Sunday, November 11, 2012

Exclusive Interview with international superstar Gino Vannelli

By Ray Shasho

Internationally renowned singer and composer Gino Vannelli is most recognized for his blue-eyed soulful harmonies and alluring sex appeal. But over the years, Vannelli has cultivated his incredible singing voice to master diverse musical styles while continuing to inspire audiences worldwide.     

The Montreal, Quebec crooner was musically influenced at an early age by his father Russ Vannelli who was a musician in Maynard Ferguson’s band. Gino’s brothers Joe and Ross also became musicians and were always a major factor in his life and throughout his musical career.   

Perseverance led to Vannelli’s big opportunity in show business. After a short stretch in New York, Gino and his brothers departed for Los Angeles in a last ditch effort to score a record contract. Vannelli anxiously waited outside the A&M recording studios and confronted legendary trumpeter/composer Herb Alpert to seek his help. Alpert granted Gino an audition, and a few days later Vannelli signed with A&M Records.

In 1973, Gino Vannelli recorded his debut album, Crazy Life. His brother Joe would become his full-time keyboardist and music arranger. Vannelli’s second studio album, Powerful People was released in 1974. The album spawned his first hit, a funky/jazzy/ soulful arrangement entitled, “People Got to Move” (#22 on Billboards’ Top 100). The album was produced by Gino and his brother Joe. Joe Vannelli would become a significant musician, producer, and composer in the music industry.

In 1975, Vannelli was invited to appear on Soul Train, becoming the first significant white singer to perform on a black music program.

By 1978, Gino Vannelli had developed superstar status after the release of his sixth studio album Brother to Brother. The album generated the poetic megahit, “I Just Wanna Stop” (#4 U.S. and #1 Canada) and the sensational singles, “Wheels of Life” and “The River Must Flow.”
“I just Wanna Stop” earned Gino a Grammy Award nomination and became his highest charting single to date. Gino’s brother Ross Vannelli wrote, “I just Wanna Stop” and there was resistance from Gino to sing it. Ross Vannelli would become an invaluable composer in years to come. Gino Vannelli also toured with Motown legend Stevie Wonder in 1978. Brother to Brother was certified platinum in 1979. Vannelli was also the recipient of Canada’s Juno Award for Best Male Artist.

(Gino Vannelli albums of the 70s …Crazy Life, Powerful People, Storm at Sunup, The Gist of the Gemini, A Pauper in Paradise, Brother to Brother)

The 80s would prove to be another pivotal and successful period in the music career for the soulful crooner. In 1981, Vannelli would deliver yet another smash hit with the passionate, “Living Inside Myself” (#6 Hit Billboard’s Top 100) from the Nightwalker album.
The album Black Cars produced the hits “Black Cars,” and “Hurts to be in Love.”  Brothers Joe and Ross won a Juno Award for Recording Engineer of the Year for the title track.  

(Gino Vannelli albums of the 80s …Nightwalker, Black Cars, Big Dreamers Never Sleep)

Throughout the 90s, as music changed, Vannelli began to better familiarize himself with other genres and styles.

(Gino Vannelli albums of the 90s were … Inconsolable Man, Live in Montreal, Yonder Tree, Slow Love)

In 2003, Gino Vannelli astonished the entertainment world by truly showcasing his magnificent vocals and passion for music on the album Canto. Gino sang original compositions in several languages, including French, Italian, and Spanish. The music was compared to a cross between a full-blown opera and a Broadway musical. Canto received rave reviews. After the release, Vannelli was asked by the Vatican to perform for Pope John Paul II. 

(Gino Vannelli albums of 2000s are … Canto, These Are the Days, A Good Thing, Stardust in the Sand, The Best And Beyond)

Sixty year old Gino Vannelli continues to tour worldwide, including sold-out performances in Las Vegas. His current tour begins in Tokyo, but he’ll be making several rare appearances in Florida. Gino Vannelli will be performing live onstage January 26th at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Fl and at the House of Blues in Orlando, Fl on January 27th.

This is a must see show!

To purchase tickets go to or call (727) 791-7400 for more information.
I had the rare opportunity to chat with Gino before he left for Japan last week.

