Interview conducted and transcribed by Jeremy Frey
The early years
Donnie and I were both raised in the same area of town. We were basically aware of each other when we were kids because he lived kitty-corner on the northeast corner and I was on the southwest corner. So we saw each other, but he was a couple years ahead of me in school. When you're kids, that's huge. He started with the music thing a lot sooner than I did. I always sang and stuff, in choirs and everything, but he got into playing and then getting into bands while he was still in school. By the time I got into bands, just before I left school, we became a little bit more aware of each other. Right after I left school, he and I hooked up again, because once I got my first band going, we were into the same kind of music. So then, all of a sudden, it was like, "Hey, yeah, sure, I know you, you live..." - you know, that kind of thing. We started off hanging out a little bit.
R.K. and the Associates (Roy: rear center)
R.K. and the Associates was the first serious gigging band that I was in. After I started playing, one of the first live gigs I did was at a club he was playing in town that was infamous, as far as the rhythm and blues scene went, which was called the Club Bluenote in Toronto. Very small room, but anybody that was anybody that was in the R&B business always sat in at this place. After he did his stint with Ronnie Hawkins, he started playing at the Bluenote as the house band. The band at that point was called the Rogues, and they also backed up whatever singers came into town. I ended up actually doing a couple of things at the Bluenote right around the time that I was getting together with my first band and just starting to play. So Donnie had kind of a leg up there. Actually, the first TV show that I ever did was this really pop-oriented show in Toronto called Music Hop. You get to do two tunes, so I got to pick one. The closest I could get to an R&B tune on that show was "On Broadway." It was a chart hit record. They wouldn't let us do James Brown or Otis Redding, because - "Nobody's heard of these guys. You can't do that." In order to do that show, I also had to do one of the tunes that was the bane of my existence in those days, which was a Herman's Hermits tune "Into Something Good." I'll never forget it. Actually, I was a little short of clothes at the time, and Donnie loaned me a sweater of his... one of his Lou Myles sweaters. That was one of the famous men's stores in Toronto. I had a couple pairs of pants and a couple shirts to my name at that point, and he actually loaned me half my wardrobe for that TV show.
After that, I went to the Bluenote and guested there. We were always aware of each other, like what our respective bands were into. We always got along with each other, and after George was on the verge of leaving Mandala, my band had just split up. So they approached me and asked if I wanted to sing with them, and that's basically how he and I really solidified our relationship. Then from Mandala, it went to Bush, and then from Bush, it went to the James Gang, and then we split up for a while but always stayed in touch with each other. In the late '70s, I did the Fret Fever album with him, and then we did a little touring in Canada. I did a couple solo projects that he would help me out on. We co-wrote and co-produced some stuff. Shawne likes to say that we kind of chose each other. It just kind of ended up that way. His family adopted me, because his mother was aghast at the fact that my mum cooked spaghetti with ketchup. Anytime I wanted to eat, I could always go over there and feast on Mrs. T's cooking, because it was truly phenomenal. Donnie always used to sit around and kind of chuckle and go, "Mum's a pretty good cook, isn't she?" Yeah, no shit! And then, all of a sudden, a whole lot of years fly by and you realize you’ve been hanging out with each other since the time you were 15, 16.
They had started recording parts of Soul Crusade in Toronto Sound, if I remember right. They had started recording some tracks for that album. That was around the time that the thing between the band and George became irreconcilable. Along with doing a lot of calisthenics and running around tracks and trying to get in shape so that I could do the physical aspect of what was the show part of Mandala was learning the tunes that were going to be part of this album. They had started the tracks there. The rest of it we ended up finishing up at what became RCA Studios in Toronto, and then, Ahmet Ertegun decided that we should have something a little bit more "pop" R&B on the album, and he brought us the Harvey Scales tune "Love-itis" and suggested that we do that. We got to kind of rearrange that. That we put on in New York at Atlantic Studios. So we basically recorded that thing in 3 different places, and it was started while George was still in the band.
