Above: Study For Dreamers; below: Fighter
his Hammond B-3 and sang from the depth of his very being. The Young Rascals sent waves of American teenagers to record shops to buy vinyl; to music shops to buy instruments and to theaters to watch them perform hits like People Got To Be Free, See, Groovin’ and countless others. Included in their fan base were a couple of Jersey kids named Springsteen and Van Zandt who convinced their heroes to get together after 40 years to play a benefit for the Kristen Ann Carr Fund at the Tribeca Grill last April. The highlight of the evening was Little Steven and Bruce joining in on Good Lovin’. Visit our website to watch; catch the look between Gene and The Boss on the guitar parts, when Bruce points knowingly as the Rascal nails that one little unfogettable riff. There’s a lesson in the history of rock and roll right there, and really, what the music is all about. “Music is love,” sang David Crosby and The Young Rascals exemplified this, making music that belonged to us all. There were a handful of memorable drummers from the era that spawned what is now called “Classic Rock.” Ringo, of course; Charlie Watts of the Stones, Keith Moon of the Who, Bonham from Led Zep and Dino. “When the Young Rascals came out, all the Beatle records went away,” said Liberty DeVitto, Billy Joel’s legendary drummer in an interview with Dino he conducted for Modern Drummer magazine, an excerpt of which follows.
LIBERTY: “I became a Rascals groupie. When I was fifteen, I used to roll my pants up to make knickers, pulling up my socks. When I first met you, it totally changed my life. It was so easy to talk to you and you answered so many of my questions. When I was starting out, I met you at a club on Long Island and asked you how to twirl a stick, and you showed me right there! When The Young Rascals came out, everybody bought a 24” bass drum. DINO: I picked that up from Gene Krupa. LIBERTY: I had the throne because you had the throne; my cymbals were flat, because you played them flat. DINO: I got that from Sonny Payne from Count Basie’s band. LIBERTY: I never took lessons so you were one of my teachers. Uptown Girl, When In Rome, a song called Half a Mile Away, that’s me being Dino Danelli.” Fine Art Magazine • Spring 2011 • 45
ino was a prodigy from the Jersey City-Hoboken area, making the scene in his early teens, learning from the jazz greats like Krupa and Buddy Rich who played regularly at the Metropole, a very adult Club in New York City where the management took a shine to the young star-in-the-making and set him up with a cot in a dressing room years before he made it big. “They had vision, knew something was going to happen for me.” Young Dino held a daytime gig at the Metropole with a rock and roll band, travelled to New Jersey sometimes at night with his drum kit, performed with Lionel Hampton when he was fifteen years of age. “I was watching these people like a sponge, absorbing it all.” I was into music, women, the normal rock and roll vibe, watching the jazz players at night, going down to the Village. Agents would call up say ‘I need three guys, four sets, $25 a man.’ I would pick up guys—we all knew the same songs, people weren’t writing a lot back then—we were playing top 40 and R & B obscurities. One of the guitarists was Jimmy James. He went to England and became Jimi Hendrix.” After a while, Dino went to New Orleans, came back to New York, met Felix, joined him for a gig in Las Vegas, returned to New York and with Gene and Eddie, the Young Rascals were born. A few years later, they were headlining at the Wollman Rink in Central Park; the Jimi Hendrix Experience was the opening act. “We took a long intermission,” said Dino of Hendrix’s incendiary set, but the Rascals were second to none. On their finale, Do You Feel It, the interplay between Gene, Felix and Dino, with Eddie on percussion and Felix singing lead, was more than memorable. It seemed like Dino wasn’t just twirling his 46 • Fine Art Magazine • Spring 2011
sticks, he was tossing them back and forth to Gene and not missing a beat. “That never happened, but it would have been a nice trick.” The Young Rascals officially became the Rascals with the release of their third long player, the concept album Once Upon A Dream in 1967 which launched Dino Danelli, Artist. It came about in a kind of metaphysical fashion. While Dino was ensconced in his apartment creating, quite literally boxes of dreams, Felix and Eddie were writing songs for the album, the Rascals answer to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “The songs were similar in subject matter to what I was putting in those dream boxes. It had to be mental telepathy,” said Dino. “We were connected somehow, spiritually. As I was building that sculpture, those two boxes of things I made and found, it was full of our dreams from that time, things we were hoping to see happen in the world.” Neshui Ertegun, Ahmet ’s brother, oversaw the label’s visual presentations and “he had some art collection, the real deal. Surrealism galore—Magritte, Dali, Picasso, Victor Brauner, Yves Tanguy, Bretton, Man Ray, everybody. ‘Dino,’ he said. ‘Let me show you on the wall.’ He brought a projector into the office at Atlantic Records and I was bowled over by his slides. Seeing those works made me speechless.” When Neshui saw Dino’s assemblage, he immediately proclaimed it the cover of the new album. It won an international graphics award and was reproduced all over the world. Dino had carte blanche on The Rascals album jackets after that, overseeing the covers, photos, layouts. Later on, he did two covers for Fotomaker (a band he formed with Gene in 1973), one quite controversial. The nocturnal energy felt in that image can be seen in many of
Danelli’s drawings such as Nurture, a photo shot of a young couple at 3 A.M. in Tribeca, Vogue 1-2-3, depicting androgynous clubbers at the Danceteria in downtown NYC, Dancers I & II, inspired from a photo shot at the infamous Cat Club. Danelli’s people as image are seen moving through the water of the night dreamscape, pushing almost to a point of turbulence, producing visual noise, conducting and creating the essence of ‘elegant roughness.’ Dino started out making large iron sculptures at David Smith’s place in Bolton’s Landing in upstate New York. “David was a colorful character who died in a car crash before his time. He covered all ten of his acres big works. I have a couple of my smaller ones from those days in my garden apartment in Manhattan.” With smaller quarters, Dino began doing design work, paring it all down to pencil and paper drawings which are what he will be exhibiting at Artexpo New York and beyond. Primarily influenced by the early Surrealists, the Austrian and German Expressionists also struck a chord with Dino. “I just love emotions and portraits of people so it came quite naturally to start looking around and drawing things with which I was familiar. I was also greatly influenced by the fashion designer Antonio Lopez. He had a big impact on how I drew.” A force majeur in the fashion world in New York and Paris, Lopez “crossed the lines. He was a fine artist who could draw like Picasso and remained in the fashion world because that’s where all the pretty people were. He was a real influence for me, but above and beyond everybody, Picasso is my guy. There was nobody like him. Until the day he died, he never stopped creating art.”
hen the Young Rascals went to France on their first European tour in 1966, Dino couldn’t wait to get off the plane and get to Montmartre. “The history and the cafes that were still in existence—many rebuilt for tourists—replicated what it was like in the days of the Absinthe Cafe where Picasso, Modigliani and their crowd went to drink and exchange ideas.” In the tradition of Lautrec and deriving a sense of union with the scene of Moulin Rouge in the great heyday of Paris as the city of light, Danelli felt the revolution of the epoch. This affinity has allowed him to uncover and portray the nocturnal lifestyle of his drawn subjects. A heavy emphasis is placed on line as the artist derives his compositional form, as to suggest to the viewer they can freely experience the energies being exposed and depicted in his subjects. Danelli infuses a rhythmic expression and gesture, heightening interest and textural dimension accentuated by a soft use of highlighting colors. His images seem to vibrate and pass through the illusion of the night, creating amorphous silhouettes profiling his players. He fondly recalls the Cedar Tavern where the Abstract Expressionists did their drinking and later, Max’s Kansas City. “It was just like Europe, the same thing. I met Larry Koons, Warhol, John Chamberlin, Rosenquist, Lichtenstein…everyone. They all hung out at Max’s and the music wasn’t bad either. Blondie, the New York Dolls (now that was a band). Max’s was amazing. Downstairs were all the artists, sitting around a big table. The music was upstairs. The women were fantastic, that period of time was incredible, the pre-crack era before cocaine became such an evil drug. Then it turned into the 80s— Talking Heads, CBGB’s; Stevie Van Zandt tried his damndest to keep that place alive, keep it going. The Ramones were an amazing band, Joey was a fanatic Rascals fan. They had a rough edge, like us early on, very punkish. The Sex Pistols, too. None of them could play but all their bad instrumentation jelled when they were on stage together.” As a youth, Dino was gifted to the point where you couldn’t help but see he was going to be someone special musically, and it is the same with his art. Even though his drumming is of unbridled power, it carries a delicacy, much like the drawings. He doesn’t overpower the beat, he rides it, playing down over his flat cymbals, hitting that 24” kick drum, supporting the band but coloring the music with what will be known in musical history as Danellian fills. The drawings have the delicacy of sumi-e and are somewhat disturbing in their powerful imagery. “Absolutely, some of those figures are disturbing. The Rapper Prophet was a real guy I knew from Washington Square Park. He was a chess player who beat everybody, but when he didn’t take his medication, he