Here’s my interview with singer/songwriter/musician/producer/international superstar/ GINO VANNELLI.
Ray Shasho: Hi Gino, you’re actually in the studio right now?
Gino Vannelli: “Yes, getting ready for rehearsals with the band. We’re going to Tokyo to do eight shows, but preparing for the southern shows already. It’s been such a long time since I’ve been in the southern United States … I feel like I’m playing in a foreign country. (All laughing)
But I’m really looking forward to it and just bending over backwards to do this, because I’ll be in Sweden and Denmark till around January 23rd and making a near impossible run to get to Clearwater and Orlando. But the dates came up and I really wanted to do this because I haven’t seen a southern face for a long time.”
Ray Shasho: You’ll be at the historic Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on January 26th and then at the House of Blues in Orlando on January 27th … we’re really looking forward to those dates. 
Gino Vannelli: “We’re also playing at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, Georgia on January 24th.  
Ray Shasho: The tour kicks off from Tokyo … I speak with a lot of artists who really seem to enjoy playing for Japanese audiences. 
Gino Vannelli: “They’re different. Not as vocal as some American or European audiences, but have their own way of showing appreciation, and it takes a little while to get use to it. Sometimes you wonder if their digging it and towards the end of the set they’re kind of losing it.”
Ray Shasho: Your dad was a big band musician, was he a big influence in your decision to pursue a music career?
Gino Vannelli: “Yea, of course. My dad was just so much into music … he was a record aficionado of big band, jazz, Latin, a real lover of music. We were privy to a lot of records that a lot of kids my age had no idea existed. I mean, when I was seven or eight, of course I knew who Ricky Nelson was, but I also knew who Miles & Coltrane was. I also knew who Caruso was, or Ravel was. So we had a very broad understanding and perspective of music from the onset.”

“But I started playing drums when I was seven or eight years old and got really serious about it. I met Gene Krupa and other great drummers, and then became so enthused about it that I became the house drummer in a major club when I was eleven years old. We got to see a lot of the big bands that came through like Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, and some of the great singers. And of course I’d be looking at Ella Fitzgerald singing, but looking at Sam Woodyard playing the drums more. And it was just a great experience.”
Ray Shasho: So you first learned to play the drums, when did you discover that you could sing?
Gino Vannelli: “That was kind of an accident because I was playing the drums in my group and the singer couldn’t quite cut “It’s Not Unusual” by Tom Jones. I kept telling him …You sing it this way …Try it this way. And then in a dare he said, “If you’re so smart, why don’t you sing it.” So I said, Dammit… I will! So I ended up singing the song and a few other people said you ought to get off the drums when you’re singing it. And I was terrified because my drums were my fortress. When I eventually did get out from behind the drums and I noticed the girls looking at me, I thought, hey, this is pretty cool, maybe I should get from behind the drums more.”
Ray Shasho: Did you emulate anyone in particular growing up?
Gino Vannelli: “You get into performing for the craziest reasons, and finally as you get a little older; it’s the love of what music does to you that really motivates you.”

“But when I was a kid, I’d love just listening to the acoustic version Bob Dylan. I loved folk music … Peter, Paul and Mary, The Kingston Trio, and loved the simplicity. At the same time, I loved Oscar Peterson. Oscar, Ray Brown, and Ed Thigpen, all had their trio doing a weekly show in Canada every Friday. When I came home from school, I’d be stuck in front of the TV around four or five o’clock where they’d have this half an hour jazz show that was really exceptional back in those days.”

“But you know … I went to see every rock concert too. I went to see The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Gerry & the Pacemakers, and everybody that came to town … so that was a cool thing to do too.”   
Ray Shasho: You’ve become a successful international artist, not only because of your soulful hits of the 70s and 80s, but because of singing in several languages and using that gifted voice for original opera and Broadway musical style compositions.  
Gino Vannelli: “I was lucky along the way to get a few mainstream hits, but as time wore on, I made a decision in the late 80s...early 90s, to pursue my own train of thought, and I was lucky enough that people followed me, and it created a different kind of career, a career that I enjoy to this date worldwide.”   

“The four concerts that I’m doing in Scandinavia are with some of the top jazz musicians that exist there. We’re doing a show that’s completely different, and I like to do that because it really kind of challenges my vocal chops and arranging. Coming to the south, I’ll be taking my west coast band, and that’s really at the heart of who I really am. Because its music that people really know me by, dating all the way back to 1972-73 … up onto introducing some brand new songs from a new album that I’m working on right now … which spans four decades. It’s interesting to see people’s reaction to the band that just kills those old songs.”
Ray Shasho: What musical direction will you be taking the new album?
Gino Vannelli: “I would say it’s not really a direction, it’s like painters that go through periods. For me … I go through periods where I really love classical and then recorded an album like Canto. Or a little more like acoustic jazz and I recorded Yonder Tree. And now … for the last two years, I’ve been in this period of just gravitating towards blues and the blues idiom. And of course I like to mix and match things so I’m infusing a little bit of jazz, a little bit of classical, a little bit of soul, into the whole blues idiom and I’m coming up with something that I’m really interested in. So it’s really primarily a blues project that has some other influences in it.”
Ray Shasho: I’ve chatted with a lot of artists lately who are gravitating to the blues. 
Gino Vannelli: “It’s a very pure and simple idiom and really gets to the point. It also kind of gets you in the gut too.”
Ray Shasho: Gino, talk about your first encounter with Herb Alpert.
Gino Vannelli: “Herb was one of the original guys who was a hip-shooter … he really shot from the hips, and when he believed in something he didn’t have to go through formalities. He just had a hunch and he went with it.”

