ANGEL bassist Felix Robinson gives an extremely in-depth interview on his days in the band and beyond
The interview we did with ANGEL singer Frank Dimino went so well that we decided to reach out to the other members of the legendary 70s rockers and see if we could make lightning strike 3 or 4 times. We were HONORED to talk to bassist Felix Robinson who was so gracious to give us yet another in-depth interview. We covered a lot of ground Angel-wise but also heard some great stories about his current career as a corporate Audio/Video “bigwig” and even his days playing in the original WHITE LION…..read on…. (photos provided by Tim Hollingsworth and Felix Robinson)
Q: You’re originally from the midwest and grew up in St. Louis? What was that like and how did you get involved with music?
A: I was a music theory major in college and working as a professional musician in St. Louis, playing with several bands, just making a living of it. My college education sort of waned when my musical career started taking off, I played with some bands out there, lots of different styles. I went on though and continued my education which is a good thing, I always say that to people because it helps to learn every aspect of whatever it is you’re into or you’re doing, be a student of your craft. I learned to read music and compose through the traditional methods not just on my own. Of course, there’s many GREAT songwriters that never learn to read music or take lessons and I’m not against any of that, talent is talent and if you can play you can play. Having said that though, it does help to be able to really understand the classic way of how music was created for many, many years.
Q: Gregg Giuffria had said that you were a very multi-talented musician. How did you wind up on bass and in hard rock?
A: That’s a really good question. In St. Louis, there’s a lot of different kinds of styles and reasons why you have to know how to play different kinds of music. I very rarely played in bands that weren’t out there working and getting paid for it. I was a professional musician from the time I started which was in a band from ST. Louis that went out to Vegas and played Casino gigs and showrooms out there. I was about 17 or 18. I went from playing in my bedroom to playing onstage and in front of people. As a working musician you have to be able to play a lot of different styles, you have to be able to play Top 40. People go out and they wanna hear what’s popular, what they like, what they wanna dance to. Back in those days clubs didn’t just hire bands that were of one genre or style, like now there are clubs that are devoted to people who really want one kind of music. There’s metal clubs, there’s classic rock clubs, dance clubs. I had to learn all these different types of music to be able to be a paid musician. I remember hearing Queen, when they came out and I was blown away. They were rock but you had to really work at learning those songs to be able to play them and do it justice. I started getting into that kind of hard rock stuff and playing the hardest, loudest, most powerful stuff was what I was enjoying. But….I learned to play all kinds of music, I played in Country bands, traditional standards, all that stuff. I remember when I moved to L.A. And I got to know Eddie Van Halen before his band really started taking off and you know Eddie can play almost any kind of music. He can play country music and play it authentically, he can play blues, he grew up playing standards. Some musicians who came up in that era learned to play anything and took that as their platform for growth and I was one of them. I could play guitar or bass and I learned how to play drums and keyboards and to me it was just part of the responsibility of being a working musician.
That’s kind of how I ended up in Angel. I had a pretty lucrative career in the midwest and had the opportunity to tour and record and then went to L.A. And had the chance to play with Phil Driscoll and record an album on A&M Records in 74 or 75. When I had a chance to actually move to California and start a band I had some understanding of the music scene in Los Angeles and had some management relationships in common with Punky and Gregg when they approached me. They had asked me if I would be able to work with them on writing some tunes for them and then later asked me to join the band and play bass, taking over for Micki Jones, who was very important in the development of and business of Angel. I did and it was a lot of fun.
Q: Micki was one of the chief architects as far as starting and developing ANGEL, was it really touchy or difficult or was it a pretty clean transition for the group when you joined?
A: Well, I’d like to think it was very clean. I was able to pick up all the parts Micki had been playing and sort of embellish them and make them my own. I really enjoyed doing that. I was able to hear the music the band was wanting to make and the band that they wanted to become and I’d like to think I had a lot to do with that. The band at that point needed to evolve. Angel had the first two or three albums and they were really, really great records. They had developed a style and the songwriting was a style that was popular at the time and progressive but also sort of unique unto itself. At the time that I joined the band Casablanca was very insistent that we develop a more commercial style and start translating into sales. I started influencing some of that during the writing for the “WHITE HOT” album. I shared writing credit on those songs but had a lot to do with the musical and vocal arrangements because I added another voice to the band. I helped to arrange the background vocals and things like that while they were being written. During the actual recording I was able to really get in there and contribute and had a lot to do with how the band developed their sound from there on. Some people have noticed that and said “The band really changed when you joined” and I’ve gotten some credit for that over the years. When I get a chance to talk about those days in interviews like this I can admit it is sort of gratifying because I can hear how the band changed and the songs and production evolved and went that way that the label had wanted. The songs started being more about personal experience and reflection in them that kids could get into on the radio. This was in that era when Cheap Trick, REO and bands like this were really making it with that type of material. Songs about being in love, songs about love not working out, songs about being a kid and being in school. If you look at the songs that we put out after I joined the band that was the direction the music was going in…..and it helped us at that time. The music business was in a very strange, transitional place at that time.
Q: Frank had mentioned that at the time you recorded the live album you had really settled in on bass and the band was at it’s tightest.
A: I can speak about that as a bass player, Micki was a bass player, I’m a bass player. What does a bass player do actually? The bass player lays down the foundation for the momentum of a band live and on records. The bass and the drums, that’s the heart, the rhythm section. Punky is a VERY good guitarist and really has a great rhythmic feel. Barry is just a FANTASTIC musician. Frank is SUCH a talented singer. So……when I came to rehearsal and started playing with these guys it was fun. It was fun for me it was fun for them. We started jamming and the music started opening up and DRIVING. Micki had a very creative mind, was very talented and capable business wise and directed that whole end of the band, music wasn’t really his strong suit, business was. He was very wise and important to the band in terms of image and development of their style and career and image. The whole ROCK STAR personified thing…..that was Micki, yet when the music was really starting to evolve and change he was struggling. When I started doing the rehearsals we just clicked and started having so much fun and made progress with the songs and the band just felt that they’d be better off going with another bass player. We really enjoyed our jobs and coming to rehearsals, it wasn’t a drag to have to come to work on a new album or tour, we really had a blast and a lot of laughs. Most importantly, the songs all really took off. Not to slight Micki as a person but as a musician he had a hard time keeping up with the level that the other guys were reaching to at that point.
Q: You joined the band at the time when they were also beginning to take the stage show and image to another level. A lot of the famous ANGEL show elements were making the move from development to actually being used on stage. Was there ever just as much pressure to deliver visually as their was musically?
A: Sure….We looked at other bands that we were on a peer level with and other bands that were out touring and making albums and we all kind of agreed that one of the things we had a distaste for was the whole blue jeans, unshaven, scruffy average longhair look. That’s not to slight anyone who made it because of or while sporting that look, BOSTON had some great songs…that’s fine but we personally just didn’t appreciate that type of image. We really liked the flashier, cleaner image. As far as the stage show; it needed to become more elaborate in our opinion. Another thing that bands were doing and of course still do is just get onstage and play which can be interesting for a few songs if the songs are really great,if the musicianship is really good then musicians will stand there and soak it in and enjoy it. However, that’s not what the average person wants to see when they pay their money to go to a show, they wanna see something going on, they wanna see some presentation. I’ve always enjoyed going to see bands that put some time, investment and effort into their production and really deliver not just musically but visually.