I joined the band in early to mid '67 max, because after we recorded the album, we ended up going to L.A. We played dates and stuff, but then the concept was to go to L.A. Hughie came towards the end of the tenure of that band. Whitey and Donnie Elliot - I'm trying to remember who else drove home that night... maybe Donnie went too - had an accident. That was the second accident, and Donnie Elliot got the worst of both of them. There was one that happened way back in about '65 in the winter that he got seriously injured in. In this particular instance, he really damaged his back, and then he decided, "That's it, I'm gonna pack it in." That's when we got Hughie. That would be the summer of '68, because we broke him in in the Bahamas. I remember that really well, and it had to have been the summer, because it was about 150 degrees in the Bahamas. We had this tendency to go, climate-wise, at the wrong time of the year, so it was definitely summer. Hughie could play pedals, so we had him playing bass to augment what Donnie had done. Hughie had joined the band prior to that, though. The keyboard player that was in the Associates, Henry Black, actually plays on the tracks on the album. He plays on "Mellow Carmello Palumbo" and a few other tracks, but Hughie joined the band after Henry left, and then when Donnie got into the accident, Hughie just took over and played pedals. Hughie was a really talented guy. He could play just about anything.
Mandala, 1968: Whitey Glan, Hugh Sullivan, Roy
That was an amazing band. Whether it had me in it or whether it had George in it, just the whole concept of the band and what it was about, how it played... Domenic was the driving force in that, musically... it was something to hear and something to see. There was very little around at that time that combined everything the way that band did. It influenced so many people that went on to much huger and greater things. It's fucking stunning. There were a lot of people that were around in that day that saw that, and I have no doubt that that's where they would really remember Donnie from. He was even more unique at that stage of his career. There weren't as many people doing it, that style of playing, and when you're younger, you really play with a lot of passion and aggressiveness that becomes more refined as you get older. You may even get a better knowledge of your instrument. You may learn more notes and more licks and whatever, but there's something that you have when you're younger, that intangible thing that usually dissipates a little bit as you get older. In his youth, you'd look around and see people standing around looking at him play guitar - if they were even halfways into wanting to play guitar - they'd just literally stand there with their jaws open the entire set. That's the look you saw from people that wanted to play guitar and heard him for the first time. It was just mind-boggling to see the reactions. Even in Toronto, he was kind of like an icon or a legend around town... just in Toronto. "Oh man, did you see what Domenic played last night, he played this lick...", it’d be that kind of conversation, or "How the hell did he do that?" And these are other players. It was pretty intense to see the effect that he had.
"You Got Me"/"Help Me"
If I remember right, I think that was about the first time that Donnie pushed me in the direction of writing some lyrics. That's where that started, with him going, "Well, write some... write words." "OK, sure." It was something that had never really occurred to me before.
That was in the era where if you had some success with something, then the record company or whoever would try and encourage you to come up with the next thing that was kind of similar to it. That's where that came from, because you can detect similarities between the bridge part of "Love-itis" with "You Got Me." I think we ended up doing that at RCA in Toronto. We just roared in and did that as a single. I think that Donnie Elliot was still playing with us at that point. If not, then the ghost of Hughie will rear its ugly head and hit me with some xylophone knobs.
Regarding the following statement that Troiano made in a 1981 interview: "We gave it one more stab and moved to Detroit to rehearse. A number of things were going wrong. Ahmet liked the band. He didn't like Roy. Ahmet did all our demos with us, but he wanted me to sing and to take off Roy's vocals. I didn't want to sing. Up to that time, everything had been fairly clear sailing, but it starting getting negative and Ahmet wanting me to sing didn't help."
Isn't that weird, because what I got was that Ahmet and Randy [Markowitz, Mandala's manager] didn't get along, so I don't know. Domenic never told me that. Isn't that odd, because what I got was that he and the manager didn't get along. But that could be. I mean, Ahmet liked what Ahmet liked. That could certainly be a possibility.
Ahmet Ertegun, Milan Bogdan, Whitey Glan, and
I remember that we went into a small studio in Detroit where Bob Babbitt played bass on it. I only vaguely remember that, because we weren't there that long. We went in and cut a few tracks. I remember the titles of some of those tunes. "Lazy Day"... that could probably the one that would have made Ahmet... because I remember Ahmet telling Randy that he thought that "Lazy Day" sounded like a poor man's version of... what was the Young Rascals tune that was kind of like one of those summer songs ["Groovin'"?]... but that's what he compared it to. So that might have been where he decided that he didn't like me.
