GOLDMINE: Congratulations your Anthology - 40 Years double vinyl album package. It includes a poster, a bumper sticker and trading cards.
STEVE THOMAS: Trading cards. Ha ha. Who would have thought that I would be on a trading card?
GM: My wife Donna and I moved from the Midwest to Dallas in 1980 and unfortunately didn’t hear “You’ve Got What I Need” on the radio that spring but we would have loved it. Donna’s favorite group is Boston and your song has those Boston-like harmonies that we enjoyed on their first two albums, and this single is so catchy.
ST: Thank you. That was our first single and the flip side, not on our first album nor the anthology, was “Wild in the Streets,” which was an extra track. We decided to toss that in on the flip side of the U.S. single. We were the first American band signed to Virgin Records and when they released it in England they thought “Wild in the Streets” would do better, so they released it as the A side there and we always a had fun time playing it live, with dueling solos.
GM: I recently learned that song online and I also like it a lot, but didn’t focus on it due to not being on the new double vinyl anthology anniversary album. I spent time studying the flip side on the anthology, “Hang on For Your Life,” which is quite a rocker.
ST: That has always been a fun one to play. When we were recording that one, we kept redoing it to make it better and better. Being an up-tempo rock song, I was playing drum fills through it and then Van McLain, our guitarist, said, ‘Steve, try something for me just once, play the song again, but don’t put any fills in. Just stick to the beat.’ I thought that was kind of strange, but I did, and that was it! It was one of those times when less was more. Once I took all of those fills out, it kept the momentum going forward and it sounded a lot better to us.
GM: I did hear the A side on the radio in Dallas. By that time, we had a new station, KEGL, Eagle 97, that played a unique blend of rock oriented singles, and “Hollywood” was among the songs on their rotation. We heard Shooting Star, The Hawks, Silver Condor and acts the other stations weren’t playing. I loved the combination of tenderness and rock on “Hollywood,” which reminded me of another of our favorites from your region, Head East.
ST: Oh yeah. We played with them quite a few times. “Hollywood” wasn’t planned to be a single. We played the song in Head East’s hometown of St. Louis and it received a huge reaction from the audience, when we were opening for Molly Hatchet. When we got to “Hollywood,” which I think was the third song in our set, the whole crowd got up on their feet and came to the front of the stage and were cheering. We didn’t know why. We didn’t know that the song was being played on KSHE in St. Louis and turned out to be huge there and in other markets too. I think we had an unusual career where different cities picked up on different tracks and played them often. The downside from having a variety of songs played in different markets is that we never achieved that one Top 10 hit that everybody recognizes. The other issue we faced is that they would play ten songs in a row and never announce the artists, so listeners may have enjoyed our music but didn’t know what that unknown song in the middle was they may have otherwise purchased. So, to this day, people will say to us after our concerts, ‘I didn’t know you guys did all those songs. I knew every song that you played.’
Flip side: Hang on For Your Life
A side: Hollywood
Top 100 debut: March 27, 1982
Peak Position: No. 70
GM: I agree. I know with Head East I was searching for some song called “Save My Life I’m Going Down for the Last Time” and didn’t know who sang it and that search went on for over a year until I found out it was “Never Been Any Reason” by Head East. When MTV came along, the thing I liked the most is that in the bottom left-hand corner of the television screen, the artist, song, and label were listed at the beginning and end of the video, so I could write it down for my next record store visit. Your highest charting single is “Touch Me Tonight” which is catchy, with two vocalists, including Keith Mitchell as a guest vocalist.
ST: Keith was a singer that we knew around town in Kansas City. When Gary West left the band, we picked him up. Van and Keith sing the song together. Van and Gary, early on, would take turns singing lead on the same song and then harmonizing. We continued that style with Van and Keith. On some songs, it is just one vocalist, like Gary on “Hollywood,” for example.
GM: On “Last Chance” your drums jumped out of my new office speakers. I love that powerful song, especially the extended solos that are Kansas-like.
ST: Well, thank you. That was sort of an experimental song for us and ended up getting massive amounts of FM airplay, which took us by surprise. A lot of people will compare us to Kansas. When we added Charles Waltz on violin to the band, we were actually looking to add another singer and keyboardist, because we had enough keyboard parts that we wanted somebody other than Gary to cover those. In addition to vocals and keyboards, Charles plays violin, so we thought since he can play violin, we should use it. For the most part, I think we use it quite a bit different from Kansas. The obvious connection is that we both come from the state of Kansas.
GM: Speaking of violin, there is “Flesh and Blood.” In 1982, my favorite song in the Top 40 was Quarterflash’s “Find Another Fool.” In addition to Rindy Ross’ saxophone, they had Bruce Sweetman as a guest violinist with a wild violin ending like what I hear on “Flesh and Blood.”
ST: Charles grew up learning Johnny Winter guitar songs on the violin, so that is a unique background to draw from. He had a bluesy soloing technique that you would expect from an electric guitarist, not a violinist.
GM: “Where You Gonna Run” is a nice, steady, softer song, going back to Kansas for a final time, more like “Dust in the Wind.”
ST: Charles sang that one. We recorded that song and album at Caribou Ranch in Colorado and the video from that song was filmed there, too.
GM: Ah, yes. Some of our Northeast Ohio musicians recorded there or had their albums mixed at Caribou Ranch like Joe Walsh, Joe Vitale and Michael Stanley. “Summer Sun” is more up-tempo with vocals sounding a bit like Sammy Hagar with a touch of Steve Perry and is a little bit edgier than the other songs, and is another of my favorites.
ST: Oh, thank you. I love playing that song live and I think we all do. We have been playing that quite a bit in recent years, after not playing it for quite a while. Back in the day we played shows with Robin Trower, Heart, Cheap Trick and Jefferson Starship with Aynsley Dunbar on drums, in the early 1980s when we were first on tour with them. I was a huge Jefferson Airplane fan and had seen them quite a few times in my youth. Grace Slick and Paul Kantner were in the band when we played with them, so it was really fun.
GM: When the pandemic ends, are there plans for the band to play live shows?
ST: We had shows in the works. Some of them we have rescheduled, I think at least three times. I am the only original Shooting Star member from the first five albums. Our keyboard player Dennis Laffoon joined when we recorded “Touch Me Tonight,” so he has been with us for a long time. Todd Pettygrove is our lead singer, and Chet Galloway is on guitar. Janet Jamison is on violin and vocals, which helps with the higher vocal range. In the meantime, while we wait for shows to return, I have quite a few drum students. I enjoy giving back and helping the students with shortcuts and things that took me a while to learn. I also teach a band at the place where I teach drums. I enjoy helping them with writing original songs here in the Kansas City area, near where my wife Jacquie and I live with our two cats Bear and Kimba. We fostered our cats’ mom for a short while. She was rescued from a hurricane in Louisiana, brought up to Kansas City and was pregnant. We kept two of her kittens. They almost didn’t make it. It was pretty rough. The mom wasn’t producing milk, so we bottle fed them. The vet said it was a miracle that they survived. Now they are completely healthy and energetic. Thank you so much for enjoying our music over the years and helping to spread the message about our new double vinyl anthology album.