COVER- Under the radar and dreaming: Music experts pick our next big thing

Nearly 13 years ago, Dave Matthews Band released its major label debut Under the Table and Dreaming and suddenly put Charlottesville on America's musical map. Some of the youthful musicians featured in this, the Hook's annual music issue, may not even remember that moment. In the fall of 1994, Eli Cook, Helen Horal, and all the members of Sparky's Flaw and Sons of Bill could have formed the greatest-ever band consisting entirely of preschoolers and kindergartners. Now they're all grown up, and our experts say they're the ones to watch, because they have the stuff to take them from under the radar to the top of the charts. 


Bruce Flohr is an executive with Red Light Management and ATO Records.

Sparky's Flaw

...on SPARKY'S FLAW: Hands down, they will be the next band to get a record deal in Charlottesville. They are killer live. They write killer songs. We'll be begging them to play for us after they break it big nationally. I'm getting phone calls from people from record companies asking me what I know about them, and we don't even work with them yet.

...on SIX CHASING SEVEN: Boyd [Tinsley, fiddler in Dave Matthews Band] is working with them right now because anything Dick Redding sings sounds beautiful. They sound like a cross between Ben Harper and Jack Johnson with a soul element to it.

...on TREES ON FIRE: Sometimes they sound like Crosby, Stills and Nash, sometimes like Sublime, and they make it all work.

...on HELEN HORAL: She has an angelic voice, and her guitar reminds me of Sarah McLaughlin, but most importantly, she's doing all the hard grunt work to get her name out there.

...on SONS OF BILL: They remind me of everyone from Rust Never Sleeps-era Neil Young to Waylon Jennings to Wilco, and if they're given the right exposure, they'll be huge in this town and beyond.


Charlie Pastorfield is a guitarist in such bands as the Skip Castro Band, Alligator, and the Gladstones– not to mention co-star of Live from... the Hook, the rockumentary on 1980s Charlottesville.

The Rogan Brothers

...on the ROGAN BROTHERS: This is old-school songwriting in a new package. I hear flashes of Van Morrison and Neil Young, but they dress it up in a different, harder way. I think they had a mom and dad who had hippie music in the house, but they grew up listening to harder stuff. It's really strong, and with a little bit of work, in the right setting, they could have something that could really knock people out.

...on ELI COOK: He has an old soul and plays old blues, so he sounds authentic without being a copycat.

...on SONS OF BILL: I've heard a live recording of them, and it just knocked me out.

...on AMERICAN DUMPSTER: They've established themselves as strong regional artists.

...on FLETCHER BRIDGE: I'm not a big fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd, but they take the best parts of Skynyrd and mix it with a Traffic vibe.


Damani Harrison is a producer and rapper with local hip-hop group Beetnix, the founder of Audiostate Records, and an award-winning former Hook columnist.

Lester Jackson and Jerel Jacobs of Acoustic Groove Trio

...on ACOUSTIC GROOVE TRIO: Before these guys, there was no soul music in Charlottesville. While you can hear they're influenced by D'Angelo, Lyfe Jennings, and Musiqsoulchild, they strip it down to acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, and percussion. All the modern soul music has been bastardized by the hip-hop sound, but this is back to basics. It's the kind of music you'd definitely want to make love to. 

...on ELI COOK: He emanates the true spirit of blues music in its most viciously raw form.

...on ANONAMYS: I'm working with him right now because he's a rapper with a lot of different facets to his personality, none of which are fake and all of which come through his music.

...on THE HAMILTONS: Ezra Hamilton has a one-in-a-million voice.

...on DEVON SPROULE: Like Fiona Apple, she sings from a very female perspective, and yet, as a guy, I can relate to what she's singing about.


Jamie Dyer is a founding member of the Hogwaller Ramblers.

Eli Cook

...on ELI COOK: When you're young and playing old-school blues, it doesn't always work. But he's been fearless in following what he wants to do as opposed to being a scenester. He actually gives a good darn about the music he's playing. He's a student of the guitar, he has the voice for what he does, and most importantly, he's a self-realized musical entity, which is the hardest thing to do in music.