The end of Mandala
We figured we had hacked it to death. We figured we had gone as far as we could go with it. It didn't look like there was going to be any more room to record it anymore. I think we were playing in Syracuse or someplace in mid-upstate New York. We did the date with Steppenwolf, and the two young guys that were promoting the concerts were working for Reb Foster and Associates. We did a couple of dates where these guys were the promoters. They really liked the band, and I guess they were talking to Donnie and said, "What are you guys doing? I hear you're splitting up." And Donnie said, "Yeah, we're thinking of doing that, and a couple of us are thinking of continuing on with something a little bit different." These guys basically said, "If you're going to do that and you want to put something together, let us know and we'll get you down to Phoenix and we'll get you a place and help you get stuff together and we'll try and place you with somebody," and that kind of thing. They were pretty decent guys. First it was Donnie and myself talking about it, then Whitey wanted to go. Then we decided we should find a bass player, so yet again, we rifled George's band, who we'd already stolen Hughie from actually, and got Prakash to come along. Hughie didn't come down until literally just the end of Bush. It was basically myself, Prakash, Whitey, Donnie, and Carmello that ended up going to Phoenix, out of the ashes of Mandala. Appropriately enough, the phoenix rising was Bush.
The album was recorded fairly quickly, and it was recorded at Wally Heider in L.A. At that stage of the game, we were so well rehearsed, it didn't take us long to do that album. My recollection is that we're talking literally a week or two. We did it pretty bare. At that stage, Donnie was into a real minimalist recording approach... minimal overdubs, minimal effects. It was just straight ahead, what the band was, and that's basically what comes off on that album.
Once we left Phoenix, there was still a connection with the two guys that had brought us down there, and then we ended up in L.A. scuffling. It was a pretty tight existence as far as being able to support ourselves and stuff of that nature. We just gigged where we could, and then ultimately ended up with Reb Foster and Associates, whose idea of promoting us was sticking us on the road with either Three Dog Night or Steppenwolf. Their idea was, "Well, we'll just throw them on the road and expose them to 30,000 people and everything will be great." We should have done more dates with Steppenwolf if we were going to do them with anybody, because Three Dog Night attracted more of a teenybopper audience, and although, image wise, we tried to convey a little bit of that, musically we were a little over their audience's heads... like playing to the wrong crowd. That's not to say there weren't people in the audience that liked it - I'm sure there was - but the bulk of them were going, "OK, enough of these guys, where's Three Dog Night?"
I was basically sick as a dog for the entire time we were in Vegas. That was the straw that broke the camel's back for the band. There was enough internal problems going on, there was already problems between us and the management, and then I nearly killed the guys in the desert on the way into Vegas. It ended up with just 3 of them playing, because Hughie didn't have the proper documentation, and I couldn't open my mouth and get more than 2 scratchy words out. I did manage to stagger down there and see them. They did great; they faked their way through it. It wasn't like a lounge in a big hotel. It was an actual club, and it was the late night shift to play. You basically played that dead man shift, the late morning shift... late to early morning. That didn't mean that everybody in Vegas was asleep. What it meant was that a lot of the people that heard about the band fairly quickly were a lot of musicians and players, because they'd come in after their gigs were over. The lounge acts would finish earlier than when Bush went on. There were a lot of people that popped by and sat in, so that made life a little easier for Prakash, Whitey, and Donnie, but it was certainly an interesting experience for the 3 of them.
I put in the liner notes of that re-release, "The bitter end, oddly enough, came at the Bitter End." The name of the club was the Bitter End West. We went in there... it was a 2-track tape recorder, and I think Carmello and this guy nicknamed Toad hung a mic in front of the PA, on each side of the PA. Right around the time that we were doing the live cuts on that CD was just about the time that I was starting to feel really comfortable once again with what we were doing. For a long time in that band, for me, it was a little bit frustrating, because we had gone from being a playing/visual band [in Mandala] to just a "stand there and be intense players" band. So my function was no longer as a specific frontman, per se. It was sad in a way, because right around the time that the band was breaking up was when we were really starting to hit our stride, as far as combining the rock and the jazz and the R&B to a point where it really came pounding across. That was really starting to become intriguing again. I was getting a little bit looser with it myself and we were all comfortable with where the music was going, but there was so much other shit going on, there was no way we could keep it going.
