INTERVIEW: Frank Dimino (solo artist and formerly of Angel)

we talk to Frank about voice coaching, the next album, memories of Angel, and the meaning of life...

When I was a kid there were a number of triggers that started me off on my road to ‘Rock’; one of them was the result of a purchase made completely by impulse. Trawling the import racks at the local record store looking for something interesting I came across an album by the band Angel. The cover looked so cool, a bunch of guys dressed all in white, long haired and looking rather other-worldly. I’d never heard of the band, never read about them in the UK music press-  I took the plunge: my last pound note was exchanged for ‘Sinful’.

It’s an unusual album in that I still love it today just as much as I did then, when other contemporaneous purchases like Frank Marino, Rick Derringer, REO Speedwagon (Nine Lives) and 38 Special have receded into the rear-view mirror of time. Over the next few weeks I was just waiting for my Dad to drive back to that store and when he did I advanced enough pocket money to pick up ‘Helluva Band’; ‘On Earth as It is in Heaven’ and ‘White Hot’. It took me a while to complete my collection but when I did I was a firm fan, but completely alone in the days long before internet, it seemed, in even knowing of the existence of the band in the UK. Over the years I pieced it all together and then recently two things happened almost side by side – Punky Meadows released a solo album and then the man with ‘that voice’ Frank Dimino did the same. A few weeks ago they even appeared on stage together for the first time in 25 years, which a friend in Vegas streamed ‘live’ from their phone. A few weeks later after a bout of freak weather in the City of Sin I get a call…

 

Frank: Hi Mark, this is Frank Dimino, how are you?

Mark: I’m very good thank you Frank, how are things in sunny Vegas?

Frank: Everything’s good, we had a little ‘wind’ problem but other than that everything’s fine.

Mark: I heard, I’m just glad everyone’s OK, it’s pretty strange weather for that part of the Country.

Frank: Yeah, the winds were crazy it was like 80 mile and hour winds.

Mark: That’s crazy! Thank you so much for talking to The Rockpit today. I remember hearing your voice for the very first time when I was about eight years old and deciding that was going to be my band! It was of course long before the internet, social media or even mobile phones and back in those days it was so hard even to find information about the band. But the other night I was watching you ‘live in Vegas’ streaming direct from a friend’s phone. We’ve come a long way.

Frank: That was the Randy Rhoads tribute.

Mark: It was it looked like a great show. It’s one of those times you realise how connected we all are now.

Frank: Crazy isn’t it!

Mark: It is. I know you haven’t been a stranger to the stage over recent years but you haven’t played too many solo dates, what was it like getting on that stage at the Whiskey for the first time?

Frank: It was great, it really was. The thing is that I’ve done a lot of stuff, I have a local band out here ‘Vinyl Tattoo’ with Oz Fox, and Jeff Duncan also plays in the band every once in a while, but to do the Whiskey with my material was special, it was great. It was a good feeling to step back out there with my material. Vinyl Tattoo was a band that Oz and I put together to do other people’s material – like Dio, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, that kind of stuff but to do the Whiskey was great to do my solo stuff and all the stuff I’d written with Angel.  It was a great feeling.

Mark: You’ve played a few more dates since then, are there any plans for more dates or a tour even in the future?

Frank: Well, I think we’ve going with doing dates here and there, most of the dates so far have been with Graham Bonnet, which is great because both bands get along pretty well and also we did a couple of three band things with Graham and Uli Jon Roth which was kinda fun, so I think it’s more that kind of stuff.  I think we have a few more dates coming up with Graham and I don’t mind doing it that way, actually I don’t mind any way I can get out there and do some shows! (laughs) If they can put the shows together I can do them.

Mark: You’ve been in Vegas for a while now and you’ve been in a few cover bands, but tell us about ‘Teaching Voice’ it sounds like something I’d sign up for if I could sing.

Frank: (laughs) I started teaching about a year or so after I got out here, I was set up in a friend of mine’s music store, he had a couple of guys teaching guitar and he had an extra room, so he asked me if I was interested in teaching. And you know I’d had vocal lessons when I was young, I’d had lessons for about nine or ten years before I started yelling! And then I went to Berkley College of music in Boston and I took up ‘composition and arrangement’ but I also had vocal lessons as well.  So when I started teaching it out here I started to remember a lot of things I’d forgotten when I’d had those lessons when I was very young so it was a kind of catharsis for me as I was teaching things I’d forgotten and I was getting myself back on board with  the whole thing again. It’s always refreshing and I have students now that I’ve had for a good many years out here, and it’s refreshing as it always keeps me on top of my game with my teaching.

Mark: One of the things that hit me most when I heard ‘Old Habits Die Hard’ was how well your voice sounded; it sounded like it had even gotten better over the years. What’s your secret apart from obviously the coaching techniques, it must be hard in a dry environment especially?

