Cardiologists give their hearts to rock

Benefit: Men making music at Saturday's Heartfest '99 spend more of their time providing health care.

January 06, 1999|By Rasmi Simhan | Rasmi Simhan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Kiss has its face paint. Marilyn Manson has his faux Satan look. You might not be familiar with the signature style of Baltimore rockers Stevie V. and the Heart Attackers.

Surgical scrubs, booties and masks. Cardiologists by day, the jagged edge by night.

OK, that's an exaggeration -- cardiologists by day and night, and every once in a while a rock band -- like this Saturday at the ninth annual Heartfest, an evening of dinner and dancing to benefit the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease.

Stevie V. and the Heart Attackers formed in 1997 when heart center director Lowell Maughn and associate directors Steve Valenti and David Jackson realized they shared more than careers in cardiology. All three had played in a rock band at some point in their lives, mostly in high school or college. Valenti even won a contest once to perform with Jimmy Buffet at Merriweather Post Pavilion and had shared the stage with Three Dog Night, Buddy Rich and the Drifters.

The docs surveyed the rest of the lab. Of the 10 people performing cardiac catheterization, five could perform in a band. They've been puzzling about the connection between cardiology and rock 'n' roll ever since, says Maughn.

"You can make all kinds of jokes about beats," he says.

The core group of doctors -- Valenti, 46, Maughn, 50, David Jackson, 44, and Alan Heldman, 37 -- recruited eight more members, mostly health-care providers from Hopkins Hospital or affliliates.

The band played for an audience of about 250 at the 1997 opening of the Central Maryland Heart Center and Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory in Columbia. They also played at its second anniversary. About 1,400 people are expected at Heartfest.

The band caters to an audience that ranges in age from 2 1/2 to 80 with songs from the 1950s to the present. They cover artists such as the Beatles and Sheryl Crow, and genres ranging from swing to Motown.

The audience seems to catch the beat. A conga line forms to "Hot, Hot, Hot," says Valenti. And the teens? "A lot of them seem to think that people their parents' age are nerdy old fogies," Valenti says. Yet a friend of his 16-year-old daughter did suggest that Stevie V. play at their prom. And there have been requests to play at weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Despite the raging fandom, the band, which plays "for fun, not money," insists it will stick to medical events. Valenti works 80 to 100 hours a week; the lightest workload in the group is at least 60 hours. The band practices two to three times before each performance and more often in small groups. Valenti does not recall a rehearsal attended by every member.

Valenti says he practices about 20 minutes each day. He keeps a guitar at work and by each phone at home to practice when he's put on hold. He plays songs in his head while driving to work. Stevie V. fave tunes include the 1986 Timbuk 3 hit "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades" (which the band does) and "just about anything you hear on WQSR."

Scrubs aside, band members don big sunglasses and fluorescent purple toupees for certain songs.

"We put on wild wigs during `Wild Thing,' and for someone who's bald like me -- well, people get a charge out of that," Maughn says.

Valenti is known for performing splits and playing the guitar behind his head, says Maughn.

Glimpsing the doctors' rock sides has strengthened their relationship with patients, they say. "They appreciate my human side a little more," says Valenti.

If the docs really want to be rockers, though, they need to work on their scowling interviews with the media. The fiercest retort Valenti could work up about Saturday's Heartfest is: "We're planning to have a rockin' good dance time."

It's just hard to imagine him smashing a guitar.

Heartfest '99

What: Dining, consumer education and dancing to the music of Stevie V. and the Heart Attackers to benefit the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease

When: 7 p.m. to midnight Saturday

Where: Martin's West, Beltway and Security Boulevard

Cost: $60

Call: 410-561-1973. Pub Date: 1/06/99

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