A music producer eyes a revival

The Gator
By ABIGAIL CROCKER  |  April 14, 2010


It was 2006 and music producer Jo Jo Gator, a couple of decades removed from the glory days, needed to get back on the radar screen. So, he did what anyone in his position might do: he offered to lease his family, as indentured servants, on eBay.

The minimum price: $1.5 million. Required locale: somewhere tropical.

Gator said his family would have gone Caribbean had he received the requested bid. “You’d get to work in paradise,” he said.

But the offer was, in large part, about making a splash. And a splash he made. Gator appeared in the local press and made the national talk show circuit — The Montel Williams Show, The Late Show, and Good Morning America.

“People thought I was crazy, that I had a nervous breakdown. But I was trying to prove a point,” said Gator, clasping his ring-adorned hands. “I wanted to show them I knew what I was doing.”

His music career didn’t exactly explode afterward. But he slowly began booking artists after a four-year lull in work. And these days, working out of a studio in his back yard in Seekonk, he’s hoping for a fuller resurgence.

The Rhode Island native got his start in New York City after hooking up with Roy Thomas Baker, a music producer who worked with the Cars and Queen, among other bands.

He made a name for himself churning out ’80s club mixes, reworking Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” among other tunes. And in the mid-’80s, a tie to New Kids on the Block producer Maurice Starr allowed Gator to open studios throughout the country.

“Everybody wanted a piece of the New Kids,” said Gator. “We were selling records, making money. It was gangbusters.”

But it was not to last. And at the start of the new century, the 9/11 attacks and a declining music industry made matters worse.

The eBay gambit helped a bit. And a couple of years ago, an unexpected break: a half-hearted attempt at marketing the band Rev. Bubba D. Liverance and the Cornhole Prophets led to surprising success on the Adult Contemporary music charts.

“I thought, ‘Holy shit, what did we do?” Gator said.

Shortly thereafter, he connected local band Steve Smith and the Nakeds with the folks at Family Guy, the animated series created by RISD graduate Seth MacFarlane and set in the fictional town of Quahog, Rhode Island. Smith’s single “I’m Huge” landed, as an extra, on the Family Guy’s Season Six DVD set.

Gator is pushing to get more artists on the show. And a partner, recording engineer Bob Sloane, is recording live shows out of a mobile studio disguised as a mail delivery truck.

Gator sees a future.

“We’re just old coots who can’t stop doing it,” he says. “Every time I get out, it drags me back in.”

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