Band thrives by playing rock classics as they were meant to be played

HUBCAPS HITCH A RIDE ON NOSTALGIA WAVE

August 06, 1993|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,Contributing Writer

Audience reaction to a popular number on the Hubcaps hit parade helps explain the incredible hold the rock 'n' roll group has on thousands of fans in and out of the county.

When the group breaks into a four-part a cappella harmony to perform that oldest of oldies -- "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- in doo-wop style, "the crowds are in awe," said manager Terry Tombesi.

Because the Hubcaps manage to energize the classics without changing a note, rock 'n' roll purists consistently fill the 600-plus seats at the Turf Valley Hotel and Country Club in Ellicott City, where the band performs at least three times a year and will perform again Sunday night.

"If you were to close your eyes, it almost sounds like the original artist," said Ross Jones of Parkville, a fan since 1988. "They don't jazz it up like some other groups do, taking old music and putting new styles of music to it."

The hits, which are selected from a repertoire of about 300 songs, are performed exactly as they were written.

The seven-member group also prides itself on rarely performing the same program twice.

What sets the Hubcaps apart from the other groups on the nostalgia circuit is how the songs are presented.

For its four-hour concert of continuous music at Turf Valley, the group tries different combinations of songs, offering medleys of artists such as Buddy Holly, Little Richard and the Everly Brothers.

But the thrust of the program is the 60-minute floor show. Hubcaps' members don authentic period clothing, re-creating the look of the original artists and their backup groups in comedy skits.

Guests, often dressed in '50s clothing, get a chance to rock around the clock -- moving to the jitterbug, limbo rock, twist and locomotion during three dance sets. They can also participate in Hula-Hoop contests sponsored by the hotel.

The Hubcaps also entertain with a few of their original recordings, including "In the Heat of the Night" and "Rock to the Beat."

A mood-setter for guests before they step inside the hotel will be the row of customized classic cars displayed outside the hotel.

The "Streetcars of Desire" car club, with 140 members throughout Maryland, has been showing its cars at Hubcaps concerts for the past two years.

"We'll also be around to answer questions about the cars," said club treasurer Curt Lambdin of Ellicott City. Mr. Lambdin and his wife, Jo Ann, will display their 1959 Plymouth with eight other cars beginning at 5 p.m.

The band, based in Dover, Del., was formed 19 years ago by Rocky Simon, a native of Southern Maryland. Fellow members include his brother Jimi Simon, Denny Cook, Barry Holober, Coe Anderson, Willie Farrell and Mr. Farrell's wife, Kathie Martin.

Originally a Top-40 group, the band performed the current hits of the day. As an added attraction, members would slick back their hair and devote an hour to old rock 'n' roll.

"Rocky merged heavy metal with doo-wop," said Mr. Tombesi.

As requests poured in for more rock 'n' roll songs, the group decided in 1983 to drop the Top-40 part of the act and perform strictly '50s and early '60s music.

rTC The band's name also evolved over the past two decades from Harvey Hubcaps and the Do-Ron-Rons, to The Southern Maryland Band Presents the Hubcaps, to The Fabulous Hubcaps.

Three years ago, they opted to shorten it.

Mr. Tombesi first caught the band's act 13 years ago when he was a disc jockey.

"They had a razzle-dazzle entry, sliding out across the floor, putting instruments on backward," he said. "They had this crowd in the palm of their hands."

Since Mr. Tombesi came aboard, they've produced five albums and nine singles, and formed their own talent agency, publishing and record company, and the Hubcap Newsletter for 12,000 fans, under the title TSMB Productions.

They also perform at fairs, festivals, private parties and corporate events throughout the country.

One of its most recent Baltimore bookings was at the Clinton victory party in November thrown by U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski. But it was at the beginning of a Hagerstown Suns baseball game where the Hubcaps introduced their rendition of the national anthem.

"We gave 'The Star-Spangled Banner' a little life," said Mr. Tombesi who attributes the insatiable nostalgia frenzy to the advertising media and Hollywood. "Ten years ago, a lot of people felt nostalgia reached a peak, but it continues because so many advertisers use '50s-style music in the background for commercials.

"Movies use them in [stories] about Vietnam and bios about Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. . . . They'll see the movie and want to hear the songs," Mr. Tombesi said.

With renewed interest in old-time rock 'n' roll, the Hubcaps continue to build an audience, with fans often following the group from concert to concert.

Mr. Jones, 34, and his wife, Nancy, 28, have gone as far as Gettysburg, Pa., to catch a concert.

"We recognized people in the crowd from other Hubcaps concerts," said the occupational paramedic for Bethlehem Steel, who hopes to catch the next show in Delaware or West Virginia.

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