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Dennis Quaid as a rock star?

Yes, the same Dennis Quaid who starred in hit movies, like “The Big Easy,” “Suspect,” “DOA” and “Frequency” can sing. And perform, too.

And in his Saturday Night performance with Dennis Quaid and The Sharks, at East St. Louis’ “Casino Queen,” Quaid defied three political conventions of the music business: that movie stars can’t be rock stars, that guys’ music is dead, and that women only want mushy, pop-ish rock ‘n’ roll.

When movie stars try to be rock performers, they are never taken seriously – deservedly so – and rarely get anywhere beyond an initial album. Sure, there are exceptions, like actress/pop singer Jennifer Lopez, but her appeal is more midriff than music. More bubblegum than beat. In general, actors can’t cut it.

Take Don Johnson, whose 1986 singing debut, “Hearbeat” hit the charts, but in hindsight, was a cheesy dud – its video was relegated to parody on MTV’s now-defunct “Beavis and Butthead.” Then, there was Patrick Swayze, with his 1988 hit, “She’s
Like the Wind” (from the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack), which reached No. 2 on the charts. Of course, it’s rare for actors to go beyond one-hit wonder status. And most don’t make it beyond playing clubs, like “Barfly,” Hollywood’s venue for celebrities who fancy themselves rock stars, when no one else does.

Quaid and the Sharks have played “Barfly,” too. But they are the exception to the rule.

In East St. Louis, they drew over 10,000 fans – a number that makes big-time concert promoters drool, even for established rock legends. And the group was awesome – especially Quaid. A great performer and tremendous showman, Quaid’s barefoot performance proved white men can jump – and dance, too. With more charisma and energy than a 27-year-old rocker, the 47-year-old Quaid ran all over the stage with physically difficult moves, all while playing rhythm guitar and charming the enthusiastic crowd.

A smoky but powerful rock-and-blues voice, Quaid’s lead vocals sang real American, guitar-surging, riff-filled rock ‘n’ roll. And the Sharks, featuring lead guitarist Jamie James, formerly
of The Kingbees, which had the early 80′s hit, “My Mistake”; drummer Tom Walsh, a founding member of ’70s jazz-rock group Spyro Gyra; Tom Slik on bass; and keyboardist Ken Stange; rock – beyond “The
Right Stuff” and star power of its lead singer.

Quaid’s done it before, singing on the soundtrack for “Great Balls of Fire,” in which he played Jerry Lee Lewis. (He’s written songs for three of his movies’ soundtracks.) But he’s not just playing a rock star, now.

Though Quaid does mostly cover tunes – like Them’s “Gloria,” Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” and some Elvis – he performs rockin’, CD-worthy original songs he wrote and composed with James, including “It’s All Good,” “Game That I Can’t Win” and “Let Go.” Guitar-dominant, guys’ rock tunes much like the male anthems he covers, Quaid’s original music greatly appealed to the women in the crowd. And not just because of his movie star name, looks, physique and sexy persona.

Women, not just men, love Quaid’s kind of unabashed guitar-oriented, chord-filled, male-themed rock – something that defies record-label politics. Guys’ rock is, indeed, back.

Or backlash. For the last decade or so, radio stations – who drive airplay, which drives music sales and record company profits – have trended to feminized rock. It devastated the musical preferences of real rock fans, and the career hopes of budding male rockers.

I’m not talking about guys like Ricky Martin. The music industry will always have new teen idols and boy bands, whether it’s New Kids on the Block in the ’80s, the Backstreet Boys in the ’90s, or N’Sync and O-Town in the ’00s. Wimpified, girlish boys with sappy pop tunes will always be in, as long as there are young girls.

But feminism has hit the music business – hard. With the pop-ification of rock, guitar-driven, heavy-chord rock – the kind of music guys like and the kind Quaid and the Sharks play – was under attack. You can hear it on the radio. Even classic rock stations, today, go for softer Fleetwood Mac, not hard-edged, guitar-intense Van Halen and Aerosmith. MTV canceled its “Headbanger’s Ball” show. And prematurely, Time magazine’s July 21, 1997, cover story, “Galapalooza,” declared, “Macho is out. Empathy is in. And the all-female Lilith festival is taking rock’s hot new sound on the road. … Female folk-pop stars [are] rocking the music world.”