Donnie had all the tapes, and he called me up one day and he said, "Listen, we're going to re-release the Bush CD. I want to go through all this stuff. I want you to come and listen to it and see what you think, and then we'll call the guys and see what they think." He had already listened to it. He gave me all the live stuff and I listened to it. He said, "I'm thinking this... what do you think about that one...", and we ended up agreeing on what we should throw on there to fill up the CD. I was quite happy with it. I mean, I love the songs on the Bush album. Personally, I'm not too thrilled with the way it was recorded, and I'm not totally knocked out with most of my performances on it. The live stuff - that I liked. I was more comfortable with that myself, and Donnie and I talked about that, too. I said, "That's about the time that I was getting comfortable, just about the time it was fuckin' falling apart!" And he said, "Well, you know, isn't that always the way it goes." Very unfortunate; it was too bad. It was kind of like a bad marriage. There were a lot of irreconcilable differences that were developing, internally and externally with the management. It was just the way it went.
The James Gang
After Bush split up, Donnie did a couple of solo things that most of us that were in that band worked on, doing various things on it. Then, ultimately, he ended up in the James Gang. I was in a jam band in the Valley in L.A. at the time. The guys in the James Gang had seen us in Cleveland, back in the summer of '67. We were doing a TV show there and we were playing a club on Euclid. At that time, on Euclid there was just a ton of clubs, which has since gone totally by the wayside, unfortunately. Dale Peters tells me these days that there's not a whole lot happening there, club scene wise, certainly not like there was in the mid '60s. Eric Clapton had come into the club. Josh White Jr. was playing across the street, and Josh White came over and sat in with us, and we went over to his club... it was an amazing time, actually. I can't remember why Eric was in town, but he had met those guys when Mandala played with George in New York. There was a show that they did there for Murray the K, and there were all kinds of acts on the same bill, like Clapton, The Who, The Rascals, on and on. Everybody did 2 or 3 tunes. That's where they met Clapton. So he came in and sat in and played half a set with us. It turned out that the guys in the James Gang were in the audience, so that's where they had seen Domenic and myself live. When Joe decided to leave the James Gang, they got a hold of Donnie, but they weren't exactly thrilled with his vocals, relative to what they were doing, so they wanted to know what I was doing. He came back and said, "You wanna audition for the James Gang?," and I said, "Well, I'm not doin' nothin,' why not?" He ended up facilitating my entrance into that thing, too. So we were kind of joined at the hip for a long time, or as we liked to say in hindsight, going around ruining good rock bands and trying to turn them into R&B bands.
Donnie really worked hard at his craft. He was always trying to learn new stuff and was always growing musically, and he would take that wherever he went. He had a pretty "nose to the grindstone" kind of work ethic, and that could drive some people a little bit crazy if they weren't used to doing that. Jimmy and Dale were not the most rehearsingest guys on the planet, and I gather that there was a little bit of friction between he and Burton Cummings, because you've got two pretty strong egos at work there creatively. I guess they bumped heads a little bit, but I think there was still a lot of mutual respect there, too.
The label didn't really seem to give a flying fuck [about the direction of the band]. We never really heard much flak from the record company about that, but Jimmy and Dale were not predominantly writers. Joe did most of the writing in the band. We did, in hindsight, probably fuck with the sound a little bit more than we should've. Even Jimmy and Dale would say, "You know, this is very R&B." A few people that followed our careers that listened to it afterwards said, "Well, you almost turned them into Bush!" At the time, you're young, you're full of piss and vinegar, and you figure that this is the stuff you like and here's an opportunity to do it. This is something that Donnie and I discussed years later. I said, "We really shouldn't have screwed around with it as much as we did. We probably should've adapted a little bit more to it." After Donnie and I took a break from each other... he left and I stayed, because I kind of liked what Tommy Bolin was doing. If Donnie and I had been a little bit more flexible and open-minded, we would have, if we were smart, come up with an album for Straight Shooter that was more along the lines of what we ended up doing on Gang Bang, which was unfortunately a couple years later. I think we probably should have leaned more towards a rockier sound to what we were doing. But no, we had to be R&B!
