By permission of KENT KOTAL / THE60sSHOP / FORGOTTEN HITS I am posting this interview with Ron Dante this week. To subscribe to FORGOTTEN HITS, which is a great newsletter if you are like me and into music of the 60's, you can e-mail them at The60sShop@aol.com . Here is part five of the series.
In the early '70's, RON DANTE continued to make a living singing and arranging jingles. He happened across another young artist making a living the same way by the name of BARRY MANILOW. (Actually, MANILOW was ALSO working as the Musical Director for BETTE MIDLER, "The Divine Ms. M.," but was quite involved writing and recording radio and television commercials at the time, too. You may recall the BARRY MANILOW Spotlight Feature we did in FORGOTTEN HITS a couple of years ago where we included his V.S.M. ... the Very Strange Medley of what BARRY described as "truly my greatest hits" ... popular commercial spots for McDONALD's, KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN, BAND AID, COCA COLA and many, many others.)
The two jingles artists teamed up in the hopes of launching BARRY's solo career. MANILOW's first album pretty much stiffed when it was originally released ... but after MANDY (a track from his second LP) hit the charts (eventually going all the way to #1), BARRY's first two albums began to climb the charts together. In fact, COULD IT BE MAGIC (originally included in his debut LP) was re-cut and re-released as MANILOW's third single after the proven chart success of both MANDY (#1) and IT'S A MIRACLE (#10 nationally, but also #1 here in Chicago, where BARRY MANILOW was one of the most popular entertainers to ever play this town!) The BARRY MANILOW / RON DANTE working partnership continued through MANILOW's first ten albums ... and RON DANTE and BARRY MANILOW (along with the female back-up trio LADY FLASH) handled all of the background vocals on all of MANILOW's recorded material during that timeframe. Collectively, those first ten LPs sold close to 35 million copies and spawned a string of Top 40 Hit Singles that included the #1 Hits I WRITE THE SONGS, LOOKS LIKE WE MADE IT and (my personal favorite) WEEKEND IN NEW ENGLAND, as well as Top Ten smashes like TRYING TO GET THE FEELING AGAIN, CAN'T SMILE WITHOUT YOU, COPACABANA, READY TO TAKE A CHANCE AGAIN, SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT, SHIPS and I MADE IT THROUGH THE RAIN.
In the late '70's, MANILOW repaid the favor by producing a RON DANTE "solo" version of his earlier mega-hit SUGAR, SUGAR ... done up in a full-blown, heavily orchestrated "MANILOW-style" disco arrangement ... unfortunately, except for a couple of novelty spins on the radio, it never became a hit. (I've always wondered ... if RON DANTE was producing all of BARRY MANILOW's hit records, wouldn't what has always been described as "The MANILOW Sound" really be the RON DANTE Sound?!?!?) I even asked RON about my very favorite BARRY MANILOW parody song, I NEED YOUR HELP, BARRY MANILOW by RAY STEVENS, a FORGOTTEN HITS favorite that we sent out a while ago. It's a dead-on arrangement, paying tribute to all of BARRY's heart-wrenching ballads ... and funny as hell!!!
FORGOTTEN HITS: After THE ARCHIES ended, you went back to recording "jingles." I guess that this would be the PERFECT time to ask about how it is that you came to work with BARRY MANILOW ... here's a guy who was TRULY in the zone there for several years. Tell us about what it was like helping to launch his career.
RON DANTE: I met Barry doing a commercial. Barry wrote and arranged it. I was very impressed with his writing, singing and arranging so we decided to meet and see what we could do. I knew right away he was a star and that I could help him get to the right record company and give him a direction he hadn't had before he met me. He had never recorded under his own name, having done one single as a group called FeatherBed. (NOTE: We featured this track during our BARRY MANILOW Series as well ... an uptempo version of his later hit, COULD IT BE MAGIC.)FH: With BARRY MANILOW being such a new recording artist at the time you took him under your wing, was there ever a song that he REALLY didn't want to record but that you felt (or insisted) was right for him? How was the music selected ... and how was it presented to you in the first place? I mean, you guys must have sorted through HUNDREDS (if not THOUSANDS) of songs ... was there ever any particular song that stands out that you felt very strongly about but BARRY maybe didn't want to record ... or vice versa ... a tune that just didn't have the full support of both of you ... that then went on to become a big hit record?
RD: Barry and I never passed on any hit songs. Barry and I would listen to hundreds of outside songs and decide together which ones we would record. The songs came from all the major music publishers and directly from Arista President Clive Davis, who had a great ear for hit songs. Mainly, Barry's own songs were the most important. Barry wrote Could It Be Magic and Even Now and Copacabana. He's an incredible craftsman at the finest melodies. We first went through all the songs he had written for a new album and then looked for a few outside songs.
FH: Obviously, the selection process worked ... he simply could do no wrong once MANDY became a hit ... again, he was TRULY in the zone those first few years!!! I was fortunate enough to see him in concert here in Chicago a few times in the mid-to-late '70's ... and was even there when the live album (and television special) were recorded and filmed at RAVINIA!
FH: Another piece that we did a couple of years ago spotlighted the BARRY MANILOW-produced, RON DANTE disco remake version of SUGAR, SUGAR ... tell us about that project. Whose idea was that in the first place? (It certainly has what has become known as "the MANILOW sound" ... but isn't the MANILOW sound really the RON DANTE sound if you were the one producing all those lush recordings???)
RD: A remake of Sugar, Sugar was Barry's idea. His arrangement turned the song around and gave it a new spin. That's Barry and me singing all the backgound voices on it ... something that we did on almost every record he ever recorded. I had more experience in the studio and used every bit of it to create a sound that would be Barry's. I brought him to the best studio in town and hired all the best musicians in New York City. Obviously, it worked!
FH: And, I just gotta ask you, what did you think of the dead-on RAY STEVENS novelty hit I NEED YOUR HELP, BARRY MANILOW ... especially after recording a few GREAT parodies of your own earlier in your career. (I would think that this would have been a GREAT honor at the time.)
RD: As for "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow," I had always been a big fan of Ray Stevens, so his doing that was a highlight of the year. Barry loved it also.
photo courtesy of BROTHER MARK!!
Weekend In New England by Barry Manilow (produced by Ron Dante and Barry Manilow)Sugar, Sugar (Disco Remake) by Ron Dante (produced by Barry Manilow)
I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow by Ray Stevens