Artist of the day: The Hazies
This was then: “I was thinking ... we’d be on MTV and then be selling 100,000 copies. Hopefully, six months from now, we’ll talk and we’ll be at that point.”
This is now: “We hope to get a lot of people out, of course. But it’s really just a chance for us to get together, hang together and play music together.”
Both quotes are from Ken Logan, the singer of alt-rock band The Hazies. The first is from 1996, shortly after the Tampa group’s debut album had come out on a major label, EMI, and the Hazies were poised to make it big.
The second is from two weeks ago.
After a five-year hiatus, The Hazies are reuniting for a concert Friday at Jannus Live alongside several peers from their era — Freaks Rule, Men From Earth and Dee Force. The show is dubbed “Back to the Future 2010,” but for the Hazies — Logan, guitarist Greg Zink, bassist Dave Walker, keyboardist Wes Eubanks and drummer Steven Tanner — it’s a chance to relive the heyday of a once-thriving Tampa Bay music scene. (Tickets are $15; click here for details.)
Back in the ’90s — before Bandcamp, MySpace, iTunes and Napster — major labels still controlled the music world. Rock bands hoped to be discovered by A&R guys, sign a multi-album deal and tour the country on the label’s dime. It worked in Florida just as it did as everywhere else — Matchbox Twenty, Creed and Seven Mary Three all came from the Sunshine State.
Originally known as UROK, the Hazies came together in 1989 and were among a handful of Tampa Bay bands (Pee Shy, Sugarspoon) that attracted major-label attention. Back then, Logan said, the local scene was vibrant enough that they could play different venues each night of the week and still draw hundreds of fans.
“Back 15 years ago, there were probably 30 different venues you could play in the Tampa Bay area, and make a living at it, and not see the same person night after night, because each venue had their own following,” said Walker. “We gave people a reason to come out and make sure they had a good time.”
After being signed by EMI, the Hazies’ album Vinnie Smoking in the Big Room sold more than 11,000 copies in its first six months. The band was written up in Billboard, their video for Skin and Bones was played on MTV, and their cover of Turning Japanese landed on the soundtrack to the Chris Farley movie Beverly Hills Ninja.
Cue the chords of Behind the Music.
It’s not that the band fought or imploded. But disagreements with their label over their follow-up to Vinnie took their toll. After thousands of shows, the band came off the road in 1998, and they didn’t perform as frequently around town. Five years ago, they put down their instruments and moved onto other projects — families, jobs, other bands.
“We never officially broke up or anything; it just as a business wasn’t going anywhere for us,” Logan said. “We just didn’t feel the need to play anymore. The last shows that we had done were kind of lackluster, and we didn’t feel like it was a great, organic experience anymore.”
Some of them remained musically active. Zink and Tanner play in the North Pinellas funk collective The Black Honkeys, and Walker works with guitarist Robin Trower. (In fact, he was recently at a gig with Trower in Indiana when he spotted a Hazies poster backstage. He stole it.)
A few years ago, the group reunited on stage at a wedding. This summer, they all hung out at a Crowded House concert in Clearwater. Facebook photos from that outing prompted fans to leave comments asking if the Hazies were getting back together. Walker started calling old friends from other bands, and Friday’s ’90s reunion lineup at Jannus started to take shape.
The concert may lead to more Hazies gigs, but for now, Walker said they’re just focusing on the first one. He said some fans are even flying in from out of town for the gig.
“It’s crazy that that’s come about — people spending $500 on a $15 show,” he laughed. “But we had some hardcore fans back in the day. We were fortunate that we were able to travel the country and have a good fan base, and that’s what kept us going years after our recording career had stalled. It’s heartwarming to know that people still want to relive you.”
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*