...on ACCORDION DEATH SQUAD: Their frontman, Gus Clark, is so passionate and present, you can tell he only gives a damn about what he's singing.

...on NO HAY BANDA: They remind me of what we did in Hogwaller Ramblers, when we wanted to play rootsy music but we also wanted to headbang.

...on JONNIE RED: Whether they're laid back or rockin', these guys play downright American music with a lot of heart. [And there's a Hook staffer on board.–editor]

...on SCREAMING INFIDELS: Their music comes from a very dark place in a way that's cathartic not only for the people playing it, but also for the people listening. 


Andy Waldeck is a singer, songwriter, and founding member of Earth to Andy.

Helen Horal

...on HELEN HORAL: She barely knows what chords she's playing on the guitar, but she's absolutely in control of it all, especially with her singing– she's absolutely killing it. She's not just your average chick with a guitar.

...on ACOUSTIC GROOVE TRIO: They're definitely one of the more intriguing and exciting things to come out of Charlottesville at a time when a lot of people expect folk-centric, white singer-songwriters from us.

...on MONEYPENNY: One of the best four-piece rock bands to come out of Charlottesville in a long time.

...on the DIRTY DISHES: I think everybody knows that the lead singer is my wife, but even if I wasn't related, I think that they're doing something that's really cool and good for our town.

...on SARAH WHITE AND THE PEARLS: I feel like there's more room for people in Charlottesville to explore that "Is it country? Is it folk? Is it pop?" sort of question-mark genre, and she's done that on her newest record.


John D'earth is the trumpet player in the Thompson-D'earth Band and the Free Bridge Quartet and a longtime collaborator with Dave Matthews Band.

Sons of Bill

...on SONS OF BILL: These folks are known to many around here, but the world should and will hear of them beyond our garden walls. Sam Wilson looks like a teenager and plays and writes like an elder statesman, except that his band's music is so fresh, varied, masterful in all traditions and free from cliché and dogma that it could only be of the present moment.

...on PEYTON TOCHTERMAN: I'm a little prejudiced because I'm in his band, but I think Peyton is brilliant, funny, deep, sings with great naturalness, and has beautiful time.

...on ANDY THACKER: He's probably one of the greatest mandolin players alive.

...on MATTY METCALFE: Yes, he's my son-in-law, but people are quickly finding out that he's a virtuoso who knows how to support or take the lead, improvise, write, or read a score with equal aplomb.


Boyd Tinsley is the fiddler in Dave Matthews Band.

Six Chasing Seven

...on SIX CHASING SEVEN: This is a band I have been producing at DMB's studio.  I am so excited to see these young musicians start to realize their potential.  This band has so much talent that it inspires me.

...on ACOUSTIC GROOVE TRIO: They're great songwriters who remind me of John Legend but with a guitar.

...on TREES ON FIRE: With such amazing harmonies and a killer drummer, this is a band to watch for sure and I hope to work with them.

...on HELEN HORAL: She's got a great voice and really seems to understand the craft of songwriting.

...on JOE LAWLOR AND FRIENDS: I've started playing some gigs with this who's who of Charlottesville, and if you ever want to see guys like Andy Waldeck and Ezra Hamilton tear it up, check them out.

BONUS- 'Home' again: How former Fluco Daughtry defied the odds

Even for the folks in town who don't care for his music, a Dave Matthews sighting provokes excited chatter and a flurry of text-messages. Where his musical influence doesn't penetrate, his personal relationships often do: around every corner is someone who is proud to have known him in the days before the world came knocking. 

More and more, it appears the same could also be said of former Fluvanna County resident Chris Daughtry. Currently lollygagging around the top of the modern rock charts with his self-titled debut album, the smooth-domed, hard-voice 27-year-old turned a failed American Idol bid into a platinum-selling record deal. Although most of the current students are too young to remember the Fluvanna County High School graduate, the staff has kept his memory alive in their hallways. 

