Interview With Ron Dante
Ron Dante ca. 1969 with Don Kirshner (L) and Toni Wine (R).
|Ron Dante's long and distinguished career as a singer, songwriter, and producer spans many decades. He is widely known today as the producer for Barry Manilow and many other major recording artists including Cher, Dionne Warwick, Pat Benatar, Irene Cara, Ray Charles, and John Denver. Oldies music fans remember Ron Dante as the lead singer for the Archies famous for their chart-topping "Sugar, Sugar" which was voted "Song Of The Year" in 1969. Dante was also the voice behind the Cuff-Links best known for the 1969 Top Ten hit, "Tracy." Before the Archies, Dante had been a member of the Detergents who had a hit in 1965 with the parody song, "Leader Of The Laundromat." Dante can also be heard in many radio and TV commercials, including "You Deserve A Break Today" for McDonalds. Theater goers also know Dante for his work on Broadway. He produced "Ain't Misbehavin'," which earned him a Tony for best musical, and "Children Of A Lesser God" which took the Tony for best drama. Dante's stage credits also include "Whose Life Is It Anyway?", "Crimes Of The Heart," and "Duet For One." In Sept., 2004, Ron Dante released a solo CD, "Saturday Night Blast." On a more personal note, Ron Dante is also an animal lover, he is well known to take time out of his extremely busy schedule to respond personally to his fan mail, and he can be reached via his website, Ron Dante OnLine - The Official Website.||
In this interview, Ron Dante gives us a glimpse into his fascinating life, beginning from when he first got started in music through his work to date. (This interview was conducted by e-mail from Aug. 27 - Oct. 9, 2004.)
AM Radio Gold: Ron, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. If I may, I'd like to go back to when you first became interested in music. Tell us about your earliest music experiences, for example, how and when you got started, what instruments you first learned to play, your musical influences, when you wrote your very first song?
Ron Dante: My earliest influences were Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Everly Brothers and the Doo Wop groups of the east coast. One of our family friends was the bass singer for The Elegants whose hit record "Little Star" made it to number one. I remember going to my first recording session where they were doing their follow up. Right then and there I knew this was my future. I just loved the studio and the music that was being made.
I formed a group called The Persuaders and started playing local shows around the New York area. Soon after I started making the rounds of music publishing companies and got myself hired by music man Don Kirshner. His company Aldon Music was the hottest one in the world at that time.
AMRG: I gather that this recording session for the Elegants that you sat in on must have been quite a turning point in your life. How old were you at that time?
RD: I was 14 when I visited the studio with the Elegants. It set my life in motion for sure.
AMRG: Tell us some more about your group, the Persuaders. Who were the group members, what songs did you perform, and what was your most memorable gig?
RD: There were 3 of us in my group. I remember that the lead guitar player was one of the best I had heard. His name was Ronnie Anderson. We played local clubs and Youth centers. I broke my leg a day before an important gig at the Staten Island CYO center and still did the entire show with a huge cast on my leg.
AMRG: When did you start working with Don Kirshner, and what was your first project with him?
RD: I met Don Kirshner when I was 17. A couple of staff writers at Aldon Music auditioned me and introduced me to Mr. Kirshner. He signed me as a staff demo singer and song writer. He even bought me a new guitar to write on. During those years I had songs recorded by Bobby Vee, Gary Lewis, James Darren and Jay and The Americans.
A few years later we did the Archies together but that's another question I bet.
AMRG: You read my mind:) As a matter of fact, that was going to be my next topic. When I remember the summer of 1969, the very first thing that comes to mind is "Sugar, Sugar" which is a terrific song. The Archies were one cartoon show that really rocked. Tell us about your work on the Archies project.
RD: I auditioned for the music supervisor and producer of the Archies TV show. Don Kirshner was in charge of putting all the right people together to make the music. He hired the hit producer Jeff Barry whom he had worked with on The Monkees Theme song and their hit "I'm A Believer". Both Kirshner and Barry were known to me since I had been signed to Kirshner's music publishing company years earlier and had done background singing for Jeff Barry. They heard me sing at the RCA studios in NYC and gave me the gig. I recorded over 100 songs for the show and the albums that were put out. I knew at that time going in that with such successful music men at the lead we had a good shot at having hits. I enjoyed my years with The Archies and still to this day have fun singing those songs at my show.
