Spotlight: Shoes

Friday, March 15, 11pm, Maggie Mae's Gibson Room

Spotlight: Shoes

You can't tell the story of American power pop without Shoes.

Between the early promise of cult hits like 1979's "Too Late" and the wizened edge of 2012's Ignition, the band's arc forms a rough parallel to the fortunes of the genre it helped establish. It all started in Zion, Ill., back in 1973. Still reeling from the British Invasion, John Murphy and guitarist Gary Klebe decided to start a band after graduating from high school.

"We had this wild pipe dream of being the biggest group ever, but we couldn't play anything, and neither of us had any musical training whatsoever," says Murphy.

Then Murphy's younger brother Jeff purchased a four-track recorder and joined on guitar, and the band started honing its sound, track by track, in the Murphy family basement. The DIY setup persisted through 1977's Black Vinyl Shoes.

"We recorded the entire thing using headphones and heard it for the first time on speakers the one day that we mixed all 15 tracks," recalls Murphy.

Despite trepidation from Murphy's mom, Shoes signed with Elektra in 1979.

"Knowing what we've been through since then, she had every right to be nervous," he offers.

MTV aired four Shoes videos on its first day of operation in 1981, but Elektra dropped them the following year. Undeterred, the band kept releasing new music on their Black Vinyl imprint. They also opened a studio, recording second-wave power-pop acts like Material Issue. Music industry malaise claimed the studio in 2004.

Klebe reconvened Shoes in his home studio to record Ignition. While the hopeful harmonies remain intact, the stiff-upper-lipped tone of songs like "Diminishing Returns" matches the band's resolve.

"Most things in life seem to be about chemistry and timing," Murphy posits. "Being in a band for an extended period of time will certainly test one's mettle."

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