Live, we always did "Walk Away" and "Funk #49." "Stop" we did a bunch of times, especially in the beginning. I never minded doing them. We had a lot of fun. Live, it always seemed to work out pretty well OK. I don't recall too many bad dates live, unless we were playing with someone that, how should I put it... they were headliners who made sure that the sound guys made sure that our levels weren't going to be as loud as theirs, which was a real popular move in those days. For the most part, I would say that the live stuff worked out well. We had some really amazing times live. I remember one, I think it was Rockingham Speedway. It was in the south. We got to see Three Dog Night again, we were on the bill with them. Alice Cooper was on. There was about 250,000 people at this thing in the infield of the speedway. We had some magic moments, and that was definitely one of them. We had this routine that we adapted from some of the things that Donnie and I did in Mandala. I would divide the audience up into three sections and turn them into a drum set, like everybody would clap a different pattern. Then we'd stop the band and the audience would get to listen to themselves do that. You wanna see 250,000 people do it and realize what they're doing. Sometimes it would make the hair on your arms stand up. It was pretty amazing.
That's not to say that we didn't like what we were doing recording-wise. There's a bunch of stuff on the James Gang albums that I really like, on Straight Shooter and Passin' Thru, before Donnie moved on. Still, in all, we probably should have approached the sound and maybe some of the writing a little bit differently. There's a bunch of stuff on there I like. I've always liked "Run, Run, Run" off of Passin' Thru. I love "Kick Back Man," "Madness," "Out of Control"... there's a bunch of them that are really good tunes.
The James Gang in Japan: Jim Fox, Dale Peters, Troiano,
I believe both of the albums had been recorded at that point. We played a few dates and it went over great. I think the Japanese kids, at that point, just loved everything, anybody that showed up there that was pop. They were serious fans. You'd see Japanese kids that obviously didn't have a clue what the hell we were singing, but they would have phonetically learned the tunes. You'd look in the audience and you'd see kids mouthing the lyrics along with you. That was pretty wild. A couple of recording sessions I went to watch to see how they were doing stuff there, and it was pretty fascinating. Some of the kids were playing really great, and they would be singing American lyrics but they would learn the tunes phonetically. I had a great time in Japan; I absolutely loved it. I got very little sleep there because I wanted to see as much of that country as I could. I believe we were there for two weeks... well worth every minute of it. I loved the Japanese people. The guys brought their old ladies. I didn't. A lot of the guys on our road crew were Vietnam vets and were kind of bitter to anybody that was of the oriental persuasion. I was like a kid with a new toy there. I'd practice a bunch of Japanese phrases. I never had any problem getting anywhere. Cab drivers never screwed me around. The guys in the band were constantly complaining about... "Wow, you know, I didn't know it was that far to the Ginza." Well, you know, if you took some time and learned a little bit about their culture, learn a couple of phrases... "Ah, nobody speaks English, I can't find a McDonald's." Holy fuck, give your head a shake, you're in Japan, ya bonehead! But I never had that problem.
The interpreter that we had, I spent a lot of time with him. He took me to some places that were quite wild, like where Yakuza hung out and everything, and you'd see all these guys with their fingers chopped off at the bar. If I'd walked in there by myself, I probably wouldn't be talking to you now, but because I was with him, it was OK. He took me to his family's house, which I discovered later was an incredible honor. They just don't invite Caucasians to their houses very often. It was a real cultural experience for me. I wish I could have stayed there longer. I really toyed with the idea on the way back... because a couple people there said, "Why don't you stay here, why don't you come back and get into producing...," because they could tell that I really liked it there. I came that close to giving my notice and saying, "Look, I'll do the Anchorage dates, then I'm going to pack up and move." I mean I was that close; I really liked it there.
