When seats are empty at a Mike Hines and The Look show, it’s a good thing—as anyone who’s attended one of the party band’s perpetually packed live performances can readily attest, the audience is rarely—if ever—sitting down; the energy is irresistible.
Keeping people on their feet all night long is a role that suits frontman Hines just fine. “I grew up watching the way artists like Michael Jackson, Prince and James Brown entertained people, and I wanted to emulate that,” the vocalist says. “I try to keep moving from the minute I hit the stage. I like to wake everybody up. I always want to interact with the crowd and feed off their excitement. I think that’s really helped contribute to our longevity.”
We’re in the business of entertaining the crowd. We constantly adjust our sets for the clientele we’re performing for, because we’re not there to please ourselves.
Considering how the five-man band (Hines on lead vocals, Dave Simmons on drums and vocals, Dean Teat on keyboards, Jon Benson on guitar and vocals, and Greg Gantzer on bass and vocals) electrified fellow Delawareans for decades with a tasteful blend of soul, funk, pop, hip-hop and dance music, it’s no wonder they’ll be inducted into the Delaware Rock and Roll Society’s Hall of Fame, recognizing 35 stellar years—and counting. (Due to the pandemic, the official ceremony will happen in 2021.)
Hines caught the performance bug as a kid, and his parents had no qualms about asking him to sing and dance in front of their guests at a moment’s notice. “Remember those career days when the counselors would ask you what kind of job you wanted to have?” he muses. “All the way through high school, I said I wanted to have a band or be a recording star. And no one ever laughed at me, because I had been saying it and doing it since elementary school. It’s something I always knew I was gonna do.”
The band played its first show at a homecoming dance at Milford High School in 1985, an event that Hines calls “a run-through for our first nightclub gig”—which just happened to be opening for the legendary Ohio Players (best known for their 1970s funk hit “Love Rollercoaster”).
The name was inspired by Morris Day and The Time. Hines would say, “Check out how they look. I love the look of this band!” (Back in the day, Hines would have another bandmember come onstage with a mirror and dance alongside him in homage to a signature routine between Day and one of his Time bandmates, Jerome Benton.)
“I grew up watching the way artists like Michael Jackson, Prince and James Brown entertained people, and I wanted to emulate that.” —Mike Hines
Though the singer took a brief detour to Los Angeles at the end of the 1980s to pursue other show-business opportunities, he eventually returned home to reignite The Look and resume a robust performance schedule—and they haven’t looked back. At their peak in the ’90s, The Look was playing upwards of 200 gigs a year.
The Look’s crowd-pleasers are a direct result of this bandleader knowing how to give the people what they want. Sometimes, Hines will call out for The Look to play something off the setlist, on the spot. “We’re in the business of entertaining the crowd,” he says. “We constantly adjust our sets for the clientele we’re performing for, because we’re not there to please ourselves. We wouldn’t have lasted this long as a club act if we didn’t respond to what different kinds of audiences want to hear us play in the moment.”
While the band loves performing in its home state, Hines says he also relishes the challenge of winning over new fans outside their comfort zone. “What I’d do a few days before a show, in a town like Philadelphia, was drive there and hang out at the club. I’d work the room, buy people drinks and tip the bartenders well,” he says. “Then, when we showed up to play, they’d go, ‘Hey, isn’t that the guy who bought us all those drinks? We like him!’ I really enjoyed doing that, because I’m such a people person.”
The band looks forward to playing live again, when things return to “normal.” Whether in a club, at a wedding reception, a private party or for one of their infamous thematic Birthday Bashes (frequently) held at Fire & Ice at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino), Hines promises a good time will be had by all.
With that can-do attitude—and also seeing how the aforementioned James Brown is no longer with us—Hines is clearly in line to claim the title of being The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.