Music News

Flying North

Duncan Cameron isn't going to lie to you. This is all about success. It's about fame, money, fortune, exposure, selling a superior product, and being recognized for those achievements. The Hashbrown guitarist just wants to acknowledge the crowds that have made the hard-funk band one of South Florida's favorites. "All the people who patted us on the back and told us we were doing a great job," he calls them.

"Well, if we can return that favor by making it happen MTV-style, that would be the greatest thank you."

A more deserving bunch of musicians would be difficult to locate. Perhaps the hardest-working band of the last half-decade in these parts, Hashbrown built its name by performing nearly nonstop. Week after week, month after month, Hashbrown always seemed to have a show somewhere between West Palm and Miami Beach. But over the past two years, the band slowly but masterfully cultivated an East Coast following that has led it to ditch us for the big time. New York City? Get a rope!

"It's actually Jersey City," Cameron says. "It was gonna be Brooklyn, but it turns out we can get a better deal in Jersey City -- I guess it's the name."

There, the four-bedroom stately Hashbrown manor -- equipped with, one would hope, a rumpus room -- will house Cameron, bassist/singer Clarence "Jay" Spencer, and drummer Rick Kanner. That's it. "My girlfriend is not prepared to be poor in New York," laughs Cameron, "and Jay and Rick really don't have steady girlfriends."

Also left behind is DJ Boogie Waters, dropped from the lineup a year ago after a nasty case of creative differences took hold. Cameron explains that the concept of a DJ in the band never worked as envisioned.

"Instead of other guys playing keyboards and percussion and horns and all that, we thought we could have one guy who'd have access to all those instruments on records. But it never really turned out that way. Some guys want to call themselves turntablists, but there's only a handful of people are really utilizing it to its full potential. Most guys are like [imitates cutting] wacka-wacka and just letting it go, which is what was happening with Boogie. Also, it's kind of passé at this point. A turntablist in a band is more of a mid- to late-'90s phenomenon.

"And then there were other issues. There are no superstars in Hashbrown. We all get paid the same amount at the end of the gig, and Boogie was looking for more money. Then we had this big gig last March opening up for Fishbone down on Billboard Live, and he just never showed up."

The band earned and received an extraordinary amount of local press, especially in this outlet. In the interest of full disclosure, Hashbrown was the first live band I saw after moving to Fort Lauderdale in February 2000 -- before this column had been granted a name. Suffice it to say these guys became my favorites. I'm sad to see them go, but it's impossible to argue with the logistics of their decision.

"It's about routing," Cameron says. "In five hours, we can hit so many major cities from there, and five hours from here will get you to... Tampa. Or Orlando. That's about it."

[Cue sentimental violin music]

Some of the memories we'll cherish: how 'bout the time Bandwidth joined Cameron in charging some Poorhouse employees with less-than-PC comments about racially mixed Sunday-night crowds downtown (January 24/February 7, 2002)? The columns that resulted in Hashbrown's getting banned from the room for almost six months? That was cool -- not.

"People ask me if I regret doing that, and I don't," Cameron says. "I don't. Because I think people needed to know that; maybe they didn't realize how their actions were being perceived. But since then, at least everybody does a better job of hiding how they feel."

Among the memories sure to age better: that night in May 2001 when Jimmy Page stopped in at the Poorhouse. During the band's final late-night set, Cameron noticed the pasty Led Zeppelin guitarist standing at the back bar.

"I looked over, and he's waving at me, mouthing that he wants to talk to me," Cameron recalls. "It was cool. He was really digging it. That's probably the most flattering thing ever, just to know that one of my biggest idols liked what I was doing."

And Hashbrown got to open for some pretty big names during its SoFla tenure, including three times with Fishbone ("Always cool," Duncan relates), several shows with Rick James ("He's a weirdo. When we played with him at Sunfest, he looked like he had a prosthetic stomach, but really, he'd just gained so much weight."), and G Love ("Really cool guy. He told us to keep doing it and try not to get too jaded.")

Amen to that. And Godspeed. Carry that 'Brown sound around and around.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton