"It's funny how music identifies a moment in time," says local businessman and downtown tour guide Tommy Dew — a gregarious guy who first made his mark in town as the wide-grinning, jumpy singer of rock band The Archetypes. "We were kind of a moment in time for people who went to the College of Charleston and were hanging out in this area's music scene 20 years ago. There's a bit of nostalgia there."
In the late '80s and early '90s, The Archetypes rocked local frat parties and clubs with a set of jangly, uptempo original tunes and a mix of classic and preppy college rock favorites. During the band's brief but exciting run, they were one of the most beloved, in-demand rock bands in Charleston.
"In my heart, every day, I wish I was a musician," says Dew. "I'm doing some cool, fun stuff now, but there's nothing better than being a musician and performing. I love performing. I'm the most in tune with surroundings when I'm on stage. I feel electrified. I long for the day when I have the time to do that."
The charismatic lead singer and his longtime bandmates — guitarists Kevin Wadley and Joey Allawos — were the core of the band's ever-changing lineup. The story starts with Dew's first local band, Tommy Salami & The Cold Cuts. Dew and Allawos recruited a few friends to jam at casual gigs for fun with the group.
Wadley remembers how easily things fell into place as well. "Tommy and Joey had their thing going on, and I kind of connived my way in there," he says. "Edwin Miller, the bassist, was better known for his work with metal bands at the time, but he had a big practice space and a P.A. out in Awendaw. We worked up a ton of material in a short period of time. We got serious."
The Archetypes came together quickly, although it took a few months to tighten up and work out a full set. They played their first official show at a party at the Kappa Alpha house on Wentworth Street in December 1988. It went over better than they expected. The next show was a giant leap — an opening set at Myskyn's (on Faber Street) supporting N.C. college radio band The Connells.
"We promoted the hell out of it on campus," remembers Dew. "Back then, it was smaller and everyone knew everyone. We didn't have much of a set at the time, but we crushed it. It was a sold-out show, wall-to-wall. We played, like, 12 songs in the opening set, and we rocked it. Right off the bat, we booked a gig every week."
Geoff Cormier settled in as the main drummer early on, recording the drum tracks on most of the band's early demos. With a solid set of their own songs — and a cassette album to promote — the band hoped to take things to the next level. They booked short tours around the region, playing college towns and sending tracks to alternative radio stations.
"R.E.M. was a huge musical influence, but they inspired us in other ways, too," remembers Wadley. "Like with a lot of the bands who were all over college radio at the time, we thought, 'Man, if these guys can do it, we can do it.' The plan at the time was certainly to go as big and as far as we could go. We had to have that attitude. You gotta give it a hundred percent to be a decent band."
In Charleston, the band gigged private parties, high school dances, and local clubs, like Club Dog Alley, the original Cumberland's, and the Windjammer.
"We bought a van and a trailer and took it on the road around 1990. Then, in 1991, we nearly broke up," Dew laughs. "We burned out. Kevin and I used to have a fairly contentious relationship; he wrote the music, I wrote the lyrics, and we constantly got on each other's nerves."
A busy rotation of other timekeepers dominated the band's final years. Keith Bradshaw, Tommy Hamer, Pete Wilborn, and Greg Walker did short stints in the early '90s. Around that time, Wadley had the idea of opening a new music club. He partnered with radio guy Carter McMillan in 1990, developed a business plan, and opened up the first version of the Music Farm in a small brick building at 525 East Bay St.
"We played every two months at the Farm, rekindling the band somewhat, but it wasn't quite the same," Dew says. "We had some massive shows, breaking attendance records on certain nights. But we weren't so much in a creative mode."
By the end of 1992, the Archetypes ran out of steam. Rather than simply go through the motions at periodic club gigs, they amicably called it quits.
"I just feel fortunate to have had that experience," says Wadley. "Playing music and making a living at it — even though it wasn't much of a living — was probably the greatest job ever. Looking back, it brings a lot of joy. It's hard to give up, so we keep on doing it and having fun."
The Archetypes reunite on stage this Saturday as part of the sixth annual Suzy McGrane Memorial — presented by Share Our Suzy and Shoreline Productions — will take place at the Charleston Harbor Resort's new Lookout Pavilion, a spacious, open-air venue.
Sharing the stage with The Archetypes will be rootsy local favorites Blue Dogs and Gaslight Street. The official Archetypes lineup includes Hank Futch (of the Blue Dogs) on stand-up bass, Hamer (of The Fire Apes) on drums, and some extra embellishment from guitarist Dave Stewart (of both The Blue Dogs and the Fire Apes).
"Our sound is a little bit different now, partly because of the guests we have with us on stage," says Wadley. "Hank is super talented on the stand-up bass, so he brings a little different bounce. Hank re-enforces Tommy's vocal melody lines. Tommy's right on top of it, and he'll do a good job. There are some moments when it sounds like the days of old, so I think we'll be fine."