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Matchbox 20 lighting a fire on U.S. tour

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Three years ago, the core of Matchbox 20 was toiling in a bar band fighting to get out of Florida, and its future rhythm guitarist was working in a low-profile position at a Miami recording studio.

But once they joined forces and added another guitarist, the quintet began bounding up the sales charts. Today, Matchbox 20 has sold more than 4 million copies of its debut disc, "Yourself or Someone Like You," and is playing the last leg of theater dates before making the jump to outdoor amphitheaters. (The group will perform Tuesday at Saltair; show time is 7:30 p.m.)Rhythm guitarist Adam Gaynor said he never had any doubts.

"It got a little spooky when I was 30 years old, answering phones at a recording studio," he said. "My family and friends were kind of looking at me like, `I think you're a little wacky, mister. You might want a real job soon.' I said, `You know what, I feel real confident about what I'm doing.' "

Gaynor, now 34, was working at the same studio where Collective Soul was recording, and he soon caught the attention of both the band's producer, Matt Serletic, and its mastermind front man, Ed Roland.

They both offered Gaynor different deals. Roland and Collective Soul's management wanted to help him become a solo artist. Serletic wanted the guitarist to join a band with whom he was working.

"I thought I had been hit over the head by a two-by-four. It was one of the most difficult decisions," Gaynor said.

But Rob Thomas, Matchbox 20's singer and songwriter, helped him make up his mind.

The singer had spent his high school years homeless, sleeping on park benches as a "lifestyle choice" while earning his GED and starting a fledgling career in cover bands.

By 1995 he had hooked up with drummer Paul Doucette and bassist Brian Yale and was enjoying success on the local level with a band called Tabitha's Secret. But the group was unable to make the leap to the national level, and the three looked to start over with a pair of new guitarists.

In a meeting with Gaynor, Thomas played early versions of "Push," "Girl Like That" and "Argue." Gaynor gave up on his solo career.

"Rob played me some songs acoustically and I wanted the job. I was just like, `Holy ----. This guy has so much talent,' " Gaynor said.

In hindsight, it was a sage decision. The group's melodic anthems, with ringing guitars, tales of youthful confusion and a Counting Crows-kind of feel, have found an expanding audience. Singles such as "Push" and "3 a.m." helped push "Yourself or Someone Like You" to the top of the charts.

While the band has had a series of memorable moments on its climb, Gaynor points to Matchbox 20's first appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" as a watershed event.

"We were all at this bar, getting ready to watch it on TV, and as soon as they showed the band, it was one of the first moments where we all had chills run though our body at the same time," he said. "I grew up watching that show, and then I'm on that show. That was a turning-point moment."

The band has hit its share of potholes that come with popularity. Some women were offended by the band's song "Push," which included lines such as "I wanna push you around, I will, I will/I wanna push you down, I will, I will." Also, the jilted members of Tabitha's Secret recently sued the three Match-box members who were once their band mates, claiming they've used old Tabitha's Secret songs.

But there have also been the more pleasant trappings of success, such as a Web site called Adam Lovers that's devoted to anything and everything about the rhythm guitarist.

"Ah, man . . . if my mom does one more Web site on me," Gaynor joked. "No, actually, this is done by a real sweet girl, I think from Baltimore. She's the sweetest little girl in the world and she's putting up these things, like `Tell us about your Adam experiences' and stuff like that. It's just incredible to me."

It reveals such pertinent information as that Gaynor is allergic to dogs, has no middle name, and wears silver nail polish on his thumbs and pinkies.

"It's all true," he said. "I love nail polish. Here's my explanation: 20 years ago, earrings were a little spooky for the kids - now everyone has them. Nail polish, in the next five years, will be fashionably acceptable. And it beats body piercing."