Two Timin' Man

The game is deceptively simple. Musicians and their companies need to spread the word, so they provide the media with advance copies of new releases, photographs, biographies and discographies, anything that will make it easy for some lazy journalist to splash the product name across the printed page. The most important element is the interview, the one spontaneous aspect, and a chance for the musician to step out of the hype and speak from the heart. Critics get their egos stroked - I talked to Bon Jovi in person! - and readers have the chance to get a bit closer to their icons. Bon Jovi can't talk personally with every single fan, so he uses media middlemen. Fair enough.

The interviews generally go something like this:

Q. So what was it like recording the new album?
A. Uh, it was a lot of fun.
Q. And what's the live show gonna be like?
A. Uh, it should be a lot of fun.
Q. Did you really force that groupie to eat all the brown M&Ms?
A. Uh, it was a lot of fun.

The rules are clear to all parties. Except in some exceptional cases. Such as this one.

Slicked up like a city lawyer, right down to the leather briefcase, Michael Anthonye bursts into the conference room and begins what amounts to a presentation. He loosens his necktie, produces from his satchel a pile of documents: bank statements, money-transfer receipts, portfolios, and pictures. He cracks a crooked and charismatic grin, and, without any real questions having been asked, lays it all out.

His father began life poor but eventually built condos and a financial empire. The son followed in those footsteps, putting together multimillion-dollar development deals, becoming wealthy and powerful while he was still young enough to enjoy it. He married, bought a couple of homes in Tennessee, added a few cars and a nice boat to his material collection. The only thing keeping his feet on the ground was gravity.

Then, about a year ago, he says, "the bottom fell out. I lost everything. And when that happened, my wife left me." Anthonye saw only one move to make: Miami. "Being down here fixed my breathing problems, for one thing," he quips. South Florida also helped him launch what could be one of the bigger country-music careers of the Nineties.

Money, which can always buy success, isn't the reason to believe that Michael Anthonye will be the next big C&W thing. The sales charts he spreads across the conference-room table promise nothing, either. The fan-club raves, the radio and TV interviews and live broadcasts, the ready availability of club gigs, the burgeoning dance craze he's spawned - all good signs, none the reason to buy stock in the Anthonye-as-country-king theory. No, the clincher in this case is right there in the grooves of a single, "Biggest Bars of All" backed with "Slippin' Away."

Anthonye's is a sound washed in tobacco juice and long necks, boots, blue jeans, and a ten-gallon hat. The true-to-tradition "Biggest Bars," a midtempo twanger, mixes personal confession with metaphor, and builds minor themes only so they can be twisted into something more. The country-music-loving kid grows up to be a musician working the club circuit. He knows it's "hard as hell to love someone/When you're chasing a crazy dream," so he builds a defensive shell 'round his achin' heart. And eventually he discovers that the protection is also a prison. It's a good story, wrapped up in strong, sincere vocals over solid backing and nifty piano and guitar solos.

"Slippin' Away" is funkier and more infectious, a rockin' little number with a deft vocal-hook tag and energy to burn. Less substantial but more fun than the A side, "Slippin'," produced by Bob Wlos and Anthonye's brother, Terry Pruett, hit the top spot on Cash Box's Up & Coming chart in late June. If you've heard the song, you aren't surprised.

Michael Anthonye, country musician, and Michael A. Pruett, businessman, have inhabited the same body for a long time. When he was thirteen, Anthonye began playing drums and singing in a family group at tent meetings, revivals, churches. In 1974, as a drummer, he joined what he calls a "gospel jazz" trio, which became the house band at a place he describes as "a gospel nightclub." The next year's gig had him sticking for the Ernest Tubb radio show.

The Tennesseean closed out the Seventies as guitarist-singer-songwriter for a high school rock band called 4 Way Stop, and drumming for a Knoxville gospel outfit called the Sentinels and a Canadian band dubbed the Nations. He worked with a rock band called Steele that broke up while on the verge of the big time, and jammed with a few Top 40 acts.

By then, Anthonye had also developed his other career, setting up big development deals, putting people and their money together with other people and their plans. But the musical life remained vigorous, as Anthonye joined an all-originals rock group, Vizzhunz, which signed an indie deal and recorded an album before disbanding. By 1989 he was showcasing as a front man, and was signed by JTR Records as a country solo act.

Except for the marital dismiss, not much happened, so Anthonye lit out for points south. He discovered Bob Wlos and his magical L-7 Studio in Deerfield Beach and cut the "Bars"/"Slippin'" single as a demo. The first local club he walked into, Fort Lauderdale's Straw Hat, invited him to play the next Friday night. Meanwhile he had solicited investors and sponsors, and says he has $750,000 in backing, a huge budget for an upstart project. Suddenly the folks back home were no longer so uninterested. "It's funny," Anthonye says, "but Nashville rejected me. Then Miami embraced me. Now Nashville wants me back."

Anthonye is dividing his time and resources between the two cities - while he's performing in clubs from Naples to Naranja, a staff is busy in Nashville promoting and planning, taking care of biz. He relies heavily on his brother Terry and the others working behind the scenes. "It's a team thing," he says. "I'm like a quarterback, getting the guards and tackles and defensive ends into position. I want to start a label with just one artist, Michael Anthonye. It's just like a pound of bacon or a can of pork 'n' beans, you market it. And then we build on that."

However, the actual sound of the music is not something to stick in a package and slap a label on, Anthonye believes. "Music today is production," he says. "But it should be a personal thing. Today's music is overproduced. The stuff I grew up on, the old stuff, that music tore you up inside."

In fact, he continues, he would never consider compromising his music for business's sake. "My whole concept," he explains, "is that if you believe in what you're doing, do it, and the labels will come to you. All they care about is sales. I believe I'm onto something. Give me a chance. There won't be any compromise. I made the record I made, I didn't change one iota. You do your thing. Believe in it, and it'll work."

So far it's worked. And as momentum builds, Anthonye shares credit with Rimfire, the backing band he enlisted for his numerous South Florida gigs over the past couple of months. "The thing about Rimfire," he says, "is that the hotter they get on-stage, the hotter I get. They don't just stand there and play their parts. My producer in Nashville wants me to record with session guys. I said no way. We'd lose the spontaneity."

Those sessions are for Michael Anthonye's debut album, to be released September 24, his birthday. He continues to work both sides of the music-business fence, pushing for airplay of the single on radio stations across the nation, promoting (through club, TV, and video appearances) the "slipper" dance that "Slippin' Away" has inspired, opening for major acts, soliciting distributors, recording with Bob Wlos, using the $750,000 in investments to initiate his label plans. He seems to be a heck of a businessman, and his music speaks for itself. The title of the album is The Right Combination.

MICHAEL ANTHONYE performs with Sundown Friday at 9:00 p.m. at the Straw Hat, 1236 S Federal Hwy, Ft Lauderdale, 462-0231. Admission is free.


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