Jimmy and Dale were understandably fed up with Dunhill anyways. We could all commiserate about that. There was a technical legal screw-up where an option was failed to be picked up by on time, for Dunhill to exercise their option, so the assumption immediately was that we were out of the contract. Donnie and I had cautioned them that maybe that wasn't the smartest way to go, because all they wanted was another album, and... let's just give them anything, because you know they're not going to promote it anyways. The band had a couple of deals in the works for when that contract would have expired properly. It turned out that, of course, "No, no, no; we're out now, we're going to leave now," and Donnie and I went, "Eh, maybe not." It didn't matter to [Jay] Lasker and the crew at Dunhill, because they basically said, "Fuck you. We'll drag it through court for so long that... you might win, but you'll lose in the long run," and that’s exactly what happened. Hard to fight city hall when they've got the bee up their ass and the big dollars to back them up. So we established some sort of... I guess, one of the first bands to sue the record company for something like that and actually win the lawsuit, but in hindsight, it was a dumb move. We still played at the time. It was kind of wacky in a way, because as soon as that lawsuit was enjoined, the other record companies immediately backed off of their deal offers. As far as they were concerned, this was an ongoing thing. They certainly weren't going to sign us while there was another record company disputing whether we were still on the label or not. They said, "We'll wait until it's resolved." Well, that's a real neat way of getting out of the deal, because who knows when it was going to be resolved. This didn't get resolved until a couple years later.
We were still playing, but in those days, you needed current product out, and that's where Dunhill had the band by the cojones, because... "OK, if you want to play that game, well, you're not going to be recording. Good luck with your career." Before we got to record again, the venues had gotten smaller and smaller, because we didn't have any current product out, and the rock and roll audience has a tendency to move on. It started to pick up again once we were able to record the Gang Bang album, but as far as being a headliner... we could co-headline, we could support, but it was really tough. The days of us being a headline act on our own were pretty much gone at that point. You really needed a major hit to resurrect that, and we just didn't quite get there with the Gang Bang album.
A friend of ours, Ed Caraeff - a really close friend of Donnie's - shot that cover. I think we shot that with the intent that that would be the album cover when we got around to recording. Then, everything went into a major hold pattern because we weren't going to be recording. When that got resurrected with Tommy, everything was there. It was funny, because Tommy said, "Well, here's my head on Donnie's body," and basically, that's what we ended up doing, because that was going to be the cover. Ed did
some creative artwork there, and Donnie's
head came off and Tommy's head went on. I have the album cover from when it was on wax, but I have an original print of the cover with Domenic on it. I don't say anything to anybody, but there are some very astute fans out there that will go, "Well, isn't that... no, wasn't Tommy, isn't that...?" "Yeah, you're right, it is. It's Domenic, it's not Tommy." "Yeah, but how, when, where...?" It's kind of a hoot for me to look at. It reminds me of all the shit that ended up happening because of this one legal piece of paper that didn't get picked up. It led to a really bad chain of events in the long run.
When I left the James Gang - because it was really degenerating into just nothing but sheer noise, and I told them I'd stay until they replaced me - once that happened, I came up to Toronto and I sort of slid into the background a bit and worked on a TV show, a pop musical variety show, for a couple years. Out of that, I ended up working with Garry Peterson for about a year. It was himself and a bunch of guys that he had met in Philadelphia. That was kind of an R&B band, actually, because we had horns and the whole ball of wax. That was a neat band actually, but Garry found out real quick, when he went to L.A., about all the people that he figured were going to help him get a record deal, just how quickly they turn on you when you don't have the power of the Guess Who behind you. That was really disillusioning for him. It was really tough on him... really, really nice man. He just couldn't believe it. I could, because I'd been through it a few times by then. I'd become pretty cynical about the record business.
The guitar player's name was Bobby Seballico. There was a keyboard player who was just amazing, played great and sang great. I remember the trumpet player's nickname was Daddy-O. I think the sax player's nickname was Spike... little guy. All really nice guys. I have no idea what they're doing now. Just after that, when it became evident that we weren't going to be able to get signed, I ended up getting a call from Ron and Howie Albert at Criteria in Florida, where we had done Gang Bang and Miami. They called me about a band that they were working with - another Ohio band - called Law, and I ended up in that band for a few albums.
