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Rock 101: The Del Fuegos

Formed in Boston in 1980, The Del Fuegos went from local favorites to being one of the decade's most promising guitar-oriented rock bands. Their 1984 release, the Mitchell Froom-produced The Longest Day, combined no-nonsense, garage band sensibilities with Southern roots-rock, and is considered one of their best albums.

The band in their early years
archival publicity photo

The Del Fuegos were brothers Dan Zanes (lead vocals, guitar) and Warren Zanes (rhythm guitar), with assist from drummer Woody Giessman and bassist Tom Lloyd. From the outset, the fraternal dynamics between Dan and Warren were publicly contentious - so much so that Warren Zanes left the band, following the commercial disappointment of the group's third album, Stand Up on the Slash label in 1987.

Ironically, it was Slash Records that spirited the Del Fuegos away from rival indie label Ace of Hearts (home to The Neats) during the recording sessions for The Longest Day, signing them up and releasing that album. Three years later, meager sales figures for the subsequent albums Boston, Mass (1985) and Stand Up caused the label to summarily dump them in '87.

Boston, Mass was notable for the singles "I Still Want You" and "Don't Run Wild", whose companion videos received considerable airplay during the halcyon days of MTV. Their sound and attitude were borne of classic rock bands like The Stones and The Zombies (the latter influence particularly evident on "I Still Want You", whose bass line recalled "She's Not There."), and Boston, Mass's critical reception appeared poised to have The Del Fuegos join the cabal of other breakthrough acts like REM, Tom Petty and The Cars.

So what exactly went wrong? Conventional wisdom has it that the pivotal moment occurred when the band agreed to appear in a commercial for Miller beer. Though the 60-sec ad was presented as a day-in-the-life of a working class band, many folks were turned off by both the portentous commentary of the band, and the group performing the Miller jingle toward the end. Looking back at the commercial now, I'd have to agree with the general criticisms lobbied at the band as a result of the ad's ubiquitous airings on MTV.

After losing their label, Dan Zanes and Tom Lloyd recruited two new members (drummer Giessman defected with Warren Zanes in '87) and two years later, released Smoking In The Fields for RCA. The album only charted as high as the #139 position on the Billboard Top 100, and so Dan called the band quits in 1990, citing "The 80's are over. We are over."

In June of 2011, following a 21-year hiatus, the original members of The Del Fuegos re-banded to perform at a benefit for Woody Giessman's charity, Right Turn (a rehab facility for recovering addicts) at the Paradise Rock club in Boston. A small scale reunion tour followed in the Winter of 2012, ending up at the Capital Center for the Arts in Concord, NH (birthplace of the Zane brothers.)

A new recording, the 8-track Silver Star landed in late February of this year. I'm pleased to report the EP is a delightful return to form: the tracks "What You Do", "Through Your Eyes" and "Don't Go Down In The Hole" are among the band's best compositions, and offers the promise that the last chapter in the group's musical history remains, at this moment, unwritten.


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