If Jim Camacho, ex-singer, bassist, and architect of Nineties rock and roll prospects The Goods, is bitter about his missed chances at national stardom, he isn't letting on.
Sitting at a table outside a Kendall strip mall and nursing a coffee on a steamy September night, the unceasingly affable musician continues talks hopefully about his thriving solo career and two new albums: Stalker Songs, a solo, all-acoustic affair set for release on October 31; and an album with his band, Waxburn, set for next year. Then there's his self-composed, Broadway-style musical, Fool's Paradise, and a tentatively scheduled appearance on the soundtrack to National Lampoon's Pledge This, the Paris Hilton comedy currently filming around Miami.
Camacho has only good things to say about the time spent with his former Goods colleagues, but says he's more content now that he's on his own. "I loved working with the band and working with my brother, but it's also good being able to do what I want to do without other people putting their stamp on it," he says.
Still, it's taken quite a while to get here. Ten years is a long time to spend pursuing the rock and roll dream of major-label-certified stardom. Yet that's how long it took before the world seemed as if it was The Goods' for the taking. He began making music at five, performing with his brother John in a group dubbed Sunny Rainbow. The siblings regrouped in their teens as John & Jim Camacho and Their Band of Local Heroes.
Later, with Jim on bass and John on piano, the brothers formed The Goods with guitarist Tony Oms and drummer Kasmir Kujawa in 1989. With a pair of self-produced EPs, Play RIP Music and Too True To Be Good, and a penchant for self-promotion, the group's following was all but secured from the start. Its sound, a combination of Tom Petty-like urgency, instantly accessible melodies, and effortlessly catchy choruses, had a lot to do with it.
Columbia Records offered the budding foursome a development deal. After being flown to L.A. and ensconced in a recording studio, the band watched helplessly as the label tried to gloss over their music. "They put us in the studio with a producer [Joe Pasquale] who was completely wrong for us," Camacho recalls. "They took a really cool garage band and tried making it sound like, really, any old Eighties band. It didn't sound right, and in the end, the label didn't like the results. Everybody lost out. We did a lot of soul searching when we got back."
But The Goods persevered, recording Five Steps To Getting Signed, their comment on the Columbia debacle, then following that with two of the most melodically endowed albums to bear a made-in-South-Florida imprint: Mint (1995), and their major label debut, Good Things Are Coming (1998).
Jack Utsick, the Goods' manager, signed the band to his own label, Omega, and then shopped Good Things Are Coming around to some of his personal contacts. Eventually, he was able to negotiate a deal with Joan Jett's record company, Blackheart, which was distributed by Mercury Records. The label released a single from the album, "I'm Not Average," but when it failed to catch on with radio, Mercury halted its promotional efforts only a few weeks into the project.
"It was one of those things ... the timing wasn't right," says Camacho. "You can look back and second guess, but it's hard to tell. Maybe it was the wrong single. I don't know, I was in the middle of it all. Obviously if I had known what was wrong at the time, I would have made it different."
Nevertheless, he believes the experience was a great opportunity. "Working with Tom Dowd [the late, legendary producer who helmed efforts by the Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, and Lynyrd Skynyrd] was the greatest thrill of my career," he says.
Good Things Are Coming failed to live up to its title and never made the national album charts. Mercury dropped The Goods from its roster, and the band lapsed into what Camacho now refers to as its "permanent vacation.
"We just felt that if we kept on trying, we'd eventually succeed, but then one of the guys would say, öWhat am I doing with my life? I'm a drummer and I should be an architect,'" he continues. "After The Goods, I was really depressed. So I could go jump off a bridge or make something good out of it."
What he did was to opt out on his own, releasing an EP, 2001's Trouble Doll, and an album, Hey Hey, with Waxburn two years later. Like his work with The Goods, each recording has an emotional resilience, a blend of anguish, aptitude, and sheer irresistible melody that turns it into a series of searing, gut-wrenching confessionals.
"People like to feel like there's someone out there who understands what they're going through in this world," explains Camacho. "These are troubled times and so I tend to turn a mirror on myself because I feel we're all psychologically linked. I find the human condition troubling ... life is wonderful but it is hard sometimes. So we're all connected in that condition and, hopefully, these songs are healing."
Camacho has several projects in the works. One is already finished: Stalker Songs, produced by Miami mainstay Rat Bastard, features Camacho alone, accompanying himself on guitar and piano.
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Then there are the album-in-progress with Waxburn, and Fool's Paradise. The latter, which Camacho has nurtured for the past five years, is a musical about a love triangle in Nazi-occupied France; a budding actor, he plans to record the production live at Churchill's Pub on December 10 and 11. Meanwhile, Utsick, who now manages Camacho as a solo artist, may have landed "Trippin' In The Fun House" by The Goods on the Hilton film soundtrack.
"There are so many things I want to do," says Camacho. "For me, it's about the body of work. So if I get one song in a Paris Hilton movie, maybe people will hear it and will look back at the other things I've done."
In the meantime, he has also reunited with brother John in Beethose, a band that covers entire Beatles albums such as Revolver and Rubber Soul. The band often performs at the Marlin Hotel and Tobacco Road. And, before the year is out, Camacho plans to embark on a series of solo showcases that will take him to other parts of the country. "I'll get in the car and go," he promises. "My goal is to get rid of all these CDs as quickly as possible.
"What I'm doing is so ridiculous," Camacho concedes. "But this is my life. What else am I going to do? God wouldn't give you the desire without the ability to achieve it."