Because of an editing error, an incorrect performance date for the band Uprising was listed in yesterday's Maryland Live. The band will appear tonight at the 8x10 Club.
*Uprising When: Today, Feb. 15, 10 p.m.
Where: 8x10 Club
*All Mighty Senators
When: Saturday, Feb. 16, 10:30 p.m.
Where: Grog & Tankard
*Karen Goldberg When: Feb. 16, 9 p.m. Oxbow Inn (969 Ritchie Highway in Arnold); Feb. 21, 8 p.m. Maggie's (Washington Road and Greene
Street, Westminster).Tickets: Free admissions.
Call: 647-2232 (Oxbow), 876-6868 (Maggie's).
As always, it's been a long day.
The band members piled into their 12-passenger Ford van long before lunch and drove till late afternoon for their gig. After setting up their equipment and running a sound check, they broke for a fast-food dinner around 6:30, relaxed for a few minutes, then returned to the club. And played hard.
Now, having performed two 90-minute sets, the members of Uprising are breaking down their gear, loading up the van and getting set for an all-night drive back to Baltimore.
Such is life for a band on the run -- and on the rise.
Still, no matter how often that composite picture of the reggae group's road schedule repeats itself, you won't hear complaints.
"Every time I go on stage," explains singer Danny Dread, "I do my best to project 100 percent of my love, energy, and whatever wisdom I have attained. My goal is to uplift the spirits of the people I play for."
That attitude helps propel Uprising, which like other local bands such as OHO and All Mighty Senators, are striving to gain national profiles. The big myth in the music business is that a dividing line exists between local and national success, and crossing it requires a contract with a major label recording company. But the truth is that alternative routes to success exist. Bands like Uprising have gone national, or at least regional, just by crossing the state line.
Baltimore magazine's best local band for 1990, Uprising has been playing their style of reggae since 1985 when guitarist Lenny Innis joined the members of the Harmony Express Steel Orchestra. In the six years since, Uprising has compiled more than an album's worth of potential hit songs and a list of clubs played that covers half the country. But they still await the coming of their record. As their booking agent Nancy Lewis bears out, "It can be a very frustrating situation."
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the unsigned musician's life is the grueling schedule that touring demands. "We don't travel first class," says drummer Dexter Keane. "It's tiresome."
Sometimes on the road, if the band is not too far from their nexshow, they send Dexter Keane or Lenny Innis, two of the non-dreadlocked band members, into a hotel to try to find a room. "Imagine being constantly together," Ms. Lewis adds, "in a van, in a room, on a stage . . . and they've kept this up for over four years."
Uprising has been averaging 16 gigs a month, ranging from Savannah, Ga., and Boston in the South and East to Chicago and Louisville in the Midwest. "We couldn't do it without our fans. They're our foundation," explains lead singer Dread (whose real name is Kirt Danny Lewis). Undoubtedly their fans in the Baltimore area are the cornerstone of that foundation, but the whole structure begins to weaken as they travel further from the mid-Atlantic region. Clubs can be lax in promoting appearances and logistics can make it difficult for bands to do it themselves.
But the best self-promotion is performance and it's become something of an Uprising postulate that no matter how many people show up for their first appearance at a club, the place will be packed the next time.
Despite the crowd support, and innuendos offered by a few record companies, "no one has formally approached us wanting to deal," laments Mr. Keane. "The word from the agency is 'as soon as you put [a demonstration recording] out we'll respond.' "
Actually Uprising has released a two-song cassette which they produced and sold entirely on their own. But a larger product like an LP -- something that would grab the attention of an outside investor -- is something of a Catch-22: The demo itself would require outside investors to bankroll. "It's difficult with reggae," admits Mr. Innis. "Reggae is not really mainstream, and it's political. Record companies don't come at you. You have to be in the right place at the right time".
The right time could be just around the corner. Faith is a big part of reggae music, and the members of this band -- originally from Trinidad and Barbados -- have no shortage of it. Along with Dread, Innis and Keane, Eddie Salim, Wayne Raymond and Terin Cole have been realizing Uprising's spiritual goals while working toward the material ones. "We've devoted ourselves to making the kind of music we love," Mr. Dread explains, "and we in turn receive love from our fans. No amount of money could compensate for that."