Frank: Yeah I think that’s the main thing you look after it, and it is very difficult out here because of the desert, it’s very dry out here so you know a lot of humidifiers in the house and try and keep well hydrated, but other than that it’s singing, and singing correctly, and that’s the hardest thing to maintain. A lot of people get caught up signing from their throat which thins out the sound of your voice as opposed to singing from the diaphragm so I’m always trying to rework what I’m doing and making sure that I’m singing from the bottom to make a nice rounded sound. But you know you always pick up bad habits and you have to keep on top of your game.

Mark: Sounds like a good tip, so people can sign up for that presumably on your website?

Frank: Yes, absolutely.

Mark: And you can do that from anywhere in the world?

Frank: Yes you can, I have a couple of students at the moment doing ‘Skype’ and I’ve had them before, and it’s a little bit different but it works out just fine.

Mark: The big question I’ve got for you is why did it take so long to put out that first solo album?

Frank: (laughs) I think mainly because I’d been chasing doing the ‘band thing’. I’ve always been into doing the band thing so when Ken Ciancimino the executive producer on the album came to me with the idea it really wasn’t something I was planning on doing. I hadn’t approached it that way but the more I thought it over the more I thought it might ‘release me’ in the way of writing and that’s kinda what it did. I kind of started writing material for the album and I decided to write all new stuff so instead of using stuff that I had written with bands before I just took the approach to try to write good stuff and see what we could come up with.

Mark: Was that primarily what it was all about for you Frank? There is a lot of variety on the album, was it just that one goal of writing good songs that would connect with people?

Frank: Yeah I think so, you know when I talked with Oz and Jeff Labansky, who I wrote all the stuff with, and they asked about direction I said let’s not worry about direction, let’s just write and then figure out what we’re going to use but let’s just approach it by trying to write good songs and feel good about what we’re doing. So that was the only approach. And you know from taking vocal lessons when I was very young I’ve always had a wide range: I did show tunes, I did opera, I did all kinds of stuff because there really weren’t any boundaries , and it wasn’t until The Beatles that I just started concentrating on Rock music! But when I got into Rock music I still kinda branched out so I think with doing ‘Old Habits Die Hard’ I just wanted that freedom to take it anywhere.

Mark: It’s a great album; it was one of our Top releases of 2015 so I guess my next question is – when do we get more?

Frank: (laughing) You know I have thought about this and I have talked about it with a few people, in fact I just got off the phone with Paul Crook and Paul and I have three or four songs and it’s up to me to finish them up now. And I don’t know whether that’s going to be the next album or if it will be in the same vein but it will be just as energetic and sonically it will be similar but I’m not limiting myself and wherever the music takes me is where I’m going.

Mark: That sounds great, I loved the fact that the album didn’t sound like Angel, for me it was all about the voice and all about the songs and I thought it was so refreshing that someone was doing new music and not trying to hitch on the back of past glories, was that consciously on your mind?

Frank: Yeah I think so, yeah, my thought process was “look I don’t have the other four guys here, so I don’t really want to revisit trying to do Angel”.  There’s no point in doing ‘Angel’ without them and it had been a while since I’d done an album so I don’t really have it in myself to do an Angel revisited album. If the five of us were together than obviously we’d look at doing Angel songs and try to write in that vein again. But since it was a solo album and the next will be a solo album I don’t have to worry about that.

Mark: One of my favourite albums of all time has to be ‘Sinful’ by Angel, it’s an album I loved as a kid and one that’s stayed with me, are you aware of bands that have covered songs by Angel in particular that album? There’s a European band called ‘Last Autumn’s Dream’ who seem to be covering songs from that album: a great band, very melodic and doing a great job?

Frank:  Oh really no? That’s great. I’ll check them out.

Mark: It must have been interesting back in the day to get feedback from people like Frank Zappa?

Frank: Yeah of course, Frank Zappa was a genius. Everything he did, I listened to Mothers when I was very young and I saw them at this place in Boston called ‘Psychedelic Supermarket’ it was the place I also first saw Cream. And Zappa has always had great musicians and always had a way of putting music together so to have him do something which included Punky and Angel was very flattering. He invited us down to the first show that he did when he played that song, it was great fun and really nice to talk to him after the show it was great.

Mark: What were your favourite moments of Angel, looking back? For someone who is sat here surrounded by all your old vinyl trying to decide which to play next where do your fondest memories lay?

