.

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