I recently spoke to Elio Lopez, an accomplished visual artist whose work can be found in galleries and libraries, on sidewalks and walls, and in number of other highly visible locations throughout the Bay Area. He’s been a very busy man throughout his lifetime, in search of ways to express himself, yet he continues to find ways to give back to the community and to share his talents through various worthy causes. But aside from all his accomplishments as a painter and his humanitarian efforts, he has always been an exceptional musician and songwriter. That is the side of Elio that I’d like to address with this installment of I Remember Tampa.
I have known Elio all of my life. We both grew up in the West Tampa area, about seven blocks from each other. It was our mutual passion for music that ultimately brought us closer together. In the early 80’s, we spent a great deal of time playing, writing, and sharing ideas, but eventually, we went our separate ways. I continued to write and record, never very eager to perform, while Elio embraced the spotlight. He loved the interaction with the audience. He fed off of it. He would go on to become one of the major contributors to the New Wave movement in Tampa. He had the haircut, the skinny tie, the black pointed tip shoes, and the sport coat with the collar raised. But more important than The Look…he had the sound down to a science, and the moves to go along with that sound. He had become the prototypical front man that he had always envisioned himself to be. And he was damn good at it.
I asked him to describe the musical climate in Tampa at the time…the bands he was a part of, the clubs that catered to his music, and some of the other artists that were popular at the time. I wanted to share those memories for the sake of all who were a part of this vibrant period of Tampa’s music scene:
“Let’s see…my bands that were pretty popular were “The Squares,” and “Small Population,” and finally, ‘The Reflex.” Zenith Nader and Headlights were also the better known local groups. Zenith Nader eventually became part of the Small Population until Jim moved to Atlanta to audition for The Producers and Dennis got married and moved to S. Carolina. I opened shows for ‘Berlin’ and ‘Wall of Voodoo,” (“I’m on a Mexican Radio”). Then I travelled with ‘Thriller,’ the show band. New Wave venues were the Buffalo Roadhouse, Ms. Lucky Club, Janis Landing, USF, and Scoundrels, all of which I played at regularly. At least on this coast. I can’t remember too many details right now about the east coast clubs and such.”
Those of you who have read my past entries know that Elio’s paragraph recollecting some of the details of our cities past is what this blog is all about: remembering that which made growing up here in Tampa a unique experience. But it doesn’t stop with the memories of people or places or events. What got this whole story started, was a song I asked him to send me….a song that Elio wrote towards the tail end of those colorful years. I vividly remember when he first introduced it to me. I couldn’t really hear all he was hearing as he strummed it. But once he was able to lay all the tracks down and pull all the elements together, it was obvious that he had come up with a winner. The studio recording of “Boys on the Block” that I’m linking my readers to was done after the New Wave movement had come and gone in Tampa, but the song itself represents that time period well, and it remains a pleasant reminder of the quality of music that evolved from it. It’s as good, if not better, than many of the hits of that era. And as is the case with all great songs, it still sounds fresh today.
I asked Elio to share the story behind the recording, and I will close with the details he was able to provide…great memories of a vital period in Tampa’s history:
“In the summer of 1988 I went into Hayes studio and hired John Urigh to produce 3 songs for me. Mr. Urigh was a top producer at that time who had worked with Prince, Joe Walsh, and a couple of other big stars whom I can’t recall right now. He played some of his productions and I was impressed enough to hire him. I played him 5 songs that day in which he chose the main song I wanted to do, (Had to Give Her Up), and rejected the other four. His reasoning was that the songs were too diverse.
I brought him several more songs at the pre-production meeting. He chose “All Those Flashy Girls,” and sent me back for more. I came back twice more exhausting my cataloge and he rejected everything. His reasoning was that I was too diverse and the A&R people wouldn’t know what to do with my music as they saw things in terms of marketing and sales, not talent or skills.
When I came in for the first round of sessions, (‘Flashy Girls’) I brought in the remaining songs and this song was on it. It was just in demo form and I was doubly embarrassed to present it because of that. The second he heard it, he wanted to cut it! I argued against it over and over, but he swore it was a smash it. So he gave us a basic direction on how he wanted us to arrange the song. When we got to it, (it was the last one cut), neither myself nor Watson & Watson could hear the song as a record, especially because we were cutting demos for much better songs. John was recording Debbie Gibson, (remember her?), in the next studio and he would pop in to see how we were doing. He listened to what we had and nixed most of it and told us exactly what he wanted to hear on the rhythm tracks. I was tired and left.
When I came back in the next day, Watson & Watson were excited saying they’d solved the issue. They had removed most of the stuff we had done. All that remained was the bass and synth pad #2, (me), drums, (Mark), and keyboard pad #1, (David). They’d added some horns hits, (which are there), and that high pitched keyboard that you hear during the prechorus. We played it for John and he approved it. When it came time to layer the vocals and the guitars, John had me play, (for what seemed to be 100 takes), 2 acoustic guitars, then the electric you hear, and finally after he’d nixed a slide solo, the final solo. It was then that I could hear the song.
Cutting vocals for this simple tune was also a difficult chore. Not the main part. To my ear, my lead vocal is too flat and boring, but he wanted that. It was doing the bkgrnd vocals that was hard. He opted for 3 part harmony rather than two part and we tried many variations before we decided on the product you hear now. Well that’s the whole story, except that when I shopped the songs, I actually got a small publishing deal on this one. I guess I’m not the best judge of my own work.”
Quite a story…quite a character. Thank you, Elio, for your contributions to the arts. You are a true Tampa treasure.