Cut the cards, ante up

Spot--the pop trio that blossomed from the scorched patch of earth once known as Mildred--is sneaking up on rock stardom with the philosophical ferocity of Thomas Aquinas and the childlike wonder of Opie Taylor.

Or it would be if its much-ballyhooed joint deal with indie label Ardent and major Interscope wasn't disintegrating like Claude Rains in the Invisible Man. Just two weeks ago, in fact, the band members--guitarist Chad Rueffer and his bassist brother, Reggie (both of whom share vocal and songwriting duties), and drummer Davis Bickston--are in the courtyard behind Club Dada on a surprisingly mild summer night contemplating the impending marriage.

"Basically, Ardent thought it had a pretty hot property and they needed help getting it to the masses," says Reggie, whose straw gardening hat, John Lennon glasses, and wispy, goatlike beard seem rather Halloweeny in the fading twilight. "Ardent did all they could, a pretty good job for the resources they had. Interscope has always been interested in us because they keep their ears to the Dallas scene."

Chad, buoyant and crew-cut, peppering his frequent philosophical and literary allusions with obscenities, looks a bit like Seattle Mariners slugger Jay Buhner: "Interscope let it be known that they wouldn't hesitate to get in bed with Ardent--so to speak--and that's where we stand, with the two of them working out the finer points of who's gonna fuck the other."

Not long thereafter it appeared that the only one eligible for a righteous rogering was Spot. Interscope, wanting Spot without the nuisance of Ardent, delayed. Ardent, tapped out, desperately needed the major's financial help. Stalemate.

Furthermore, Spot has no management, steering instead via a committee of its members and several helpful friends and business associates. Negotiations were maddening, frequently puzzling, and ultimately disconcerting; the Spot collective began to fret that whatever momentum was imparted by the success of "Moon June Spoon" would fall off. Spot was--is--dead in the water with a hit song and a promising CD.

Still, the band--bright, entertaining guys--seems confident this night; conversation is frequently interrupted by fresh drink, and tangential arguments rage about subjects including value, good and evil, and the psychology behind the repentance of the Catholic Church. The members of Spot were giddy and relaxed; no matter what lies ahead, good things had without question happened fast. After all, they'd scored the Ardent contract in their first year on the basis of a five-song demo sent to the label by a friend; less than a year later they had an album out and were touring. The success of "Spoon" was a surprising validation that their music might just be as special as they thought it was.

"We knew from the word go that we had some intriguing, muscular, rocking stuff," Chad says. "It seemed probable that someone would express interest."

Indeed. Spot's singular sound combines brainy pop-craft with strident, exuberant guitar rock; wry poetry with snide disillusionment; and soaring melodies with the howling harmonies of drunken choirboys, giving it a protean quality ideal for rock radio. But that "Spoon"--Reggie's breathless, driving paean to adultery crouched in crypto-T.S. Eliot imagery--would turn out to be a hit was a complete surprise.

"That song should never have been on the record," laughs Chad. "It was one of Reggie's ideas that didn't pan out--only it did."

"It was never a possibility that 'Moon June' would be a part of it," agrees Reggie. "But somehow it ended up on the album." When Spot came out, Ardent--savvy to the ways of college radio--scored air play of "Drop Down," "Absalom," and "Straight Through the Sun's Head."

"'Moon June' wasn't even on our BMI checks for the third quarter of last year," Reggie recalls. "Then Q102 [KTXQ-FM] got involved."

Enter Redbeard, shah of Dallas rock radio. Q102's influential DJ and program director sensed something special about the cut and began airing it with the sort of regularity reserved for new Sting or Pearl Jam releases.

"It wasn't just 'Moon June Spoon,' though," Redbeard explains. "In April of '95, Ardent sent me Spot, but I didn't connect them with Mildred at the time. I put it on, and the first song was really interesting. The second song was great, then the third song was great! The fourth song was great, and the fifth, 'Moon June Spoon,' was it, the Holy Grail I'd been looking for." It wasn't long before "Spoon" was catching on in other markets like Corpus Christi and Denver.

"Any success we've had had a great deal to do with Redbeard," Reggie admits. "He was the first disc jockey--or program director, for that matter--to believe in it."

The long-silent Bickston speaks up, briefly interrupting a continual set of finger-paradiddles he's executing. "Then Z-Rock discovered 'Moon June,'" he says, referring to the syndicated nationwide heavy-metal network that added the single to its far-reaching playlist. "They have been so behind it; every time we've played a Z-Rock town the support has been amazing."

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Rick Koster

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