Angel was that kind of band, we wanted to deliver something different, something fascinating. Like you said, I had joined the band when we were really starting to ramp up the show elements and I truly ENJOYED it, that was something I wanted to see when I went to a show and I liked being a part of it. I have an interesting little story about the opening effect ANGEL used, where we came out of the little “towers” as we called them, to initially appear on the stage. When that effect was first being tested, I was just getting to know the guys in Angel and their road manager was the manager of a band that I was playing with then in Los Angeles called THE WORD. So I was around standing down by the soundstage when they were first testing the effect and Angel’s tour manager, my manager says to me “Hey Felix why don’t you go stand inside that thing so we can see what it looks like when the lights hit it?” (laughs). So I did it….I stood in the box, before it was used in the shows and before I was in the band yet (laughs)
Q: You toured with just about anybody who was somebody during the seventies. Did any of the acts you were on a bill with ever feel threatened or upstaged by the level of the show that ANGEL put on every night?
A: I’d like to think we upstaged most every band we played with. In the business of concerts you gotta use what you brought. We would be on tour and playing some shows as the headliner and have our full sound and stage effects and all of that, bands like The Babys or Judas Priest were some of the bands opening for us. Then certain shows we would branch off and open some shows for some other acts. Most of the acts we opened for would not let us use our full staging and special effects, they were the headliner, that were calling the shots and putting on their own show. I have to say that while performing and actually playing with those bands was enjoyable it was NOT fun to not have our whole show, it was kind of a drag. I can think of many a show in the states here where we would play our little opening set and get standing ovations, encores and all that, people screaming and then there was always a gap before the next act where they’d have to tear down and set up for the next act. Sometimes, a lot of times actually, they’d do the tear down and the next band on the bill would come back to a half-filled hall or at least a less enthusiastic audience than the one who were just watching us.
That was kind of cool on one hand, I mean, promoters love to sign on an opening act that draws a few extra 6 or7 thousand but they don’t really like it when the headliner goes on to a less than full hall. I can imagine that wasn’t very comfortable for some of the headliners that we opened for. It’s not like we drove our audience away from the venue purposely but what would often happen is we’d play and hundreds of people would start moving towards our dressing room after we finished or outside the venue to find our limos. The longer we would hang around the venue after our set the harder it was for the venue and the next act to get control of the audience and fill the room back up. We would start trying to sign our autographs and take our pictures and get out of there sooner but I don’t think we got out soon enough for some of the headliners….. we could have been more polite.
There was a pretty high level of competition between bands at that point. I, personally think we WERE some of the nicer guys in the business we always tried to be accessible to our fans and maybe paid more attention to them than the bands we were out playing with which might have made us appear snooty or stuck up to the other bands. I think we still had a good time with MANY of the bands we played with we’d go back and party at the hotel with them before traveling to the next city to do it again. I don’t think there’s a lot of lingering feeling or effect from us or our show. A lot of the bands that we were playing with are STILL performing, which is another reason why we should really consider getting back together, look at the success a lot of these groups are still having out on the road.
Where are you located at John?
Q: We’re just outside Rockford, Illinois.
A: Oh, I remember ROCKFORD!! We used to play there and of course the Cheap Trick guys are from there. Robin used to come out to my place in North Hollywood sometimes and we all knew each other. Back in those days bands that were operating on that level they all started having friends in common, people in recording studios hanging out, producers, engineers, management people, all those people. Cheap Trick are the catalyst…they’re still out there playing. To me, they’re really one of the key inspirations for us to see if we can get back together as Angel and start playing again……which we’re talking about doing finally. We’ve been having some conversations with people recently, it sounds cold but to me , I kind of look at it as “market research” which is something you should always do in this business. You have to take a look at what your market is and see if there’s enough people that can support your reasons for doing it. I want to make crystal clear though that our reasons for doing it are to have a good time, play again and see each other but there has to be funding and a commercial reason to do it also. A band that gets back together and just enjoys it and enjoys playing is great. A band that gets back together and has a reason to justify being away from their family and their careers outside of playing to go on tour do rehearsal and all the other things that go with being an active group is a whole other thing though. That’s one of the reasons I’m asking people “Well, what do you see as the reasons why ANGEL should get back together??” A lot of fans are saying “Well, it would be great!”. They’re very enthusiastic but of course you have to look at it very closely and we have to make sure there will be enough people who will actually buy tickets and t-shirts and make sure it will actually work.
Q: You have to sort of gauge exactly what the genuine demand would be?
A: Yeah, even geographically you know. I know that Angel was very popular in Japan, we sold a lot of records in Germany and other European countries. I have a lot of Facebook friends who have come to me from all over the world and ask great questions and show a lot of interest. I still get actual fan mail also and a lot of that does make me think the band would have a good shot of getting back together and play a lot of places.
Q: Was it ever a drag working on some of the non musical things that went along with doing your job in ANGEL like the massive photo shoots with Barry Levine, the interviews, the promo videos, that kind of thing?
A: I don’t think it was ever that much of burden to complain about having to have your picture taken at a super luxurious studio or do an interview with someone about your music or anything. Sometimes some of those things could be tedious, sure, like the movie we did “FOXES” we were on set and it was set up for days on end, working for over a week and were actually in the movie for what? 30 seconds. That was a LOT of standing around and waiting involved. So, tedious? Yes. Enjoyable? Always. We did lots of things like that. Was every minute of it enjoyable, no, sometimes you’d have to wait for hours on end for a camera or sound to be set up but we always knew that we were there because it was a part of our show, someone wanted us to perform or enjoyed our performance and we ALWAYS loved that.
Q: Did you guys work closely with the Art Department at Casablanca Records while you were there?
A: Not as much as we should have. The record company was very capably managed and was very successful because they had imagination and we really should have been more involved in that end of things as well. We just sort of let them do their thing….our manager of course was heavily involved but we could have been more actively involved in all of those aspects of our careers. If I have a complaint in hindsight it’s that we didn’t do enough as a band on our own in terms of handling our careers and how we were portrayed and so on. We were having some success so the tendency is to just go on doing what YOU do and let other people do what THEY do……. really though, we could have been much more successful had we been more involved. I look back at all of those areas and think about how much more I could have learned and how much more I could have been involved and helped and would it have helped us if we had been? I think so.
Q: Casablanca is in fact notorious for their partying and the lifestyles around the label at that time. We interviewed Larry Harris about his book and you saw it firsthand. Did you ever get the feeling that partying was getting in the way of getting things done around the label?
A: Oh boy, well first of all John….you’d have to take yourself back to that era of the mid to late seventies and really understand what it was like to be honest. It was a free wheeling time in the music business for SURE. It was also a difficult time. The labels were actually starting to struggle as a result of the overall economy. Casablanca was more of a party atmosphere because the people that owned the company and managed the company was younger and tended to be more excited about what they did….which was GREAT. They gravitated towards people who were also passionate and excited about what they did. Look at the roster of acts, the QUEEN of disco Donna Summer, The Village People, Angel, KISS, those were really different creative acts. I think some of the problems happened later when they started expanding the roster trying to break so many other artists to huge commercial success that wasn’t usually there. Then they had to sort of buckle down and get corporate.
