Stranger

Stranger was a band based in Tampa, FL, formed in the early '80s. Stranger toured the U.S. as opening act for many prominent headliners throughout the '80s. Named "Lynxx" and then "Romeo" before settling on Stranger, the band was discovered by record producer Tom Werman (Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent & Mötley Crüe among others) and recorded their first nationally released album shortly after being signed to Epic Records/CBS Records in 1981, but received little record company support, promotion or publicity. Their self titled first album contained the track "Swamp Woman" which arguably remains their most well known song which, along with the opening track "Jackie's So Bad," received moderate airplay on Florida radio and other markets throughout the U.S. The band toured the southeast and became the biggest drawing circuit club band ever. Stranger also opened shows nationally for Triumph, Quiet Riot, UFO, Skid Row, Aldo Nova, Eddie Money and many other big name acts of the time.

The group was paid to cease-and-desist while recording their second album for Epic, which was par for the course with many rock acts in the early '80s when pop, new wave and post-punk were the darlings of the record companies before hair-metal rock grabbed a foothold; a classic case of the right place at the wrong time.

During the interim period between the contract with Epic and their self produced and released second album No Rules, Stranger toured heavily throughout Florida. Stranger was "a Florida band" and gained a fanatical following throughout Florida. Fans became familiar with the songs on the second album long before its release. Other support and respect would come from the musicians who played with the band. In 1983, touring with Aldo Nova and UFO on the west coast for about five weeks, the rock acts Tesla and Kings X both saw the group and both bands became fans. Tesla actually covered a Stranger song "Jackie's So Bad" in their early days.[1]

Strong songwriting and better production values than their first release, No Rules contained the tracks "Gimmie The Rock," "Mama Mama," "Wrong Side of the Tracks," "We Were Wrong," "Swamp Woman," "Autumn Time Again," "No Rules," "Hit and Run," "3-D," "One More Night," "Alligator Joe" and "Thunder Bay." Stranger was a respected musical force during its time, often associated with more nationally known names such as Pat Travers, Molly Hatchet, Mother's Finest (which they would play at the opening of their live shows) and fellow Tampa band Outlaws.

Stranger was endorsed by Peavey Electronics, and developed a loyalty to Tampa music store Paragon. Bassist Tom King played Peavey foundation basses, including a "Gator Bass" designed to honor the University of Florida Gator football team through Peavey Megabass amplifiers. After the Peavey endorsement, guitarist Ronnie Garvin played Peavey VTM 120 amps and speaker cabinets live. John Price was endorsed by REMO Drums and received many shipments of drums and accessories from REMO. Ronnie and Tom were also endorsed by Dean Markley Strings, and the band was also endorsed by Viking Cases.

At the end of the decade, they were offered a new deal with Atlantic Records, but refused it after seeing the same dubious contract clauses and pending pitfalls they experienced with their previous contract. Also their previous manager helped put a monkey-wrench in the deal by declaring he still had ownership of management indirectly from the previous contract. Failure to find a major label deal didn't faze them much as the band release a series of self-distributed LP/EP releases on their own Thunderbay label and produced their own videos over a span of 15 years.

Their next album, No More Dirty Deals, was probably the best mixed album. This album contains the tracks "Let Me Rock 'n Roll," "She's A Dancer," "(This Time) Gonna Love You Baby," "I Know I Tried," "Okeechobee Whiskey," "Runnin In the Red," "No More Dirty Deals," "End of the Line," "Can't Keep a Good Man Down," "Long Gone," a Dedication to Stevie Ray Vaughan. Stranger followed No More Dirty Deals with a live album We Be Live, the first album since their first not to contain Randy Holt on keyboards. This album contains the tracks "Intro/Bad Bad Day," "Get On Up," "Mama Mama," "Face To Face," "Shakedown," "She's A Dancer," "Okeechobee Whiskey," "Clear Blue Morning," "Wrong Side of the Tracks," "I Bark But I Don't Bite," "Gonna Love You Baby," "Play Somethin Good (Somethin I Can Dance To)," "Thunder Bay," "Dedication to Stevie Ray" and "Swamp Woman." Their final album, Angry Dogs, contained the tracks "Take Your Best Shot," "Red Light," "Girl That Bad (Should Never Look So Good)," "I'm The Man You're Looking For," "Play Somethin Good (Something I Can Dance To)," "Poke Salad," "She Just Can't Get Enough," "Never Look Back," "Clear Blue Morning," "Kid Gone Bad" and "#1 With A Bullet." The Stranger catalog has been re-released on retrospect records.

The fact that the band was able to survive and thrive for what was essentially a self-promoted local/regional club band at that time was no small feat prior to advent of the Internet.

Lead singer Greg Billings and Bassist Tom King are still performing together regularly under the name "Greg Billings Band". www.gregbillingsband.com

Members of the band included lead vocalist Greg Billings, bassist Tom (King) Cardenas, drummer John Price and guitarist Ronnie Garvin. Garvin's guitar work was the driving force behind the band, developing a signature guitar style melding blues, James Brown funk and lightning quick Eddie Van Halen type runs. Greg Billings' front man abilities complimented Garvin's musical virtuosity, insuring every performance was a party, even including a nightly recitation of the Budweiser Pledge. John & Tom provided a strong 1-2 punch rythmn-section as good as any in the business. During the era between the albums No Rules and No More Dirty Deals, Randy Holt (Randall Holt Litrell aka "the bluesmaster") played as a full member of the band, singing backup vocals, playing keyboards, harmonica and guitar. Sadly, Ronnnie Garvin committed suicide in 1996, and is survived by a son and daughter. Greg Billings joined the band "Damn the Torpedoes" after Stranger and currently plays occasional gigs in the Tampa area with The Greg Billings Band, that includes Stranger bassist Tom (King) Cardenas and George Harris on guitar. John Price is in Tampa and is a successful business man, and Randy Holt is in Indianapolis.


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