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To Gino Vannelli


Storm At Sunup

Gino Vannelli, 1975

Mike Caputo, 1976

 

 

 

It was a typical summer Friday night in the late 70's. I was in my room sipping a glass of red wine, always much too strong to be drinking without a meal, and it's a little after 11:00 p.m. I know I should be out somewhere, but instead I am working on the end chord structures to an original composition called "Now I Care", a multi-tempo ballad/jazz/Latin/fusion song, much like the arrangement of "Storm At Sunup", the title cut of Gino Vannelli's third masterpiece album. I was running 5 miles a day, on a diet of steak, salad, water, and a little wine now and then, taking 17 vitamins per day, and focusing all my energy on singing and songwriting. When I finally finished the song, which took me about 3 weeks to write, it was 1:30 a.m. and I was ready to go out. I often ventured into NYC, where 3 a.m. seems like 8 p.m. in Jersey. I would usually go to the Upper East Side to accumulate more experiences and observances for my writing. I was reasonably young, intelligent enough to talk myself out of any enigmatic situations that would sporadically occur, and basically had the world by the "you know what." Although those freewheeling days of my 70's lifestyle are long gone they conjure up strong feelings about the music of Gino Vannelli.

Always a Brubeck, jazz, and Steely Dan freak, I had first heard Gino Vannelli's music in a guard shack at about 3:15 a.m. when a DJ on WNEW AM had the guts to play something new and probably not on the station playlist. I was working a summer job to pay off a loan I took out to purchase my Fender Rhodes 73 stage piano. The song was called "Where Am I Going?" and was not at all typical of what one might hear on any radio station at the time. Luckily for me the DJ had the sense to say who the artist was and I began calling every record store in the area the next day to buy anything Vannelli I could find. I found 3 of his works, "Crazy Life", "Powerful People", and "Storm At Sunup", at Park Records in Newark, N.J., where I grew up. For those reading this who grew up in Newark, N.J. and frequented the downtown area, you would remember that the proprietor of the store was a dead ringer for Woody Allen and had records in stock that were sometimes hard to find. I then started listening and figuring out chord changes and found that many of the chords were new to me and jazz-like in nature, which helped to further fuel my appreciation for jazz and music in general. I was an avid listener of Brubeck and some of the more cerebral jazz of the late 50's (the little known Leith Stevens) and early 60's. Much like today, finding any available and capable keyboard players was almost an impossibility, so I learned to accompany myself on the piano. I also ceased cutting my hair as the above picture of me taken in 1976 will attest to. Not being a particularly good-looking individual, and sometimes having to deal with some very cruel public remarks from people, I let my hair grow to hide my face. Long hair always seemed to be the safe way of hiding for me and many other below average-looking males of that generation. Years later I would find myself performing in local clubs as a keyboardist/singer doing a complete set list of Gino Vannelli and Stevie Wonder as a solo act for fun and to work on my accompanist skills. You learn a great deal from being out there playing as opposed to locking yourself away in your room. I liked taking chances and in my mind knew that there would be an appreciative audience out there somewhere.

Stevie Wonder's songs were already a part of my life and fit my vocal style well, jazzy, r&b, and structured for keyboard accompaniment. I played as many as four dates per month often filling well-known jazz hangouts like Wallaces on a Friday or Saturday night, and sometimes worked with a drummer and/or percussionist. I used the Rhodes with a Sunn PA system, which I rented from a friend for half of my pay. (I could have gotten it cheaper if I would have allowed him to sing "Love Me Now"). By that time in my life I had been in a number of good bands as a drummer and vocalist, (had a record deal at 16 with my first "real group"), backed up various famous oldies acts, been on a few tours, and wanted to explore new areas of music with any other musicians who wanted to do something a cut above what the typical Jersey and NYC bands were doing, and in time, expand into original compositions. The time period was magic. It seemed as if music had found another intelligent era where jazz influences could be blended into a marketable situation. However once again, finding musicians who were good enough to cut the material and stay with a project was my own personal nightmare.