The partying and drugs were a byproduct, everybody had too much fun because too much fun was there to be had. I didn’t miss a minute of it. I didn’t look at it as an opportunity to AVOID a good time, I looked at it as an opportunity to have the BEST time. I was a single guy, living in Beverly Hills with all the cars and motorcycles I needed and all the chances to go and have a good time that a person could be afforded. That doesn’t mean I was completely irresponsible, I know there were plenty of people that were VERY irresponsible, bordering on the illegal and the kinds of trouble that can happen when you’re having too good of a time. I tried to stay as sane as possible. As one of the only single guys in the band I was free to do what I wanted to do but keep in mind that you can only have so much fun before it starts to deteriorate your health. I have an interesting story that goes along with that in a way. We hung out, like many bands, at the Record Plant recording studio. Bands would hang out there as well as make their albums there, it was just a cool place to be, kind of a social club, it was a nice, luxury relaxing place for musicians to hang out. We would have some off time in Angel, time where we weren’t touring or recording or rehearsing and guys would be able to go visit their families, things like that. I’d go over and hang out at the Record Plant on a Thursday or Friday or whatever because at that point in my life every day was the same to me (laughs). I would walk in, go through the security door, there’s a jacuzzi room, a game room, social rooms or lounge areas and you would run into a LOT of people. A lot of really famous people. I’d go out for dinner or drinks with friends and then a lot of times swing by the Record Plant at 1 or 2 in the morning because it WAS a 24 hour operation. I remember one night we’re all hanging out and I’m leaning against a pinball machine and I hear this voice whisper in my ear “Hey man, give me a hundred dollars” and I said “What?” and looked over and it was, well for purposes of this interview lets just say “one of the most famous funk/rock musicians of all time”. I looked at him and thought quickly (laughs). I said “Yeah, I got a hundred bucks but whatever you’re gonna do with it I want you to do with me.” I gave him the hundred bucks and he said “Meet me in the parking lot” (laughs).
I went out to the parking lot and I didn’t have a Ferrari or Porsche but I had a really, really nice American car, I had a beautiful Ford Thunderbird. I wanted a lot of room to cruise in, not a lot of speed. So I met him out in my car and whatever he bought with my hundred bucks kept us awake because it was like 2 or three when we went out and the sun came up while we were in the parking lot talking (laughs). We were out there talking about everything, this guy was an amazing player, singer and writer, a superstar. I wanted to pick his brain, like “what was your career like?, “What was this or that about” “Tell me your story man”. Kind of like how you’re interviewing me I guess I was sort of interviewing him (laughs). One of the things I always wondered was how such a great singer and writer and lyricist would have such short hooks or lines in his songs, like they’d be great but just incredibly short and I wondered “What was he doing while he was writing all these things”(laughs). The other thing that occurred to me was that this guy had made a TON of money, a boatload, he was already an established superstar and was still at this time a HUGE star making money and yet here he was asking ME to borrow a hundred bucks. It didn’t add up until that night we sat in my car and he was telling me his story and how broke he was and to tell you the truth John, to me THAT was an important moment in my life and THAT was a wake up call. I thought to myself “If THIS guy is sitting here borrowing money from me and doesn’t have the resources to keep his life together than someone like ME had better wake up and pay attention.” If someone so talented and so famous and successful could be in this type of situation then someone like myself had better wise up and learn something from him. I did and started slowing down my pace of having fun and that was good for me.
Q: Larry from Casablanca did say one thing that kind of irked me as an Angel fan whether he may have been accurate technically or not. He said that they made every effort to break you as a band but you could have been much more successful had you been able to “write a hit”. That kind of bothered me because it sounded sort of harsh and to many of our ears “Don’t Leave Me Lonely” or “Wild and Hot” sound like hits TO ME. Did that pressure to deliver a “hit” get in the way of the band’s natural creative process?
A: Well, first of all I do understand what Larry meant and where he’s coming from. I mean, we certainly sold every record we made and people did like them but I will say that while that may have been frustrating it was also a challenge you know? “Write a hit record”, “Okay, let’s see if we can do this”, it was a very exciting challenge. That was one of the reasons that we’d occasionally do cover material I’m going to speculate. The record company thought “Okay if these guys can’t bring us a hit then let’s record a song with them that already WAS a hit record”. So the thought is take something like “Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” and let’s make it a hit again. That theory is not untested it works…..sometimes.
My take on this is that Casablanca’s identity as a label was so “all over the map” so varied and they had so much success with the disco stuff. That was so huge at the point that I had joined Angel that it seemed like anything you could put out that had a disco beat and had decent distribution would be at least moderately successful. If the artist themselves were controversial or exotic, sexy, strange looking then it could be even bigger. The label looked at our success which was slowly building in a more traditional rock way and thought they could do a better job developing us than we could. I think our management (Toby Management) agreed with Casablanca. So I think when the band wasn’t in the room there were these people, including Larry, saying “OK, this is what we have to do to break this band HUGE, we gotta do this, we have to do that”. In my opinion, there were too many things being tried. It was one of those things like I told you earlier John. If the band would have had more control over all aspects of what we were doing then our natural talent of writing and performing would have led to even more of that widespread popularity everyone was pushing for. If you continue on trying to be successful by attempting the ideas of what everyone else thinks you should do then your only chance is to be lucky providing that one of those guys in that room has one idea that pans out. I think many a band can tell you stories about a song that they just knew was great, that they felt something for and stuck to their guns and fought for which ended up being a hit. I’m sure many of their record company guys told them “What the hell is that? What is that about, you’ve gotta do this” but they stood their ground and knew their band, their audience and followed their own path as a band. If you look back and really study the era and the charts you will see an industry that was desperately trying to CHASE a market.
Disco was huge, but then EVERONE started chasing that particular market. Casablanca was obviously leading the disco market so Larry had to feel like they were successful because he knew what he was doing and I don’t dispute that. What I don’t agree with is trying to manage a band’s career and songwriting by committee. That is not a great idea to me and of course it’s easier for me NOW to say that wasn’t a very good idea. At the time we were together and writing great songs our manager or our label people were like “Man!!! I think you should write a song like this!!!” and sometimes we were like “Yeah…..nahhhhhhh, don’t think so” but then other times we would be like “Hmmm, maybe, yeah maybe that’s a good idea”. I mean we could spend forever holed up writing things and loving it as a band and then go to submit it to the label only to have them tell us “No, go back and start over, we don’t like it”, I mean they had the power as the people funding the whole thing to do just that and sometimes they did. I mean look at the whole episode of what went down when we presented them with the “Bad Publicity” album. That was really a very important time and crossroads in Angel’s career and at that time Neil Bogart (label owner, CEO) was changing his mind constantly about many things.
I’m not suggesting Neil was alone in that and he was certainly a guy who was capable of being very decisive and a great mind but at that time he was really going back and forth on things, particularly in regards to ANGEL. I think that was a critical time for the band, the label was drastically changing the marketing plans and going back and forth and we were just DISTRACTED as a band. We were so concerned with trying to get the show bigger, to make a hit record, to do everything we could to support and sell the albums we had out that it was just another stress to try and produce another album in such a small time frame as the one we had for Sinful (a.k.a. Bad Publicity). Had we taken the time we needed and stood our ground and said, “No, we’re not going to go out on tour so that you can make the money that you wanna make, we’re going to woodshed for six months and write songs and hone our craft and that’s that” maybe the band could have survived for longer than we did. We would have secured our future as musicians in a much better way if we just took time off and did that like so many other artists did rather than remain out there on the road. I also think the label would have been much happier with the outcome because it would have allowed us to be able to create more hit records.
