Cover Story

Faces to Watch

Screaming Trees, Mike Reid, and other newcomers who are hot in music

What Ernest Hemingway wrote about going broke also applies to overnight success: It happens two ways — gradually and then suddenly. It may be true that the vast majority of the actors, musicians, writers, artists, and comedians we've included in our 1991 class of faces to watch have put in years of private, unheralded labor before landing on the cusp of celebrity. But it's equally a fact of fame that one day you don't have it, and the next you do — somebody has heard of you, somebody knows your name, somebody wants you. On the following pages is a torrent of talent and a plentitude of potential, along with some advice to this year's newly minted successes on what to do after getting a foot in the door, and how to avoid becoming that evil twin of a promising newcomer: the fading star. We wish them all the luck they deserve.

Mike Reid
Most musicians would be thrilled if their very first single went to No. 1, but Mike Reid, at age 43, is taking it in stride. The singer's easy-going country chart topper ''Walk on Faith'' may be from his briskly selling debut album, Turning for Home, but Reid knows how quickly the tables can turn. He was an All-Pro linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals in the early '70s before he burned out on the game, and he was a successful songwriter, most prominently for country singer Ronnie Milsap in the early '80s, before that relationship soured. ''As an athlete,'' Reid says in a deep, magisterial voice, ''I saw that success had destroyed more talented and successful people than me.'' Reid, who lives in Nashville with his wife and two young children, considers songwriting a ''blue-collar profession'' and calls himself ''terminally unhip.'' He hopes that his songs ''articulate the everyday experience in people's lives — to say to people, on some level, that their lives are important.'' — Ron Givens

Screaming Trees
Most underground or alternative bands might sound too grungy to fit into the Top 40,'' says guitarist Gary Lee Conner, 28, of his wild and woolly Seattle rock band. ''I always thought we could rise above that.'' Apparently, Sony Music feels the same way. After a four-album career in the independent-label leagues, the Trees were signed to Epic, a Sony division, which has just released the acclaimed, rip-roaring Uncle Anesthesia. The Trees' garage-rooted sound puts them squarely in the great Northwest rock tradition that's been home to everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Soundgarden. Conner, though, isn't philosophical about the Trees' place in pop history: ''We're a rock band and we write songs that are a little '60s-sounding. But I can't put more of a finger on it than that.'' We can, though: a whiplash mixture of Jim Morrison, acid rock, and Alice Cooper, the Trees take rock back to the future — and a promising one at that. — David Browne

Londonbeat
Take three parts old-fashioned American soul singing and one part contemporary British synth pop, mix well with a lot of energy, and pour into a new fusion of yesterday and today. What do you get? A group called Londonbeat and a song, ''I've Been Thinking About You,'' that has been No. 1 in a dozen countries and is rushing up the U.S. singles chart. Americans Jimmy ''Helmsey'' Helms and George Chandler and Trinidadian Jimmy Chambers combine for vocal pyrotechnics ( that recall such Motown greats as the Temptations. The three have sung backup vocals for such stars as Elton John and Fine Young Cannibals. ''We're honesty crossed with quirkiness,'' says Willy M, who plays guitar and keyboards. ''The three-part harmonies give us a soulful point of view and yet the dance edge is something we all felt was important and very exciting.'' — Ron Givens

Danny Gatton
It feels real good to finally get a shot,'' says Danny Gatton. ''God forbid I have to get a day job.'' Not likely. At 45, the Maryland-based guitarist is tuning in to the big time with 88 Elmira St. (Elektra). An all-instrumental mix of big-band blues and roadhouse rock, the record ranges from horn-pumping R&B to a bluesy take on the Simpsons theme. Gatton calls himself ''a natural rebel.'' In fact, he's a former sheet-metal worker who has overpaid his dues in bar bands and on three independent-label albums, being pronounced ''the greatest unknown guitarist'' by a respected musicians' magazine. That's not surprising, given his ability to play anything from stinging slide-guitar licks to jazzy runs. ''Things can get so far out they're not real anymore,'' Gatton says. ''A lot of people want to hear something more basic.'' Fans of the rootsy rock of Bonnie Raitt and the Vaughan Brothers will most likely agree. — David Browne

Jesus Jones
Jesus Jones has conquered the British pop world — their second album, Doubt, recently debuted there at No. 1. And their propulsive tune ''Right Here, Right Now'' has leapt to the top of the U.S. alternative-rock heap. But when singer- guitarist Mike Edwards says, ''I think we're going to change music itself,'' isn't he overreacting a bit? ''Yes,'' he concedes, ''but I think we'll be giants in a time of no giants.'' Jesus Jones, he says, has tried to reconfigure pop music by cramming together disparate styles from the worlds of rock and dance music. Slashing electric guitars meet pulverizing machine beats head-on, and the music is awash in synthesized sound. ''Our music is a definite attempt not to be categorizable,'' Edwards says. Jesus Jones uses sampling — manipulating existing recorded material — to make a trumpet sound like a chainsaw or a voice like volcanic rumbling. ''If the music doesn't go forward, we're denying a basic human characteristic.'' — Ron Givens

