By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
J.W. Sewell says that he and Quon made the common mistake of newcomers to the music industry: They thought talent automatically would sell. Not so, they learned. "It's actually based on two things--the quality of the song, and politics--personal relationships with the people you are dealing with," Sewell says.
Arterberry is a case in point. The voluptuous singer has a riveting, versatile soul style that impressed the president of SBK, Charles Koppelman. SBK acquired the music from Ultrax for undisclosed terms. But Arterberry's CD, Thank You, stalled on the charts.
"When [Koppelman] got the masters," Arterberry recalls, "he was very excited about it. He said he would make it his personal baby. That was in April . By the time it came out in October, he didn't seem to have any interest at all. I don't know what happened."
Larry Friedman, a Dallas attorney who worked with Ultrax and Vanilla Ice, says Ultrax artists, and ultimately Ultrax, were the victims of the music industry's capriciousness. "I don't know if any of us recognized the shallowness of the Beverly Hills community," says Friedman, who represented Vanilla Ice. "It's a tough, vicious, cold business, and those people in Beverly Hills, they look at these artists as commodities. They aren't even people."
Still, for a time, Ultrax seemed to be delivering on its promise to showcase Dallas R&B artists. Ultrax artists routinely made appearances at fairs and black expos all over the country.
But problems endemic to the industry thwarted Quon's ambitions. Despite the success of Vanilla Ice, Ultrax did not have enough clout to get play time on R&B stations, even in Dallas. Quon spent thousands to get his records on the air, to little avail. "All we got were a few plays in the middle of the night," Quon recalls.
But a 23-year-old local boy wouldn't know all that. When Dale Lane--a.k.a. Goldfinger--got a meeting with Ultrax executives, he thought he'd finally made it.
Lane began pursuing a music career right after graduating from Roosevelt High School. In the mid-1980s, rap was just emerging as an extension of R&B, and Oak Cliff was the perfect incubator for the style. Talent shows and amateur hours featuring rappers proliferated, and Lane knew all the venues: Spanky's, Club 220, Bishop College.
He gathered a group of young men who could sing, and they practiced their music at Lane's house. He called his group the G-Crew. Every Friday evening, Lane would go to the Texas Theatre with G-Crew and join all the other rappers, singers, and break dancers who'd convene on the sidewalk to showcase their talents. He played all his music on a small Casio keyboard. "He got a lot out of that Casio," says friend Leon Thompson. "He had a very unique sound."
Lane soon tired of the amateur scene. While he scraped together money to buy equipment, members of his posse threw theirs away on new clothes and shoes. "They weren't putting their hearts into it," he says. "They didn't see the picture I saw."
Goldfinger saw himself blowing up, hitting it big. "I saw a group that could come out and sing very well and with nice rapping skills and a producer like myself," he says. "A Jodeci with a rap flavor." His group was constantly performing at talent contests. "The plan was for us to keep going to the public, letting people hear us, and looking for management," Lane says.
Goldfinger's group recorded its first single, titled Strung Out, in 1989. It cost $1,400 to print 500 cassettes. The group gave away 100 and sold the rest.
Local entrepreneur Larry Johnson takes credit for discovering Goldfinger. At the time, Johnson ran a small office, Metro Talent, that supplied extras--mostly blacks and other minorities--to movies filming locally. One day in 1988, as he tells it, he was walking to his office when he came across Goldfinger and a group of young singers performing in the parking lot of his business office. Impressed, he invited them up to his office. And the more he learned about Goldfinger, the more excited he got.
"I can spot talent," Johnson says. "Goldfinger is extremely gifted. He can play the piano, and he has one of the best ears for what's contemporary or cutting-edge that you can find. And he could play music just from hearing it."
Johnson was the first manager who offered to represent Goldfinger, and Goldfinger gladly signed a contract. Johnson's job was to find gigs for Goldfinger, and ultimately, a record deal. Johnson had never gotten close to a record deal before, but he knew folks who knew folks who knew folks who had.
Goldfinger fired Johnson just a year later. "I found myself spending all my money," Lane says. "He never hooked me up on my gigs. Everything I got, I hooked up myself." Still, Johnson hung around, and occasionally offered his advice.
In the winter of 1991, Goldfinger produced "Scheek Fool," a hip-hop rap track imploring women to dance...well, without inhibition: "Shake that butt from side to side/watch the fellows in the club come alive." He tooled it around town, convincing various dance clubs to play it. When the DJs played "Scheek Fool," the dance floor would fill up. Encouraged by the club response, Goldfinger took a copy of the songs to two local soul stations.