In the early years of MTV, when the cable network specialized in music videos, Atlanta-based power-pop band The Producers were MTV stars.
The Producers signed a major label deal with CBS subsidiary Portrait Records in the 1980s. Despite lackluster chart positions, the group’s high-energy torch song “She Sheila” and jealousy-fueled “What’s He Got” made a big pop-culture impact via MTV.
During a 14-month period in 1981 and ’82, the Producers performed 340 shows. The band also shared the bill with Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls during MTV’s second annual New Year’s Eve Rock ’n’ Roll Ball.
“It was fantastic,” drummer Bryan Holmes said from Atlanta last week of the band’s peak popularity years. “We were all over the place, making a living playing original music for people who liked us.”
From the beginning, New Orleans was among The Producers’ best tour spots. The band played such local venues as Jimmy’s Music Club and the riverboat President.
“I tried not to look out the window while I was playing on the riverboat,” Holmes recalled. “I could see we were moving while all those people were jumping up and down. And Jimmy’s Club was such a music-friendly place. Jimmy is a music guy. It’s always good to play for people like that.”
The Producers, featuring all four original members, are returning to New Orleans Friday for a show at Southport Music Hall.
“We still love to play New Orleans,” Holmes said. “The crowd is always phenomenal.”
Holmes, singer-guitarist Van Temple, singer-keyboardist Wayne Famous and bassist Tim Smith (who’d replaced original bassist Kyle Henderson in 1984) announced their breakup in 1989. The split didn’t last.
In October 1989, Holmes told New Orleans music reporter Vincent Fumar that The Producers would soon disband.
“It’s been about three months since we decided to split up,” the drummer said ahead of the band’s reportedly final New Orleans show. “After 11 years, we’re all creatively spent in this band anyway. And we’re anxious to do other things.”
“The music business was changing at that point,” Holmes said last week. “We thought it was the right time for us to quit. So we officially broke up in ’89, ’90, but since that time, we’ve continued to play.”
The Producers usually perform six to eight times a year and sometimes as many as 10 times per year. Picking gigs carefully, the band typically performs only in markets where they expect a strong response.
“As long as people want us to play and we can draw a substantial crowd that’s enthusiastic, that’s well worth it to us,” Holmes said. “But if there comes the time when some of those elements are missing, we’ll move on.”
A change of direction in the early 1990s allowed The Producers to regroup as a part-time band.
“In the music business, there was so much responsibility to write and record and maintain a record deal or gain a new deal,” Holmes said. “That became a point of anxiety instead of a point of creativity.
“But then our focus changed. A lot of fans out there still wanted to see us. But we’re not going to be pursuing the trappings of a full-time band. When offers come and they’re good enough for us to enjoy playing and not do it on a shoestring, well, yeah, we’ll play.”
The Producers/Smokey Mary
WHEN: Friday (doors open at 7:30 p.m.)
WHERE: Southport Music Hall, 200 Monticello Ave., New Orleans