Delayed rock-star dreams

Friday, July 23, 2004

Rock-star dreams of being signed by a major label, hearing your songs on the radio and playing before adoring fans are mostly for those young enough not to know better.

For Randy Leiner, Gregg Hopkins and Michael Enderle, all around age 50 and members of The Melroys, musical success is measured slightly differently.

Instead of a major label, they have a small, start-up record label. The band's songs have not yet received mainstream airplay but have received airplay on online radio stations. And while it may not be enough to fill stadiums, they do have a devoted group of fans who have a great time at the band's shows.

Leiner, Hopkins and Enderle are Southeast Missouri natives and St. Louis transplants who have been playing music most of their lives. They have been members of numerous bands over the years.

In 1999 the three musicians, along with Brad Springmeyer, formed The Melroys. The band played gigs around St. Louis and at Broussard's in Cape Girardeau and in 2002 released a self-titled album.

This year has brought some big changes to the Melroys.

In January, guitar player and singer Denny DeVette left the band, and Randy Leiner's son, Jordan Leiner, took his place.

Then in June, the band signed a record deal with 95North Recording Corp., a brand-new small independent label that focuses on blues and Americana music.

"It's surreal," said guitarist and lead singer-songwriter Randy Leiner. "The stars must be in alignment because nothing ever works out like this," he said.

There have been some close calls. A Nashville producer was interested enough to come and check out the band, but nothing ever came of it.

This time things were different.

The deal never would have happened if not for Mike Hurley, a friend of Hopkins and Enderle who started 95North Recording Corp.

Hurley worked at Atlantic Records for several years but quit before The Melroys released an album. After leaving the record business, Hurley devoted his time to being an artist, making miniature reproductions of guitars until he was approached by a fellow musician and fan art client about starting a record label.

"Fortunately, we were one of the first people he called to be on the record label," said Hopkins, the band's bassist and singer.

A few weeks later, Hurley caught the Melroys performing at Broussard's and was impressed enough by what he saw to sign them.

"It took us by surprise because after all these years you get a lot of promises from people who can help you and you get jaded, but Bill is the real thing, and we really think we have a good CD," said Enderle, the band's drummer. "We always thought it was a matter of getting the right people to hear it. It's throwing a bunch of rocks up against a wall and hoping one hits."

Hopkins also trusts Hurley.

"Bill Hurley is a great promoter, he really believes in The Melroys and Randy Leiner's songs," Hopkins said.

The Melroys have a year contract with 95North, during which time the record company owns the rights to the band's album "The Melroys" and will work to promote it and attempt to get radio airplay.

Although excited about the prospects, Randy Leiner is philosophical about what will come out of the recording deal. "People will either like us or they won't, and there's nothing I can do to change it," he said. "At least now we'll know. That's all I can ask, really."

"I'm just really excited about it," Hopkins said. "I've been doing this since I was 11 years old. It's always been a dream of mine that I'd be in a band people would pay attention to and would believe in."

Although Leiner, Enderle and Hopkins have waited many years for the opportunity to sign with a record label, it kind of fell into the lap of the band's newest member.

"They've been working their butts off for it their entire lives. They're more excited than me," Jordan Leiner said. "I'm excited -- don't get me wrong -- but I kind of feel like I don't deserve it."

Jordan Leiner resisted learning to play guitar until he was 14 years old. "It was something my dad did. I took it for granted, but growing up in house with 10 guitars, you're bound to pick one up."

Once he did pick one up, Jordan Leiner caught onto the guitar quickly. By the time he was 17 he was playing gigs with his father, and the duo soon turned into The Leiner Brothers, complete with younger brother on bass and mom on drums.

The Leiner Brothers was the last band Randy Leiner played in before joining The Melroys, and toward the end of 2003, Randy Leiner thought The Melroys was growing stale and toyed with the idea of starting something new with Jordan, who had filled in for DeVette on two Melroys gigs.

While Jordan knew that things were not working out with DeVette and the Melroys, he was hesitant to mention his interest in becoming a member.

"I didn't think they would want anything to do with a 25-year-old, and I didn't want to say, 'Dad, I want to be in your band. Can you pull some strings for me?'"

While Randy Leiner admits to be biased when it comes to Jordan, he thinks his presence is beneficial to The Melroys.

"I know from feedback I get from people that he's a firecracker -- he has a lot of energy," Randy Leiner said.

Hopkins and Enderle agree.

"Jordan has a lot of energy, and he's added a bit more of edge to the band," Hopkins said.

Enderle echoed the same sentiment. "He comes across really well on stage and has brought much-needed enthusiasm on stage," Enderle said.

The Melroys have almost enough material for a second album, which they likely will start recording six or seven months down the road. Until then, there will be the first album to promote and more live shows to perform, including the band's next appearance at Broussard's in Cape Girardeau on Aug. 19.

kalfisi@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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