The band was in the midst of recording their second album. Ronnie Cunningham, their keyboard player/singer, was having some voice problems, so they decided they wanted to add a singer. I heard the stuff and I really liked it, because it was a really nice combination of funk and rock. The guitar player, Stevie Acker, flew up and sat with me in a hotel room in Toronto, and we ran over some of the tunes. He was the only one working in the studio with the Alberts at the time. The rest of the band was in Columbus, Ohio, except for Ronnie, the keyboard player, who was also singing on some of this stuff. So I learned the tunes before we went down to Criteria. Ronnie and I got introduced in the studio, and the next thing you knew, we were singing harmonies together. We were both very surprised because our voices went together really well. We had a lot of fun putting that together, had a lot of fun with those guys on the road too. They're really good guys.
Law: Steve Lawrence, Ron Cunningham, Roy Kenner,
They had already had their record deal [with Goldhawke, Roger Daltrey's label] in place. Roger and Bill Curbishley, who was the manager of the Who at the time, had set up this label so that... I think Roger was recording solo stuff on it, and this was also so they could have a sub-deal with MCA/Universal to push acts that they were producing. There were some politics that came into play there, too, and ultimately, that got all screwed up, too. I think what ends up happening with something like Universal, they start looking at a deal like this and go, "Hmm, how much power do we want one band to have with our label?" I think the power and the ego start to rear their ugly heads really huge on that level. We're talking big bucks, big power, big everything, and everything else goes out the window. The music and what you're trying to accomplish seems to go right out the window. It becomes secondary to all the power plays and the politics of it all.
We played primarily in the east. We did some stuff in Florida. We played some dates with Boston and acts like that. The band had a pretty solid following in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the south, like Georgia. We played a lot of clubs in that area, from the midwest to the south... big clubs, converted movie theaters, and things of that ilk. It was a working band; it wasn't a sit-around band. If we weren't writing stuff and trying to get stuff together for an album, we were pretty well playing. There are some things we can certainly be a little bit upset with the way it was recorded, but hardly ever do you go, "Yeah, I just love the way the whole album was done." I thought it was really neat stuff, and it was fun to do. It was fun to play it live.
I have a color print of [the Hold On To It album cover], too. I used to wear an eyeball around my neck on a bone choker. It almost looks like that movie Shakes the Clown, where it's a clown but he scares the crap out of kids because he's a drunk and a nutbar. If you look at this picture, you go, "I'm not sure that I'd want my kid getting too close to this clown, because what clown has an eyeball hanging around his neck?" That tune on the album, I think Steve and I wrote it, "Carnival Man"... Gary [LaConti, the band's manager] came up with this idea for the cover where it'd be a clown leading kids down a deserted midway, and you'd see little kids floating away with balloons, like obviously there was more to the clown than met the eye. And I got to play the clown. It was a real hot day. I think I lost about 10 pounds in that outfit that day.
On "Caroline," my favorite Law song
We were rehearsing some place in Ohio where there was a bar in this hotel we were staying at that had one of those aquariums where you'd sit at the bar. You'd look at this swimming pool window behind the bartender, and there was a babe swimming in it, like a live mermaid. Ronnie and I would go down to this place and sit there and have drinks and shoot the shit and watch this person do her 3 sets of aquarobics, pretending she was a mermaid. Ronnie and I wrote that tune at that place. That was right around the time that there was a whole whack of shit going on in Monaco with that family, and that inspired me to write the tune about Princess Caroline. That's who the Caroline is, in fact. I showed the lyrics to Ronnie, and he came back about a half hour later and said, "Hey, what do you think of this?" It was one of those things that came together really quickly, as a tune.
When Law started to peter off, when we couldn't get re-signed, that's when Donnie was working on the Fret Fever album and asked me if I'd step back into a singing role with him on his stuff. So, once again, we became reunited after... I guess it was '73, '74 that we had parted company professionally, but we still stayed pretty close in touch with each other. So it was about 5, 6 years later.
