Feature by Robyn Meadows // Photography by Karlo Gesner
I spent most of the 1980s involved heavily in the new wave and punk rock music scene. I took off at a young age from my hometown of Orlando, Florida and traveled the country. I hit all of the hot spots: New York City, Austin, Chicago, L.A., New Orleans, and Atlanta. I was fortunate enough to see many famous new wave and punk bands such as The Ramones, Modern English, A Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran, and Love and Rockets.I had never heard of The Sharks, however, until I moved to
I had never heard of The Sharks, however, until I moved to Lancaster County six years ago. I didn’t have much reason to think about the band until I received this assignment.For the past few weeks, I have had a blast interviewing the
For the past few weeks, I have had a blast interviewing the band and listening to what music I could find on the Internet. I did get to see The Sharks play at the Chameleon Club during a benefit for the group’s beloved lead singer, Sam “Lugar” Rawhauser, who died last fall. His son, Ian, sang in his stead.
That night, I could sense the grief felt by the fans. Ian filled in for his dad beautifully, almost hauntingly. But it made the fans miss Sam more. The fans knew in their hearts, too, that his death meant that the band they knew and loved for three decades would never be the same.
The founders of The Sharks were Sam, drummer Doug Phillips, guitarist Steve “Zero” Wettig, and bassist Dave Sheaffer. The band later included bassist Shea Quinn, keyboardist Mark Showers, and guitarist Roger Girk.
The Sharks seemed to have it all. They had a loyal fan base that incorporated three states. They had cut a few records and won an MTV basement tape contest. Their music video was the second most requested video on MTV’s countdown.
However, the rise to national fame wouldn’t last. Yet as the spotlight dimmed, the love of local fans never wavered. And it remains just as strong today.
To the fans, the band thanks you. To the fans, I hope I wrote this story well. I hope I paid fitting tribute to the group that touched your lives. I think if I had grown up in Lancaster, I might have become a Sharkette, too.
The Sharks started simply enough with a few guys who just wanted to hang out and jam.
Sam “Lugar” Rawhauser was working in a mill shop when he met Doug Phillips, who was an architectural draftsman. Sam had come into Doug’s office to replace some cabinet handles and made a comment about The Allman Brothers Band, playing on the radio at the time.
“Do you like that kind of music?” Sam asked Doug.
“One thing led to another, and we started talking about music, and I told him I played drums, and he told me he played guitar,” Phillips says.
They hung out and made some music. The guitarist in Doug’s R&B funk band, called Baby Jane, had quit. Doug asked Sam to join. His band mates noticed he had a voice—a mesmerizing voice; Sam was reluctant to step into the spotlight. That would change.
“As shy as he was about singing, his voice had this great personality to it,” Doug says. “He seemed able to sing effortlessly. People really liked his voice.”
In 1979, Sam, Doug, and Dave Sheaffer started up a band called Raz. “It was an R&B lounge band. We played Ramada Inns and junk like that. There would be like three people there at happy hour. It was really bogus,” says Doug.
Sam had an idea. Why not make the music that they really loved? Why not make this music, this new wave of sound that was exciting? Sam introduced his friends to bands such as Elvis Costello and The Clash. They watched these groups sing and play on Saturday Night Live.
New Wave was taking over the world. These men would soon take their place in it.
They needed a name for this new band and this new sound. The guys brainstormed and then put some names in a hat. Someone drew The Sharks. You might recognize that name from the gang in West Side Story. But the guys aren’t sure if that’s where it came from. There wasn’t really any transcendent reason for the name. There was no epiphany.
At the time, many new wave bands started with the article, “The.” There was The Knack, The Clash, The Church, The Smiths, and even The The.
The guys decided to have Sam step in as the front man. “Which was kind of weird because he was that shy guy,” Doug admits. “All of us weren’t sure how it was going to go. But Sam just had this personality. People just gravitated to him. And the band took off.”
Their first shows drew only a few people. However, word got out, and soon fans were lining up an hour before a show. They wrapped around the front of The Village.
College radio stations were playing this avant-garde sound. The local college crowd was listening, and they came to see The Sharks play at The Village.
“Sam took to it like nobody’s business. He blossomed into a confident front man,” Doug says.
A few of the guys decided to create stage names, which is how Sam adopted the name Lugar. Doug laughed when asked about it. Neither he nor Dave is sure why Sam picked it. But they think he did because it sounded bad ass. “It sounded nasty,” Doug says. “It sounded like a gun or a western.”
The Sharks would get so big they would join the countless groups that would grace the stage at the famous CBGB’s club in the Lower East Side of New York City. Bands such as Blondie, The Ramones, and Talking Heads got their starts there. The club was a Mecca in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s for underground music.
(Author’s note: It was also famous for Sunday matinees featuring hardcore music such as the Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, and Murphy’s Law. I attended several of those shows.)
Being a fan of The Sharks was more than just being a fan of the music. It was about being a part of a movement that involved clothes and an attitude. The 80s were a time of big hair, big parties, big money, and big possibilities. Oh, it was also so about eyeliner and Aqua Net.
The band wore skinny ties and sunglasses and makeup. (Shea used to Aqua Net Sam’s hair and do his makeup before shows.)
The Sharks were also good at marketing themselves. They had someone to organize the mailing list for them.
They cut their first 45 single at a studio in Marietta, a song called, “You Better Watch Her.”
This single led to the band being asked to cut a song “Fly with the Eagles,” as part of a Philadelphia radio station promotion of the Super Bowl XV. They recorded that single (which was a rehashing of Steve Miller’s song “Fly Like an Eagle”) at the Graveyard Studio in Philly. It came out on green vinyl and raised money for a leukemia foundation, leading to spots on AM Philadelphia and shows at CBGB’s.
“It was neat hearing yourself on the radio,” says Sheaffer.
Sheaffer’s time with the band would soon end. It was too brutal trying to tour and then teach in the morning. He had taken a year off from teaching music at ELCO Middle School in Lebanon County to pursue the dream with The Sharks; but after the year didn’t pan out a record deal, he decided to go back to teaching.
Dave, by the way, and Sam, both married hair stylists who worked at a salon on Orange Street. One night, the girls went to see The Sharks play. “The receptionist was dating Steve,” Sandy Rawhauser says. Dave wound up dating and marrying Helen. And Sam married Sandy.
For access to the full article, reference page 58 of Issue 15 pdf.