There ia a memorable scene in the classic 1957 film "A Face in the Crowd," where Andy Griffith is judging this high-school baton twirling competition. This is somewhat akin to the Big Bad Wolf being in charge of quality control for Farmer John. Griffith ends up marrying the winning spinner, then teen-ager Lee Remick.
Toy Matinee, a band with videos all over MTV and a date to play the Ventura Theatre, reminds me of that scene. Of course, no one drawls like Andy Griffith, there are no baton twirlers and, thus far, no one has married Lee Remick. But Toy Matinee--basically two guys plus a bunch of hot studio musicians--got its big start as a consequence of one of those interminable battle of the bands competitions.
Kevin Gilbert, a Bay Area kind of guy, had a band called Giraffe, which was advancing right along in this Yamaha-sponsored competition (the music people, not the motorcycle people). One of the judges was hot producer Patrick Leonard, whose credits include Madonna, Bryan Ferry and the like.
Leonard was so impressed with Giraffe he joined with Gilbert to form Toy Matinee. They have just released the third video from their debut album.
The band plays tight, heavily produced pop rock not unlike Steely Dan. They don't rock that hard, so don't expect a lot of dudes in black leather holding up their Zippos and screaming as if Spuds McKenzie were biting their ankles. It promises to be a civilized concert Saturday. And on the day of the show, the band will make an appearance at 1 p.m. at Salzer's in Ventura to sign autographs and give away a guitar.
In a recent telephone interview, Gilbert discussed the life and times of Toy Matinee.
How's the album, the tour and all that?
The album is doing really fine. It actually came out in July of 1990 and it was on the charts for 26 weeks before it started to play itself out. We just released our third single, "There Was A Little Boy." Our first gig will be in San Francisco, and we'll be playing all over California through May.
How did Toy Matinee come about?
I had this band called Giraffe from San Jose and we won the American arm of the Yamaha Rock Music Showcase. The finals were at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles and there were about 10,000 people there. We opened for Cheap Trick. Anyway, the judging panel was made of industry tycoons. Patrick Leonard was one of the judges, and he thought we were really groovy. He came backstage and we hit it off immediately and decided to write some songs. So we wrote some songs and that grew into a band. Giraffe was always sort of a Todd Rundgren thing for me. In fact, I'm signed right now twice--once as a solo artist and again as Toy Matinee.
Where did the name Toy Matinee come from?
It comes from the song. It's about a guy who, instead of writing a novel, starts a puppet show and calls it Toy Matinee. Somewhere along the way each person gets distracted and ends up becoming part of the toy matinee.
Did Giraffe win the battle of the bands?
Nope. We came in second to some Michael Jackson clone band from Australia, or something. But we did get to go to Japan for the finals. Everything is really expensive over there.
What's the best and worst thing about being a musician?
Well, the best thing is that I work for me--I don't work for anybody else. My career is my own. The worst thing is the uncertainty--you really never know if tomorrow there is a job.
What would be your dream and nightmare gigs?
My dream gig would be open for old Genesis with Peter Gabriel. Our nightmare gig would be to open for Steely Dan.
What's the worst advice you've ever been given?
When I was in junior high school, my music teacher gave me a D and said I would never make it as a musician.
What was your strangest gig?
I was playing with Eddie Money's band one time in Chile in support of their government. I don't know how we got that gig--the management company threatened us. Amnesty International was opposed to the show. Anyway, a couple of days after the show, the army and the police were beating and shooting people in the streets.
What advice do you have for young musicians?
To forget trying to get on MTV, and just do what you do and do only that and be persistent.
How come so many great bands never make it?
Because a lot of them try to be like other bands instead of trying to be themselves. Those that are persistent will make it--quality finds a home.
Can music change the world?
Yes, it can, not individually, but collectively. Music influences everyone in very subtle ways. One song can't instantly create world peace, but music is the conscience of the world.
What's next for Toy Matinee?
Well, first, this tour, than another tour, then another record. Pat and I haven't decided on the next record. He just did this as a lark--he's a large-scale production guy--he's not really into performing as a career, I am. I have enough songs for another album.
How would you describe Toy Matinee music?
Well, a lot of people were trying to bury us in this retro-progressive thing--like Jethro Tull, Steely Dan and Yes. The idea of this music is my own, I didn't grow up with any of that stuff. You'll laugh, but I grew up listening to Burt Bacharach and Seals & Crofts.
If you were a movie, what movie would you be?
"Head" by the Monkees because nobody can find it.