Friday, July 11, 2014

Tribute to John Spinks of The Outfield

This post is dedicated to John Spinks who passed away on July 9th, 2014 after a hard fought battle with cancer.  His music was nothing less than a driving and inspirational force in my life and this is my tribute to him.

In the summer of 1985, I did not own a lot of music.  I was 11 going on 12 and my interest in popular music was just budding.  I loved Styx, REO Speedwagon, Hall & Oats and I was a huge fan of The Police.  My favorite song was King of Pain, I owned Synchronicity and would have identified them as my favorite band at the time.  The bulk of my musical taste at the time came from riding in the car with my mom and listening to whatever she had on.  Which – as it happens – was mostly Styx and REO Speedwagon.

But I remember the moment like it was yesterday.  We were in my mom’s 1982 Z-28, the sun was shining in the late afternoon and his voice cut through the sound of the wind blowing through the car windows.  Josie’s on a vacation far away… and my life was forever changed.  I don’t remember where we were going, or even when in that summer it was – but I listened to the song and waiting impatiently for the DJ on 94.3 WJLK (now know as The Point) to tell me who was this musical magician that had cast a spell on me was.  And as the song wound down and Tony Lewis didn’t want to lose your love tonight over and over, the masterful DJ mixed right into Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds.  I was not happy.  It was weeks before I’d hear the song again and learn that this band was called The Outfield and the album was Play Deep.  It was the first album (tape) that I simply had to have, and I had to have it now.

From the opening chords of Say It Isn’t So (which I’d never heard before, in spite of it being released in the south before Your Love) until the final drum beat of Nervous Alibi I had found my first true musical
love.  The first band that was mine.  And even with the success of Your Love, most of my friends didn’t know WHO The Outfield was.  Even today you can play the song and everyone (I mean everyone) knows the song… but most people cannot identify the artist.   But I felt like I’d discovered this awesome new band.  And as the year wore on I listened to the tape over and over, and the released All The Love, which was a huge hit, and then Everytime You Cry.  I joined their fan club and waited for those newsletters with a great deal of anticipation to learn a little more about Tony Lewis, John Spinks and Alan Jackman.  I knew (and still do) every beat, every note and every lyric on Play Deep.  While Your Love was simply a great pop/rock song – I found I identified with other songs on the album.  In 1985 I’d changed schools and, for the first time, found myself seriously interested in girls.  And between 1985 and 1987 I found that songs like Talk To Me, Everytime You Cry and Taking My Chances helped me think about and sort out the budding feelings that I had towards different girls and different times.  As John Spinks once said, “It was the right album at the right time.”

If their debut album was a masterful and driving piece of pop/rock music, their second album Bangin’ was its moody half-sister.  It rocked – don’t misunderstand me – but John Spink’s ethereal minor chord driven writing was a different animal all together.   It was another hit in my mind.  The first single, Since You’ve Been Gone, was a straight-up radio friendly rock and roll masterpiece that played right into my life at the time.  "Didn’t think I’d find a girl that I could not forget, anything we started not so long ago, ain’t over yet, since you’ve been gone, staring at your photograph, and I know that I was wrong and I know our coming back."  At that time in my life, not long after the release of the song my first real, serious relationship was coming to an end.  And as I sang along to No Surrender and Bangin’ On My Heart my life sailed on into new friendships and new relationships – some mixed in with old 
relationships.  As with any teenager, relationships were never simple.

And in 1989, I remember sitting in front of my television waiting as MTV’s lead-in for a “World Wide Debut” played at the time the VJ had told me that The Outfield’s new single, Voices of Babylon would be on.  And I watched… and waited for them to tell me the release date of the CD so I could run out and buy it immediately.  Remember, we didn't have the Internet... there was no Facebook page I could check, no Twitter feed to follow.  If we had time, we went to The Wall at the mall and checked their music computer kiosk.  But at the time, there was no news.  And once I had my paws on it, this album was it for me.  Every track resonated with me on some level.  If the first two albums were pop/rock masterpieces, this one was a masterpiece of a different sort.  The songwriting was more complex, lyrics more mature and one song simply flowed into the next and created a pop/rock soundscape that I’d not identified with before.  The album was uniquely The Outfield, but I felt like they were growing up with me as I drove around the following summer with My Paradise and Makin’ Up blaring from my car stereo, and sitting in my room singing along to Shelter Me which is not only one of the best power ballads ever written and performed, but remains my favorite song to this day.   While my mother had always enjoyed The Outfield, she really liked Voices of Babylon and thought of The Night Ain’t Over as one of her favorite songs.  Maybe, like me, John’s lyrics touched her in some way – or maybe the smooth synth and guitar tones just hit her the right way.  I don’t know, but I do know that this album is still my favorite – hands down.