During the months that followed I rehearsed with so many musicians that I felt as if I had visited every basement in N.J. I also managed to get some excellent musicians to play on my demo tapes. Rave and Bill Tesar, John Arbo, John Damato, and Mike Halleck to name a few. In between desperate attempts to get a full "live" band ensemble together I managed to get my foot in the door at Private Stock Records, where an A&R man by the name of Steven Scharf took an interest in my music. I was given a few hours of free studio time to remix some demos I had been working on. Strangely enough, Steve had listened to some of Ross Vannelli's music a few weeks before I had made the trek over to his office with my tapes. Of course by now my originals had taken the shape of some very Vannelli-like music, which as all of us composer/thieves will tell you, comes from learning new chords, changes, and progressions when figuring out songs from other artists' records. A great deal of knowledge came from listening to Wonder, Fagen, and Vannelli, and a new respect for those true musical mavens I have admired. As it came to pass, Ross, myself, and an 8 piece funk band from Florida were all presented to the moguls at Private Stock to be considered for the deal. The 8 piece funk band was signed. A few years later on the Brother to Brother tour I was a few hours early for one of Vannelli's concerts and happened to meet Ross. He invited me to stay during a rehearsal at the Philadelphia Spectrum and we talked about the Private Stock deal while I observed how the Vannellis went through the painstaking ritual of setting up for a big show. I had first seen Gino Vannelli as an opening act for Betty Carter at the Bottom Line on a frigid winter night in January of 1975, and was granted permission to go backstage where I said a quick thank you to Gino and brother Joe for creating some of the most intelligent music ever written. Needless to say, I have met Gino several times at the various shows that I have attended throughout the years and it is always nice to thank him in person for the contributions that he and his family have made to the music industry, and to ask about Joe and Ross, and to wish them well on new projects. It is artists like these who often give serious musicians the inspiration and drive to continue working on projects dedicated to quality music.

In the following years I continued writing and recording and finally managed to put together a 5 piece original project. I hired a drummer (after auditioning about 50), 2 keyboard players, and a percussionist. I had offered to pay them for rehearsals, which at the time was unheard of. The guys were good (the drummer, Tommy, later became the original drummer for the Royal Scam), but lacked the time and discipline necessary to finish a project to completion. I always found that a large majority of great players often spread themselves out too much. Some being in a million different bands and not wanting to make the ultimate sacrifice. However, we did manage to play 4 or 5 shows and then it was back to being alone. What followed in my life was a new series of bands, several original compositions and demo recordings, a Canadian record deal which I turned down for a publishing deal instead, some pseudo-schlock club dates as a drummer (my original instrument) which almost ruined my life, and years of soul searching for a happy musical medium.

Six years ago the opportunity presented itself for me to help create a Steely Dan tribute band named The Royal Scam. My ability to switch gears vocally is one of the reasons I have remained in the music business. I don't like to be bored, I had played my last wedding several years ago, (never made it a point to play too many of those anyway, should we get out the cyanide pills or play Beer Barrel Polka?), and I decided to only perform music that was deeply rooted in my heart and soul. Steely Dan's music, which is like a separate chapter of my life, along with Fagen's solo stuff, is incredible music, and 5 years, 120 shows later I can honestly say that the ghost of Gino Vannelli is still lurking there in the background. Whether it be a sense of unfinished business or some sort of closure to a project many times abandoned, I am driven to perform this music. I also feel that it is about time that other protagonists of Vannelli's great music should get a chance to see a show which promises to please any true Gino fan, and at the same time keeping the spirit of this music alive. With the same fervor shown as the lead vocalist of the Royal Scam, I am in the rehearsal stages of a new show, A Tribute To Gino Vannelli. For over 22 years I have wanted to create a show based on Gino Vannelli's music. From "Crazy Life" to "Slow Love," I have picked some great songs that I know will entertain the most ardent Gino Vannelli fans. The show will be totally "live" and will not rely on an overabundance of sequencing or computer-generated bass lines. There will be more opportunities to change material from time to time due to the "live" playing factor and the reservoir of Vannelli material spanning 12 albums. There is so much good music included in these albums that it would be relatively easy to keep the appeal and interest of the show, especially to true Vannelli fans, who most likely will become regulars. The show will play in many of the venues already set as established haunts for the Royal Scam show, and also some new places where we intend to add opening acts like comedy or solo jazz artists. I am looking forward to working with another outstanding ensemble of musicians and seeing all of you at our upcoming shows which will be announced at a later date.

Mike Caputo - 1999

"I'm gonna do what is right to make a better life before it's over" - Gino Vannelli

 

 

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