Friday, September 17, 2010

Remembering Frozen- yet another brush with greatness

This time, gentle readers, we are going to take a stroll down memory lane, to the early 1980's:
Spotting a friend's Facebook post reminded me of a period of my career as a freelance guitarist-around-town.  She was responding to this interview by Eric Abrahamsen of singer Frankie Vinci, formerly of the band Fotomaker:

Fotomaker was a vehicle for Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli, formerly of the Young Rascals. They made three albums for Atlantic in the late 1970's, but never quite caught on.  My story begins after the demise of Fotomaker, as Gene and Dino were casting about for a new vehicle.

To quote Abrahamsen's interview:

"After Lex left Fotomaker we disbanded. Dino, Gene and I kept the music going for years. We had progressive ska band called 'Modo' and we had a single release called 'I Wish I Could Dance like Fred Astaire' on the MCA/ Deli Platters label. Then we had a band called 'Frozen' which was an underground techno pop rock throw back like Devo meets David Bowie. We had a pretty good industry following. Paul Stanley from Kiss would come see us as did Deborah Harry of Blondie and Rick Ocasek from The Cars. Even Andy Warhol would frequent our shows."

That was my period with them. I played on "I Wish I Could Dance Like Fred Astaire" which was sort of Cars- like.  Gene and Dino managed to acquire some studio time at The Record Plant, and we went in with an engineer named Randy and cut the track. Automation was uncommon in those days. The mix was one of those many hands on the board mixes, where Randy assigned us all knobs we had to turn at strategic times in the song.  Gene and Dino conceived of the idea of subtly increasing the volume of the master fader at the end of the song, to add an excitement factor.  This trick is one that I started using again on mixes for industrials some years later, and it is a valuable weapon in the mixing for maximum impact game.

At some point we also cut a bunch of tracks at the original Right Track studios, which was in a smallish space on 24th Street near 6th Avenue.  When we went in there we sort of took over the place and reconfigured it to our specs.  I had played many jingle sessions there in the main room, but for Modo's sessions they commandeered a tape library room as a separate drum room for Dino, and ran mic lines there. I believe that Frankie, Gene and I were in the main room, but Gene's massive bass amp was out in the hall somewhere.  I don't believe that any of those tracks were released.  I recall being paid for the sessions with Fotomaker checks.  Fortunately the checking account lived on even though the band bit the dust.

I played a number of shows with Frozen (essentially Modo retitled), notably at the upper-west-side club Trax.  They had us dress in clothing  we picked up at Patricia Field, a trendy store at the time.  My outfit was based on a disposable white jumpsuit which I think must have been made of fiberglass- My skin was irritated for some time afterwards.  There was also a belt made of rubber matting material and red bicycle-type reflectors. In those days, my hair would have been spiked in an early 80's new-wave do.  Probably red Converse Hi-Tops to complete the look.

That was also around the time that my swimming-pool colored Fender Strat with a blood-red pickguard and mismatched chicken-head knobs came into being.  This very new-wave guitar would incongruously go on to be the main axe I played with Suzanne Vega.  It can be spotted in the Left of Center video.  I still have the guitar, which received an amazing setup a few years back from luthier Stephen Marchione.  It is still my go-to rosewood Strat.  But I digress.

Gene and Dino were a trip. They were stars who had had it all, but as band after band failed to make a name for itself, "it" was starting to fray a bit around the edges. Still they soldiered on, going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm*.  They seemed to know restaurant owners all over town, and were never at a loss for a drink or a meal.  Dino was a monster drummer- played with complete authority.  Gene had switched from guitar, which he played in the Rascals, to bass.  Frankie Vinci was quite a prolific talent, and very much fun to work with.  In that band, he sang, played keyboards, and wrote most of the songs we performed.

Until I saw my friend's post, I had sort of forgotten about this episode.  I have to say that I do not recall Paul Stanley, Deborah Harry, Rick Ocasek or Andy Warhol attending any of our shows.  But Frozen may have continued with a different guitarist after I left.

For years, I would get a call from Gene Cornish every few months, telling me that the Rascals were about to do a reunion tour, and that I was on it.  My impression was that getting Felix Cavaliere on board was the sticking point.  I guess the tour eventually did happen, but without me.  I don't recall the specific circumstances of our parting- my guess is that I simply got busy with other gigs.

The Rascals had been among my childhood idols.  Gene Cornish's aggressive guitar solo in "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" was an incomprehensible marvel to my younger self.  So it was a thrill to my twenty-something self to get to play with them.

Til next time-

Jon Gordon

* This is a paraphrase of a great Winston Churchill quote, which I learned from renowned mixer Bob Power.

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