Q: When you joined the band in the studio to record your first album with them,“White Hot” it was once again after you had been out touring. You had just completed the dates for the “On Earth” tour. What do you remember about doing those sessions for the “White Hot” album?>
A: I remember doing the basic tracks for the album in the studio which were a LOT of fun. At that time we’d have all the instruments together and be actually playing, it wasn’t as if we couldn’t perform the songs without multiple tracks for the keyboards, guitars and all that. We would record basic tracks as a band and I’ve said before that if we’d have released some of that Angel stuff as just the basic tracks it would have been even better. There of course would be all the usual overdubs of lots of vocal tracks and guitar and keyboard tracks but I always liked the way the basic tracks sounded or the way we sounded at rehearsal. I think you would have gotten the song before you heard all the production and effects elements. I have a great deal of respect for Eddie Leonetti the producer and of course loved what our engineer Lee DeCarlo did. Lee was in many ways the sixth member of the band and helped a lot with arrangements and sounds and just how everything evolved. Having said that, I will say that it is a producer and engineer’s job to enhance what you’re playing and make it fabulous. I think that those guys were working really hard to compete with a lot of other music that was out there, music that was very highly produced, bands like Queen and Boston.
I think that while stuff like that was popular, our songs by that point were relatively simple and didn’t need that kind of elaborate production. I would take home copies of some of those rough mixes, the basic performance tracks, I think we all did. I have those and I listen to them and I kind of prefer the sound of those original tapes. I think by that point we were so good live and in rehearsal that we sounded great just playing as a group without all that added stuff. I’m not saying Eddie Leonetti turned into some sort of mad scientist just that I prefer the rougher mix of the album. I also think we worked too hard at trying to write hit records, look at the earlier ANGEL stuff, “The Tower” is a GREAT song, but at that point the band was not trying to write 3 minute long hit singles. That song was very elaborate with lots of interludes and it was a fantastic song that got airplay on FM album rock stations but not much airplay at all on commercial stations. You know, when you’ve got a band and you’re spending all of this money on production and touring and recording eventually the label starts asking you for hits and that was the situation.
Q: What sticks out in your mind about the recording of two tracks in particular, “Stick Like Glue” and “Under Suspicion”?
A: “Stick Like Glue” was sort of a walk in the R&B genre. As we played the song in rehearsals it had kind of a walking along, rock and roll groove but it needed something a little extra or a little different. That’s where the horn parts came in. I put together a horn part and our tour manager came in and we performed it together which sort of changed the direction of the tune. It became like a fun song, a party song. It had a great theme with the lyrics but it was by no means a serious song and was very commercial. “Under Suspicion” on the other hand was a heavy rock tune and sort of the opposite with not so “nice” lyrics and a much darker story in the lyrics. One of the great things in that song that makes it so heavy is all of that percussion, you can really hear all of the shakers and all that extra percussive element which really gave it that groove. We played that song live, I thought it was great but some of the production on the studio version kind of overshadowed what we could do with it live. I really like the songs on that album, Paul Gilbert told me that “Got Love If You Want It” was one of his favorites.
Q: The White Hot album also marked the introduction of the band’s fan club, the Angel Earth Force, I would send away for it but like I told Frank I doubt anyone would get my check or money order. What do you remember about the involvement with that?
A: (laughs) I still have some of those membership kits. That was really fun, most of that merchandising. I think Casablanca really took control of a lot of that and we weren’t really in control of it. We did profit from it. I remember checks showing up from merchandising and opening them thinking “Wow, that’s a lot of money”. It was a good thing, I don’t see how it was a bad thing or harmed the band. That stuff was great.
Q: I keep telling Frank that I want to buy an Angel shirt. He was supposed to send some to Richie Ranno to put up on his website for sale but I don’t think he ever did.
A: Richie is a great guy. I should really talk to him more often, we were so close. Starz and Richie still play which is great! The first time I ever saw ANGEL live was back in St. Louis. They were playing with STARZ at the Fox Theater which was kind of a midsized performance venue. Starz was opening and that was the very first time I ever heard of them, I was still living in St. Louis at that time. I guess Angel was out there supporting their second album, HELLUVA BAND and I didn’t meet everyone that night at the show but interestingly I did meet Micki which is kind of funny. I was just going there because it was in town and a friend of mine who was doing the P.A. My friend goes “Hey Felix, I’m doin the P.A. Down at the Fox and Angel is playing”. I was like “Who?” My friend goes “Angel, they’re this really cool like glam rock band” and I decided alright I’ll go down. We sat behind the sound console and watched these guys play and I thought “Yeah, they’re pretty good (laughs)”.
Q: Can you clear up a rumor about whether or not there was ever talk or production on an actual ANGEL movie called ANGEL-Live At Midnight?
A: Yes. That was a project from around the time just before and around the time I had joined the band. There was some filming done. I might have seen some of it back then but I’ve never seen any footage since. I don’t know how to describe it actually, it was sort of an idealized, dramatized production meaning stuff like riding horses on the beach.
Q: Wow. Like a “Song Remains The Same” type of thing????
A: Yeah!!! Like that whole artsy type presentation
Q: Was the concept of doing “Live Without a Net” something that was always being kicked around as an idea?
A: I think so. If you talked to someone about ANGEL invariably it would always turn to the discussion of how we were a great live show. The albums weren’t selling as much as they’d like so part of the strategy became how do we present this band LIVE on record? It made sense, we were doing tremendous business on the road selling out multiple nights in 17,000 seaters and stuff. We sold a boatload of T-shirts, we made good money out there. The goal was to really capture the show with minimal reworks and production but again Eddie was involved in the production of the live album and there ended up being post-production work on LIVE WITHOUT A NET that might have overshadowed some of the better performing moments. It was recorded mostly at Long Beach Arena and then we also set up and recorded at Santa Monica Civic Center but there was no audience for that taping, we just needed to get the sound again in a large venue. The public was not allowed in and some of the tunes that we recorded there became almost like a duplicate of the stuff that we did in the ACTUAL live show in Long Beach. That taping in Santa Monica became the actual catalyst for the SINFUL album, a lot of those reworked live tracks we performed were used as the basic tracks when we started on Bad Publicity or Sinful as it ended up being called. It was actually an interesting way of doing things and was a lot of fun to be able to work out the songs onstage like that.
Q: You sound like you basically like the way the live album turned out but a lot of fans seem to prefer the bootlegs like “Blowing Great Guns” and stuff like that. Have you heard all that stuff and do you enjoy it?
A: I have and no I don’t. The sound is just really, really primitive. I heard one from Sacramento and I just didn’t like it at all it sounded horrible. You have to remember that those recordings in that era were made by really primitive means, not at all like today’s bootlegs from the soundboard or digital recorders. They were like handheld mikes smuggled into the audience and the technology wasn’t very far along in the late seventies. I don’t know why someone would like those other than for sentimental reasons perhaps or maybe the fact that the bootlegs often have the spoken “Angel” intro which I wish…..I wish we had a really clean reproduction of that cause that intro was great, it would be great to add to a reissue of the live album. That was a really cool part of the Angel live show.
Q: How did the songs “All the Young Dudes” and “20th Century Foxes” wind up in the set for “Live Without A Net”?
