“I remember those crazy nights in Montreal…” – the opening lyrics to I Just Wanna Stop still excite audiences around the world

Gino Vannelli will be returning to his native Montreal for a very special homecoming at Salle Wilfred Pelletier on October 29th. Three years ago he returned to Montreal for 2 dates at Club Soda, and last summer he performed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. His is currently touring to promote his new album, Best And Beyond, which includes new recordings of several previous hits, including People Gotta Move, I Just Wanna Stop, and Wild Horses. “I knew that the basic melodies and songs were ok, I just wanted to tweak them a little and give them a fresher sound. Those songs will always be a part of me – and I’ve had fun rediscovering them.” Continuing, Gino notes; “You know, I wrote I Just Wanna Stop in 1978, it wouldn’t hurt to have another look at it.”

During our interview, Gino comments that he doesn’t want to be a museum piece performer, but wants to continue forging ahead. “I’ve been able to recreate myself, rather than gild myself. It’s an important distinction. I don’t want to be yet another “revival” act that plays the hits of days gone by. I have an opportunity to introduce proven hit music to a new generation, along with my new material.”

While promoting his recording Best and Beyond, Gino is also introducing his new book; Stardust in the Sand. “I was writing the liner notes for the new cd; and it kept growing. An executive at the record label suggested that I run with the memories and write a book. The result is a retrospective looking back over my career, with anecdotes and personal memories that I hope readers will find interesting.

Gino grew up in Montreal, in a household full of music. His father was a jazz singer, and introduced Gino and his brother Joe to the world of music. As a youngster, Gino studied drums and musical theory. He formed his first band, The Cobras at age 12. Brother Joe joined a year later to form a group. While the brothers were performing popular music, Gino was also developing an enthusiasm for classical music, attending Montreal Symphony Orchestra concerts on a monthly basis, and later he enrolled in The McGill Faculty of Music.

Gino and Joe travelled to Los Angeles to seek their fame and fortune. After weeks of disappointments, the brothers decided to give one last try before heading home to Montreal.

During our conversation, Gino confirmed that the story is true. “I literally ran through the gates after Herb Alpert, of A&M records. He saw something in my face, and told the security guard that it was ok – he’d see me and listen to my songs.” Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss signed Gino Vannelli immediately, and he went on to record 6 albums for their label between 1974 and 1978.

The Montrealer: Did you ever imagine how far that first meeting with Herb Alpert would take you? “Ambition is blind. You don’t have a vision carved in stone of what ‘making it’ means. It changes along the way, and not always without pain. In a very real sense, I grew up publicly.”

New ownership at A&M wanted Gino to go into disco, and so he left A&M to sign with Arista Records, and recorded an album that included the hit Living Inside Myself. Unfortunately, the relationship with Arista management soured, and the album Nightwalker was the only recording done for the label. “They wanted me to continue producing the same kid of music – whereas I believed that I could build from that strength and develop as an artist. We came to an impasse, and I had to buy out my contract. I sold just about everything I had – including my house – to pay back Arista. In today’s dollars it was in the millions. Only two people still believed in me during that process; my wife – and myself. I had to look for deep reservoirs of faith and confidence so that I could find and create the music that I had in me.”

Gino’s confidence in his ability to write music that would have a specific audience appeal proved to be right. The next two albums (including the hit single Wild Horses) sold very well in Europe, and Gino toured extensively there from 1985 through 1990. He continues to have a large European fan base. “I was flying to Europe recently, and my seatmate was a very distinguished female business executive. We exchanged pleasantries and settled in for our 10 hour flight. A woman came up to business class, apologized for intruding and asked me for my autograph. She was really a big fan. After she left – my executive seatmate looked at me quizzically and asked “Should I know you?”

Having achieved a certain financial security, Gino moved with his wife and family to Portland, Oregon. “I didn’t tour for 12 years, although I continued to record in my studio. I returned to college, and studied humanities, including a variety of world religions and philosophy.”

By the late 90s, Gino was concentrating more on classical music, and took voice lessons for a couple of years. “Something that is good for a song might in fact be bad for your voice – so the idea was to improve my singing – so that I could achieve what I wanted when singing, and not take ‘shortcuts’.”

Recorded in 2003, “Canto” was a classically-influenced album that featured Gino singing in English, Italian, Spanish and French. Again, this recording was very popular in Europe, but primarily purchased by core fans in North America.

“I recognize that my music isn’t for everybody. Fortunately there is a significantly large enough public to enable me to make a reasonable living.”

This brought us full circle in our conversation to his new CD, Best and Beyond, and the current tour. “I’m performing with the same band I record with in Portland, Oregon. There’s piano, bass, drums, guitar and three horns. It gives a full sound and a lot of versatility.”

Responding to my question about the wildly enthusiastic audience reaction to I Just Wanna Stop –Gino replies; “I get that all over the world. I guess that’s kind of my signature song. Some artists feel that they are prisoners of their big hits. Firstly; I don’t feel that way because I wrote my hits. Secondly – if those songs are a prison, then I have the key…”

Best and Beyond is receiving very favourable reviews as a recording and live show. Gino’s voice is strong and he commands a wide musical range and expression. He can soar with power and then bring his voice to a whisper; still maintaining the fullness and timbre. He’s enthusiastic about his band; “Listen to the drums in this new recording of People Gotta Move – there’s some real push there that we didn’t have thirty years ago!”

Gino Vannelli will be performing at Salle Wilfred Pelletier on Friday, October 29. Tickets are on sale at Place des Arts Box Office; 514-842-2112 or online: www.laplacedesarts.com Enjoy!

Related Posts