Of Headlights and Ditchflowers

If you don’t use your headlights, you’re going to be seeing those flowers in the ditch really close up.  Hmmm, never mind…

In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, there was a band in the Tampa Bay area called The Headlights.  In a hot and humid local music scene dominated by a lot of hair bands, dance acts, and death metal (what, you didn’t know Tampa once had the dubious honor of being known as the “death metal capital of the world”?), the Headlights stood out like a grammy in a garbage dump (okay, I stole that metaphor from an old Rush review, but it applies here as well).

The Headlights’ music was a folk-rock hybrid of sorts, closest comparison being The Byrds (in fact, they were Roger McGuinn’s backing band on his “Back From Rio” tour in 1992) in many aspects, but with a sound all their own. Though they weren’t primarily a cover band, their version of “Eight Miles High” easily matches or betters the original Byrds version.

The Headlights’ covering The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” live on WYNF, Tampa Jan. 1991:

One of the strengths of the band was that it had Steve Connelly and Steve Robinson, two strong songwriters, who were also singers and guitarists.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of recorded output released by The Headlights – an E.P called Earthbound in 1989 and a full album (which I remember being disappointed by when it was first released, but it’s grown on me since) called Roundhouse in 1993.

Earthbound (from Earthbound):

It Took A While (from Roundhouse):

I managed to see them in concert a few times.  I remember one show in a small dive bar in an empty, quiet part of St. Petersburg where the audience numbered about 30 people. The small crowd, however, worked well in our favor as we got great seats!  A few other performances at venues like Skipper’s Smokehouse- outside under the moon and giant oak trees there- were much better attended and memorable as all around great shows.  The last time I saw them perform was near the end of their career, and I guess getting good bookings must have been getting more difficult, as they were doing a late afternoon show at a family seafood restaurant called Jesse’s Dockside in Dunedin. Which, come to think of it, wasn’t that bad – I mean, there was a nice view of the boats and the water at least…

A couple more random memories – I dutifully taped their live in the studio performance on 95 WYNF’s “Radio Clash” radio program, staying up till midnight or so by the radio. This was in 1991 and the first George Bush was about to launch America into the Gulf War, and there was a bit of discussion and foreboding about that in the radio interview.  “(This ain’t the) Summer of Love” was an apt song choice by the band.  Sometime around then, I was in a now-long-defunct bookstore called Bookstop in Clearwater (sort of a forerunner to Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc.) and Steve Connelly came into the store.  I was thinking “It’s Steve Connelly! I should tell him how much I like his band’s music!”, but he looked really stressed out and harried and was obviously in a very big hurry, so I thought better of it.

The Headlights have since reunited for a few shows, including one last year at the still-going-strong Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa.  Steve Connelly has been very active in the Tampa Bay music scene, playing in different bands, playing on people’s records, producing, etc.  He also is part of a band, along with Ed Woltil of Headlights contemporaries Mad For Electra, called The Ditchflowers.  They have a new cd out called Bird’s Eye and it’s an exemplary collection of songs. To my ears, it’s anchored in the same roots as The Headlights and Mad For Electra’s music was, but displays a more classic 60’s pop and power-pop influence.   It’s on ex-Headlight Steve Robinson’s own independent record label Sunshine Drenchy.  Sunshine Drenchy (“Showers from Power Pop Heaven” or “Folky-Pop for Poppy-Folk” – choose the slogan you like best) was founded by Robinson a few years ago and he’s released his own albums, Connelly’s  and others on it so far.  An excellent new EP of his own, packed with folky goodness, called The Ride of Our Lives is available for download.

Personally, I’m really happy there’s still great Headlights-connected music being released!

Steve Robinson’s website

Steve Connelly’s website

The Ditchflowers


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Holy Flashback…this post is filled with stuff I remember…who is that introducing them on Radio Clash??? That voice sounds so familiar and I was wondering if it is someone who is still around here. Skipper’s, Jesse’s (you are so right …not that bad, really nice view anyway) and good old Bookstop where I unknowingly began my career with Barnes and Noble. The cover of Eight Miles High sounds good…do you have storage units full of this stuff? And, did you know there was another local named Steve Robinson (also singer, songwriter, guitarist) who played with Snake Eye Band all over the place in 80’s-90’s? Thanks for another great post!

  2. Rob says:

    Good ear, Elizabeth – that’s Charlie Logan. I’m not sure if he’s still on the radio there – but you’d probably know more than me.
    I wish I *did* have storage units full of this stuff…as it is, there’s a very overstuffed special “music closet” in my house.
    I didn’t know about the other Steve Robinson…but maybe The Headlight’s Steve Robinson will comment on your post, as we’ve been emailing each other and he’ll prob’ly be reading this…
    (BTW, if you’d like a copy of the entire Radio Clash show, let me know).

  3. closetfolkie says:

    Yes, there was indeed another Steve Robinson around these parts for a while. I only ran into him once, but I took that opportunity to boorishly regale him with a drunken version of the classic Sparks song, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both of Us”. Of course, I sang it in a high register, squeaking out my best Russ Mael impression (right up close and personal like) and by the time I got to the line “And it ain’t me who’s gonna leave!” I was in full falsetto. It was brutal. But, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, as they say. Anyway, the upshot of it all is that he scarpered. Buggered off, never to be seen again. Ah, glory days…

  4. Rob says:

    Sounds like a candidate for your next solo album, Steve!

    1. Not a bad idea. Or maybe their follow-up. What was it called? Oh yeah, “Amateur Hour”. Never mind.

  5. justeveok says:

    Hello Ron
    My name is Steve Connelly from the Headlights
    Scott Dempster passed away last Wednesday and amid the remembrances I saw this 2011 article- it’s probably the best capsule review written about us I’ve read
    Wish you would’ve hit me up that day in Bookstop
    I only appeared to be stressed

    1. Rob says:

      Hey Steve,
      Thanks for the comment! Really sorry to hear that Scott Dempster passed away.
      Over the years, Steve Robinson and I have talked a bit via email and we were just talking a few weeks ago about his new album with Ed Woltill. Thanks for all the great music you guys have given us! My email is caldwellrob2@yahoo.com if you felt like shooting me a quick email so we weren’t talking via blog comments! 🙂

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