A: “All The Young Dudes” was an idea that I had if I remember correctly. I had brought it to rehearsal and thought it was a great cover tune for us to do from Mott The Hoople, one of my favorite acts. We just all immediately thought that was a great song for us to do and it came together really fast. Really the same thing happened with “Walk Away Renee”. They were great songs that were kind of “cult” hits that didn’t achieve widespread massive commercial success. They were easy to learn and had great melody lines, they were perfect for Frank to sing. Again, it was part of that effort for us to keep coming up with material that might get us attention or allow us to be played or heard. As far as “Foxes” I can tell you that Georgio Moroder was one of the only other producers we worked with in that era and to me he was a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways although he did have a very regimented style of production. Every note had to be EXACT, everything was measured and it all had to be 104 beats per minute and he would time it by the clock. IT’S DISCO. Very rigid. We struggled with that in the sense that it was hard to take a band as free wheeling and wild and used to a live setting as we were and make it THAT precise. His production style was very unforgiving for a rock band. However, I think the end result sounds great within the confines of that style and that arrangement. It was fun to do and I am not sorry we did it. It was fun to be in the studio with a master like Georgio and to me personally it was a great experience while it was not at all representative of the band as a whole. I will say listen to it back to back with Bon Jovi’s “Livin on a Prayer” and tell me what you think. It is the EXACT same bassline, same chord structure. Ten years earlier mind you but they managed to turn that riff into a massive hit….it is eerily similar in structure. (laughs).
Q: Some of the band have said they don’t really have good memories of the SINFUL album or enjoy it that much while many of the fans do. For the first time really critics actually dug it too so what is YOUR assessment of the band chemistry when you were working on that album?
A: I think we were reaching into different directions at that point, apart from what we had been doing and from each other. I think if you listen to a song like . “Just Can’t Take It” it has a very different kind of folksy, country pop kind of feel to it as compared to a lot of previous ANGEL songs. I think we were going in different directions and there are a lot of different styles on there.
Q: What about the songs “Lovers Live On” and “Bad Time”
A: Well, if you look at the credits for “Lovers Live On” it’s dedicated to Punky’s guitar and Susan. Susan is actually now my wife, not someone who owned a guitar with Punky (laughs). She is looking at me right now and laughing at me, she’s very proud of that. Punky and I wrote that song together and we were going for the “Rock Anthem” theme. I think that Angel was a band that sadly, had many more rock anthems in them. I think if you go back and listen to SINFUL you will hear a band that was clearly under stress from the label to be writing “catchy” material and “clever” lyrics that bordered on repetitive but then on the other side is a band that wants to explore some different styles and sounds and stretch our bounds a little bit. We were caught between writing songs for ourselves and our fans and writing material to make Casablanca happy. We were under stress and on the road while writing that album. We wrote a song like “Bad Time” and all those songs while we were on tour.
Q: Is that difficult to do?
A: It can be. You know, you’re on a bus or in a hotel room trying to write which isn’t always the greatest setup. We decided we wanted to actually stop in at a recording studio while we were out on tour and actually use microphones and guitar amps and everything to work on our song ideas rather than just an acoustic and a cassette player on the bus. We stopped in between cities to do this and I want to say it was Georgia or Alabama. It was owned by one of the B52s who were not at all big yet, in fact they were using it at that point to record themselves. We were there for a couple of days and I got heavily involved in the recording of the band that we were doing. We were on our own in there, all alone, under pressure to do the songs very quick. I think we did three tunes. I have the recordings of them. None of the songs were ever released on albums and we split up about a year after that. We were thousands of miles away from our engineer, our label, our management and we were trying to do something on our own, something for ourselves. I look back on that time period very fondly because we were actually trying to be true to ourselves and we were calling the shots with intent, as a band. We should have done that more, we should have done that the WHOLE time. We should have forced our manager to accept that we were going to do things our way in order to do what we needed to do to thrive and record as a band. While we were recording the SINFUL album we were actually in and out of the studio, we weren’t there for one set period of time and I think personally that it’s a great album, we got a lot of good stuff down on that album. I will go so far as to say that I don’t think there’s a bad song on the record.
Q: I hate to once again reference our interview with Frank but that is such a drastically different take on the album and I think that’s interesting. He basically said that he felt you were getting too far away from working together and writing together and the whole record company thing was beginning to take it’s toll.
A: Well, Frank’s right about that. He felt that the band was having an identity crisis and I can understand why he might feel that way about it. That’s also true that we didn’t have enough collaboration going on there was much more of us individually bringing songs in and this guy wanting this song to be a certain way and that guy wanting his song a certain way. It was less of a group effort so I totally see where Frank is coming from. It wasn’t the best time for us to act like a band but I think we did anyway, though we were clearly under stress. The pressure to sell was intense and records were not flying off of shelves but I’d like to point in our defense that the economy here was a SHAMBLES. It was a disaster and expendable income was at an all time low, gas prices were sky high, jobs were hard to find and things were just looking down in general in 1979. Sinful came out in this depressed climate. Home video games were starting to really take hold and while disco was still popular the record biz as a whole was in a slump.
You have to look at it that way, if a kid had ten bucks he could either buy the new Angel album or buy a video game or put gas in his car or whatever. Kids were living with their parents and their parents incomes overall were down and another factor was the fact that a lot of new styles of music, variations of rock, were taking hold. New Wave and College Radio music was really starting to take hold so what happens is bands, labels, the entire industry starts really looking at what’s selling. What’s popular. They were grasping at anything they could to get that dollar out of a kid’s pocket. That whole change in the musical climate was part of what we were looking at as far as dropping the whole flashy costume thing and trying to appear more normal, in street clothes as we usually were. That was what we were going for when we conceived the Bad Publicity album.
Q: Was that decision a band decision, a management decision and then Casablanca just kept changing their minds?
A: I think we were looking at the situation like, “OK, what is going to make the difference here that is going to give us the success we all expect”. We had done the whole “prettiest band” image with the white outfits and all that for quite a while and it just didn’t break on the scale everyone had hoped for. We thought maybe if we dropped the whole image thing it could be the catalyst for people waking up and saying “OK, this band isn’t just a bunch of white costumes, makeup and hair, they’re a great band with great songs”. We didn’t wanna alienate the audience we had but we just thought that maybe we were on to something with that train of thought. What do you think John?
Q: Wow, it never really occurred to me, the costumes and show certainly added to the allure but just like KISS was still a great band without makeup, I think the same of Angel….
A: It was something that we felt strongly about and I think Neil Bogart (Casablanca head) was willing to try anything but it always had to be measured against the cost. He wanted to keep the purity of the image as a marketing tool, something he could use and he still thought it could work. You of course know that KISS went through their own crisis over image at roughly the same time we did. The makeup had sort of run it’s course and had become a joke. It had went from groundbreaking and dangerous to almost campy and childish.
At that particular moment in the very early eighties it seemed kind of ridiculous for them to continue on with all of the elaborate makeup and costumes. In the long run though that was obviously the key for them, it made them instantly recognizable and made them stand out from the pack. A lot of bands after them started wearing similar outfits and crazy makeup, lots of them that you don’t remember and are long gone. It didn’t pay for them to follow that particular trend. I think Neil similarly viewed our image as unique and wanted it to continue if for no other reason than that identification factor, the marketing factor.
Q: Do you like the reworked album cover for SINFUL?
A: Well, it was a simple choice wasn’t it? We just chose from the already completed photo session. But then the struggle that Frank is talking about is also clear. Inside the album, the sleeve photo is us without the costumes and those photos are from the original concept for the BAD PUBLICITY title. I really like a lot of those photos that Barry shot for us at the Hyatt house for the Bad Publicity cover. I have a few of the test shots that I had blown up and matted.
