“It was a no-brainer to get Jeff Porcaro from Toto to produce. He’d played on more hit records than anybody I knew”: how cult melodic rockers The Strand made the greatest AOR debut album you’ve never heard

The Strand in 1980
The Strand in 1980: (Image credit: The Strand)

If you’ve never encountered The Strand before, the band’s self-titled debut album might well be the best melodic rock record you’ve never heard.

Originally released on Island in May 1980, The Strand comes across like a wonderful blend of Pablo Cruise, Franke And The Knockouts and Toto. Indeed, the quintet attended the same high school or played in the same bands as Steve Lukather, David Paich and the Porcaro brothers – and Jeff Porcaro produced the album.

The Strand’s guitarist Scott Shelly was a founding member, along with Jeff Porcaro, of the Grant High School-based band Rural Still Life. This outfit featured a number of musicians who would later establish themselves on the West Coast AOR scene, like Carlos Vega, Michael Landau or Steve Lukather and David Paich. Scott would continue to work alongside his former high school pals throughout the 70s, backing up the likes of Dan Fogelberg, Tom Jans and Boz Skaggs on tour. 

It was while Scott was working in Boz Skaggs’ band alongside Peter Reilich (keyboards), Dean Cortez (bass and another former member of Rural Still Life) and Kelly Shanahan (drums) that Skaggs’ then-manager, Irving Azoff, suggested the band put something together whilst Boz was taking a break from touring. Having previously met Rick ‘Moon’ Calhoun at a party, Shelly asked him if he was keen on joining the project as vocalist.

Tulsa, Oklahoma-born Calhoun had started his career as a drummer, working in R&B bands like The Gap Band and DJ Rogers. Recruited into the ranks of Rufus, his songwriting skills earned him a co-write with Chaka Khan on the hit single, Stay. “I mentioned that we were looking for a singer,” recalls Scott. “Although ‘Moon’ was an amazing drummer and songwriter, he sang his butt off as well, so he was willing to give it a shot.”

The Strand in 1980

(Image credit: The Strand)

Scott and ‘Moon’ began writing together with Scott’s friend, singer/songwriter David Batteau. Always on the lookout for new talent, Island Records boss Chris Blackwell heard their demos and offered them a deal. He even came up with the band name – a bit of a tribute, perhaps, to Island act Roxy Music’s Do The Strand?

“I’m not sure what Chris Blackwell was thinking of when he suggested The Strand as a name,” responds Scott. “In the States, the first thing that comes to mind is the boardwalk along the beach. I became a huge Roxy fan later, but at the time I hadn’t heard their tune.” 

As far as a producer for the project was concerned, the only name that Scott and his colleagues had in mind was their old mate Jeff Porcaro. “It was a no-brainer,” states Scott. “Jeff had already played on more hit records than anybody else I knew. Jeff was also my very good friend, and I had been trying to find a way to reciprocate for all he’d done for me. I knew Jeff was getting frustrated at being perceived as ‘just a drummer’ by the guys in Toto, and that if he agreed to produce, it might help him with that, so that when The Strand album was done, Jeff was officially a producer and a songwriter. Of course, he later co-wrote Africa!”

The album was released in May 1980 with a fair bit of publicity in LA, but little nationally. Still, The Strand hit the road with Toto for dates in the Pacific Northwest, and were also the opening band at the extremely controversial gig at Long Beach Arena on August 17 by the band billed as Deep Purple but fronted by their ex-singer, Rod Evans.

However, Island were going through changes at that time, and The Strand got lost amid all the politics. ‘Moon’ decided that he would seek pastures new. He left behind a band that soldiered on for a while, demoing material with a new vocalist, but ultimately choosing to disband altogether once it what was clear to all that there was no real interest after Island let them go. A shame, and rather bizarre given their one and only album actually pre-empted the sound and style of other melodic rock bands that would gain success in the mid 80s.

By this point, Scott had moved into working on the music for computer games and movie soundtracks, one of his projects being a contribution to 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie

“That was pretty much a last minute thing,” he laughs. “The composer Vince DiCola rang and asked me to write lyrics to a track called Dare that Stan Bush sang.” 

Following his departure from The Strand, ‘Moon’ Calhoun worked with Scott Gorham in Western Front, the guitarist’s first post Thin Lizzy project, before turning up again in 1988, providing lead vocals on Michael Thompson’s How Long album.  ‘Moon’ then cut some promising, yet still-unreleased tracks with Jeff Paris, using the handle Moon Over Paris. However, in September 1994, Calhoun broke his neck in a freak cycling accident, damaging his spinal cord, leaving him with limited use of his arms and legs and assessed by doctors as a C-6 quadriplegic.

Having long since moved to Australia, Scott’s career has gone from strength to strength while working on gaming, TV and film (his music had, for many years, been used on the late Steve Irwin’s The Crocodile Hunter show). However, he still dabbles a little in rock music, having formed current outfit The Avocado Theory. Kelly Shanahan, meanwhile, plays in a band in the States called The Ride these days, who have a new CD due out shortly.

“My personal favourites on The Strand’s album are Can’t Look Back and Prisoners In Paradise,” Scott notes. “For something that was thrown together very quickly, I wasn’t unhappy with the album. I think we all had fun recording it. Island was going through a lot of changes and didn’t quite know what to do with us, and I don’t think, in retrospect, that our managers at the time did either, although they tried. So sales were woeful to say the least.”

Due to lack of promotion, sales may indeed have been sadly woeful back then, but trust me: this is one album that deserved so much more.  

Originally published in Classic Rock Presents AOR issue 3