Three-and-a-half decades later, Nantucket frontman Mike Uzzell still remembers the conversation well. During a meeting with a record-label executive in New York City, Uzzell and the North Carolina rock band’s other members were told they needed to “think about making a change.” Suggestions like that are never a good thing to hear from one’s record company, and Uzzell asked what it meant.
“It was the hair, turquoise, mother of pearl and all the rest of the rock-star stuff,” Uzzell says now, by phone from his home in Jacksonville. “ ‘You need to get rid of it,’ she told us. What she was telling us was that the era of the Ramones and the Cars was coming in. The Cars had opened for us not long before that, but they were the future.”
Ultimately, Nantucket’s locks stayed unshorn, and despite a good deal of regional success, the group never did have a nationwide breakthrough. But Nantucket was still a bona fide phenomenon in the Carolinas, where “Heartbreaker,” “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll)” and other hits were rock-radio staples in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
“What’s funny is people who don’t understand how things work in the business act like we’re the Rolling Stones, which is just weird,” Uzzell says. “To certain people, we were. And to some, we still damn are. At the endocrinologist this morning, I told this woman from New Bern we played there all the time. And she didn’t recognize me, but she freaked out when I told her I was in Nantucket. Wanted to take pictures and everything, right there in the doctor’s office.”
While there’s been some personnel turnover and a hiatus or two since the band’s heyday, a version of Nantucket still plays out regularly. Saturday night, the original six-member configuration will play a one-off reunion show to a packed house at Raleigh’s Lincoln Theatre. The expanded lineup will feature both original drummer Kenny Soule, who went on to the funk band Dag, and current drummer Jason Patterson of Cry of Love fame.
Saturday’s show has been billed as a “finale,” which is actually a misnomer. While it’s not the end of Nantucket, it is the last scheduled performance of the band’s “35-year celebration” of the anniversary of the “Heartbreaker” single first being released. But this will be the first Nantucket show featuring all six original members since the 1990s, and Uzzell doesn’t think there will be many more shows like it.
“It’s been 15 years since we were all onstage together, and we ain’t got 15 more in us,” says Uzzell, who is 62 years old. “But the band will continue on. It’s hard to say for how long, but I’m pretty sure at least through the next year. There’s a lot of, I don’t know if I’d call it disbelief, but amazement that we do an hour-and-a-half show and don’t have to change keys or tune down. You won’t see us hit every note exactly, but that’s just stale, and you can stay home with a record player for that. It’s all about the song, anyway. Either you have songs people know, or you don’t.”