Q: Of course I have to ask what led you to leave ANGEL
A: Okay, well first of all there are different versions depending on who you ask. I remember very well how I felt. I felt very restricted. We were off tour after and the record company was not staying with us. We were looking for other deals and it was not happening, money was tight. I wanted to perform, I wanted to gig. I was sitting around North Hollywood and it was not good for me. I was far too occupied with the social end of living in Hollywood and being a musician. Like I told you I had learned a few lessons about partying and I knew that it was better to stay busy and play.
I was on the verge of doing some stuff with a band called POCO that you might have heard of, they had some really great country rock kind of albums that were out at that time. Great bunch of guys, excellent musicians, we had some mutual connections they had heard that I was looking for something to do and they needed a bass player. Totally different kind of music, they didn’t really care that I had been in Angel and to me that was really refreshing. I had to learn their material, I loved it and I did and we got along great. I went into rehearsal one day and their manager took me into a room and said “I really hate to say it but I looked into this situation and Casablanca is NOT going to let you out of your contract. It’s just too much of a legal challenge to get you in to join the band.” All I could really do is just say “Yeah, I understand” at that time, looking back of course I should have sought out personal management at that point.
Q: Angel had switched from Toby Management to Leber/Krebs at that point ?
A: Yes, and let me tell you that is a whole other story there John. David Krebs at that point had already been successful with Aerosmith and others and really took us on because he wanted to help us but with minimal risk. He was not able to generate the kind of investment from a record company that would have ensured our future. I will be honest with you though, we were TOTALLY unrealistic in our expectations. We expected another 200,000 to record our next album, we wanted all the things we had gotten used to and for everything to remain as it had been as far as our budget, our treatment, the limousines all of that peripheral stuff that inflates the investment of a band. I could see that that was ridiculous and wasn’t going to happen. You ask me why I left? I felt that the band was trying to hang on to a style of living and an existence that was in no way supported by reality. I was not happy and was certainly not blending in well with the attitude of the band at that time and they pretty much asked me to leave. I was arguing with people, we were arguing amongst ourselves. At that point it was clear that I wasn’t going to help the other guys by just going along with the program and simply rehearsing, writing music, not gigging or making money. I was not happy and it was affecting the band. Frankie left shortly after I did and I guess he could tell you why it was that he jumped.
Q: After you left you played in 707 along with Tod Howarth (Frehley’s Comet, Cheap Trick). How was that?
A: It was nice. I did a tour with them while I was trying to get a few other bands I was in off the ground that were really great. I look back and think sometimes “Man, I should have stuck it out with my new band rather than immediately going to go on tour with 707” but they were great guys and it was fun. I learned the material VERY quickly so that we could prepare to go out on a tour with Ted Nugent and REO Speedwagon and we also did some headline dates on that tour. It was a fun time with a fun band and they were also having a bit of an identity crisis and were struggling financially in the market. I still keep in touch with Kevin Russell who I think is an amazing musician and guitar player and Kevin Chalfant who is also just great. Jim McClarty became a minister down in Nashville and is doing great. I haven’t talked to Tod in a long time, how’s he doing?
Q: Tod is married with grown kids, living in San Diego and still playing with some good friends of his in a band that he was in originally, way before 707 called Cocoa Blue. It has one of the guys in Chicago in it and he seems really happy. He’s also doing some TV work.
A: That’s great, he’s a very good musician and I was so glad that he stayed with it. Tod was great and it was a good band. He and I should stay in touch. They were under a lot of stress and touring under that can be hard but I never really was officially in the band as anything more than a hired gun. When we got back from touring evidently there was a whole issue or situation with them and the business end of things but I just sort of walked in and walked out. Which was fine for me. Of course Tod went on to other things with Ace and all those years with Cheap Trick and good for him.
Q: What was it like being a part of that original lineup of White Lion and making the first album FIGHT TO SURVIVE?
A: Well. That’s a VERY good story and I will try not to make it too long but there was a great deal of conflict there so……I went to the first rehearsal and they were pursuing me to join the band. This was like 83/84. Mike Tramp was calling me all the time “(Danish accent) Please join the band, please join the band…” and I kept asking him questions and to tell the truth he didn’t have very good answers. To me it didn’t really seem like a band it was Mike and a guitar player he knew Vito and a drummer Vito knew Nicki Capozzi but I asked them like what their plan was or what their ideas were and he didn’t really seem able to articulate anything. I told him “Ok Mike it doesn’t sound like you have it all worked out so find yourself a good manager and get some record label interest and then give me a call”. I had already resolved to leave the music business at that point and I did not wanna go back into performing definitely not to go back and start all over playing bars.
He kept calling and eventually called (Danish accent) “Felix, we have producer we have manager you need to come down here and rehearse and practice with us”. He was very persistent and I figured okay, I’ll check it out and see what it’s about but I did it more than anything just to give him what he wanted so he’d leave me alone. “Okay, you want me to play with you, I’ll come down to Staten Island and play with you”. So I go down there and its this basement in his house and Vito was there, Nicki was there and I walk in with short hair and look so normal and everything, like I said I wasn’t trying anymore to be in rock and roll. I walk in and there’s these three guys standing there with long, greasy hair and it was this whole New York gritty image kind of thing. I say to them “Ok, what do you wanna play” and they were like “We wanna play some Angel songs” (laughs) and we did and it was fun. Vito played well and did a lot of the things that Punky did and Nicki was great, Mike was fine, not anywhere on the level of Frank as a singer but he made a good effort. I was not against it but I wanted to hear them play some original music, it’s one thing to play covers but obviously I was their to hear their songs. Every single thing they played me at that rehearsal and at subsequent rehearsals was like one verse and a chorus or maybe just a riff and a chorus and a ten minute guitar solo. They would be like “Ok, but check out this song” and then launch into another of the same, one lyric, maybe a chorus and an extended guitar solo. I was like “Guys these are not really songs, they’re more like ideas”. They of course said “well, they’re great ideas!!!” and I was telling them “Ok, but we should arrange them” and they were like “Yeah!!!! That’s it we should arrange them!!! (laughs).
I will tell you the truth of what happened then. I arranged all of these “ideas” and added verses and wrote lyrics and just expanded on all of these things they were jamming on. I would write bridges and rewrite choruses and “Ok, put the solo here, no only eight measures of the solo, stop there, that’s not a song solo.” I basically rehearsed with them and helped them turn the band into an actual functioning band with actual songs. Then, we actually started playing out and doing gigs, we went to Germany we cut a record and got a record deal. I did all the keyboard parts, all the background vocals, I rearranged everything and we came back to New York with a finished record. We did about 13 or so songs and the final product didn’t use all of them which come into play later. Sooooo…..Elektra got the album in their hands but they didn’t want to release the album at that point because Dokken had an album also ready to go and it was more polished and they chose Dokken to release at that point and basically shelved our album. Now I find myself in a band that wants to go play in bars in Pennsylvania. These guys were like 24 and I was like 32 at this point and I looked around and just said “This is ridiculous and I don’t wanna live out of a van at 32”.
