The year 2020 was supposed to be a big one for popular local band Mike Hines & The Look.
The band’s members were supposed to celebrate 35 years together and were planning to be inducted into the Delaware Rock & Roll Society.
But neither of those things happened due to the coronavirus pandemic. They never got to celebrate their anniversary with their fans, and their Hall of Fame induction has now been pushed to Sept. 12 of this year at Wilmington’s Baby Grand theater.
It’s safe to say 2020 was the year that wasn’t for the group, which has entertained the area for decades.
Even the perennially packed Mike Hines’ Birthday Bash, usually held this weekend at Dover Downs’ Fire & Ice nightclub, has been canceled.
Since March 13 of last year, the band has played five gigs. It’s been quite a change from its usual six to eight performances a month.
“Every time the phone rang (last year), I knew it was a cancellation,” said Mr. Hines of the past year.
While many local bands were able to squeak by with perhaps a duo or trio version and working small venues, that wasn’t in the cards for Mike Hines & The Look.
“The problem with a band like ours, when you’re considered like an A-level band, and you’re paid like an A-level band, and they count on us selling out the club, playing to 30 percent of the club doesn’t make sense for them,” said band co-founder and drummer Dave Simmons.
Bookings are coming in for later in the summer and Christmas parties, but as with everything, the band is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“With the way it’s going, we may celebrate our 35th anniversary in 2022,” joked bass guitar player Greg Gantzer.
Although Mike Hines & The Look has been silenced for now, the band has a lot to look back on over the course of 35 years.
While the group was founded by Mr. Hines, Mr. Simmons and keyboardist Dean Teat, Mr. Gantzer and lead guitarist Jon Benson have each been a part of the gang for more than 30 years.
“We still think of Greg as the new guy,” joked Mr. Simmons.
Mike Hines & The Look sprang from the local group The Snapp Band. Mr. Hines was its lead singer, and Mr. Simmons was the drummer later in the band’s incarnation. When he felt it was time to move on, Mr. Hines decided to start his own thing.
“And I said, ‘I’m going with him,’” Mr. Simmons said.
They picked up Mr. Teat as a “utility player” and with two other members, Mike Hines & The Look was born.
Back in 1985, their first gig was a Milford High School homecoming dance. But it was just a warmup for the following night, when they would open for the Ohio Players at the former Cadeaux Lounge in Dover. That started a long relationship with its late former owner, Al Cadeaux.
“We would work for him for dirt-cheap because he would also let us practice at his place anytime we wanted to, and we would also practice at Earle Teat Music downtown (in Dover),” Mr. Hines said.
“Al would call places in Ocean City (Maryland) or Dewey Beach and say, ‘I’ve got this band called Mike Hines & The Look. I want you to hire them. If you don’t like them, I’ll pay them.’ And that opened a lot of doors for us in the mid-’80s.”
“There was no social media. So everything had to be word of mouth,” Mr. Simmons remarked.
The success Mr. Hines had with The Snapp Band got folks interested in his new venture.
“Mike had a draw right from the beginning. Everyone was excited about seeing Mike’s new band. That’s what they wanted to see,” Mr. Teat said. “We had lines right from the beginning solely because of Mike’s name.”
The Dover Mall also figured prominently in those early days, for a couple of reasons.
“Mike was the mayor of the mall. Everybody knew Mike,” Mr. Benson said. “Everybody knew him. It didn’t matter who you were.”
At the time, Mr. Hines was working at Chess King during the day and would promote the band every chance he got.
“I would start at Boscov’s and hit every store between Boscov’s and Sears. I had flyers, and we couldn’t put them up in the stores, but I would hit up employees and ask if they would put them up in their stockrooms. There were no cellphones, no social media. So you would just have to talk to them and schmooze with them, and they would come out,” Mr. Hines said.
The mall is also where Mr. Simmons was recruited for The Snapp Band.
“I was walking down the mall one day, and Mike was standing outside Chess King. I knew him from playing basketball against each other, and he said to me, ‘Hey, you play drums, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I do.’ He said, ‘We’re looking for a drummer. Why don’t you come for an audition?’” Mr Simmons recalled.
“That’s how I got that job, by just being at the mall shopping for shoes or something. And that led to this all these years later.”
The racial makeup of Mike Hines & The Look, Mr. Hines said, was on purpose. With three Black musicians and two White musicians, he found that it was easier to book gigs than it was during the all-Black Snapp Band days.
