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.
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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."
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.
Normally decked in dark clothing, with short, hectic curls of brown hair and a complexion pale enough to rival any Londoner's, Simone definitely stands out on-stage. While the rest of the Goods treat their instruments as mosh partners, Simone appears aloof, locked for the most part in a private conversation with his guitar. "Music for me is as natural a part of life as death," he says. "Music for me is God."
With the new lineup in place, the next stop was the recording studio. This past spring the band recorded a third CD, this one self-titled. It's slated as the first release on Utsick's new label. Utsick himself spared no expense in recording, mixing, and mastering the disc, and the result is a fourteen-song pop tour de force. Full of catchy choruses and surging melodies, this is the most focused and polished Goods record yet. The cuts that nod toward power pop do so with a guitar-heavy exuberance, while the ballads are wistful without sounding labored. "More focused, more accessible" is how John describes the new record, pausing between words. "Less enigmatic, less eclectic. More responsible and less selfishly artistic."
The disc should hit retail stores sometime in January. Until then, the Goods are doing whatever it takes to make the public aware of it. Exhibit A? Last month's surreal Burdines gig.
As long-time fans surely recall, the band has always had a knack for theatrics and experimentation. How else to explain shows in which band members acted out a song about an ice cream man who sells LSD to children, or shows with set lists consisting exclusively of Kiss covers, or shows ending with their instruments in pieces?
But the Burdines affair is decidedly more subdued, though not devoid of the band's trademark irreverence. Jim Camacho approaches the microphone and addresses the 30 or so shoppers gathered in a semicircle around the small platform stage. With his twin sheets of Viking-blond hair and blue eyes, he looks every bit the frontman. He's even the dressed the part, wearing a natty lime sherbet-color windbreaker generously supplied by Burdines. "Raise your hand if you've ever been to a concert at Burdines before," he requests. He looks around at the mannequins and racks of clothing. No one raises a hand. "Weird, isn't it?"
Indeed. The shoppers/fans range in age from toddlers to seniors, so the Camacho brothers change the chorus of their anthem "Hypocrite" from "Aw, shit!" to "That's it!" John accidentally yells "That's shit!" three times. Oops.
The set is an extension of Burdines' back-to-school TV ad campaign, featuring various Florida rock acts. You might have seen the Goods' spot. It features a trio of models so curvaceous they appear to have been inflated direct from the box. The models smile a lot, hold their arms out, mime the words to the new Goods song "Good Things Are Coming," and generally do things that models are prone to while the band pretends to perform.
The store also sponsored the band's weeklong statewide tour of other outlets. The Goods played malls in Fort Myers, Tampa, Tallahassee, Gainesville, and Orlando. "It was great," John says. "I got to relive my adolescence. I used to go to the mall when I had no money and just hang out and look at girls."
Does that mean playing Burdines Unplugged has been a lifelong ambition?
"We love to be able to play anywhere," Jim notes. "We should just be able to get on a rooftop, in a mall, at an airport, anywhere. And be able to pull it off and just have people enjoy the music." As if to reinforce the point, Jim stops the occasional shopper leaving or entering the store and asks what they thought of the band. Most shoppers seem to be in too much of a hurry to answer. They simply flash a perplexed look and keep walking.
"I feel satisfied right now with where we are," Jim says. "Being with my friends, making great music; that's success. But there comes a point where you want to have monetary success and be able to make a living with the music so if, God forbid, something were to happen to someone in our family, we could help them out. And if we wanted to give someone a Cadillac just for the fun of it, we could do that, too."
The Goods play at 11:00 p.m. Saturday, October 4, at Rose's Bar & Music Lounge, 754 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, 532-0228. Cover charge is $5.
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