40 Years Later The Producers Still Have A Lot That’s What They Got

I must be getting old. I don’t feel it and definitely don’t act it, but I just went to The Producers 40th anniversary shows at City Winery in Atlanta.

40 years? Hell, I remember the first time I heard the band when I was in college. I was actually a latecomer. When I was a freshman I remember them playing the National Guard Armory, where they used to throw big shows before McKenzie Arena. I saw their name in the school newspaper a couple of times. I don’t remember who wrote about them; it was Randy Ridge, the paper’s resident music snob or a very (obviously) young Barry Courter. I knew the name but not the music. Then one day the life changed and was never the same after.

Back in the day (a very long time ago) the one commercial radio station to break new music was KZ-106. Ironically they have the playlist now as they did back then. They played a song called, “You Make The Heat”, the title track off their second album. I really dug the song – I mean really dug it. I remember it being a cold and rainy as I drove to Eastgate Mall. After running into the Record Bar at Eastgate Mall, I found it right away and hurried back to my car. I can still visualize myself tearing off the shrink wrap and holding my new find like Indiana Jones holding the golden idol. As the rain steamed down my windshield I popped the cassette into my tape deck and read the liner notes as my mind was blown.

All of a sudden The Producers were everywhere. I had listened to the album so much that beside actually wearing it out. Still to this day I know the songs in sequence. When I finally got to see the band in concert whenever I heard a song off if it, in my mind I was already anticipating the next song. I was always wrong, after all I was seeing them live and not on Memorex.

The song that put them on the mainstream map and all over MTV was “She Shelia”, a very stereotypical music video for the era, which I love and appreciate. The dynamic of the band was cool. They reminded me a lot of Cheap Trick. The band consisted of three potential heartthrobs, and one goofball. The goofball being the keyboard player Wayne McNatt, better known to the world as Wayne Famous, who gave off a Rick Nielson vibe to me. Nielson always, even to this day steals the show with Cheap Trick and so does Wayne. Not only that, but also Wayne also played the keytar in the “She Shelia” video, a keyboard that he carried around with a strap around his neck like a guitar, hence the name. The keytar is a very ‘80s thing and reference – a very fun one. No one in the know says keytar without smiling.

That New Year’s Eve they were one of the co-headliners of MTV’s “Rockin’ New Years Eve”. But after that there was literal radio silence. They had blown up in the mainstream really fast and then were gone. I never knew why and how. Of course I moved on because New Wave introduced me to so many new and young artists although part of me always wanted to know why I didn’t hear anything about the band.

Back then I never went to Atlanta like I do now (obviously) and they never came back to Chattanooga – until 1989. I was there. And every chance I was free to see them over the years I’ve road tripped to see them. I remember the late ‘90s they played on the deck at American Pie with other New Wave bands for Memorial Day weekend and then they played in Chattanooga in the early 2000s. In 2017 I discovered they were playing Riverbend Festival. 35 years later, I wasn’t sure what to expect or what they would look like from their MTV glory days – or if this was really “that” band. I recognized Wayne Famous automatically and knew I was in the right place.

I’ve tried to make up for lost time and have traveled between shows in Atlanta (their hometown) and Chattanooga (sorta, kinda becoming almost a second home for them). When I was invited to the 40th anniversary show I jumped at the chance.

Fighting Atlanta traffic for the first time since I went down to see Tool back in January of last year and also forgetting there was a Falcons’ preseason game too, I finally made it down to City Winery. Finally walking in, the first of two shows were underway. Emanating through the hallway where the merch table was set up I heard songs I am now so familiar.

Entering the room, while I knew no one there (besides the band) I saw a lot of familiar faces in the crowd. Many of these faces I have seen at a Producers show for over three decades.

Instead of a concert, it was more a party. Familiar faces, familiar songs and at one point or another everyone in attendance was singing along including yours truly. I intentionally sat away from the crowd so I could sing along (badly) at the top of my lungs. Fortunately, no one could hear me as they, too were doing their thing.

Thanks to Covid, the numbers were down, but the show remained stellar and epitomizes my feelings on the band. I was never one to like the really big bands fanatically like the Stones, U2, etc. Sure, I love those guys as well, but my tastes always seem to fall on bands like The Producers, The Smithereens, Greg Kihn Band, The Romantics, etc. All of which had some Top 40 success, but none of the success they deserve. We all know at least one song from these bands and of course I know a lot more. It always befuddled me why these guys weren’t HUGE like the others named. They all have perfectly crafted pop/rock songs, a definitive original style – both musically and style and a personality.

Bands like these I consider hidden gems. Part of me is glad they didn’t get huge, because often bands can change after they blow up, like R.E.M. for example in my personal opinion. I do wish they would all make a billion dollars, but part of me to this day still enjoys turning people on to these bands still to this day.

Before I left to come to the show I was talking to a neighbor in my office building who was 20 years younger than I. He asked me what I was doing that weekend. I told him I was headed to The Producers’ 40th anniversary show. I asked if he was familiar with the band. Of course he said no. I promptly pulled out my phone and opened my YouTube app. First I played “What’s He Got” followed by “She Shelia”, two of the more mainstream favorites among casual fans. His eyes lit up and he started to nod his head. I explained as best as my knowledge of the band their brief history and heyday. After listening to the songs he had a one-word response – “Cool”.

Cool indeed. The Producers are my hidden gem and as much as I love having them to myself, I wish more people would listen like my neighbor.

I got a call last night from an old friend who is a fan of the band as well. He and I had not talked in years. I bragged to him about going to the 40th anniversary show. He then reminded me he actually went to the show at The Armory back before I knew who the band was. He talked about the different songs we liked and other shows we had seen and then he asked me a question that I’m always asked when a friend of mine learns I went to see The Producers. “How’s Wayne Famous?” Great, and still famous of course I answered.

– Dave Weinthal