Sunday, December 26, 1982
Deal achieves fame in '80s with upbeat
sounds of '60s
By C.A. Bustard, Times-Dispatch Staff Writer
In the beginning was the deal -- the prospect of one,
anyway. The big-D Deal arose in its wake.
Therein lies the somewhat unlikely tale of a Charlottesville quintet,
launched in 1980 as a weekend-party rock band composed of University
of Virginia fraternity brothers, solidifying a year later when the
five graduated and decided to state their case before the high court
of popular music -- the insiders of talent management, production
and recording, and the lawyers and accountants orbiting those insiders.
Typically, a rock band will start out in a garage or basement, eventually
graduating to a hometown bar, then to local and regional circuits
of nightspots and colleges, with perhaps a warmup date or two in
concerts featuring recording acts -- eventually, with good luck
and better timing, attracting the attention of the proverbial man
with a big cigar, who, according to rock lore, says: "Come
here, kid, I'm gonna make you a star."
The saga-in-progress of The Deal finds that sequence somewhat
rearranged. Mark Roebuck, Haines Fullerton and Eric Schwartz, the
singer-songwriter-guitarists who were the charter members of the
group, recruited bassist Jim Jones and drummer Hugh Patton "with
the purpose of going to New York and taking tapes of the original
music we had," Roebuck recalled recently. "We had worked
so well making the tapes, and the initial response was so good,
[that] we sort of evolved into an ongoing band."
As Roebuck recounts it, what began as "a lark, just kicking
around in college" turned rather quickly into serious business.
The group attracted two of pop music's current heavy hitters, talent
manager Linda Stein (of Ramones and Steve Forbert fame) and record
producer Richard Gottehrer (who oversaw the debut recording of Marshall
Crenshaw), as mentors. Ms. Stein took the group into her stable
of acts, while Gottehrer produced several tunes on The Deal's demonstration
Shortly thereafter, Ms. Stein induced Albert Grossman, the onetime
manager of Bob Dylan and chief of Bearsville Records, to head for
Charlottesville and hear the band. Within a few days, Grossman "verbally
committed himself to giving us a record deal," Fullerton said.
The Deal's deal remains somewhat amorphous - it may extend to seven
albums, it may be launched either by an album or an extended-play
disc (that is, a four-song single), which may be produced by Gottehrer
or someone else. In any event, Roebuck said, Bearsville executives
"consider us on their label. But, with the record industry
in such a miserable state right now, they want to make sure everything
To go with this unusual sequence of events, the Deal has generated
some unusual early press notice for a rock band, turning up in such
out-of-the-way contexts as a spring '82 fashion forecast in The
Los Angeles Times ("There's a hot new rock group called The
Deal that prides itself on its preppie look . . . [dressing] identically
in navy blazers with gold buttons, pink button-down oxford-cloth
shirts, skinny ties and Converse tennis shoes") and a picture
spread on the "First impression" page of Andy Warhol's
hyper-trendy Interview magazine ("Putting the pep back into
prep ... the East Coast answer to the Beach Boys sound").
The quintet seems of two minds about such billing, which Fullerton
both welcomed as a magnet for further attention and disclaimed as
"just a hype thing." The U.Va.-preppie equation clearly
troubles the performers, who would rather not be typecast as the
road-show version of a Charlottesville frat-house bash. Given their
druthers, they would opt for being part of the vanguard in a musical-spiritual
reincarnation of the 1960s. "The key to the '60s magic,"
Roebuck said, "is melody."
"Certain music has been created that was timeless," Fullerton
said during a recent Richmond club engagement. "A lot of it
happened to come out in the '60s because of what was going on culturally;
very little came out in the '70s, and not much is coming out now."
"Mark has been writing since he was 14, back in the early '70s,"
and has been under the '60s spell "from the time that he was
old enough to look at music," Fullerton said. "It seems
so natural," Roebuck said, "that it would have to come
back. I'm amazed what a renaissance the '60s were for music."
Looking through a year-by-year compilation of the top 40 tunes,
he noted, "you get to 1968 and you can't believe it, the top
40 was all great songs, or nearly all. You get to 1974 and you can't
believe how wretched the stuff was.
"What happened," in Roebuck's view of '70s pop, "was
that production took over and inspiration died. I truly believe
that someone is going to lead us into an even greater renaissance
in the '80s, in which all those things that happened in the music
of the '60s will happen again, with the addition of the amazing
progression in technology" occurring in the intervening years.
"I really think that's going to apotheosize music."
The musical apotheosis according to The Deal hinges on the likes
of "Pass Away" and 'Vera" - brightly upbeat, almost
pert, pop tunes rendered with airy, surf-meets-Beatles vocal harmonies,
a lightly applied, textured guitar sound and a lyric style that
might be described as literate without turning literary.
Roebuck and Fullerton, The Deal's principal songwriters, view their
repertory -- running, they say, to hundreds of titles -- as a purgative
for what Fullerton described as "this loud, moronic stuff"
holding sway in recent years. He cited two artistically over-achieving
contemporary rock acts, The Police and Tom Petty, whom, Fullerton
said, "are writing what I consider A-minus or B-plus music
... If they were back in the '60s, they would have been writing
timeless music. But that's just impossible in today's market, because
of the way the culture is interacting. We're in a vacuum right now,
but I think that's beginning to change."
"Everything seems to be going right now," Roebuck agreed.
"The time is right."
"Our degree of success as a live act is what surprised us,"
he noted, "because we didn't start out to be a big live act.
We did all original material, which we didn't think people would
accept. The [recording) contract was all we were after."
With the deal near at hand, the group is now developing a competitive
stage presence on the regional rock circuit, (Its next local engagement
will be Jan. 7 and 8 at Goin' Bananas, the rock nitery in Shockoe
Slip.) While the preppie aspect has been toned down (the button-down
oxfords remain, the blazers don't), The Deal is not about to alter
what bassist Jones calls its "fresh, clean-cut" look or
its straightforward, gimmick-less live presentation.