“I ran through the gates as I saw him walking across the parking lot, I accosted him, and he was shocked, and a little bit afraid. But when he saw the desire in my eyes and before the guard hauled me away, he asked what do I want? I said I really wanted to record. He just said, “Come back in a half an hour and audition for me.” And I went back in a half an hour and I played him “People Gotta Move” on my little Aria classical guitar and he said, “Okay let’s record.”
Ray Shasho: So sometimes, it’s just really all about perseverance.
Gino Vannelli: “Isn’t that the case. You try to earn a PhD, a Masters, or just Bachelors or whatever. You try and raise a family …you’re trying to get from point A to point B and sometimes in traffic ... and sometimes it just takes a little determination.”

“The love of the art is what keeps me going. Like I said, it’s that sound that runs through your bones. When I’m singing at the piano and I’m having a really nice fun day singing, if I have a headache, the headache will immediately dissipate just the notes going through my head.”
Ray Shasho: Gino, were you in fact the first white performer to sing on Soul Train?
Gino Vannelli: “I hear there may have been another artist, but for all intensive purposes … I think I’m the white guy people remember being on Soul Train. You know how that all happened was very strange. I was staying at a motel on Sunset Boulevard and recording the Powerful People album, and I was a little bit dogged that day because things weren’t working out in the studio like I wanted them to. So, I went out to the pool to try and grab a nap and I heard, “Crazy Life” the title cut from my first album, which was really a dud and didn’t sell anything at the time. And I heard it being sung at the pool area, echoing off the brick walls of the motel. So, I followed it and wondered who’s singing that song? I thought …that sounds like my song!”

