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"Our car broke down, we need a place to stay," Thomas explained. He was so far ahead of the group that the man offered to drive him back along the road to pick up the stragglers.
By 1974, the musicians were calling themselves Haze, and had their first self-titled album on vinyl. The band opened for the Jackson Five at the Civic Center that same year. Roger Egge, Haze's sound engineer, watched the band from the sound console, taken aback by the crowd of people and the band's biggest show to date. As Haze took the stage, longtime fans of the band came up behind Egge, grabbing his arm.
"We came to see you guys, not Jackson 5!" a woman yelled.
The next year, their single "I Do Love My Lady" made it to No. 38 on the Billboard charts. Each member of the band received a $9 check for the album.
"They had it made," says Jeff Cryer, a local music veteran and former singer in numerous bands during the '70s. "They were one of the best bands. They should have been the first band to make it out of Minneapolis."
Their album made it to No. 1 in some local markets, including much of Iowa. Haze made a day trip to Des Moines to advertise their hit single and meet some local fans.
Just as they drove into the city, the car radio was tuned to the main music station in town.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I have just found out Haze has entered the city and will be at the record shop this afternoon."
When they were in Des Moines, they were famous. Fans spilled out of the record store and lined the sidewalks.
Back home, Haze had a growing loyal following as they booked more shows on their hit-single fame. Joan Adkins had moved to Minneapolis from Bloomington in hopes of seeing more live music. In 1975, she attended a Haze performance at the Flame, a dive club on Nicollet Avenue. She took to the dance floor and didn't stop moving until their set was done.
"We kept coming back to Haze because they were good and the band members were very friendly and respectful," Adkins says. "Watching other bands play, you can see that synergy, but when the music stops and the lights come on, it all goes away. The synergy that existed in Haze carried off the stage."
But their Billboard debut disappeared almost as fast as it arrived. Their label, ASI Records, didn't expect the band to gain national interest so quickly, and the company was unable to distribute the record fast enough to catch the Billboard wave. Without records in stores for fans to buy, Haze couldn't capitalize.
Egge kept the band realistic. He knew their show at the Civic Center was the best they could do in Minneapolis. They needed to move to a bigger market.
After a Haze set at the Jockey Lounge in St. Paul in 1975, two women who claimed to be songwriters for the Jackson 5 approached the band.
"We'll set you up if you come out to California," one of the women promised. "You'll make it big and we can help you out."
With nothing to lose and high hopes for stardom, the band packed their equipment and belongings into a 1959 school bus and drove out to California.
When they arrived in Los Angeles, they parked their bus in front of the home of the two supposed songwriters. Instead of the Beverly Hills mansion they imagined, they found a dingy housing project and two pissed-off women who never expected the whole band to arrive at their doorstep.
The band slept in the school bus in the apartment parking lot, contemplating their next move. They had come all this way for a broken promise, and had $1,800 to their names.
Instead of heading home, Haze decided to try to make it in California. They spent $1,000 of their collected cash to record six songs at the RCA Studio. As they left the studio, a man approached them in the lobby, claiming to be a big-time band manager with interest in their music. He took them out to lunch on Sunset Boulevard and talked big possibilities, record deals, and all the fame they could imagine.
"You know, I'm going to run to the bathroom, be right back," the man said, slinking away from the table. Ten minutes later, the band realized he hadn't returned. And their master tapes were gone. He had snuck out the back door through the kitchen, taking the recording along with him.
Unwilling to give up, the band found a cheap place to rent in San Dimas. They tried to find venues to play and make some extra cash, but countless bands had the same idea. Their reserves of cash quickly dwindled.
Every evening, the band members and their entourage huddled around the house's fireplace to cook potatoes. Hughes and Thomas took turns stealing lemons from the field across the road to make lemonade. Sometimes Hughes would come back after a walk with a couple of oranges from another nearby grove. If they were lucky, a girlfriend back in Minnesota would mail them a care package with food and a little cash.
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