Believers in overnight success in pop music can find vindication in Quarter-flash. Within a year of its formation the Oregon-based sextet had produced two hit singles, one the No. 3 Harden My Heart, and a gold album. “There was no time to really feel it, to celebrate and have a beer,” says Rindy Ross, lead singer and, not incidentally, one of the few women saxophonists around. “Suddenly we’re here.”
On the other hand, before their first album cracked the national pop charts, all the members of Quarterflash had paid dues with other groups. Rindy, 30, and her husband, Marv, 31, organizers of the group, played Portland clubs for more than five years. High school sweethearts, they attended Western Oregon State College, married and started teaching (he junior high English, she fifth grade). They performed casually with a band in Portland as a hobby. Soon, however, says Rindy, “Our weekends became more fun than our weeks.” In 1977 they left teaching to make music full-time.
Rindy idolized Joni Mitchell. “Rock ‘n’ roll always seemed excessive,” she says. Marv, however, echoed the Doors, the Beatles and the Kinks on his guitar. So when the couple turned pro, they blended their tastes in a band called Seafood Mama. (The name came from an old Fats Waller song.) Says Rindy, “Audiences never knew what we were going to do next: salsa, country or rock.”
Rindy borrowed a sax from her dad, who played it for fun, and learned the instrument because “I was never comfortable up there just banging the tambourine on my hip.” Marv wrote catchy, driving songs. After a couple of years they were making a modest living.
That wasn’t enough. “We became dissatisfied,” Rindy recalls. “We had done it.” In 1980 they hired a Portland lawyer as their new manager, and he advised more focus on Rindy. To have a 45 to promote, they cut Harden My Heart on a basement tape recorder, pressed 700 copies and plugged it on hometown TV. The Rosses ended up selling 10,000 copies on their own.
Their manager took that success story to Geffen Records in L.A., which liked the band’s rock sound but not its country qualities. Seafood Mama broke up. Then in early 1981 the Rosses signed four refugees from a Portland group, Pilot: Jack Charles, guitar and vocals; Rick Di Giallonardo, keyboards; Brian David Willis, drums; and Rich Gooch, bass. Marv found a name, Quarterflash, in a book of Australian folk sayings: “A quarter flash and three parts foolish.” Their concept, Jack Charles says, was “to update Fleetwood Mac, utilizing more harmonies and elaborate arrangements.”
All the group’s members still live in the Portland area. And since success has accelerated the pace of their lives, they now find the state’s low-key lifestyle provides sanctuary. “Our neighbors are in their 60s,” observes Marv happily. “They want to talk about how the tomatoes are growing, not gold records.”