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I'll be far away...
- "On My Own" by The Sharks
Sam Rawhauser passed away this morning after a brief battle with lung cancer.
As "Sam Lugar", Rawhauser was the guitarist and lead singer of THE local band here in Lancaster throughout the 1980s, The Sharks. The Sharks began life in 1979, and built a devoted following in and around Lancaster and York, PA, initially as a new-wave cover band. Though they were faithfully playing songs by Elvis Costello, A Flock of Seagulls, Talking Heads and the like, the raw talent that Sam and bandmates Shea Quinn, Doug Phillips, Steve Zero, and Mark Showers possessed was obvious. Before long, originals not only crept into their sets, but soon formed the bulk of the material they played.
Cultivating a sound that was likeable to both new wave and pop ears in the 80s, and with eye always toward the audience having a good time, The Sharks legend grew beyond local boundaries, beyond the regional circuit, to national notice when they entered MTV's Basement Tapes competition in 1985, winning with the largest margin of any band to ever win the competition thanks to their black-and-white and oh-so-80s clip for "On My Own." Their victory secured them a major-label record deal with Elektra Records, who (as major labels often do) chewed them up and spit them out in no time at all.
In A Black And White World was overproduced and under-promoted. The bland, antiseptic MOR sound of the record sucked every bit of personality out of what was truly a great band. I remember the year I became the music director for the University of Richmond's radio station, WDCE, I found The Sharks' major-label fiasco LP in the station's record library. Whoever had been music director at that time had written a note on the album cover that said something to the effect of, "Remember that band from PA that everybody said was going to be the next big thing? This is them. They aren't."
Truly a shame, because listening to their pre-Elektra recordings, the Holiday EP and the Backs Against The Wall album, you really do get the sense that they could have been huge.
The Elektra experience, sadly, seemed to take the wind out of their sails, and The Sharks went their separate ways for awhile, reuniting for annual shows around Thanksgiving each year since about 1999. Apparently, new material was being written for a possible reunion album when Rawhauser was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of lung cancer. That was barely a month ago; this morning, it took his life.
The band's website is now a memoriam page to Sam, and directs donations in Sam's memory to be sent to his wife and son, Sandy and Ian Rawhauser. According to the very well-written tribute Gil Smart posted on his blog here, there is also talk of a benefit concert to help Sam's family with the medical bills.
The video below was put together in tribute to Sam; you can see a clip of their finest moment, the Basement Tapes-winning "On My Own" video, towards the beginning of the compilation.
RIP, Sam. Your music will be missed.