The Styletones were paid a one-time fee for the use of their version of Sam and Dave’s “Hold on I’m Comin’” that ran in a Super Bowl TV ad for milk last February.
Steve Harris knew that, as lead vocalist, he and backup vocalist Ben Moore would also get paid royalties each time the ad ran. But there was another benefit.
“They made me become a member of SAG [Screen Actors Guild]. At the time I signed up I didn’t know that, legally, they became my employer. I just found out that SAG covers my health insurance.”
Harris, a ’90 graduate of Hoover High, admits he is in the ranks of “struggling musician” as a front man for the funk/R&B cover band the Styletones, and as the singer/guitarist for Stevie & the Hi-Staxx, an original rock/soul trio.
But, he has insurance. “The only other local musician I know who is in SAG is Erika Davies who did a Toyota commercial.”
Harris says the Super Bowl song’s upside had a downside.
“When the song first aired, people thought it was Sam,” says Harris. “He started doing press about it. He wrote letters to the band, to the ad agency, and to the milk people, at first saying I was doing identity theft. Then he turned around and said it was a horrible version and I was ruining his image. But it’s been a year and it doesn’t look like he’s going to sue anybody. But it did kind of squash the momentum of the song. But it’s a song the Styletones don’t play, anyway. We do the more obscure, raw soul songs. We don’t do the hits.”
Harris admits that the Sam Moore legal threats have made him apprehensive about the original band name Hi-Staxx, which is an homage to two famed Memphis record labels Hi (Al Green) and Stax (Otis Redding). “I added an x to Staxx, so I hope it’s okay. It’s like naming a band Ford and Chrysler. I keep thinking, Somebody’s bound to say something.”
Harris’s SD music history includes a 1992 band that was the predecessor of the Greyboy Allstars. He then left for L.A. to do a development deal with then-new label Modern Records, owned by Stevie Nicks and distributed by Atlantic. Harris says Modern was paying him $2000 a month and covering recording expenses and pay for his backup band. He recorded some 24 tracks at high-end L.A. recording studios.
“Modern Records’ first two releases were by Foghat and Stevie Nicks. Both of those albums crashed and burned. I was supposed to be the third album, but when they bombed, the guy at Modern couldn’t push my album through.”
Harris says he then took a flat six-figure fee to sign with San Diego’s Cargo label. “I was told that was the most they had ever paid anyone.” Cargo released two CDs by Harris’s soul-rock project Conglomerate.
“Then the whole band moved to Oakland. When I left, I said in a Reader article that San Diego wasn’t supporting me. I regretted saying that.”
Harris became a Muslim and fronted an Afrocentric hip-hop collective called Remarkable Current, which toured the country.
“We would wear our kufis and have beards and pray in the airport at 4 in the morning waiting for our flight. This was right after 9/11. We would freak people out. But for some reason we never got called into secondary.”
A divorce and a new lady prompted him to move to Florida for two years. Harris and family have been back in town for six years.
- Saturday, January 11, 2014, 10 p.m.
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“The Bay Area is all about a DJ culture. There was no music scene at all in Florida. So even though it’s a struggle in San Diego, there is a vibrant scene here, and I always have cats I can call to play for a gig.”