would get up and start orating. Prophet was emotionally disturbed but had total sense about him, a wonderful guy. Sometimes he’d have his medication and sometimes he didn’t. A friend of mine took his picture and I turned it into The Challenges Remain. He couldn’t help himself. That piece is one of my favorites, I ghosted him in one way, to make it a little schizoid without making it too crazy—it’s the stigma of mental illness. Where I put things on the paper is a big thing for me. In Self-portrait, half of the image is off the page. Where they are placed is what makes good composition. Even the Urchin drawing—the little girl on Canal Street selling scarves and trinkets, she was nine years old—I was watching her from a few different angles. Again, she’s off the page…I always search for the right spots. I’ll do them bigger and cut or edit them down to get the composition right. “My New Gun a composite of three images. The little boy has that lethal innocence—you don’t know if he’s going to shoot you or not, and it’s sadly true.” Most of Dino’s drawings have a personal history of some sort; many work without having any explanation but the back stories are interesting. The abstractions bring to mind the painters he speaks of glowingly from the Cedar Tavern era. His passion for art and love of music are the experiences that have driven and fueled his creativity. Danelli’s lifestyle afforded him the opportunity to tour and frequent museums and galleries to feed his artistic hunger, and he used his chance to educate and observe the styles of those he found to be most important to his work— Picasso, Duchamp, Magritte, Lautrec, Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka. Delicate yet powerful, Dino conveys that rough edge that comes from the streets of New York, along with a cosmopolitan sophistication. The sum of these parts is an elegant roughness, further exemplified by
the way he includes the lines and grids in the finished drawings. “I don’t erase anything. When it all shows, through, it’s part of the creation,” he says. “That balance of roughness and sophistication is something I seek to convey, especially in the figurative work.” In his colorful abstractions, one can discern forms scenic or representational. “Some are very, very abstract, with no recognizable imagery, but there is to me. People see what they see when they look at art and I do not tend to direct viewers to see what I am seeing. I’d rather leave it open for interpretation so that viewers are not led by my explanation. It’s nice to educate people to art, have them see things they haven’t seen before. When you hear a song and see a video, that vision is placed in you. Without seeing it, you use your own interpretation, not the director’s. It’s hard to talk about abstraction,” he adds. “I prefer not to use the word religious so I describe them as spiritual and I include that element into the abstract works.” “At this point in life, I find that creativity merges. Art, music, film, architecture— they’re different but yet they’re the same. “Even now, people in NYC have such individuality in their appearance, such great looks in how they put their hair and style together. It’s all in an expression of lines and compositions. How you compose them and convey the expression of the people—the vibe—that’s the important thing. When that emotion comes through the paper, it becomes real, comes off the paper. A lot of drawings and paintings to me are dead, they just sit there. It’s just paint. When art is alive, feelings are captured. It’s an emotional thing, can make you cry. Great art will do that. I could spend my life just looking at great artists’ work. It’s a forever thing. I was compelled to do that and I still am. I can’t live without art. It takes you over, you get possessed by it. Until that stops, I guess I will never stop.” Fine Art Magazine • Spring 2011 • 47
Dino Danelli - in addition to being the drummer for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gropu The Young Rascals (The Rascals) he is also an acocm...