I did get 25 percent of the advance from Elektra and got my claim of the writer’s royalties, not enough though, I should have fought for way more. When I told them I wanted to quit after all of this they got really pissed. The manager tried pulling me aside and telling me to stay in the band and just help keep these guys in line, that sort of thing . I told him no. I had just hung up a great career as a musician and I didn’t sign up to leave my family to do this sort of thing, no way. I agreed to stay on while they auditioned bass players and rehearse with them while they tried to find a replacement. I could see talent in the band and I saw a future for them at some point but I just wasn’t prepared to start all over and do that and I also had concerns about their management. I actually sat them all down one time during rehearsal and had a moment of clarity and talked to them and said “Guys, look here’s the deal….I’m gonna leave the band and I own whatever it is I own but you guys are going to go on and find a bass player and you’ll be fine but you are gonna get screwed by these guys you have as management, they are shady and they are crooks.” They all looked at Mike who looked at me and said in that thick Danish accent, very angry, “No, they are friends. They look out for us…it is you who are BAD person and you who are BAD for saying these things about people that LOVE us”. I will never forget just standing up and walking out of the room saying “Well, guys have a nice life”.
I walked out and that was it. When the album came out I had already done as I said and left the business to go on and do other things including the career I am in now. It finally came out like a year later and they of course took me out of the photos they had done and they tried to literally take advantage of me in my absence. I got ONE credit on the album and it was just a performance credit that said Felix Robinson, bass tracks. I guess they felt they had to at least acknowledge that or I would sure them over the song credits. They really should have left me on the photos and given proper credit because it would have gotten them some extra publicity. Angel was a much higher profile act than they were at that point in their career it might have gotten them some added attention. So when I sued them they had no choice but to acknowledge my material and my work and they had to pay me.
Q: Where they starting to break big at that point?
A: Yes, they were starting to break at that point on Atlantic and they were really only slighting me because of what I had told them when I left and how it all went down and I apologize to them now because of only one thing. I am sorry that I was right, I was right about their manager, I was right about them getting duped and getting screwed and they actually ended up being ROYALLY screwed by the negotiations on their record deal. They sold a TREMENDOUS amount of records in that time and actually saw very little of it and that was due to those people they trusted largely.
They later went on to use some of those unused songs that we recorded and I helped them write that didn’t make it on to FIGHT TO SURVIVE. They thought that they could just retitle them and change a couple things and noone would be any the wiser, and then I sued them again because those albums went out and sold quite a bit. So we had to hire an attorney and go BACK into court where Mr. Tramp and his people tried to say, “No, those are different songs” which of course led us to say “Oh really, let’s listen to them back to back and decide”. At that point it was quite clear they were exactly the same song structures only with some changed lyrics and song titles. They were having problems fleshing out their new albums with enough songs so they went back to the well and used the material that I had helped them write and arrange but didn’t give me ANY credit for. By the way, as time has gone on and I have been so busy with my own life and career I have stopped pursuing them for any of the royalties for those songs, I am probably due more money but I don’t care to pursue it and I don’t mind you publishing that, in fact I’d like you to.
I do feel that I was taken advantage of VERY unfairly but I think that Mike and Vito are aware of that and they KNOW they were being managed by someone who thrived on taking advantage of people. I have gone on to a really amazing career which is the best thing I have ever done and I am GLAD I got away from that but I do wanna go on record as saying that I think Vito Bratta is an amazing musician and a great guy and Nicki was a fabulous drummer I don’t know whatever happened with him or if he’s still playing but those guys were GREAT guys, great musicians.
Q: As someone who has been on the inside, what do you think the issue is between Mike and Vito??? Vito is not in the band and is a very private person….what gives?
A: I think it stems from the fact that Mike is a very manipulative person with a very manipulative personality. He wants to be famous at all cost, that more than anything was his only goal and he made a very good shot and WAS famous and did a very good job. However, he has a tendency to want to call all the shots and do things by any means and as time went on and the band split up Mike still wanted to do that. He wanted to tour and record as White Lion and went so far as to book a tour as such and Vito said “Not without my input” and said no and he was WISE to do that because if you give Mike Tramp an inch he will take a mile. Vito absolutely has his reasons for not wanting to be a part of a White Lion reunion and I’m positive they are valid. I’m sure he was taken advantage of on the business end FAR worse than I was with them or even with ANGEL and that’s too bad. I have the ledgers from my ANGEL years and we brought in some money and missed some money but WHITE LION at one point was making five times that. They sold a lot of records and made someone a LOT of money during their time as a prime MTV band. All they are left with is whatever publishing they did not sell and whatever mechanicals they receive on airplay. The music business is a cruel consumer of musicians and they were definitely a party to that. I am glad I was not a part of the band after all that went down because I would have been much more angry and much more bitter towards the business. I know Mike is still out there doing his thing and he is probably at a bar right now telling people that he is Mike Tramp.
Q: You’re a family man now of course with a beautiful daughter. Does she know that her daddy was in “The Prettiest Band In The World”????
A: Ahahaha. Thank you, first of all, my daughter is all grown up now, married and yes very beautiful. It’s really ironic to my wife and I that she got married and moved all the way out to my old stomping grounds of California, she lives in Burbank. We laugh and laugh because she’s driving around all these same areas that I drove around long before I had any concept of having a family or a child. She is wonderful and she is living out west now and is a teacher. She is ABSOLUTELY interested in what I used to do. All through her teen years she loved showing her friends all the old pictures on the internet and going “That’s my DAD!” (laughs). Her friends who had met me would go “What???!!!! No way!!!”. Those images endure (laughs) and are one of the slight challenges of putting the band back together. We had so much great merchandising done and so many great photos taken. How do you take a band that was so well packaged and publicized when we were all so young and fresh with no wrinkles or grey hair and run it up the flagpole again?? It’s been a “long time”. When you interview Punky just let him know that he is STILL the best looking man in rock and roll, he needs to know that.
Q: You’re currently in the Audio/Video business as a major player how did you come to get involved in that end of things?
A: I started my business in about 1983 or 84 while I was still actively playing music. I had moved to New York, gotten married and started a family. Prior to that I had been part owner of a recording studio out in L.A. with some people, a place called Fiddler’s. It was a 48 track pro recording studio and I was an active partner. I had a deal where I was able to use it for my own needs for recording and producing but was also involved in the construction of the studio. I was always interested in the design of the sound systems once we started getting the opportunity to use the equipment we wanted to actually use. Some people aren’t aware that large venues and artists who tour don’t really buy their sound equipment they rent or lease it, that was the case then and it’s still the case. Back in the good old days when I was with Angel when we’d deal with these companies I would always pay attention because I was really, really into the gear. So I paid attention, which carried over to the construction of this studio we had which we actually constructed twice. We built it up once and then completely tore it down and moved it to a different location due to some real-estate concerns and it stayed at that location some ten years after I had moved off to New York.. This whole industry of building studios and using studios became, to me at least, a very interesting world and career and I still feel that way all these years later. Back in those days in the 80s, these kind of recording studios were about as sophisticated electronically as anything going in the broadcast and music world and I felt like it was interesting and something I wanted to continue to pursue as a career when I moved to New York.
When I moved to the east coast I divested my portion of the studio in Hollywood and in addition to continuing my musical performing I started contracting the construction of a few different recording studios around New York. I was designing the sound areas and space which is of course very important for recording studios in New York because of the noisy environment that the city has. Trains, buses, lots of noise and traffic and all the while space becomes a concern because you’re often working in buildings that have many other tenants and you have to deal with smaller than average spaces. It was really interesting trying to really isolate these places in midtown Manhattan. The main reason I didn’t continue working in the recording construction business was because of the ability to contain a recording studio inside a computer due to a little program you might have heard of called PROTOOLS. What that did was really open up recording to everyone, making it a personal technology. It reduced the scope and size of what a recording studio is into something someone could put in their living room or bedroom. I was in that era where I could see the writing on the wall as far as the move away from analog and the advent of digital recording. I suppose it was good for the bands and artists because they could go from spending 200 dollars an hour in a studio and 75 bucks an hour on an engineer to flipping through the pages and finding a PROTOOLS type studio that was selling recording time for 20 dollars an hour. A band that wanted to make a five-song demo could find it much easier to manage their budget.
