By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
Region – Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Digney Fignus began making a name for himself in Boston’s late-1970s art-rock scene with the trio called The Spikes. His popularity broadened geographically in the 1980s when MTV showcased Digney Fignus, the band he named after himself. Now, Fignus is in the process of adapting a previously-released song of his to a stage musical.
The name of the game
Born in Cambridge and raised in Lexington as Bobby Brown, he started songwriting and played bass for a garage band while in high school. He moved in the 1970s to Los Angeles, where he played acoustic guitar for solo gigs as well as bass in a disco band called Pipedream. Upon relocating to Cambridge a few years later, he continued performing solo and discovered an astounding statistic of his birth name in the Billboard entertainment guide.
“I looked up ‘Bobby Brown’ to see how many there were,” he recounted. “There was a whole page-and-a-half of them, so I knew I had to come up with something completely unique.”
After adopting the moniker Digney Fignus, he played electric guitar with The Spikes at Boston clubs and loft shows. Among their original songs that achieved local radio airplay were “Air Raid” and “Summer Vacation.”
“All of a sudden, everything opened up for bands with original music,” Fignus recalled. “Visual artists and musicians were getting together, and there was a big loft scene on Thayer Street with all-night parties. It was pretty wild.”
Fignus also co-owned the nightclub Streets, located on Commonwealth Avenue in the Allston neighborhood of Boston. Streets was named Boston’s #1 nightclub in 1981 by the now-defunct alternative newspaper Boston Phoenix.
His chance meeting on the subway with Danny McGrath ultimately led them and other musicians to form the band known as Digney Fignus in 1983. McGrath was a cast member of the PBS children’s television show “Zoom” from 1972 to ’74.
Creating MTV’s ‘Basement Tapes’ winning video
Initially based in punk and new wave music, the band recorded Fignus’ song titled “The Girl with the Curious Hand” and shot an accompanying video, which won MTV’s “Basement Tapes” competition.
Hired to portray “the girl” in the video was a 19-year-old Gail Huff, before her 1986 marriage with Scott Brown (U.S. senator, 2010-2013; U.S ambassador, 2017-2020) and her 1993 to 2010 stint as a WCVB-TV broadcast journalist.
“She fit the dress,” Fignus said of Huff landing the gig. “They had this fabulous red dress and needed somebody who fit in it. She was awesome. We shot the whole video in a day. It got some good play on MTV – that was back when they were actually playing videos.”
Huff and Fignus reunited many years later as judges on “Community Auditions” when the local television music competition returned in 2008.
As MTV’s “Basement Tapes” winner, the band received $5,000 worth of audio equipment. Digney Fignus also got the attention of Columbia Records and signed a recording deal. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1985.
Country-rock roots to a new stage musical
Subsequent Digney Fignus albums include some songs that are reminiscent of the country-rock music that was written and performed solo by Bobby Brown in the 1970s. In 1996, Fignus’ song “Boston Town” won WZLX’s anthem contest. The album of the same name was nominated for CD of the Year by the Massachusetts Country Music Awards Association.
“Once I started to get into country music, I really began to respect it a lot more and especially appreciated the lyrics,” Fignus noted. “I started going back to my country-rock roots.”
Now residing in Harwich, he’s currently writing the songs, lyrics and book for a stage musical based on his song “Trouble on the Levee,” which was released on the 2006 CD of the same name. The central character in both the song and musical is Johnnie Boudreaux, “a man too good-looking for his own good.”
Fignus finds Cape Cod to be a creative setting for him to live and work.
“There’s a bunch of really talented people on the Cape and there’s a great scene for plays as well,” he noted. “I can’t complain. I love living in the city, especially Cambridge and Boston, but there’s something to be said for the Cape – that’s for sure.”
Find more information about Digney Fignus at digney.com.
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