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Mad Beach Band: No trick, a treat

If you were one of the bay area music lovers who grooved to the Mad Beach Band back in the '70s, you not only got a dose of top notch blues and pop, but some pretty good country rock.

"We were doing country rock before even Urban Cowboy (in 1980)," said harpist T.C. Carr, one of the band's original members. As if you couldn't guess from song titles like Sweet Potato (about a truck driver who has to leave his "sweet p'tater" at home) or Champagne Ladies. The Mad Beach Band's brand of down-home rock made them one of the bay area's most popular bands during their six or so years on the scene. The group will reunite for a Halloween show Monday at the Gulfport Casino.

Carr (of T.C. Carr and the Catch) first hooked up with bassist Harry Dailey in 1976. Dailey was out on the road with Jimmy Buffett and "he was looking for someone to jam around with," said Carr. "Then we ran into two guys called Shackett and Merrigan (Pete Shackett and Pete Merrigan), who were just gangbusters popular at the time as a duo. So we just had a ball jamming around, and with Harry on one end, and me on the other, we just decided to call it the Mad Beach Band."

"When they were together they were the band around here," said Gulfport Casino manager Johnny Green.

The Mad Beach Band toured up and down the coast, dropping and adding members as it went. At various times during the years it included Dave Williamson on guitars, Vinnie Sepleski on bass, the late "Stormin" Norman Duzen on keyboards, Lenny Austin on guitar and Larry Sanchez on drums and percussion. Along the way Merrigan wrote a song called Willie Nelson for President, which was one of the band's signature tunes during the two years leading up to the 1980 election. Not only did it make the national charts briefly, Merrigan won a $240,000 copyright infringement judgment after a Tulsa, Okla., songwriter plagiarized the song.

"I never saw a penny of it, and I don't expect I ever will," Merrigan said by phone from New Hampshire. "All I got was a bill from a lawyer for $3,000. The good thing is we got a copy to Willie Nelson, and they play it before their concerts now and again."

It all came to an end in 1982. Then this year, Gulfport's Johnny Green came up with the idea of a reunion concert.

"We shuffled the idea around and decided that it would work," Carr said. "It was a lot of great memories, and a large part of our lives."

Among the players at Monday's reunion will be Carr, Dailey (who is flying in from Texas) guitarists Merrigan and Shackett, Williamson, Austin, and drummer Tom Kennedy. Not to mention a bunch of surprise guests. The Mad Beach Band Reunion kicks off at 8 p.m. Monday. Tickets are $7 advance and $10 at the door. For information, call 893-1070.

TINSLEY ELLIS _ Ellis has brought his blues-rock guitar through the bay area before, but that's no reason to skip this show. Ellis, whose latest is Storm Warning (Alligator) will play Pockets Billiards in St. Petersburg on Thursday. Tickets are $6, show starts at 9:30.

URBAN JAM _ The semifinal leg of the Urban Jam talent competition is set to kick off today at the Colony Hotel (820 E Busch Blvd.) in Tampa. The two-day regional convention will feature performances by bay area rap and R&B performers as well as seminars featuring major label and electronic media representatives. Open talent tryouts will be held from noon till 3 p.m. today and noon till 2 p.m. Saturday. Music showcases will be from 8 p.m.-1 a.m. on Friday. And yes, there will be late jams both days from 1-3 a.m. today and midnight to 3 a.m. on Saturday. Daytime events are for the whole family; after 8 p.m., events are for adults (18 and older) only. Tickets are $10 at the door.

FURTHERMORE: It took a while, but the St. Petersburg-based band Men From Earth has finally released its CD, Real Fine Drag (Ripoff Records), which was in the works for more than a year.

Besides the recording process and the usual money hassles, the biggest obstacle was the band's interpersonal dynamics.

"It was a rough time," said guitarist/vocalist Robert Vessenmeier. "The band wasn't getting along. We had a lot of disagreement as far was what direction to go.

"But the band is basically a bunch of songwriters; once we had it mixed and mastered it was easy. Chris Irvin (a local guitarist who also twiddles the knobs at Clearwater's Panda Studios) knocked the whole thing out in a month or two."

Men from Earth is scheduled to play Guavaween at midnight on the El Pasaje stage Saturday. . . . Another bay area band, UROK, is in negotiations with Chrysalis Records, and expects to close a deal soon, says Clearwater-based Lois Lee Management. . . . Skipper's will celebrate the haunting season with the 15th Annual Freakers Ball, the "Reggae Halloween IV" and the "Night of the Living Deadheads," three days of Halloween-related shows that begin tonight. Tonight's Freakers Ball features performances by the Bohemian Swingers, as well as a costume party, prizes and giveaways. Show starts at 8 p.m., and admission is $6. The Elements Band will play reggae and calypso at Saturday's Reggae Halloween. Cover is $4, show starts at 8. The "Night of the Living Deadheads" show will feature Grateful Dead tunes from the Estimated Band and friends. Show starts at 7 and admission is $4.