Despite Time’s false declaration, this wasn’t rock. And the artists Time gushed over, like Jewel and Fiona Apple, were feminized rock posers. Now, they’re out – their latest offerings are disasters. And the Lilith Fair Tour – touted by Time as the phenomenon that changed the music industry – ended in 1999, with plummeting ticket sales and lack of
interest. People grew tired of listening to chicks, like Apple, whining about intimate girlie topics, like her post-rape trauma, in songs like “Sullen Girl.” More information than we needed. Or Erykah Badu imagining the life of a gangsta’s girlfriend in “Otherside of the
Game.”

This is Ally McBeal music. Real Music fans hungered for real rock.

It’s a trend that hit country music, too, detailed in Brian Mansfield’s June 8 USA Today feature, “Macho Country: Marketing Changes Have Male Acts and Female Fans Asking ‘Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?’”

Country music stations, catering entirely to female listeners, went overboard with wimpy, poppy female acts, like Faith Hill, Shania Twain and Dixie Chicks. Eliminating their Southern-rock inspired male artists, they lost most of their male listeners to rock stations – losing about a third of country’s core listeners during just the past year and more than half over the past five years, according to Shane Media Services. They lost female fans, too.

“When you take that kind of almost primal sexuality out of country music, you castrate it. At the end of the night [male country stars] also had manners. And that is hot,” declared former music critic Holly Gleason, who represents country music stars.

Now, macho country acts, like Montgomery Gentry – whose songs praise farms, guns, and veterans – are luring some guys back, with titles like “Self Made Man” and “She Couldn’t Change Me.” Manly Charlie Robison tries to downplay his marriage to Dixie Chick Emily Robison. Kenny Chesney sings “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” a favorite among NASCAR and Tennessee football fans, and Travis Tritt’s southern-rock/country “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)” was a hit.

Tracy Byrd and Mark Chesnutt duet against liberal politicians, wimpy music and guys who look at their ladies the wrong way, in “A Good Way To Get On My Bad Side” – with lyrics like “There oughta be a law against cowboy rap and all that boy-band crap.”

Brooks & Dunn’s new testosterone-oriented “Neon Circus & Wild West Show” tour, featuring country machismo acts, like Montgomery Gentry and Oklahoma roughneck Toby Keith, could be 2001′s highest-grossing country tour, USA Today reports. “This is the
beer-drinking-guys-out-on-the-town-looking-for-girls tour … in a big way,” said Ronnie Dunn.

Women “want more than earnest, bend-over-backward proclamations of love and songs about [empowerment],” country music honchos learned. They are “starving for take-charge confidence and rugged sensuality from male singers.”

Keith’s “How Do You Like Me Now?!” in which he rubs his success in the face of a high-school girlfriend who dumped him, scared DreamWorks Records Nashville. But women loved it, making it a hit. “Women don’t want somebody that’s going to kiss their butt,” Keith says. “They want a man.”

With falling ratings, MTV also realized it neglected the guys. That’s why bands with a heavy-rock sound – like Creed and Limp Bizkit – are back and big, having made the crossover to pop-station playlists. It’s why “Ozzfest,” the heavy-metal music tour hosted by bat-biter Ozzie Osborne, sells out almost every date at big venues. It’s why a station like Detroit’s home of rock ‘n’ roll, WRIF, has the No. 1 morning show, “Drew & Mike,” in its market.

Guys’ rock is back. Unfortunately, power-chord Quaid who deserves serious consideration as a star performer of it, may not ride the wave. Dennis Quaid and the Sharks had a full tour scheduled for this summer. But Quaid, cognizant that his vocation is that of lucrative movie actor, cut back, canceling dates on his avocation as a budding rocker.

And that’s too bad.

Subtract the wannabe from “actor/wannabe rock star.” A real man who sings real guys’ rock, Dennis Quaid is the genuine article.

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