"Our music will come out," adds Innis, "even if we have to do it ourselves." "
On the other side of the music fence is the more pop-oriented OHO. For 17 years, founders Jay Graboski and David Reeve have been changing the personnel that surround their guitar and drums duet in their search for the perfect band. Last year their search appeared to be over when Steve Carr, Grace Hearn and Angela Lazarony joined them in signing a contract with a Georgia label called Sky Records. But the shifting personnel factor finally worked against them: the two female singers left the band and the deal fell through.
"We had all the things every band wants," explains guitarist Graboski, a Catonsville resident who works for the Social Security Administration. "We were getting airplay on national stations, reviews in other states, but we didn't have the ability to respond."
For the past five years OHO had been getting nothing but response from their demo recordings. In 1986, OHO won Musician magazine's "Best Unsigned Band" award, beating out thousands of entries from around the country. Then, in 1988, they were finalists in the Yamaha "Sound Check" contest. Although they didn't win the competition, OHO was flown out to Universal Ampitheatre in Los Angeles where they played before an audience of 7,000, including such noteworthy musician/producers as Quincy Jones, Brian Wilson and Peter Asher.
But even an impressive resume like this was not enough to get OHO signed, so they put out their own CD to attract label interest.
Creative not just in music, OHO came up with an alternative way to bankroll their endeavor. They held a fund-raiser and anyone who attended was guaranteed a credit on the cover of their upcoming release. After five years of recording and perfecting -- their pieces, OHO completed a 13-song CD titled "Audition" in 1989.
Apparently that was enough to convince Sky Records, which took over promotion of the release and offered to pay for the recording of a second album. But that's when the trouble began. After their manager had arranged for an East Coast tour, some members had difficulty making the commitment to go.
"It's a fear of flying thing," Mr. Reeve explains. "All of the suddeyou have to adjust to a major shift in your lifestyle." The shift was too much for some of the members, the band fell apart and the contract was lost. Now, the search is on again.
"Dave and I have always been the core of this band," Mr. Graboski contends. "We're auditioning now and eventually we'll put out another album."
For All Mighty Senators, flirting with major record companies has never really been an issue. "We don't want to get involved in a contract where somebody else could get control of our band," says Brett Sharbaugh, the Baltimore group's bass player. But they still have the long-range goal of national recognition. To compromise they've chosen Merkin Records, a local independent label, to handle promotion and distribution of their recordings.
All Mighty Senators have been playing their version of "funky dread rock" in the mid-Atlantic region since April of 1987. Their current line-up includes Landis McCord as drummer and vocalist, Ben Watson and Warren Boes on guitars, Calvin Tullos on saxophone, Dave Finnel plays trumpet, and Brett Sharbaugh, bass. Though they play out regularly, their income does not even approach "the legal poverty limit," Mr. Sharbaugh testifies. They've played up and down the East Coast in exotic clubs like the Nyabinghi in Morgantown, W.Va., and the Mexicano in Nags Head, N.C. And last year they managed a tour across Canada and down the West Coast; they were so well received that additional bookings in the Northwestern United States and Canada were added.
The ability to tour where and when they want is the sort of freedom they're hoping to keep by signing with an independent label. "Nobody's expecting the kind of immediate success that a major label could give," the 26-year-old Sharbaugh explains. What they are expecting is to maintain artistic control of their recordings and performances. That's something that Merkin Records practically guarantees.
As the founder and principle operator of Merkin, Joe Goldsborough believes that major label encroachment on alternative music can be a dangerous and devastating thing. "A major label backer wants to see instantaneous reward for its investment," Mr. Goldsborough explains. "That kind of pressure can cripple a band."
He contends that a band like All Mighty Senators should have plenty of time to develop their sound and tackle the rigors of touring without having to produce albums to meet the demands of a contract.
Even so, All Mighty Senators have already produced a 12-inch EP and a 7-inch single on the Merkin label, and they are hoping to release a CD in the near future. Finding the time to do studio work is always a problem for bands that depend on touring for their income. As a promotion and distribution company Merkin allows the band to concentrate on their live performances, which in this case require the Senators' full energies.
Along with their improvisationally oriented sound, the band's live shows feature a wide array of visual stimuli. It's not unusual to find 15-foot puppets, go-go dancers, flaming drums or fire breathing at a Senators show, and that's one reason why artistic freedom is so important to them. Merkin encourages this development by handling the business end of the finished recordings.