“I finally came upon Stevie Wonder and his brother. So as Stevie was singing, “Crazy Life” his brother said, “Hey, there’s the dude!”  So, I met Stevie and we spoke and gave each other a big hug, and he said, “Hey, you want to tour with me?” He said, “Chaka Khan is going to pass on the tour, would you like to do some dates with me?” So, I took the tour and we did seven or eight dates, and halfway in the tour, I got a call from Don Cornelius (Bless his soul). He said, “Would you like to do Soul Train?” I said, Don I’m flattered, I’d love to do Soul Train, but I didn’t know if he knew that I was white. So, I said very-very reluctantly, Don, you know I’m white. He said, “Well, I consider you beige. (All laughing) He was very gracious and it really was helpful for me to do Soul Train because, “People Gotta Move” made it to the Top10 on the R&B charts after that.”
Ray Shasho: I was on the air working top 40 radio when, “I just Wanna’ Stop” (1978) and “Living Inside Myself” (1981) was released. I remember all the hundreds of requests that I received from the listeners to play those songs …those hits are timeless.
Gino Vannelli: “That’s why we redo them. We stay true to the record as we stay true to the spirit of the song. And people will be amazed how this band handles it. It’s so dynamic. This band, like I say, just kills it, in a way that is so magical. And I’m taking this west coast band to the south with me and that’s why I’m anxious to show this band off.”
Ray Shasho: Your brother Ross actually wrote, “I just Wanna’ Stop?”
Gino Vannelli: “Ross wrote, “I just Wanna’ Stop” with a little bit of kicking from me here and there … saying, I won’t sing that word! But my brother Ross is great! He’s my manager, production man, and also does sound. And my brother Joe and I are so very close.”
Ray Shasho: It’s not easy to have a close working relationship with your brothers.
Gino Vannelli: “The key is I think … Robert Frost says …”Good fences make good neighbors” Now I think, Good boundaries make good brothers. We know who we are and we know not to cross certain boundaries. There’s no end to the love and dedication. When you’re young, you want to convince everyone that you’re right and they’re wrong. As you get older, it’s not important if your right or wrong, it’s important that we work together and get this thing done. So, it makes my mom very happy.”
Ray Shasho: Ross and Joe are musicians as well, so you all share the love of music together.
Gino Vannelli: “That’s the common denominator.  
Ray Shasho: Did you grow up in an Italian household?
Gino Vannelli: “I actually grew up speaking English and French …because of Montreal. All my friends were French. I still speak it pretty well.”
Ray Shasho: I’ve chatted with Frank Marino, another very interesting artist/musician from Montreal. Besides being an incredible guitarist, Frank has studied Theology for most of his life.
Gino Vanelli: “Yes, I know. Music will inevitably get you into Philosophy, and once you logically see that through, will end up getting you into Theology. Once you see that through, it will end up getting you to a simple place of being happy with yourself and everybody around you. With all the catastrophes that are going on, and all the hardships that are going on around the world, you don’t do the world any service by walking around in pain and at war with yourself. You’d do a lot better good, a lot better service, if you find that thing within yourself that says …move forward it’s okay. It’s are duty to see through it and work through it.”
Music was not always my fan. Sometimes there were lean years, years where I was uncertain if I was doing the right or wrong thing. And years where there wasn’t the acceptance, years of economic hardships, and failures. That’s when you get to know either who you are, what your made of, or what’s inside of you. If you don’t probe deeper, you’ll never know, and you can’t go on.”
Ray Shasho: So, how did you persevere through the difficult times Gino?
Gin Vannelli: “At first, I became a man in search of truth, a seeker of truth, because I wanted to know what the problem was. Then I realized, as I was seeking truth more and more, the truth was far greater than my personal problems. A little time and wisdom does a lot. You can never really get rid of it. I can’t ever forget the lean years … losing my house, and losing my car, or half the house walking out because they didn’t like what I was playing. You can’t forget those years … they teach you.”
Ray Shasho: Sadly, many musicians have a tough road if they can’t produce another hit or feel as they are washed up … and many times leading up to taking their own lives.
Gino Vannell: “I can relate to that …it’s almost like the artist finds himself in the position of an alcoholic. The artist has to hear that one more round of applause or has to know he has that one more hit, just like the alcoholic needs that one more drink. And once the artist says, you know what, I’m more than this. First is the man …and then the music. If the man is not intact, the music will not happen.”   
Ray Shasho: You must have really enjoyed singing on the Canto recordings.
Gino Vannelli: “I sure did, it was a labor of love. And it’s still some of the most requested music that I get. And we’ll be singing some of that material on the tour.”
“When I was in Italy a few years back, right before Pavarotti died, I was with an artist called Pino Danieli who is a big blues artist in Italy. I said, Pino, would you ask Luciano a question for me? Pavarotti was seventy years old at the time. I asked… How does he keep his voice from muddying up? He kind of covered up the phone and said, “Just take two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and water a day and everything will be fine.” (All laughing) So for all you singers out there, that’s my little advice of the day.”
Ray Shasho: Gino, what’s your connection with Holland?
Gino Vannelli: “I lived there for two years, 2006 and 2007, just twenty miles south of Amsterdam, and got a different prospective on life, and it was a hell of an experience. Because Amsterdam is so close to all the European cities, and such a hub, I was able to perform, meet, and get a lot of new acquaintances in Italy, Scandinavia, France, and Spain. So it was a whole new awakening for me.”  
Ray Shasho: If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish …to sing a duet with someone from the past or present… who would you choose?
Gino Vannelli: “I think because I’m in the blues mode right now, I’d love for Billie Holiday to sing with me.”
Ray Shasho: Your latest release is The Best and Beyond and you’re currently working on a new album …how about upcoming collaborations?
Gino Vannelli: “I’m going to be collaborating with Eric Benet on a tune … and I like Soul/R&B singer Frank McComb too, and I’ll be looking for a good country/soul singer for a tune that I wrote for the next album.”  
Ray Shasho: Gino, thank you for being on the call today … but most of all, for all the great music you’ve given to all of us over the years. We’ll see you at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater on January 26th.
Gino Vannelli: “It’s been my pleasure Ray, I hope we get to say hello when we get to Clearwater.”

Gino Vannelli will be performing onstage January 26th at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Fl. Purchase tickets at or call (727) 791-7400 for more information.
Gino Vannelli will also be performing at the House of Blues in Orlando, Fl on January 27th. To purchase tickets go to  or call (407) 934-BLUE (2583)
Gino Vannelli Official Website
Purchase Gino Vannelli’s latest release, The Best and Beyond at or on his official website.
Special thanks to Ross Vannelli for arranging this interview.

Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at

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