Vincent Herring
Vincent Herring's first album, American Experience, came out last fall to good reviews. The jazz saxophonist's second album, Evidence, with its hard-edged interpretation of mainstream tunes, was released in January; after hearing it, one jazz critic proclaimed that Herring ''may be the first major-league saxophonist of his generation.'' In the coming months, he'll tour almost constantly, with cornetist/trumpeter Nat Adderley and with a group he leads himself. Says the 26-year-old Herring: ''This year I've turned down more money than I made two years ago.'' Times were even harder back in 1983, when Herring performed on the streets of New York for donations. ''It was the only way I could play every day, all day, and get the experience I needed,'' he says. Since leaving the street behind about four years ago, the alto saxophonist has appeared with such all-stars as drummer Art Blakey and pianist Horace Silver. ''I can't believe all the stuff that's happening,'' says the Brooklyn-based Herring. ''I've accomplished all I set out to do. I have to set some new goals.'' — Rob Givens

Young Black Teenagers
Why would a group of white and Hispanic New York kids in their 20s form a rap band called Young Black Teenagers? According to ATA, one of the group's deejays, the reason is simple: ''We're trying to blast stereotypes,'' he says. ''The name means something more than color. As far as we're concerned, the Young Black Teenagers are not just us — it's an up-and-coming race without color. Asians, Latins, Caucasians, whatever — they grew up with a hip-hop mentality, style of dress, way of speech, and music.'' As proof of the validity of their racially mixed style, the group offers a hard-slamming eponymous debut album on the new MCA-distributed hip-hop label, SOUL Records. Their first single, ''Nobody Knows Kelli'' (a salivating take on Married...With Children's slutty character), did well on the rap charts, led to an appearance on The Joan Rivers Show — and ignited a controversy in rap circles about the sincerity of their name and approach. One thing's for sure, though: These white rappers could make Vanilla Ice melt. ''We may be risking a lot of radio and video play because of the politics involved,'' says ATA. ''But we want to make good music.'' — David Browne

Yo-Yo
She comes on tough. ''Guys ain't nothin' but dirt/ They flirt with anything dressed in a miniskirt,'' sneers Yo-Yo in the rap ''Girl, Don't Be No Fool.'' On her debut album, Make Way for the Motherlode, which launched ''Stompin' in the '90s'' to No. 2 on the rap charts, the 19-year-old native Angeleno establishes a new beachhead in the hip-hop war between the sexes. Among women rappers fighting the bedroom obsessions of their male counterparts, Yo-Yo (real name: Yolanda Whitaker) is less concerned with in-your-face retorts. In fact, most of her raps instruct women on avoiding destructive relationships: ''I'm now on the female tip, protecting women from men dissing them.'' This approach developed out of Yo-Yo's work as a peer counselor in junior high and high school. ''I thought I had real problems, but not after I heard from the other kids.'' Last year Yo-Yo began to organize the informal Intelligent Black Women's Coalition to counsel young women. ''I like guys,'' she says, ''but there are a lot of teenage women who have low self-esteem and let guys lead their lives.'' She calls herself ''a womanist and not a feminist. The feminist is more a bitchy type who only cares for herself. They don't get mad, they get even. I get mad, but I don't get even.'' — Rob Givens

Maura O’Connell
Maybe next year,'' says Maura O'Connell cheerfully of being nominated for, but losing, a Grammy this year in the Best Contemporary Folk Recording category. The Irish-born singer has every reason to be optimistic: Although O'Connell, 32, has spent years singing behind everyone from Van Morrison to the Chieftains, the American public is just now discovering that she has the husky, beautiful voice of a Celtic angel. After cutting her teeth with the Irish folk band De Danaan, O'Connell eventually moved to Nashville (her current home) and broadened her music to a melding of bluegrass, folk, and country. ''For years, I hated to be called a folksinger. Usually that meant long hair and smelly underarms and songs that lasted 21 2 days. But contemporary folk has a very different feel, because of people like Nanci Griffith and Suzanne Vega. It's not pop, it's not rock, and it's not jazz.'' Her just-released second Warner Bros. album, A Real Life Story, features pristine acoustic-rooted arrangements and is highlighted by a sparse, warmly sung version of the Beatles' ''For No One,'' as well as songs by John Hiatt and Tom Waits. ''I don't consider myself a country singer or a traditional singer,'' she says. ''I just consider myself a singer.'' — David Browne

Aaron Tippin
Country singer-songwriter Aaron Tippin's debut album, You've Got to Stand for Something (RCA), was on its way to being a success before the Persian Gulf war began in January. But then the title song became the conflict's unofficial anthem, and the tune went top 10. Currently embarked on a nationwide tour, Tippin, 32, says in his quiet South Carolina drawl, ''I tell ya, everybody's tellin' me that was a boost for my career, but what it really was was a boost for my heart, to know that something I've written might comfort some soldiers and their families.'' He wrote or cowrote all the songs on his top 25 album and sings them in a reedy tenor. After working as a pipe welder, a farmhand, and a truck driver, ''I figured writin' songs would be easier.'' He laughs. ''I learned it wasn't after about 15 minutes...I want the words and the music to make people feel strong emotions and think big ideas.'' In other words, he's got to stand for something. — Ken Tucker

Originally posted Apr 05, 1991 Published in issue #60 Apr 05, 1991 Order article reprints
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