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!