THE HOOTERS ARE ON THEIR OWN TIME NOW
A hooter is not what you might think it is. Two of its meanings are “lewd” and “rowdy.” Another is “harmless"--a nickname for a Hohner Melodica, an oddball musical instrument that’s part harmonica and part keyboard.
Rob Hyman, 33, is the hooter player. In 1980, when he and singer/songwriter/musician Eric Bazilian were organizing a band and in the market for a name, they decided to name themselves after Hyman’s beloved hooter. That was the birth of the Hooters, the popular Philadelphia pop-rock band that’s opening for Loverboy April 11 at the Forum.
“The name is a little weird but it seemed to fit us,” explained Hyman, who also sings, plays keyboards and composes with Bazilian. “Our music is a little unusual.”
Actually it’s not. It’s basic, melodic, commercial pop-rock that’s frequently dismissed as predictable pablum. But the music is a little more daring that critics recognize. It used to be heavily influenced by reggae and ska, largely due to Hyman’s infatuation with those styles. But when they recorded their first album, “Nervous Night,” those influences weren’t a factor.
“The album tended to become a straight-ahead rock album as we recorded it,” Hyman recalled. “Those old influences were toned down.” But only on the album. “There’s more of that reggae feeling when we appear in person,” he explained.
Apparently, there’s more of everything when the band appears in person. Candidly, Hyman observed: “Our live shows are much better than what we’ve done on the album.” But this hasn’t kept the fans from buying it. “Nervous Night,” a Columbia Records album, has been a steady seller since its release nearly a year ago. It recently crossed the million mark and this week it’s No. 16 on the Billboard pop chart.
The moderate hit singles, “And We Danced” and “Day by Day,” have helped album sales, but extensive touring has been the real key to the album’s longevity.
“If we hadn’t been on the road so much to promote this album, it would have faded away a long time ago,” Hyman observed.
Hyman, a Connecticut native, has lived in Philadelphia since he came to town to attend the University of Pennsylvania in the early ‘70s. He’s the only member of the band--which includes drummer David Uosikkinen, bassist Andy King and guitarist John Lilley--not born in the Philadelphia area.
Hyman and Brazilian met at Penn. One of their college chums was Rick Chertoff, who produced the Hooters’ album. In college, he was primarily a drummer, but by the late ‘70s Chertoff was signing acts for Arista records. He discovered a promising rock band called Baby Grand, featuring Hyman and Bazilian. But after two flop albums, the band expired.
In 1980, he and Bazilian formed the Hooters, which became the most popular band in Philadelphia. By 1983, the band--undone by dissatisfied personnel, disagreements about musical direction and management problems--seemed doomed.
“We were burned out,” Hyman recalled. “We had a creative breakdown. We just disbanded for six months.”
Their old buddy Chertoff came to the rescue, hiring Hyman and Bazilian for an album project. “He told us he was producing this girl singer and he needed some musicians,” Hyman recalled. The singer was Cyndi Lauper.
In some circles--mostly those outside Philadelphia--Hyman and Bazilian are still best known for their considerable contributions to Lauper’s incredibly popular album, “She’s So Unusual.” That 1983 album, produced by Chertoff, made her a star.
“Eric and I played almost all the instruments on the record except for the drums and some of the bass tracks,” Hyman pointed out proudly. “We did all the guitars and keyboards and backing vocals. Basically, the four of us did the album--Cyndi, Rick (Chertoff), Eric and me.”
Bazilian and Hyman helped with the writing too. Hyman and Lauper wrote the best song on the album, the dreamy, rhapsodic “Time After Time.”
Those sessions, Hyman admitted, weren’t always harmonious: “There was friction, creative friction. We all have strong ideas. We’re four different personalities. Eric is a crazy maniac and Rick is low-key and diplomatic. I’m the calm, steady type. And then there’s Cyndi.
“She could be difficult. She’s a very demanding artist. She’s a girl of a million faces. You never know which one is going to pop up. She can show you five faces in a short period of time. Imagine spending four months with that. I love her but. . . .”
The Hooters regrouped after working on her album, with a new bassist (Andy King) and a new guitarist (John Lilley) added to the nucleus of Hyman, Bazilian and drummer David Uosikkinen.
Working on that hit Lauper album rejuvenated Hyman and Bazilian, but surprisingly didn’t lead to a raft of record offers. An independent EP, “Amore,” which was recorded for $12,000 and sold over 100,000--mostly in the Philadelphia area--did generate record-company interest. The band signed with Columbia in July, 1984.
When Lauper formed a touring band, she offered positions to Hyman and Brazilian, who declined. “We wanted to have our own band,” Hyman said. “We didn’t want to be backup musicians.”
Hyman hinted that wasn’t the only reason they turned her down. “We weren’t sure how successful the album would be. It didn’t fit into any category. Maybe the world wasn’t ready for her.”
Any regrets about not accepting an offer to work with a singer who turned out to be a superstar?
“None,” replied Hyman.