Wednesday, January 26, 2011
The Archies RON DANTE!
He sang a handful of number one singles in the 1960's but nobody knew his name! As the lead singer of the fictional group "The Archies", Ron Dante was their voice for five years with hits like "Sugar, Sugar" and "Jingle Jangle". At the same time with the Cuff Links, he scored another big hit with "Tracy". Ron has been busy ever since recording, producing some major artists, touring and still going strong to this day! I spoke to Ron from his California home prior to his upcoming concerts in New York...
MICK: Last week when we were scheduled to talk, your good friend Don Kirshner passed away. How long have you known him?
RON: I went to his funeral last week in Florida. I've known him since I was 16 years old. He signed me to my first publishing contract and really gave me my start into the music business. I learned so much at his publishing company which was an incredible place. I walked into the office and there was Neil Sedaka, Tony Orlando, Carole King..some of the greatest song writers ever! It was an incredible time! They walked me in and I stayed there for three years in the beginning and I went back after five years in the late 60's.
MICK: Was that in the Brill Building?
RON: No, we were actually across the street at 1650 Broadway. Today, the building is the Winter Garden Theater. It was full of managers and agents! it was just as busy as the Brill Building. I spent most of my time going back and forth between those two buildings over my career.
MICK: What was it like in the Brill Building back then?
RON: It was a beautiful building with great entrance ways! It was a long hallway with big golden elevators at the end of the hallway. The hallway echoed so there would be people or a group singing and they didn't chase you then. I remember talking to Pul Simon once and we discussed how we started our careers. He said "I used to take the elevator to the top of the building and walk down every flight and stop in every publisher, agent and record company's office trying to get a deal." He said it was easier to walk down than it was to walk up!
MICK: I interviewed Tommy James recently and he told me about his days at Roulette Records. I know early in your career, your band The Detergents were on that label too. Did you have any trouble with Roulette's owner Morris Levy?
RON: I didn't have any trouble with Morris Levy. He was a very outgoing, big gruff guy. I liked him. He was really interesting because he was very up front about making money. He said "You're not going to make that much money from these records. I will show you the books. We have two sets anyway". He was a big guy and he was laughing and he was happy to have us on the label. We sold over one million records for him. He said " You guys just go out on the road, you kids will make a lot of money". I was only 19 at the time with the Detergents. It was a great experience. Me and my two buddies, Danny Jordan and Tommy Wynn, made a good living for a couple years from the first album. We toured with Dick Clark and did every TV show at the time including Hullabaloo, Shindig, Dick Clark. Morris was a great guy. Kind of a lovable, Damon Runyon type of character.
MICK: Did you know Roulette was Mafia related back then?
RON: I felt it! Coming from an Italian family and knowing about mob being involved in a lot of things. I had heard the rumors about Roulette, especially when Morris said " We are going to put your record in every jukebox in America". I remember thinking who controlled jukeboxes in America! And it was true! Every city we played in, our record was in those jukeboxes!
MICK: When "Sugar, Sugar" was the number one song in America in 1969 and you also had "Tracy" in the top ten at the same time, were you upset that you received no credit as the voice singing those hits?
RON: I was kind of used to being in the background. I was a studio singer at the time. I did tons of demos for people (some famous songs), jingles, commercials you would heard every day on the radio..Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, suntan lotions..you name it. I was the king of the tenors in those years. I signed on to be anonymous with The Archies and The Cuff Links. It was a little frustrating when "Sugar, Sugar" was number one and "Tracy" was number five! Don Kirshner , at that time, promised me that I would do a solo album and he would do the biggest advertising campaign connecting me with the hits that I had. He did exactly that! He came through on his promise!
MICK: You worked with Barry Manilow for many years. Are there any plans to work with him again?
RON: I've been helping him with his last four or five albums..those decade albums he put out 50's, 60's, 70's. I asked me to help him with vocals. I did it as a favor since he's learned all my production tricks, he doesn't need me anymore as a co-producer. We are still friends. We just finished up an album called "Fifteen Minutes" which is about fame. He wrote every song on there and I helped him do vocals and backgrounds on that. So we still do some work together and we've remained friends since 1973. I took him away from Bette Midler and I had him record a solo album. By 1974, "Mandy" hit and the rest is history. We did 10 albums together as producer and co-producer.
MICK: You were also the publisher of "The Paris Revue", the famous literary magazine from 1978 to 1985. How did you get that position?