AMRG: Besides being the lead singer for the Archies, did you also provide the speaking voice for Archie Andrews in the Archies CBS-TV Saturday morning cartoon shows?
RD: I did not do the speaking voice for Archie on the TV show. We did all the music in New York City and Filmation did the speaking parts in Los Angeles.
AMRG: Did you produce any of the Archies' records?
RD: I produced many songs for the Archies and produced the last album they released called "This Is Love."
AMRG: Tell us some more about the musical production aspects of your work on the Archies project.
RD: Writing for the Archies was a very happy experience. The songs had to be positive and have a great tempo. I wrote with many lyricists including the legendary hit song writer Howard Greenfield. Also I wrote with Gene Allan who had been co writer with Bobby Vinton on some of his hits.
I would then go into the studio with a group of studio musicians and put together a track for the song then overdub my lead and do backgrounds. The background singers on some of these songs were great jingle singers from NYC. At different times I had Toni Wine, Merle Miller, Jamie Carr and Jeanie Thomas with me in the background.
AMRG: Even though the Archies were a studio group, did you ever do any touring or make any TV or other appearances (with or without any of the backup singers) as an Archie?
RD: I never toured or made TV appearances as The Archies. The comic book people owned the rights to the Archies and wanted the group to stay as an animated group.
AMRG: You mentioned recording over 100 songs for the weekly TV programs. That is quite a lot! Just out of curiosity, and for those who collect hard-to-find oldies, did all those songs eventually make it to vinyl and/or CD, or are there any that can be heard only on the shows?
RD: Over 40 of the songs we recorded for the show did not make it to a release.
AMRG: Will any of these songs be released eventually?
RD: Speaking of the songs the record company did not release there is a chance that I will get my hands on the masters someday and release them on my own label.
AMRG: Tell us about your work before the Archies with the Detergents and your hit, "Leader Of The Laundromat."
RD: My work with the Detergents started out as just a studio job to sing background. After the record came out it was decided that The Detergents should be a live group that toured. The producers were a very talented pair of writers by the names of Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss. They had written many hits songs and put together this parody of "Leader of the Pack" by the Shangri-La's. The session was a fun one since my friends Danny Florio and Tommy Wynn and I did all the voices and acted on the song. It was done in pieces one night so I never heard the finished product until it was on the radio and becoming a hit. The song went on to sell almost a million copies and Danny, Tommy and I ending up touring for over a year and a half doing the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars with Hermans Hermits, The Rolling Stones and The Hollies.
AMRG: After the Archies, you had three Billboard Hot 100 hits as the Cuff Links with "Tracy," "When Julie Comes Around," and "Run Sally Run." Tell us something about the Cuff Links project and how the records were produced, for example, how many times was your voice overdubbed?
RD:The Cuff Links sessions went very quickly. I recorded the lead vocals and all the background parts by myself in just a couple of marathon days since the producers wanted to get an album out while Tracy was such a big hit. I did the lead vocals first on the songs usually double tracking my voice and then made up the backgrounds on the spot. Singing commercials was a very fast paced type of recording and I brought that mindset to the Cuff Links sessions. I would sing 9 or 10 voices on background so as to make it sound very much like a big vocal group.
It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun. I'm very proud of my part in the Cuff Links success and find that Tracy still gets a huge response when I sing it live today at my concerts.
AMRG: Were the Archies and the Cuff Links the only ghost groups you sang for, or were there others?
RD: I sang for many other groups during the 60's. I sang for The Detergents, The Pearly Gate, The Eight Day, The Two Dollar Question, The Webspinners, Ronnie and The Dirt Riders. I also recorded under the name C.G. Rose. Those are just the ones I remember.
AMRG: I understand that you are a tenor and you can make your voice sound pretty much any way you want. Have you ever been called upon to do a voice outside of your normal range (e.g., bass or falsetto)?
RD: I sang falsetto on one of the Archie singles called "Jingle, Jangle." The producer recorded the track in a higher key than I usually sing in so I had to call on my top range to sing it.