Donnie was always torn between trying to do 2 or 3 things at the same time. Towards the end of the Fret Fever tour, where we did a live simulcast - video and radio broadcast from a club in Toronto called the El Mocambo - at that point, he was frustrated, I was frustrated, the band was frustrated, and I said to him, "I love you to death, you're like a brother to me, but I can't do this anymore." I'd finally realized what I am in my life, and what I am is a lead singer, and I can't be a guy that sits around on a stage for 15 or 20 minutes while the band, all of a sudden, goes off into basically what's fusion/jazz music. I love to listen to it, but I don't want to be a part of it. I said, "I don't know what you want to do. You got me in the band to be the singer because you wanted to go back to doing shorter tunes, but here we are doing all this stuff again." And he said, "Well, I don't know what I want to do. I've gotten to the point where I don't know what I want to do anymore either." So I said, "Well, look, you do what you want to do, and if there's anything I can do to help you, whether it's singing or writing or whatever the hell it is, you know I'll always be there for you. And if I'm doing something, you know I'm going to call you." That's basically how it ended up. You know, he'd call me, I'd call him. Unfortunately, we never really did get back together again on a creative/band standpoint again.
Other than singing the odd thing that suited his voice, he never really wanted to sing, even though he did do it on a lot of albums that he recorded. What Donnie really wanted to do was play, and I think if he'd had his druthers, if he could record an album where he recorded maybe one blues vocal for the entire thing, he'd be a happy camper. He was also torn with the thing of... you've had some commercial success, and occasionally, you hear something from somebody and you go, "If they can do it, why can't I put an album out like that?" When you start hearing the Jan Hammers, and Beck being able to go from rock into a hard jazz fusion kind of thing... you know, you go, "Well, why can't I do this?" I think that was something that always bothered Donnie, and he would try to cover it by spreading it out a little too much, like doing a little bit of everything. The beauty of it was he could play everything as well as anybody else could who was really versed in that genre. Sometimes it pays to know a little bit less than what you do, I guess... because it didn't matter: whether it was country, whether it was blues, whether it was jazz, he could play it.
The Roy Kenner/George Olliver EP
That was a concept from a friend of ours that used to work at RCA, Scott Richards. "The Way to Paradise" and "Heads Up" were tunes that I had pretty well written in L.A., and I brought them back and then Donnie refined them enough that, as far as I was concerned, it was a co-written deal. "Transparent Love" was something that he and I put together. He had the title, and I ran off with the words. We put that together, and it was like, "Well, what are we going to do with these?" "Transparent Love" came out as a single, and then we put those things on the EP, and then it was George Olliver and Bobbi DuPont and the Royals. George and Bobbi DuPont were singing together, actually. It was an interesting concept, because there weren't too many of those out, with 2 different artists on either side of an EP. And so, of course, it didn't do anything! It became another collector's item. I like the stuff that George and Bobbi did, and I like what we did, and it's pretty rare for me to go, "Geez, I really like that," if it's something I did. Once I recorded it, unless we're playing it live, it starts to disappear out of my mind after a while, because you move on to the next thing. "Ghost of Hollywood" was on it. I love that tune. I wanted to get that out as a single back then, because I thought that would have done really well in its day.
Death by Dawn
Donnie was involved with a couple guys that had a company that were trying to get into producing film. They were doing some commercial work and things of that nature. Donnie said they were working on this script, and I got involved with it, working on actually writing the screenplay. They were talking to Nick Mancuso, I believe, about doing it. We must've rewritten it ourselves so many times that there's probably a small forest that gave up their lives for the pages that we used. I, at one point, had a stack of scripts and revisions probably about a foot and a half to two feet high. Then it just languished. They really didn't do a whole lot with it. I know Donnie was fairly irritated with Giacomo [Moncada] and Frank [DeLuca], who were the other principals in this. Apparently, there had been some serious interest in actually making it, but somehow, it slipped through the cracks. I remember Donnie being very irritated with them that they hadn't followed up on some meetings to facilitate that. It had an opportunity to be made, even in its revised format. I think somebody revised it once again, maybe even a couple of times, after I had been involved in whatever our last revision was. I do remember Donnie saying, "You know what, they had it close. They could have, they should have, if only they would have, and if only this call had been made..." There was an opportunity there that got blown, and I remember Donnie being pretty pissed off about it. I don't know the full story of it, because I moved on to other things at that point. It was something that was in the works, but to the best of my knowledge, it never got made.