RON: It was actually a freak accident. In Manhattan, my next door neighbor was the famous writer George Plimpton, who was also the editor of 'The Paris Revue". One day, he had a fire in his apartment. His wife was waxing her eyebrows and started a fire! We ran in and helped her get out. She had a young baby at the time that we helped also. George came home and we struck up a friendship! He had a great pool table and we used to play pool every Sunday. He would talk about the publishing business and I would talk about the music business and show business in general. He said to me once "Can I do something in show business?" I said "Sure George, why don't you do some commercials. So I helped him get some jobs like being a spokesman for Disney, the Daily News, The New York Times. He got into movies. He was in the movie "Reds" with Warren Beatty. He got a lot of work! Then he once said "The Paris Revue has been around for 30 years and we have no more financing to publish and it's a great magazine". I volunteered to become the publisher! It was great because we kept the magazine alive for those years. Got to interview some great writers and up and coming writers. It was a pleasure to get involved in that area of literature. My music business is very narrow with the people you meet. With the magazine, I got to meet people like Norman Mailer, Jackie Onassis, Teddy Kennedy...they would all come to George's parties as he was friends with everyone! He was quite a guy, God rest his soul!
MICK: You produced to big hits on Broadway "Ain't Misbehavin" and "Children Of A Lesser God". Was that a big challenge for you?
RON: Not really, especially "Ain't Misbehavin" as it was music based. A friend of mine who has a TV show called "The Actor's Studio" James Lipton called me one day and asked if I'd be interested in reading a script for a show that the Schubert's are interested in and needed a third partner. He sent me the script about a black street gang called "The Mighty Gents". Morgan Freeman was in it and a few up and coming people. I jumped on it and worked on it. The next year, James called me up and said to go over to the Manhattan Theater Club and see this little five piece thing called 'Ain't Misbehavin". I saw it and said "I'm in". I saw Nell Carter, Andre DeShields and these other fabulous actors. I love the music of Fats Waller and the whole Fats Waller catalog. I helped it get to Broadway and became one of the major producers of the show. It ran three years and every ten years we take it out again.
I knew what to do with a musical. The following year we got involved with "Children Of A Lesser God" which many of my friends said nobody wants to see a show about deaf people. I told them it is a beautiful show and sure enough it won a Tony Award. It became a beautiful film with Marlee Matlin!
MICK: Are there any plans to do more work on Broadway?
RON: I'm developing a few new properties. One is based on the song "Rhinestone Cowboy". My friend Larry Weiss wrote that one. He's developing a script based on his song and the story of the song. I think we have a good chance with "Rhinestone Cowboy".
MICK: You've written hundreds, maybe thousands of songs. Do you have a favorite?
RON: I've written for a lot of people but I've never written a hit song. I've always been the writer of the B-sides. My favorite people to write for are Johnny Mathis, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Bobby Vee. Gene Pitney is one of my favorites. I wrote one song called "Objects of Gold", a Gene Pitney and Bonny Vee song. They both recorded it and I recorded it. That's one of my favorites.
MICK: What do you do when you're not doing music?
RON: I go to movies, Broadway shows, go to the beach, the mountains. The thing I enjoy the most is being involved with something musically. I also love to sing live. Once a month I try to go out and do some shows. Singing has brought me everything as a singer, background singer, commercial singer. I've been very fortunate to do this my whole career.
MICK: Are there any of today's artists that you like?
RON: I like Michael Buble, Josh Grobin. I like the guys who sing the songs. I'm a big fan of groups like Train and country artists like Shania Twain, Faith Hill. Garth Brooks is one of my favorites. It's tough to do what I do and take time to listen to other artists. You don't want to copy. It washes over you and you don't know you are using it in your own production. I have to be careful on what I listen to and how much of it I listen to. I want my music to spring from my insides and touches my heart.
MICK: What are your future plans?
RON: To continue making music. I'm working on a children's project called "Shushybye" which will be on PBS. It's for toddlers ages 1-4 years old. It's wonderful area where you can make great natural sounding songs that appeal to the kids. I will probably tour some more this year. My latest project is I'm recording and producing the legendary Steve Lawrence. Steve is still singing beautifully and I've just completed the first six cuts on him. I'm shopping a deal for him and it will probably be out this spring! Who knows who will come after him! He's the last of the Rat Pack, he has great stories and he's one of the nicest people I've ever worked with!
Ron Dante is among the legendary performers in "Back To The 60's" at the Queensboro Performing Arts Center this Sat. Jan. 29 at 8:00PM.
For more information about this event and other upcoming shows, call the QPAC Box Office at 718-631-6311; tickets are available online at www.visitqpac.org.
Appearing with Ron are Sonny Geraci of “The Outsiders” (and “Climax”) who turned-out four Top 40 hits and is best known for Time Won’t Let Me, Precious & Few and Bend Me, Shape Me. Dennis Tufano of “The Buckinghams” also had many hits, including the chart-topping Kind of a Drag in 1967, as well as Don’t You Care, Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song), Mercy, Mercy, Mercy and Susan. Joining this exclusive group is the band Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods, who will bring down the house with their gold disc record, Billy Don’t Be A Hero, as well as Who Do You Think You Are, The Heartbreak Kid and more. These timeless songs will be featured along with tributes to Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Beatles.
The same show will be at BB Kings in NYC this Sunday Jan. 30 at 7:30PM.
Find more on Ron Dante at: http://www.rondante.com/