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Fastball Puts Disney's Label on the Hit Playing Field

Pop Beat: Texas band's popular single 'The Way' gives Hollywood Records a much needed boost.

April 25, 1998|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's hard to tell who is more excited about Fastball's hit single "The Way"--the Texas rock group that recorded it or the beleaguered label that released it.

"The Way," a hummable, guitar-driven pop tune that for the last month has been the most-played song on modern rock radio stations, is the first artist-development success for Disney-owned Hollywood Records, which until this year had been the laughingstock of the record industry.

Only last summer, there was much speculation that Disney would shutter Hollywood, or turn it into a soundtrack division.

Disney had sunk more than $150 million into the struggling label since its 1989 launch--without making any inroads into the rock arena. The nadir came last summer, when Hollywood pulled from stores an obscenity-laced Insane Clown Posse album that it had released only hours earlier.

But a turning point for the label might have come in late February when film producer and former artist manager Bob Cavallo, a respected industry veteran who had worked with such artists as Prince and Alanis Morissette, took over as chairman of the entertainment conglomerate's restructured record division.

Cavallo, who had heard the Fastball record last fall while evaluating the Hollywood roster as a Disney consultant, was making decisions for the label before his term officially began, and he ordered that "The Way" be released as a single in February.

When modern-rock radio stations jumped all over it, the mood at Hollywood changed instantly from Grumpy to Happy.

"You can feel it in the halls," says Rob Seidenberg, the Hollywood executive who signed Fastball to the label three years ago. "There's a certain momentum and enthusiasm and excitement that, in my time here, has never been present before."

But Cavallo is too savvy to claim victory for the new Hollywood Records at this point. He knows that the label will have to turn out a series of hits before it gains full credibility.

But the normally press-shy executive is encouraged enough to toast Fastball's success, and he realizes its significance to his employees.

"The morale is much more positive," he says. "It's been a tough time for a lot of these people. They've been associated with a failure, so to finally have a hit--and to know it came out of their organization--is great for them. I think they're all excited."

Meanwhile, Hollywood may have a second hit single on its hands--from one of four acts personally signed by Cavallo. "Get 'Em Outta Here," by the San Diego rock group Sprung Monkey, is getting airplay on KROQ-FM (106.7).

And a just-released second album by another holdover Hollywood act, the Suicide Machines, is in the Top 200 sales chart.

For now, though, the story at Hollywood is Fastball, a trio consisting of singer-bassist Tony Scalzo, 34; singer-guitarist Miles Zuniga, 31; and drummer Joey Shuffield, 36. Despite playing in numerous bands over the years, none of the three had ever been involved with a big seller.

And the group's 1996 debut album, "Make Your Mama Proud," sold fewer than 3,000 copies, according to SoundScan.

Scalzo, who shares lead vocal and songwriting duties with Zuniga, wrote "The Way" after reading a newspaper article in Austin about an elderly couple who were reported missing when they failed to show up at a family reunion.

Scalzo, a graduate of Tustin High School, created a fantasy in which the couple walks off to start life anew. Sample lyrics:

It's always summer

They'll never get cold

They'll never get hungry

They'll never get old and gray.

Unfortunately, the truth was much darker: The couple's bodies were found several days later in the wreckage of their car at the bottom of a canyon.

"They didn't make it anywhere," Scalzo says. "It's a very romantic take on an otherwise tragic story."

And it's a hit. The single's success has sparked sales of Fastball's new album, "All the Pain Money Can Buy," which has climbed to No. 58 on the Top 200 this week and has sold nearly 90,000 copies since its release six weeks ago.

About to start a tour with Everclear and Marcy Playground, including a May 20 date at the Hollywood Palladium, the group has also landed a slot on this summer's H.O.R.D.E. tour, which reaches Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Aug. 27.

It's a happy turn of events for the band, which had heard all the rumors about its label's possible demise and feared the worst.

"Frankly," Scalzo says, "I thought they were going to drop the ball on us and we would have to go look for another label."

Now, he says: "I wouldn't want to be at any other label. We're the top dog at this label."

Zuniga still can't believe the change of fortune: "It's like banging on the back door of a club, 'Let me in, let me in,' and just when you're about to walk away, they finally answer the door and say, 'Come on in, we've got a table for you right down in front.' "

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