Daily Progress


Richmond Times-Dispatch
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 tape.

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 is right."

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.




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