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POP EYE

September 20, 1987|STEVE POND

SIDEWALK TALK: A couple of weeks ago, an aspiring musician left an envelope on the sidewalk in front of the CBS Records building in Century City; it was addressed simply to the A&R department and obviously contained a demo tape. That sounds like a pretty unlikely way to get a record deal, but it turns out that Columbia Records A&R man David Kahne is currently in the studio with an artist he first heard on that same sidewalk--albeit in person, not on a demo tape.

Kahne, who produced the Bangles' "Different Light" album, first ran across the Baltimore musician who calls himself Spooky when he walked outside his office and saw the one-man band serenading CBS staffers with a small Casio keyboard and a speaker hooked to his belt. Spooky--a black, 24-year-old singer/songwriter from Baltimore--had already made the rounds more than once, playing in front of record company offices in New York and Los Angeles when he wasn't playing for money on the street. He'd been in L.A. in 1983 and 1985 before Kahne saw him--and when he wasn't looking for a record deal, he was singing for money to live on. "For somebody who played on the streets, he did really well," says Kahne. "Sometimes he even made enough to spend the night in a hotel."

When he saw Spooky play outside the building, Kahne was impressed enough to ask him to come back that evening, after most of the CBS staffers had gone home; two days later he cut about 30 demos and then offered the singer a record deal. "He loves Elvis, Jerry Butler, Percy Sledge, but he's genuine about it," says Kahne. "His songs are real simple and direct--there's none of the complexity and distance of so much music these days."

Kahne and his find are now in the studio trying to capture the sound of Spooky's rewired Casio with outside musicians and new arrangements. And now that he's caught the ears of Columbia Records, will Spooky give up his old life as a sidewalk serenader? "The day before he signed his contract," laughs Kahne, "I saw him singing in front of the Vineland Motel, up the street from Capitol Records."

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