There are still people who feel that Analog tape and analog equipment is a far superior and warmer technology and there are some studios that are currently doing just that, offering the traditional recording atmosphere. So there’s a bit of a resurgence but I started moving out of the recording studio business and into the audio/video business, providing professional audio/video development. I started working for a company here in New York, brought my background of working on audio/video equipment but it was really a bit of a new arena for me. I showed up for the job interview as a technician and since this was a new area for me was really trying to ask a lot of questions, pretty much making it an informational interview for me. I was trying to learn as much as I could, whether or not I got the job because I had never done professional sound reinforcement other than for myself….I came to find out that the owner of the company was a big ANGEL fan (laughs).
Q: Wow, that must have been interesting for both of you then. Did you guys compare rare copies of the BAD PUBLICITY record? (laughs)
A: (laughs) He turned out to be a really great guy who had been an aspiring musician and had told me after the interview that he had seen Angel several times and that job turned out to be a good thing. I did that for a couple years and was designing these sound and video systems for nightclubs, restaurants, some large retailers all around the New York area. That job was where I learned a lot about what this industry that I’m in now is all about. I realized that there was a lot of opportunity there for this kind of work and it was a growing industry. I went to these yearly conventions, trade shows for professional a/v guys and saw and met a lot of people. I made friends and came to find out that many people that worked for companies, owned companies, it turned out that many of them were former musicians or performers like myself that had just kind of moved into this area and continued their careers. I started to figure that I really needed to own a company like this myself and partnered with a friend who had much more business knowledge than I had at that point and started a company called Dakota Systems. We were really at the leading edge as far as the consulting and design end of the A/V business. I worked as a consultant and would deal with companies that required our services and meet with them, determine what they needed and how to get it done with budgets from thousands to millions.
After that business I went to work for much larger companies, in 1992, 93 I went to work for one of the largest companies in New York, doing this type of work with many clients all over the east coast. About 13 years ago I accepted a position with Production Resource Group, which was the largest A/V production company in the business. They provide systems for some of the biggest tours out there, they also do lighting and scenery for a lot of Broadway stuff, they handle the Emmys, the Oscars, Super Bowls, stuff like that. I started working for a company called SPL which was acquired by Production Resource Group and I was brought along with their team and started working with SPL. I became the Vice President of SPL and was in charge of several offices for them before SPL merged with AVI which was a merger of the #1 and #2 companies in the A/V business. So now, here we are, full circle as AVI-SPL, the single biggest company in the business,we have 1400 employees, 34 offices, and I am the Vice-President of Strategic Accounts and what I do is make sure that we have the very best relationship with our key acounts that provide us with million dollar business, some of the largest corporations in the world. We are currently involved in several large projects, some I probably shouldn’t mention because they are large governmental offices, things like that. We outfit operations centers for police, local and national government and corporate accounts for some of the largest financial centers and their headquarters. We still do large entertainment venues and sporting venues. We did Yankee Stadium and probably about half of the major sports stadiums in the United States. It’s a great business and I’m very happy with what I do. I still miss playing but I get a chance to play pretty frequently in a band called Drunk Unkles which is a band I helped develop with a lot of industry guys like myself. We do charity shows and help raise money for foundations and people that need help. That has been the main focus of my musical performing over the last few years but I do still like to get out and play live every chance I get and I still enjoy recording. It’s still fun to me.
Q: Thanks for giving us such an in depth, no holds barred interview. After all that, let’s wrap things up by playing a little ANGEL word association, is that okay?
A: (laughs) That old chestnut? Okay John….shoot/
Q: Largo Coliseum, Maryland.
A: Hometown gig for Angel being a D.C band. BIG party afterward. Met Paul Reed Smith AND Punky’s family! It was an important place to play because it was all about family. When you play in a tight band you become almost like family and then to actually meet the band’s brothers and sisters really closes the loop on that.
Q: Neil Bogart
A: Out of control. Not even really about the whole image of Casablanca and the drugs because he had a great family and a wife in Joyce who was instrumental in many ways to his success. The guy had phenomenal success that grew out of his own ability to hustle.
Q: Gregg Giuffria
A: Smarter than the average musician. Very clever and able to maximize his opportunities to make as much money as possible and he’s done that. He’s done VERY well for himself. I think he’s alienated himself from the other guys in the band sometimes over the years but I think he’s considered that and of course I wish him well.
Q: Bill Aucoin.
A: I got to get close to Bill and get to know him better in the last few years before he died. We hung out in New York here on several occasions and he was a really smart guy again who always kept his eye on his next opportunity and of course did a great job working with KISS. He didn’t get burned, he kept his interest and made sure he got paid (laughs). With all due respect to the departed and as I said I got the chance to talk to him about these things….he had a great eye and talent but had grown to be accustomed to living on his past. He had such an eye for talent that he should have become a producer had he had the musical ability.
Q: Toby Management.
A: Mr. David Joseph. Wonderful image. Beautiful things. So slick and so Beverly Hills, so cool. However, that Management company was not really diversified in the sense that everything they did tied back to Casablanca Records. The Management company was totally dependent on their relationship with the label. That wasn’t such an uncommon arrangement back in those days but clearly leads to a lot of exploitative behavior. A manager is supposed to negotiate their payment based on a percentage of the record deal and David was very good at that in the beginning. He started to lose his touch in negotiating that number and was content to make far more of his money off of our touring. This ties back to my earlier story about how we should have stayed back to write and refused to tour at the time of SINFUL. We should have stood our ground against David but he could be very manipulative in his reasoning to get us back out on the road making a great deal of money for him and very little for us.
Q: Barry Brandt
A: One of the best natural musicians I ever had the privilege of playing with. Has the chops and the independence in his hands and feet to sound like Buddy Rich one minute, Ginger Baker the next and always had a great snap to his playing. He made me want to be a better bass player. I gotta tell you too John, I have worked with a lot of people who were very good as musicians but few drummers have ever been THAT influential on me. The most exciting drummer I have ever played with.
Q: Photographer Barry Levine.
A: An impresario in the making. He had the fire and still does to always be in the corner of something big. He had the talent to do amazing things and he did.
Q: Paul Stanley.
A: I don’t really know him. Seems like a good family man and a survivor. He has been able to handle the pressures of being a ROCKSTAR for about 40 years which is just amazing. I think very highly of Paul.
Q: Frank Dimino
A: An athlete. When it comes to singing he is it. I think it’s that whole ITALIAN thing. He’s got this voice that is just so powerful and he maintains it and is so disciplined that he still sounds as good as ever today. I call him an athlete because to be able to keep up your vocal performance like that is NOT easy to do. Frankie and that voice would be the reason we are able to put the band back together and be a viable live act. Without Frankie singing there is no ANGEL. You can get someone else to learn any of the other instruments but without Frankie it would never be ANGEL. I give him all the credit, he keeps it up and he teaches music and voice and still performs regularly. He is the guy that could make this happen.