"It's nice to see a kid from a local area do really well," says former teacher Jason Davis. "Sometimes, kids need to see that in order to be motivated and understand that you can come out of Fluvanna and go on to do wonderful things." 

Daughtry's old teachers remember him as artistically gifted in many disciplines. Each seems surprised that he's being lionized for talent in an area other than their own: the art teacher expected him to be an artist, the drama teacher expected a thespian, and so on.

"I wanted to be either a comic artist or an actor," says Daughtry, giggling all the while, and his mom Sandra adds "martial arts expert" to the list.

Davis remembers him as "your basic all-around multi-talented kid in high school," and adds that he ran with a small clique of similarly talented kids. They include current Under The Flood bassist Kenn Davis and frequent collaborator Lucas Grant, who beat Daughtry out for the Flucos' traditional senior-year "Most Likely To Succeed" nod.

But Daughtry says it was musical friend named Robert Nesbit, who discovered him long before Idol came along. "I sang in front of [Nesbit]," says Daughtry, "and he was like, 'Dude, what are you doing? Why aren't you doing this?' And so he kind of twisted my arm." 

Nesbit soon got him started with guitar and songwriting, and in short order Daughtry was playing at Trax and school events with a high school garage band called Cadence. Now he has thanked Nesbit several million times over– with each sale of his album.

"Dude, if I never listened to you, who knows what I'd be doing now?" say Daughtry's liner notes. "Thank you for seeing something in me that I did not." 

Daughtry graduated in 1998, but he didn't hang around for long. In late 2000, he married a massage therapist from North Carolina and moved to McLeansville, a small town about an hour west of Raleigh, supporting his new wife and two stepchildren as an auto parts salesman. 

Early attempts at success with local rock quartet Absent Element went nowhere, and Daughtry ended up with a Hail Mary audition for the fifth season of American Idol. Miraculously, he was able to stomach enough showbiz schmaltz and prodding questions from host Ryan Seacrest to make it onto the show.

Success came as no surprise to many of the people who had seen his artistic side germinate. Long before getting drafted for Daughtry's band in February, local guitarist Brian Craddock recalls watching jaws dropping when he let the teenage songwriter open for his old band, My Dog Lucy, at Trax.

"When we first saw him perform, we were all blown away," says Craddock. "He had an incredible set of pipes, and he was only 17 at the time." Ten years later, those pipes landed him inside the very record industry machine most likely to launch him to international renown.

The rest is history.

"We watched every night; I had my mom watching and my aunt watching and my family down in Texas," says Diane Greenwood, Fluvanna High art teacher. "Every day, down in the teacher's lounge, we'd be talking about it. It was big doings."

Greenwood gets a kick out of telling the new students about her old protégé. "There's no telling where you could end up," she says. "They take a little ownership whether they knew him or not."  

As Idol audiences started culling the herd, it was Daughtry's rendition of Fuel's 2000 hit "Hemorrhage (In My Hands)" that really won them over. The recording of Daughtry's March 2006 performance cracked that week's iTunes Top 10 "Most Purchased" list, and some of Fuel's other songs also began to creep up the download charts.

Fuel, meanwhile, was in need of a new vocalist because of tepid record sales and the recent departure of founding vocalist Brett Scallions. Fuel appeared on the TV show Extra and offered him the job.

That invitation blasted Daughtry momentarily to the top of the world, and during the May 10 Idol broadcast, judge Paula Abdul remarked, "See you in the finals." But things took a quick U-turn that night when he was cut from the final four, an upset he attributes to the complacency of fans who didn't bother to vote because they assumed he had it in the bag.

"I'm shocked that he didn't win," says Davis back in Fluvanna.

His followers were further stunned when he declined Fuel's invitation the next month. But Daughtry had something bigger in mind.

Idol producer Simon Fuller offered him a record contract with RCA Records, and luminaries including Hoobastank producer Howard Benson, Queens Of The Stone Age drummer Josh Freese, and former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash convened to put together an album before the year was out.