In the summer of 1989, I got to see The Outfield live.  I’ve been to a number of concerts, but most of them were shows that someone gave me tickets to – or the opportunity presented itself to go.  But this was the only show I’d ever wanted to go to and bought tickets.  I was only 16 and could not drive myself to the show, so I had to talk someone into taking me.  After convincing one of my best friends to attend with me (he was not really a fan) I managed to con my grandfather into taking me to the concert at the Garden State Arts Center (now the PNC Bank Center).  They played an hour long set and rolled through Say It Isn’t So, Everytime You Cry, My Paradise, Since You’ve Been Gone and more… and then John struck the first chord to Your Love and the place erupted.  The 15,000 in attendance were so loud that John had no choice by to play the extended intro, and you could see Tony waiting for the crowd to calm down to come in – and then finally singing Josie’s on a vacation far away… and the entire crowd sang along to every word.  It was everything I wanted a concert to be – and they were just the opening act.

The Outfield went on to release Diamond Days in 1990 and the song For You was a huge hit.  It tapped in to everything the world was feeling about the war in Iraq -- just more masterful songwriting.  The album was a bit more pop than rock and was a bit of a departure for them.  They reinvented themselves a bit as duo, and the sound reflected that.  Then in 1992 came Rockeye, which was a return to the pop/rock sound of their early work.  The song Winning It All was featured in the NBA playoffs and was an inspirational rock tune from beginning to end.  They were playing with drummer Simon Dawson, and his rock roots came through on the album.

Then in 1998 – John and Tony returned with Simon on drums to release It Ain’t Over and mount a tour stateside.  The band spent a few years touring and making new music, all the while thrilling their longstanding fans.  We formed a tight bond over the years via the Internet and traded all the information and stories we could.  We became friends because of the band.  When the band released Any Time Now in 2006, fans awaited news of a tour to support the album and follow up the early 2000’s tour. 
Unfortunately, instead of a tour we received news that John Spinks was sick.  He had cancer.  We all took it personally.  We felt as though someone close to us had the disease, and followed his progress as closely as we could.  John had given us so much over so long, we prayed for him and his family constantly.  And then, after a long wait – we got news.  John was in remission – and he had a new album in the works!  And that wasn’t all – Alan Jackman was back in the band! 

When the RePlay dropped in 2011, it was everything we (as fans) had hoped for.  For me, the sound – the writing – the structure was reminiscent of Voices of Babylon but with a newer kick to it.  The signature groove was back – and the boys had done it again.  And again, we as fans, waited for news of a tour.  But as we listened to the sparkling new music, we had no idea that John was not well.  And although there were rumors, no one really knew that even as he recorded RePlay things were not well.  We did not learn until recently that there were days in which he could not even play – but he persevered and finished the record.  

He finished it for us. 

And we are grateful for that.

John Frederick Spinks has left us here, but he’s left us with a lifetime of memories and music.  And that music is intertwined within our lives like no other.  I’ve rocked out, fallen in love, had my heart broken, used it as inspiration on the baseball field and even turned it on just to feel a little better about life.  I have friends with whom The Outfield is a key part of our good times together.  And even some friends that, without The Outfield, we’d have never even met.  I remember how I felt around 1995 when I thought that Rockeye was it…  when there had been no new music from the boys for years, and no news.  I thought that the guys had simply called it quits and there would be no new music from The Outfield.  And I am forever grateful that the music post-1992 came out and I am able to enjoy it.  But as I write this, I am left with a hole in my heart where The Outfield used to be.  I will certainly never stop listening to their music… but I will miss the anticipation of new music from John and the rest of the band.  His writing… his guitar playing… and his rock and roll attitude will be missed.  Thank you for not only touching my life since 1985, John.  But thank you for helping me grow up and make it through those teen age years – I’m glad that it was your music that helped me through those tough times and not some other music that my other friends identified with.   John, may your soul forever rest in peace... you will certainly not be forgotten here.

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and 
The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

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