By Warren Kurtz
THE HAWKS, a pop-rock quartet from Otho, Iowa, with their name taken from the last name initials of band members Dave Hearn (keyboards), Larry Adams (drums), Frank Wiewel (bass, vocals), Kirk Kaufman and Dave Steen (guitars), released their debut album on Columbia in 1981. The record company, in conjunction with record stores and radio stations, secured early promotion of multiple songs on the radio and a limited offer price of $3.99 on vinyl or cassette. It has been 35 years and there has never been a national interview with the band until now. Goldmine spoke extensively with the Hawks’ Dave Hearn on their pair of albums on Columbia, the post-Hawks band HipKnosis, his third solo album “Mystery Train,” and also discussed a connection with The Beach Boys, Clarence Clemons and a missed opportunity with Tom Petty.
GOLDMINE: Based on the songs I heard on the radio in early 1981, and my long car commute, I bought your first album on cassette, as I didn’t anticipate needing to fast forward through any songs I didn’t like while driving. That theory worked out well. Let’s go through side one, beginning with my favorite song of 1981, “It’s All Right, It’s O.K.,” containing the line, “A rock and roll religion, living in the past.”
Dave Hearn: Speaking of listening to us in your car, it was The Cars who inspired me on that song. The composition came quick to me, banging out chords on the piano, and singing the intended guitar part to Dave Steen, who brought power to it on his Les Paul. The song did well enough on album rock radio stations to make a new section in Billboard called Top Tracks for seven weeks, where it reached No. 32.
GM: Your cassette was such a favorite of mine. It made our weekend listening stack too, where I would sing along with the line, “He was out on a job with his Uncle Jim, they needed money,” on the second song “I Want You, I Need You.”
Hearn: Kirk wrote that one with our high school friend Dave Cottrell, a musical genius. That line you like was impromptu.
GM: The third song is the softer, intended hit single, Dave Steen’s “Right Away,” which unfortunately peaked at No. 63 nationally. I have enjoyed the YouTube comments. One person said, “I thought I must have made up this song in a dream and am so happy to find it now.” Another commented on the confusion of the album rock selection versus the Top 40 choice, “I couldn’t afford the album, so I bought the single. I played ‘Right Away’ and said, ‘This isn’t what I keep hearing on the radio,’ which I later found out was ‘It’s All Right, It’s O.K.’.”
Hearn: Maybe it was the timing. Perhaps a summer debut for this single might have helped, after “It’s All Right, It’s O.K.” was no longer on the radio. Columbia hired Fred DiSipio to promote “Right Away” and got it into some markets. Our producer Tom Werman wanted me to add a keyboard part similar to Raphael Ravenscroft’s saxophone solo in Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” I couldn’t quite remember how that went that day, so I created something I thought was close but uniquely mine, and he liked it.
GM: Frank Wiewel’s “Lonely Nights” reminds me of Cheap Trick.
Hearn: Well, Tom also produced Cheap Trick and wanted us to have that Midwest sound. REO Speedwagon was finally breaking out with the “Keep On Loving You” single and their “Hi Infidelity” album, which we were so pleased about. We were enjoying being part of the Illinois- Iowa music scene.
GM: Kirk Kaufman’s “Let Me In” concludes side one with a “Strawberry Fields Forever” beginning sound and an overall Badfinger feel.
Hearn: Kirk wrote it on an acoustic guitar as a country shuffle. I provided the arrangement, which changed the sound, and is perhaps the arrangement I am most proud of. The classic rock station in Des Moines will still play it from time to time.
GM: The second side begins with the flip side of “Right Away,” Kirk’s song “Need Your Love,” with your strong keyboard accents. While “Right Away” reminded me of the Canadian band Jackson Hawke, this one reminded of Canada’s Prism.
Hearn: This was actually our second most popular song and worked best live and was always our closing number.
GM: Your keyboards continued on your catchy composition “American Girls.” It sounds inspired by The Beach Boys.
Hearn: I wanted Brian Wilson to hear it. I met him twice. The first time was in 1973. David Sandler, a producer and songwriter from Otho, did some work at The Beach Boys’ Brother Studios. Brian Wilson was looking for a different sound and he brought the female duo American Spring, formerly the Honeys, to Iowa and I did my first recording studio session work ever with Brian Wilson for that album. The second time was in 1975, at Brian Wilson’s home, when I was living in California.
GM: With a solid debut album, and the Midwest popularity of REO Speedwagon, you must have felt ready to tour.
Hearn: Well, speaking of “American Girls,” we had the opportunity to tour with the group who recorded “American Girl,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. “The Waiting” had been very popular that year, yet some of my fellow band members still asked, “Who is Tom Petty?” So, we took all the money that Columbia allotted for us, and instead of touring, spent it on recording our second album for the next nine months. Our lack of exposure from that decision was a missed opportunity, but I felt we created another solid album with “30 Seconds over Otho.”
GM: The single “(If We Just) Stick Together” on “30 Seconds over Otho”sounded to me like Eric Carmen capturing the bounce of Hall & Oates’ “Private Eyes,” plus you had the same famous guest saxophone player that the Michael Stanley Band used in their Top 40 breakout hit “He Can’t Love You.” While the A-side brought me back home to Cleveland, your flip side “Black and White” transported me across the border to the sound of the Canadian band Klaatu.
Hearn: We had hopes for this with Clarence Clemons on saxophone. I had seen him with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in 1975 at the Roxy in L.A. and was amazed. Unfortunately for us, it was another sax player, Greg Ham from Men at Work, who Columbia rallied around with their debut U.S. single “Who Can It Be Now?” That record came out at the same time as ours. They pushed Men at Work, and it went all the way to No. 1.
GM: My favorite song from the second album is your up-tempo number “The Great Divide.”
Hearn: I tried to recapture “It’s All Right, It’s O.K.” with that.
GM: What happened to the band members after the Hawks?
Hearn: Larry, who was younger than the rest of us, became a plumbing contractor in Texas and was an independent contractor three times in Iraq. Frank, who is so charismatic, has a group dealing with alternative treatment for cancer. Dave has a great magazine executive job in Nebraska, after years with a songwriting deal with Warner Chappel Publishing, where he placed about 60 songs, including some with Buddy Guy. You should hear his 2015 CD “Town Full of Secrets” by Dave Steen & Jailhouse Tattoo, covering a variety of blues styles. Kirk and I are still in Iowa and he continues to run the recording studio called Junior’s Motel. I have been married to my wonderful wife since 1974 and have been a part-time optician for over 30 years while recording seven CDs in my home studio.
GM: From your and Kirk’s HipKnosis CD “Brand New Game” from last year, I sure enjoy “Call My Name” and the remix version of “Set Me Free.” Heather Kelly’s enunciation is great for your lyrics.
Hearn: She has a unique, almost little girl-like voice and I love what she brought to the quintet. I have redone the first two songs from that CD for my new CD “Mystery Train.”
GM: The powerful guitar sounds you bring to “Big Girl Now” remind me of Randy Bachman and the fluid playing on the title song “Mystery Train.”
Hearn: I am so happy you said that. I guess I captured it right. It is all keyboards, making up the entire backdrop of the CD. The song “Mystery Train” was written right as HipKnosis was breaking up.
GM: The song “Open Your Eyes (I Love You)” is such a tender plea.
Hearn: I wanted to bring a Pink Floyd smoothness to it. I hope the Goldmine readers and CD winners will enjoy this and the other songs as well. Thanks for what you have done for the Hawks and your great help promoting this CD.