Few have the privilege of working with such a crack team, but fewer still are invited to interact with legends like the G'nR guitar god. "He was the nicest, most down-to-earth guy," Daughtry later told Rolling Stone. "He was laid-back, asking me, 'Do you like that solo?'"

Apparently, Slash wasn't the only one who understood that deferring to Daughtry was in the best interest of the album. Daughtry has writing credits on almost every track, a feat unprecedented in the meticulously manufactured world of post-Idol pop. If the names Carrie Underwood, Clay Aiken, Bo Bice, and Kelly Clarkson ring any bells, these artists can thank American Idol, this generation's version of Star Search. Yet Daughtry is unique among them.

"He was the first Idol [contestant] I'd ever met who had material that he had written,'' Arista Records founder Clive Davis, the man responsible for launching the careers of the likes of Patti Smith and Notorious B.I.G., told Entertainment Weekly. ''That was compelling." Davis is now Daughtry's manager.

Although Internet-fueled phenoms like British rockers the Arctic Monkeys or pop brat Lily Allen occasionally succeed, American Idol is one of the last network television music showcases to pack an Ed Sullivan-caliber wallop. The fifth edition of the show was the most popular program of last year's TV season, and every winner has gone platinum. 

But somehow, ol' chromedome Chris has even outshone the greying man who bested him, 2006 Idol winner Taylor Hicks. Daughtry's album opened at #2 on the Billboard charts– a fake-out move, since it advanced to #1 nine weeks later– and has since gone multi-platinum. By the end of January, he had moved over two million copies. 

Now, those Flucos are taking ownership of the fastest-selling rock debut in SoundScan history– in the midst of the slowest sales year ever recorded by that music sales-tracking service.

The meaning of sales rankings has been hazy ever since the music distribution landscape started changing in the late 1990s, and according to a recent Rolling Stone article, a #1 record in 2006 requires only 40 percent as many sales as it would have in 1996. Yet that just heightens the significance of Daughtry's impact. He has managed to succeed in an industry that stacks the deck against newcomers, storming the charts with a radio-friendly mainstream rock band at a time when MTV is irrelevant, "classic rock" bands like the Eagles and the Rolling Stones rule the arenas, and there are barely any charts left to storm in the first place.

Remember, this is the guy who lost.

Some of his tenacity probably stems from fond memories of the bands of his youth, when an appearance on the MTV "Buzz Bin" could buy you a beach house. For example, a defining point in Daughtry's musical development was a mid-'90s Richmond performance by Live, the alternative rock band whose 1994 album, Throwing Copper, went eight-times platinum. 

In the days leading up to that concert, Daughtry– who already had tickets– was hoping he'd score better seats. His efforts paid off with a call to Richmond rock station 106.5, "The Buzz."

"I don't even think they were running any contests," he laughs. "I just said, 'Hey man, if I sing a Live song, can I get tickets?' And so I grabbed my guitar and started singing and said, 'Are you going to hang up on me?' They said, 'Well, it depends on how much it sucks.'" 

His rendition of Live's "Turn My Head" went out over the airwaves, and he traded up to sweeter seats. Now he remembers the incident as "embarrassing" and yuks it up while reminiscing.

With his hit single, "It's Not Over," currently all over 3WV, Daughtry can now celebrate a decade of radio play in Central Virginia. Still, there's a certain amount of gravity to the tale. Were it not for those tickets, Daughtry probably wouldn't be one of America's most successful musicians.

"Live was like the first band that really kind of sucked me in with the songwriting, the lyrics, and everything," he says. "When I saw them in concert, it was just amazing."

His mother says that in high school Daughtry always kept his music private– "We find out when it gets to what's on the record," she says. But even she recalls his excited chattering about the Live show. "The lead singer with that band has really been like his idol," she says.

Idols collided, then, when Live turned up on the Idol's season finale to perform "Mystery" with then-deposed Daughtry. Fans and critics latched onto the eerie vocal and visual similarities between the former Fluco and Live frontman Ed Kowalczyk, and the two subsequently worked together on an unreleased song.