“Before Dave got there, (The Snapp Band was) an all-Black band, and no matter how good or how funky we were, the moment they saw a picture of an all-Black band in a White club, we could not get in there,” Mr. Hines said.
“(The Snapp Band) used to play what they would call ‘the chitlin’ circuit’. So it was no accident that Mike Hines & The Look was Black and White. In the early days, Dave would come with me to speak with clients just so they could see a White face. It’s a shame, but it’s a reality,” he added.
“That was 40 years ago, but it’s still the same today,” Mr. Teat said.
Mr. Simmons proudly remembered his days playing the chitlin’ circuit.
“I was in one place, and I came off stage and somebody asked me if I was lost. And I had just come off stage,” he said.
More than 35 years later, Mike Hines & The Look has opened for such names as Al B. Sure, Chris Rock, Dionne Warwick, the Sugarhill Gang and Taylor Dayne.
They still sell out clubs from Park Place Restaurant & Lounge in Milford, Paradise Grill in Long Neck, Harrington Raceway & Casino, Jeff’s Taproom & Grille in Bridgeville and on up into Philadelphia, New Jersey and beyond.
Along with a healthy slate of weddings, festivals and anniversary parties, they have even played for Gov. John Carney’s inauguration, a 100th-birthday party, a bar mitzvah, a celebration of life and two Philadelphia Easter parades.
So what’s kept them going? All agree they are like a family.
“We have fun. Everybody has different opinions, but the nucleus of everything is that Mike’s a nut, so he keeps everything going, and we just joke with each other and laugh more than anything,” Mr. Benson said.
Mr. Teat said there are no egos in the band.
“Mike sets the tone. A lot of bands have ‘lead singer disease’ situations going on, and Mike could definitely have that because of his name recognition. But he doesn’t. He includes us. He’s more concerned about our feelings than anyone else’s,” he said.
Another factor in their success, band members say, is their ability to change with the times. While their main focus has been high-energy dance music, such as Motown classics and party favorites, they have always played a mix for everyone to enjoy.
“As far as music changes are concerned, when one style become a little bit more popular, we’ve been able to survive through all that, while other bands around here blow up really big for a while, and they are gone,” Mr. Gantzer said.
“We were a dance band that survived the grunge era,” Mr. Simmons recalled. “We did enough of that stuff — Nirvana, Pearl Jam — that the rock guys said, ‘OK, they’re cool.’”
In the early days of the band, Mike Hines & The Look had the choreography to go along with the musicianship. These days, they kid that Father Time is starting to take his toll, and if they go down for a dip, they may not get back up again.
But they do have a lot to look forward to once things pick back up, not the least of which is that Delaware Rock and Roll Society induction ceremony, for which tickets will be on sale later in the year.
“We’re very pleased and gratified that we got picked for such an honor,” Mr. Hines said.
Each member of the band said they miss being on stage and doing what they love most — making music for folks.
“We’ve spent so much time together over the years,” Mr. Teat said, “from driving to the gig to setting up to playing the gig to sometimes staying at a hotel room after the gig. We really do miss it and hope to get back to it soon.”
At first glance the duo might seem a bit unusual but the friendship between them shines through in their one-off new single ‘Tilton Park’. Written over one session during their usual late night of food, stories, and jamming, ‘Tilton Park’ was written on the eve of the presidential inauguration. What started as a jam ended up being a folk tune expressing the things they wanted to see from the new leaders as well as a message of hope and reconciliation.
Rob Pfeiffer, affectionately nicknamed, the Mayor of Tiltlandia in Wilmington played guitar with his band Life on Mars from 1996 to 2001 releasing a CD and touring around the East Coast. He continued playing with other musicians while also enjoying a career as the brewer at some of the top breweries in the state.
Danielle Johnson, known on the music scene as Sug Daniels, met Mr. Pfeiffer while playing a show with her popular Dover-based blues funk soul band Hoochi Coochi, at Blue Earl Brewery in Smyrna where Mr. Pfeiffer was working. After a brief encounter they took an immediate liking to each other.
The two have been orbiting each other’s worlds for several years but became close while growing food at the 7th and West Community Garden, where he introduced her to politicians, business owners, and staples in the Wilmington area solidifying her love for the city.
The song is available to download on the Bandcamp website for $1 or more if you choose and all proceeds will go to the community outreach group Friends Of Tilton Park and West Side Grows. The money will be used to help fix the playground’s long time flooding issues as well as helping to finance a new playground in the park.
New this weekend in theaters is the animated “Tom & Jerry.”