It was more than two decades ago that Steven Toth was coined "Mr. Entertainment." "I used to juggle and do handstands for a band called One-Eyed Kings," the Hollywood native tells New Times. After short stints with the band Lee County Oswald, Toth found himself with a surplus of songs he'd written, and thus Mr. Entertainment and the Pookiesmackers were born. "We're kind of the Parliament-Funkadelic or Mothers of Invention of South Florida with the number of band members we've had. It's not that I'm a monster, but band members keep quitting to move someplace else. Florida is a tough place to play music."
With a lineup that seemed pretty solid, he and his band decided to go into the studio and record their sixth album, Good Black Medicine Here, which will have its release party Sunday, November 11, at Sweat Records. The record is a completely South Florida production: It was recorded at City of Progress, and the vinyl was pressed at Sunpress. The album is a mix of Americana that, along with its outrageous album cover, seems at times a bit tongue-in-cheek and reminiscent of Ween. Toth insists that's not the truth. He says the songs are earnest and come from a dark time. "I lost my father-in-law and my mother. The band lost our longtime bassist, though he is alive. Life's challenges are a good way to instigate songwriting. We'd play live once a month, and the band became my therapy. I needed to write songs to keep me sane while going through difficult shit."
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But through the grief, he was able to find a sense of humor while writing songs inspired by the cult band Hüsker Dü, daredevil Evel Knievel, and a news broadcast that said America had a record year of shootings. One of the songs, "Don't Let Your Ghosts Down," was a country ditty written the day his mother died. "I was reading a book about the Chelsea Hotel while she was in the hospital. Some young people moved into that hotel where Bob Dylan and Patti Smith once lived, and they felt the need to live famously like them."
There's also a cover to the instrumental theme of the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy. "Midnight Cowboy shot scenes down here in Hollywood. They have a great line in the movie that the two essential things to life are coconuts and sunshine, and Florida has plenty of both. So we started playing the song live, and our guitarist, when we play live, gets the string arrangement to play out of an app from his phone. We used that method for recording it as well."
The cover art and album title came from a kitschy piece of original Ivory Coast art hanging in Toth's home. "I had this painful ear wax that prevented me from hearing. One day in the bathroom, I got all the wax out. No one in the band wanted to look at it, but I passed by the painting with the ear wax, and I said, 'This has to be our cover.' We'd had it forever and finally translated the words to be 'good black medicine here.' That seemed as good a name for our album as anything. This music helped us through our sorrows."
Good Black Medicine Here Album-Release Show. 3 p.m. Sunday, November 11, at Sweat Records, 5505 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-693-9309; sweatrecordsmiami.com. Admission is free.