AMRG: In 1970 you charted with "Let Me Bring You Up." Was it during that year that you first started recording under your own name, or had you ever done so previously?
RD: I recorded under my own name many times before the "Let Me Bring You Up" album. I recorded for a number of labels including Musicor, Columbia, Scepter records and Decca. Most of them were singles.
AMRG: How did you and Barry Manilow come to meet and work together?
RD: I met Barry Manilow on a commercial job for a test product of Coke. He wrote and arranged the spot and I was hired to sing with Barry, Melissa Manchester and Valerie Simpson. He asked me to listen to some of his songs a few days later and I felt he was a star in the making and decided to produce with him some demos to see if we could get him a record deal. In very short time we landed a deal and the rest is history. "Mandy" became our first number one record January of 1975 and we never left the top ten for over 6 years.
AMRG: Your collaboration with Barry Manilow was certainly long and fruitful. I understand that you worked together from around 1973-1981 and that you produced 10 albums. Tell us some more about your favorite and/or most memorable projects during that period.
RD: My work with Barry Manilow was always such a joy. Being in the studio with such a great singer/writer/arranger was a dream come true. Barry's sessions were fun times and very creative ones too. The highlight of my times with him was the "Even Now" album. Every song and arrangment went perfectly and Barry's voice could not have been better. I loved all the albums I made with Barry but I think "Even Now" had the most magical sessions I can remember. Because we both believed in what we were doing we brought to each and every album the best that was in us.
AMRG: I understand you have produced recordings for many other famous artists over the years, for example, Cher, John Denver, Pat Benatar, Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick, and Irene Cara, to name a few. Tell us about how you came to meet and work with some of them.
RD: While producing the Barry Manilow albums many other artists contacted me to with them. Cher, Pat Benetar and Irene Cara were wonderful to work with. Their voices were so original. As producer I helped them choose songs to record and decided which studios and musicians to play on the recordings.
I had a very small group of players I used for these sessions. Paul Shaffer was my lead keyboard player and he often helped do the arrangements for this group of artists. My other players ususally included Will Lee on Bass and Ronnie Zito and Alan Swartzberg on Drums. My engineer in New York was Michael Delugg.
Each artist had their own way of working. Cher liked to record during the day and Cara liked the night to sing. Benetar needed her own stage built in the studio to get the right vocal performance.
AMRG: Which of the many songs that you produced for these artists do you consider to be your favorites?
RD: Top of my list is "Mandy" by Manilow. Then comes "I Write The Songs" followed closely by "Weekend in New England". Of my own recording as a singer "Sugar,Sugar" is my favorite followed by "Tracy".
AMRG: Tell us a bit about your work in commercial music. When did you sing your first commercial jingle, and for what product? Also, in which of the TV commercials for which you sang the jingles did you also make an appearance?
RD: I sang my first commercial in the late 60's for a composer named Steve Karmen. He was later to become the top writer and producer of musical commercials in the world. He won numerous Clios (The Advertising worlds Academy Award for excellence). I worked in the studio for a number of top jingle producers. Joe Brooks, Susan Hamilton and my friend Joey Levine were some of the houses I sang for. One of my first jingles was "Turn On A Tan" for Coppertone. It was to be the first of thousands of spots I sang on for over 20 years. I sang for McDonalds, Coke, Pepsi, Budweiser, Tang, Campbells Soup, KFC, Lifesavers and most of the cars ads of the 70's. I appeared in one insurance commercial for Lincoln Insurance Group. My job was off camera as the vocalist.
AMRG: When did you first start producing for the theater? Tell us a bit about what all that entails.
RD: I started producing for Broadway in 1978 with a production called "The Mighty Gents". This was a co production with my friend James Lipton and The Shubert Organization. My second show won the Tony for Best Musical that year. "Ain't MisBehavin'" ran for 3 years on Broadway and still touring to this day. I co produced many shows and won another Tony for Best Drama in 1980. "Children of a Lesser God" won 3 Tonys and ran 2 years on Broadway.
AMRG: You have had one incredible career (or should I say "careers")! Ron, thank you so very much for having taken the time to interview with me. And good luck with your Christmas album!
RD: Thank you, and goodbye.