Frank: It’s really hard to say because each album is… you put so much into each album that you do it’s hard to pick and choose. There are certain moments and certain things with each album that come to mind. The first album was done very quickly because when we left DC to move to LA with our manager Dave Joseph, we had nothing but time to work on all the material for that first album so we just rehearsed every day – writing, rearranging, making the songs the way we wanted them.  And by the time we got into the studio with Derek Lawrence and Big Jim Sullivan we pretty much had those songs down. So it was very quick laying down the tracks for that album, and that was a lot of fun and it was the first album we did together so of course that sticks in my mind. And the third album (laughs) that was recorded in a castle so that was a departure! It was very interesting, we had Eddie Kramer produce that one and we had a mobile truck there and we set up each room for different sounds so we were able to go to certain rooms for certain sounds for certain songs which is kinda crazy and interesting now. And of course you don’t have to do that now; you just dial it up on pro-tools (laughs). But the process in those days was a lot of fun, it was interesting and you learnt a lot and it kinda brought the band together as well.  So that sticks in my mind too. And the fourth album the White Hot album was all done in studio C at the Record Plant and that album we went into with Eddie Leonetti as producer and it was kind of a ‘no holds barred’ album – we were trying everything and everything we wanted – we were putting the drums through a PA and miking it, any idea that we had that came up that we thought we could pull off we tried. So each album was an interesting thing for us. So I don’t really have a favourite, favourite but the first one is still my closest I guess.

Mark: It sounds like you you’ve got lots of great memories and it’s cool to see you closing your sets with both ‘Rock and Rollers’ and ‘The Tower’ from that first album.  Taking it all the way back Frank, what was it that got you into music in the first place? When did you know it would be such a big part of your life?

Frank:  Well, what happened was I think my mother and father got me into singing, which really wasn’t something I really wanted to do. This was pre-Beatles so I’d been listening to a lot Phil Spector stuff, and I was into the Everly Brothers, a lot of Sam Cooke, so I liked music but I never thought of taking singing lessons. I must have just done it to placate my mom I guess! So I started taking lessons and I found I kind of enjoyed it, I’d come home after lessons and I’d want to go out the next day but my mother wouldn’t let me go before I finished my lesson, I’d have this half hour lesson every week, then there would be stuff I’d have to do every week, So for some reason I would grudgingly do that before I went out, I guess in my head I kind of enjoyed it, it was kind of a challenge in some ways.  And then The Beatles came out that’s when it made so much sense – that’s what I want to do and I can gear it to that kind of stuff. So once The Beatles came out and we started forming bands and stuff that was something I really wanted to pursue.

Mark: So we have your mother and The Beatles to thank for that then!

Frank: (laughing) I guess you could say that. It was crazy because even before my mother made me take the lessons I used to do a radio show every Sunday called the ‘Newspaper Boys of America’ and you’d take you sheet music and they’d call you up and introduce you on the radio show – I think it like a half hour or an hour show and there would be five or six kids up there. You’d give them your music and you’d sing a song on the radio. I was kinda crazy, but music has always been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. It started when I was very young.

Mark: Do you think that music can still change the world or was that just a dream we had in the sixties and seventies?

Frank:   You know I still like to be a dreamer and like to believe that it can change the world if people just allow it to. It really is so powerful, I mean music can help you solve so many problems,  it can sooth you so you can think, there’s so many things if you can let it into your life. But it really is something you need to just let in, and maybe it is just a dream but like I said, I maybe just like to be a dreamer.

Mark: Too true.

Frank: When I wrote one of the songs on ‘Old Habits’ I always have things like that in the back of my head and I never want to be too direct because I want to be open to allow people to think about it more, but some of that stuff comes out in my lyrics. I try to allow people to let music be as powerful as it can be in your life. (The song was) ‘Tears Will Fall’ it’s one of those songs that is kinda heavy for me and I rewrite it a few times to make sure I was saying what I wanted.

Mark: If you could have been a ‘fly on the wall’ in the studio to witness the creation of any great album, what’s that album for you – the one that constantly inspires?

Frank:   Oh Sargent Pepper, I would have loved to been there for that (laughs). You know a couple of us were lucky enough to be in the studio when Pink Floyd were doing ‘Welcome to the Machine’ (the epic track from 1975’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ album) and the tension was unbearable but it was so interesting for a young band trying to learn the mechanics of these things to witness that.

Mark: A lot of people would have loved to have seen that. The final question we always ask is the easy one – ‘what is the meaning of life’?

Frank: Ha, ha, Ha! We still search for that! We search for it every day!

Mark: I heard it was in Vegas though, so I thought you might know?

Frank:   Ha, ha, ha! No I have no answers yet, though of course I still search for them!  Of course when I find them I’ll be back on your podcast to let you know.

Mark: we’ll have a spot waiting Frank, thank you so much for taking the time, it’s bene an absolutely pleasure for me to speak to someone who has to be one of my favourite singers of all time

Frank: Well thank you so much I appreciate that I really so.

Mark: Take care, and thanks you again.

Frank:   Thanks Mark, hopefully we’ll get to catch up face to face one day. Bye.

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