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But Nicklaus didn't make his final decision until after he noticed the spell Al's Not Well cast on the often indifferent Checkpoint Charlie's audience. "When they were setting up and bands before them were playing, people were just talking among themselves," Nicklaus notes. "The club was very noisy, but by two or three songs into Al's Not Well's set all eyes were forward, and most people were at the front of the club. I see a lot of bands play, and I know when the audience is paying attention. They won the audience over, and that's what it's all about."
Rick says crowd reaction is the key to the band's high-energy approach. "That response is the best high you can get," he says. "My main thing is the kids. The kids love it. Those are the ones that buy the CDs. Those are the ones that go out there and dance to the band."
Though Rick and his mates have implicit faith in their fans, they are leery about the monetary side of the business. Understandably. Most of the members of Al's are veterans of various botched record-label deals.
For instance, Eddy originally drummed for the electronic dance band Erotic Exotic under his full given name, Eddie De La Cruz. (The members of Al's go by first names only because they value the coincidence of sharing first names with four letters). Erotic Exotic signed with Atlantic in 1984 and produced two radio-friendly hits, "Take Me as I Am" and "L-O-V-E." While the band was wildly popular in South America, its stateside popularity quickly faded, a circumstance Eddy blames on Atlantic's passive promoting. "Dance music wasn't as big as it is nowadays," Eddy says. "The label had no dance department, and they didn't really do anything for us."
After severing its relationship with Atlantic, the band suffered through two more disastrous record deals. Five years ago the band recruited three new members -- Rick, Kala, and Bleu -- who would later form the core of Al's Not Well. The band also changed its name from Erotic Exotic to Liquid Sun. In 1994, just as Liquid Sun was preparing to release its debut CD, Eric Tallman, their 34-year-old frontman and founder, died of a heart attack.
Though stunned by Tallman's death, the rest of the band eventually decided to hold auditions for a new lead singer. "Our keyboardist, Al, goes out one night and sees Joce singing at Churchill's, and as soon as she gets off-stage he tells her the story and asks her to audition," Eddy remembers. "After we saw her and heard her songs we never auditioned anyone else." (Besides the multitude of songs she had to offer, Joce sported a tattoo of the sun, an accessory shared by all former Liquid Sun members.)
Though Al was a founding member of Erotic Exotic and discovered Joce, he was soon canned because of his antics. In departing, however, he left the band with its new moniker, Al's Not Well, a tribute to his general delinquency when it came to matters such as rehearsals.
Given the band members' history of disappointing deals, they approached Beyond Music cautiously. After listening to Nicklaus's pitch and consulting their lawyer, noted entertainment attorney Richard Wolfe, they signed a contract in August that has Beyond Music investing a six-digit figure for their first album, with the label reserving the option for six additional albums.
Nicklaus is ecstatic about the signing. "They're fantastic performers. They have great songs, and our job is to expose them to the world through touring, video, radio, all that," he says. "Al's Not Well is something we see as a big part of our future; developing them, turning them into a very high point of our stable."
Nicklaus has already begun promoting the track "Disease" as a single off Glitter. "I think 'Disease' is a huge song," he notes. "We have a very powerful radio staff, and we'll be spending the next two months playing the song for radio programmers and making sure they know what's coming up."
With a bouncy bass line and an ambling beat painted over with layers of brooding guitar chords, "Disease" is a perky little tune that manages to cloak its dark side in a juicy jook. Backed up by Bleu's breathy harmonies, Joce reflects on a relationship that's stuck in the past. Nicklaus sees "Disease" as the perfect pop song for spring, when a remastered version of Glitter is slated for national release.
Al's Not Well is among Beyond Music's first signees, joining the hardcore hip-hop act Chronic Future and progressive-rock legend Yes. The label was established as a subsidiary of Tommy Boy Records earlier this year by the Left Bank Organization, a management company whose clients include the Cranberries, Duran Duran, and the Bee Gees. "We already dealt directly with radio and sales, but we wanted to work with people who we really felt had a great insight on how to get the records into the store," Nicklaus explains. "And that's basically what Tommy Boy does for us. What you want to do is be able to get shelf space at the store."