1980, Page 25

Nashville's Pop Sensation

by Thom King

   New bands are a dime a dozen in this town. Everyday brings a new sensation, the next Dylan, the new Kristofferson, another Beatles, the next Blondie. After a while the hype wears thin. When every band is the best there ever was, none of them are. So you shut your ears and mind to what the new bands have to offer. Such was almost the case with The Smashers.
   The name sounds new wave, they have a female singer, plus four skinny guys singing harmony. They wear distinct stage clothes that set them apart. They must be new wave, or, worse yet, punk or puke.
   Wrong. The Smashers are a commercial band that sound like a cross between the munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, Jan & Dean, and Ronnie Spector. They have been together for 3˝ years, singing about high school dances, being in love, growing up, and teenage fantasies. Their songs have titles like "Danger," "Once Is Not Enough," "First Boy At The Dance," "High School Action," and "It Took Awhile (For Me To Find You)."
   Their music is the kind you sing in the shower, the kind you hum as you go shopping. The kind you find yourself singing as you roll down the road. They are danceable, entertaining ditties of about three minutes duration. You won't find any twenty-minute drum solos or instrumental ego trips. Their songs feature a textured wall of sound, in the grand Phil Spector tradition.
   The band consists of Victor Lovera, chief songwriter and lead singer, Fagan Arouh, lead guitarist, Gypsy Carns, bassist, and Virginia Arouh, keyboards and harmony. Drums on the album were provided by Tony Newman, a noted former English percussionist who has toured with David Bowie, Elton John and other greats. In recent live performances Billy West, Nashville session musician and drummer for the Patsy Cline band in Coal Miner's Daughter, stepped in. The supporting staff includes Phil Sigal and Rebecca Vernon, executive producers and managers for the Smashers. Michael Snow, a transplanted Britisher who played with the Bee Gees and even sang on John Lennon's single "Power To The People," their producer, and Gary Laney, engineer for their Sound Emporium sessions.
   The core group of Arouh, Lovera, and Arouh have been together for the past 3˝ years, writing songs, working day jobs, and refining their talent. The appeared at writers' nights around town in one form or another, trying out this idea or throwing away that one. During this time their music touched such styles as folk, pop, and punk. It still does. Their versatility is part of their uniqueness. They are as comfortable with a hard rocker like "Punk and Roll Music" as they are with slow ballads. They have actually produced an overture of their songs played entirely by strings, a la The Who's Tommy, which has to be Nashville's first punk Muzak tape.
   This isn't your normal band. A quick look at their backgrounds will show you why their sound is so diverse.
    Victor Lovera has been in Nashville for years, making strange tapes, composing songs, and drawing some of Nashville's more inspired art. He has been consistently producing tapes that range from Zappa to Hendrix to Bowie to the Beatles to the Everly Brothers in influence. His favorite album is the West Side Story soundtrack, and he claims to have been influenced by everything he has encountered since he was born. A New Yorker who has yet to lose all of his accent after a decade in the South, Victor's urban outlook adds depth to the lyrics. With 200 songs in his file, material for many more Smashers albums is assured. The name, the logo, the songs, the lyrics for the most part are Victor's creations. On the surface he has the symptoms of a sensitive artist who is only concerned with his art. Maybe so. His favorite drink is Cherry Cola.
    Fagan Arouh is the screaming lead guitarist. He is also from up north. A genuinely nice guy, Fagan reminds this writer of Dudley DooRight. Maybe it was because he wore a Boy Scout outfit the first time I met him. Maybe it's because he seems so... well, All-American. He plays Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. He looks clean-cut, athletic, and inspired. Whereas Victor could easily fit into a Ragu spaghetti sauce commercial or a Saturday Night Live spoof on The Untouchables, Fagan looks so American he could be Canadian. Why does he have such an Arabian sounding last name? Arouh? Arouh who? He sure can play a mean guitar, wherever his bloodline originated.
    Sister Virginia Arouh is the keyboard player, and occasional lead singer. Comparisons between her and Deborah Harry just don't hold up. First of all, Virginia isn't blonde, she isn't anemic-looking, and she doesn't act like someone just ran over her cat. Deborah Harry acts like limp lettuce on stage, whereas Virginia has energy, moves, and wise-cracks more akin to Bette Midler and the waitresses at Krystal. Virginia is an equal member of the band. The Smashers aren't her backup band. She says she learned to play guitar to meet musicians. It worked.
    The newest member of the band, bassist Gypsy Carns, came to the Smashers after years in Florida club bands. Gypsy has put in time at frat parties, beer joints, and sleazy dives. Naturally he feels right at home with The Smashers. Local fans will probably remember him as part of Gypsy, Tramps and Thieves, a local cover band booked by Tony Moon, king of dance band promoters in Nashville. Since joining earlier this year, thus relieving Victor of bass duties, Gypsy has become one of the theatric focal points of the group. His power prancing and rock 'n' roll attitude comes in full-focus on a joke tune called "Do The Smasher." This is the dance song to end all dance songs. Rufus Thomas can do the funky chicken all he wants, but those in the know do the Smasher, which is nothing but doing anything you want. When Gypsy gets out into the crowd and screams "Do The Smasher," the whole song becomes an experiment in mass hysteria.
    With a new drummer slated to join this month, the Smashers have been taking time off after recording their album and appearing at showcases like Opryland's Stage Door Lounge. Managers Sigal and Vernon are busy handling such details as lawyers, contracts, copyrights, and record label executives. With the success of such southern New Wave groups as The B-52s and The Brains, interest is running high over The Smashers. They have prepared a 15-minute video-tape to help market their image, and have customized Smashers sunglasses, buttons, bumper stickers, and tee-shirts cropping up all over town.
    Sure, new bands are a dime a dozen, especially in Nashville. But if you ignore the Smashers because you think they are just another band, then you deserve your ignorance. I'm gonna go do the Smasher and wait for the album to come out.