For a lot of Philadelphians, the Hooters are the home-town band that made good -- good times, good music and good records.
Now, with the success of the group's debut album, "Nervous Night," good is finally turned to gold, and a band that was once viewed as a hot local act is shaping up as a national contender.
"It looks like Christmas shopping is out," says singer, keyboardist and songwriter Rob Hyman, reviewing the band's itinerary, which includes performances tonight and tomorrow at the Bayou and a brief tour of Australia later this month.
Having forged a bright rock sound by craftily combining synthesizers and guitars with mandolins and melodicas (or hooters, as the band members call them), the Hooters have been on the road almost constantly since June, at first opening for established acts like Don Henley and Squeeze, and more recently appearing as headliners.
"I'm sure every local band dreams of reaching a point where they can headline around the country," Hyman enthuses. "I'm not certain what we can bring into the Bayou, but on bigger stages we have lighting that's really developed and we've really worked hard on our sound. People may be excited about our album now, but it has always been the shows that have spread the word."
The word on the Hooters has been spreading for more than five years now, but the band's principals -- Hyman and Eric Bazilian (vocals, guitar, mandolin and sax) -- first met in the early '70s while attending the University of Pennsylvania. As luck would have it, Rick Cherthoff, who would later play a key role in the Hooters' success story as their record producer, also was enrolled at the college then.
According to Hyman, he and Bazilian have always found it easy to collaborate on songs, since they both are attracted to strong melodies and the compelling rhythms of ska and reggae. "We've really developed a true collaboration," Hyman says. "We've written an awful lot and sometimes we just go back and forth, one of us might write a melody and the other a lyric, or we turn it around. We write songs independently but they don't tend to be Hooter songs. The ones we do write together -- those are the ones that are really good for the band."
Prior to forming the Hooters in 1980, Hyman and Bazilian weren't so lucky. They were involved in a band called Baby Grand, which recorded a couple of widely ignored albums produced by Cherthoff. Although the experience was both expensive and disheartening, Hyman says, it was nevertheless instructive.
"The band didn't succeed at all because it was really a studio band and there was no one to support it, not even in Philly.Afterward we were broke and nothing was happening. What we wanted to do when we started the Hooters was go back to the basics. Get out there and play."
And play they did. (In addition to Hyman and Bazilian the band now includes bassist Andy King, guitarist John Lilley and drummer David Uosikkinen.) They started working clubs immediately, first in Levittown, Pa., and then in Philadelphia. At one point the group was playing four sets a night, six nights a week, all the while fleshing out its original material with Jamaican-flavored tunes by groups like English Beat or the Specials. In time the Hooters built up a strong local following and began attracting the notice of local radio stations.
Ironically, as the band became more popular, more problems developed. For one thing, Hyman, who was then booking and comanaging the group, found he had less time to play and compose music. "Things got a little scattered," he says, "and that led to a semibreakup where we just decided to put the band on the back burner for a while. Eric and I even spent some time apart. We were probably going to burn out otherwise."
The "semibreakup," as Hyman puts it, lasted from January to July of 1983, a period that found Hyman, Bazilian and Cherthoff working together on a different project -- Cyndi Lauper's debut album "She's So Unusual," which turned Lauper's name into a household word.
"It was great working with Cyndi, and it allowed us to cool down a little bit," says Hyman, who along with Bazilian arranged and performed virtually all of the keyboard, guitar, bass, drum machine and vocal parts on the album, and even went so far as to throw in a little of the Hooters' familiar melodica on songs like "Money Changes Everything."
During the sessions, Hyman and Lauper also found time to collaborate on the ballad "Time After Time," a Grammy nominee for song of the year.
Even before the release of "She's So Unusual" Hyman and Bazilian returned to the studio. Their faith in themselves renewed, they were eager to record the EP "Amore." "We're really proud of 'Amore,' " Hyman says of the independently produced recording. "For one thing it sold about 100,000 copies, but it also shows the roots of the band -- the reggae and ska stuff."
The success of "Amore" soon attracted Columbia Records and the band finally broke into the national spotlight this summer with its first full-length album, "Nervous Night."
"Having that album go gold was really exciting," says Hyman. "And it seems the more and more we play, the better and better the album sells." Then, with a sly laugh, he adds, "Maybe that's why Columbia has us out here working the road forever."