Monday, August 4, 2008

Anyone Got A Quarterflash For The Jukebox?

In 1980 husband and wife team Marv Ross (guitar) and Rindy Ross (vocals/ saxophone) from Oregon landed a recording contract with the burgeoning Geffen Records label to record an album in Los Angeles. At that time the Ross’ were known as Seafood Mama. They recruited Jack Charles (guitar), Rick DiGiallardo (keyboards), Rich Gooch (bass) and Brian David Willis (drums), all formerly of the group Pilot (not the Scottish band covered in an earlier post). The combined line-up dubbed themselves Quarterflash, the source of the name being from an Australian colloquialism “a quarter flash and three parts foolish”, referring to new immigrants - that must be a generational thing because I’m an Aussie and wasn’t at all familiar with that expression.

Seafood Mama had already recorded the song ‘Harden My Heart’ in 1980. The song was only released on a local independent label in Portland, Oregon, but it enjoyed incredible local success, reaching #1, and it was on the strength of it that Geffen signed Quarterflash. Logically ‘Harden My Heart’ demanded inclusion on Quarterflash’s debut album. The self titled set was released in late 1981 and he lead out single was indeed ‘Harden My Heart’. The song was a smash hit bulleting to #3 in the U.S., #6 in Australia (in early ’82), though Britain (#49) didn’t take to the very American A.O.R. sound of Quarterflash. The song featured, as did so many songs in the 1980s, the saxophone as a lead instrument - actually why is it that the sax as a much used instrument in pop songs, went by the wayside post 80s - must have been a lot of out of work sax players in the 90s.

The album ‘Quarterflash’ sold over two million copies, reaching #22 in Australia and #8 in America. The follow up single ‘Find Another Fool’ also performed solidly in the U.S.(#16) in early ‘82, though single number threee ‘Right Kind Of Love’ (#56) hinted at a loss in momentum was occurring already for Quarterflash. The band contributed the title track for the 1982 motion picture hit ‘Night Shift’, though the song itself only reached a disappointing #60.

Their follow up album ‘Take Another Picture’ (US#34) in 1983 promised early on to repeat to a degree the success of its forerunner. The lead out single ‘Take Me To Heart’ was a strong pop track, and regular airplay and rotations on MTV bolstered its stocks to #14 in the U.S. in mid ‘83. But it would be the band’s last top 50 hit, the follow up title track ‘Take Another Picture’ limping to a disappointing #58. Album number three ‘Back Into Blue’ continued the downward slide, missing the top 100 altogether and realising on one minor hit in ‘Talk To Me’ (US#83).

After Geffen Records dropped them from their roster, Quarterflash broke up in 1985 but reformed in 1990 with the Ross’ remaining at the core of the line-up for live performances. They recorded one album for Sony ‘Girl In The Wind’ (1991) which saw only limited release in Europe and none at all in the U.S. Quarterflash continued to play sporadically and laid down some tracks for a proposed album in 1995, but the quarters ran out for the jukebox, and the album never saw the light of day.

Marv Ross acted in a co-producer’s role on Quarterflash’s later albums, the experience leading him to production work firstly in a 1991 musical titled ‘Voices Of The Oregon Trail’, going on to produce five albums for an associated band project called The Trail Band. He now runs his own production studio with wife Rindy, working with a lot of established and rising local acts. The couple also still perform together live on occasion, including some of the Quarterflash classics in their set, much to the pleasure of nostalgic 80s devotees and new fans alike. In June 2008 they released an album of new material under the Quarterflash moniker, titled ‘Goodbye Uncle Buzz’. As for the other original Quarterflash alumni; Rick Digiallonardo teaches music in Florida, Jack Charles builds specialty guitars in Oregon, Brian Willis is a session man in Nashville, and Rick Gooch still plays bass in local Portland bands.

There was more than a hint of contemporaries the Motels and Heart about Quarterflash, which without detracting from the legitimacy of their own talent, in some ways might explain their popularity at the time. It’s equally surprising though that they weren’t able to sustain things for longer in terms of commercial returns, given that for a time they seemed to have the formula just right - maybe the limitations of that formula, and the seeming lack of evolution in that formula, is the reason.

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