David Uosikkinen is in Tubac, Ariz., a town about 15 miles north of the Mexican border he so colorfully describes as “an artist community meeting Breaking Bad.” He’s visiting his son, Sam, and staying in an Airbnb that sits behind a cigar shop and is relatively secluded, so he can play some music without others’ complaining. And it’s a good thing Uosikkinen isn’t angering anybody in the vicinity.
“If you were dropped here from south Philadelphia, you would think you were on [freaking] Mars,” he says with a throaty laugh. “People are really nice here, but everybody carries guns. Everybody. It’s really intense.”
It’s a social visit, to be certain, but Uosikkinen has some business to conduct. Turns out there are a couple of old-fashioned record stores in the area interested in carrying the latest offering by Uosikkinen’s band, In the Pocket, called The Philly Special. He has brought vinyl with him to southern Arizona and will stop by the shops to drop off some copies, just as he has done in the Philadelphia area.
“I feel like the milkman,” says Uosikkinen, 65, who grew up in Levittown but now lives in Wayne. “I drive around and see who wants the record. I’m exhausted, but it’s a cool exhaustion you get from having fun with something.”
Most fans in the region know Uosikkinen as the drummer for the Hooters, who burned brightly in the 1980s here and nationwide, and while he continues to perform with the band (often in Europe), In the Pocket is a passion project that has allowed him and many others to record what Uosikkinen considers Philadelphia’s “essential songs.” The band is more of a mob than a more traditional outfit and accepts contributions from an ever-growing collection of local musicians that can turn live shows into raucous group sing-alongs. The name comes from a musical term describing a particularly good track laid down by a musician or a collaboration that sounds especially sharp, and In the Pocket’s sound is indeed top-shelf.
Hooters co-founders Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman have recorded with the band, as have Richard Bush and Rick DiFonzo of the A’s. Rapper Schoolly D has contributed, along with long-time Philly performers Jeffrey Gaines, Kenn Kweder, Tommy Conwell and Ben Arnold. Scandal’s Patty Smyth (“The Warrior”) isn’t a local, but she has sung on tracks. “I’ve got all sorts of people who want to be a part of it,” Uosikkinen says. “There are only so many spaces.”
Arnold gets one of those spots. He went to an In the Pocket show, and soon after, Uosikkinen asked him to sing Robert Hazard’s “Change Reaction.” He has been a fixture since. He enjoys working with the boisterous collection of musicians and credits Uosikkinen – a long-time friend and supporter of his – with being the glue keeping everything together.
“Dave is the great connector, the guru of In the Pocket,” Arnold says. “He ended up connecting different generations of musicians The Philly Special is an 11-song offering released earlier this year that features everything from David Bowie’s seminal “Young Americans,” which was recorded at Sigma Sound in 1974, to the O’Jays’ “Back Stabbers” and “Escalator of Life,” by Hazard. When Uosikkinen came up with the title of the album, which as any Eagles fan knows was the name of the famous Super Bowl play against New England, his wife, business partner and photographer, Dallyn, questioned his sanity. “Who’s going to recognize that name?” she asked. Uosikkinen was incredulous. “Everybody,” he said. “It’s legend.”
The band may not reach that level of fame, but it has a pretty good concept that has brought together a bunch of musicians, who back in the ‘80s and ‘90s competed against each other for airplay, concert revenues and record contracts but who now just want to play.
“When it was all happening in the ‘80s, there was a certain amount of an adversarial relationship,” says Bush, who has known Uosikkinen since the 1970s when they played together at the old Bucks County club The Anchorage and these days fronts the Peace Creeps. “Now, none of that exists. Anyone still doing now is happy to be doing it, and it’s enjoyable to hang out with guys like Tommy Conwell and the Soul Survivors. It’s a fun thing getting to know everybody.”
Uosikkinen doesn’t expect In the Pocket to make him a big star, but he certainly wants to reach as broad an audience as possible. “There are songs that matter to me,” he says. He realized just how much when he returned to the area after living in southern California and had the chance to experience the eclectic mix of styles that have made up the Philadelphia sound over the years. He shares that passion with the students he teaches every week at the School of Rock’s Berwyn location.
It’s a drive that isn’t likely to abate soon. As The Philly Special gains momentum, and the band performs to support it, Uosikkinen will continue to field requests from potential participants and decide what other favorites he wants to tackle.
“I’m already thinking about the next album,” he says. And which stores in exotic locales might carry it.
Visit songsinthepocket.org for sample downloads and event schedule.