"We're actually really good friends now," says Daughtry. "He was a huge inspiration to me, so to be on that basis with him is an awesome thing." 

But modeling a career after Live is risky maneuver, as they've gone from selling eight million records with Throwing Copper to under 50,000 with 2006's Songs From Black Mountain. Some artists might also worry about being oft-compared to Canuck hard rockers Nickelback, as Daughtry has been. Although the ultra-marketable crossover rock poster boys continue to sell millions of records– their last album has been in the Billboard Top 20 for a solid year and a half– they haven't seen more than a scrap of critical acclaim since the turn of the century. Daughtry is not concerned.

"If you're selling five million albums, someone's taking you seriously," says Daughtry. He's not talking about his own band– yet– but he has no problem with being compared to the most successful rock acts of the last decade, no matter how repugnant critics may find them. Even Nickelback brings a smile to his face: "Hopefully they're using that comparison to say that we're capable of being that successful, too," he says. "It would be awesome if we were able to have the staying power they have. They must be doing something right." 

Fluvanna's new favorite alum admits that his runaway success puts him in a precarious position: the bigger they are, the harder they fall. He's surely made a lot of money, but the emotional toll of having to sustain a career in such a fickle industry is not lost on him. "If it was to end tomorrow, I can't say how prepared I would be," he sighs. "I can't say that I'll ever be okay with that." 

But he doesn't have to worry right now about crashing to earth just yet. Tickets for Daughtry's April 14 Starr Hill homecoming sold out in seven minutes flat, indicating that he could easily be playing much larger venues.

"There were eight or ten of us who wanted to go, and we couldn't get through to get tickets," says his art teacher Diane Greenwood, "but then I thought, 'How dorky is that, to have ten of your high school teachers show up to your concert?'" 

Dorkiness aside, Daughtry is still touched by the enthusiasm of fans in a town he hasn't visited since Idol. "It seems great that people around the area didn't forget about me," he says. "I'm really looking forward to getting back there when we come through. It's going to be awesome. It's going to be kind of like a homecoming." (An appropriate sentiment, perhaps, given that his sophomore single "Home" is working its way into rotation on 3WV.)

Years ago, a lowly Miller's bartender quietly entertained platinum dreams and now has become one of the most recognizable figures in popular music. After his improbable rise, some Charlottesville cynics said it would never happen again.

To the Flucos, Daughtry is a reminder that success can lurk in the most unexpected parts of middle America– even in an unassuming auto parts salesman. To the rest of the world, though, he's proof that the current depressing sales trends in the music business can be spectacularly bucked, and that superstars can still be born– or discovered, or manufactured, or whatever you want to call it– even as the balkanization of contemporary popular music accelerates.

And in both groups, he raises the same question: who's next?

The not-quite-but-yes-really American idol.

In an article in Time magazine this week, the creator of the original Idol show and former Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller explains why he and Clive Davis chose to manage Daughtry instead of last season's winner Taylor Hicks: "It was almost like the public made a mistake," says Fuller. "Sh**, he was good. Maybe we made a mistake."

BONUS SIDEBAR- Daughtry by the numbers

Daughtry (the album)

- released November 21, 2006 on RCA and 19 Recordings

- debuted #2 on Billboard's (behind Jay-Z's Kingdom Come)

- held Billboard's #1 spot twice in 2007: Feb 3 and March 17

- certified double platinum by RIAA in early March

- has sold over one million iTunes tracks

- single "It's Not Over" peaked at #4 position on Billboard's Hot 100

Daughtry (the tour)

- local performance: Starr Hill on April 14

- next closest to Charlottesville: the 9:30 Club in Washington DC on May 24

- biggest crowd: Tampa's 98 Rockfest in Raymond James Stadium (capacity 66,000)

- most star-studded event: Tiger Woods' "Tiger Jam" charity benefit at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay on May 26 opening for Bon Jovi