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Articles Home » 2009 Articles » Fotomaker - 2009 Interview with Frankie Vinci
 
Fotomaker - 2009 Interview with Frankie Vinci
FRANKIE VINCI/FOTOMAKER INTERVIEW
Written By: Eric Abrahamsen
Date: 1 March 2009


Growing up on New York's Long Island in the late 70's was great time for anyone immersed in rock 'n roll. From The Good Rats and Billy Joel to Alessi and Blue Oyster Cult, the Island was producing timeless music at an incredible pace and I did my best to keep up with it all, but one band in particular stands out from all the others in my musical upbringing - Fotomaker. Comprised of former Rascals, ex- Raspberries and top notch Long Island talent, Fotomaker were and still are everything I think rock music should be. Melodic, catchy, powerful and classy from their album covers and image to music that still represents some of the best power pop the genre has to offer. Thanks to a mutual contact I was recently given the chance to ask Fotomaker's Frankie Vinci a few questions and to say I was thrilled by the opportunity would be an understatement, so without further adieu..

Frankie, what are some of your early influences and musical memories?
My earliest inspiration was The Beatles 'Rubber Soul' album. For so many songwriters and musicians, they led the way. I was also inspired by all the Motown artists and Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, The Who, The Stones, Dylan, and of course The Rascals. When I was a kid I used to pretend I was Dino Danelli banging my drum stick into my parents couch. Other inspirations were closer to home. The local talent in my hometown of West Hempstead, Long Island was amazing including The Illusion (my brother's band) and my good friends Billy and Bobby Alessi. I cherished listening to the new songs that the Alessi Brothers would let me preview back when I was just a teenager and a rookie songwriter/producer.


[Frankie on flute]
Photo Credits: Ken Riccio

Was Fotomaker your first professional gig? What other bands had you played in previous?
Yes, Fotomaker was the first signed band I was part of and I was only 22 when we signed to Atlantic Records. Before that I was in bands with my friends from town and with my brother Johnny. We had a band that was almost signed to a record deal called 'Vinci Masquerade'. We would get dressed up in different costumes for every show although we tried not to repeat the costumes. Lex Marchesi was a Nun at our showcase for the labels. My brother almost kicked his ass before the show because he showed up as a Nun. Very funny to me and everyone else! There was some buzz around us at the labels, but we were never signed to a deal.

Your brother John Vinci was in the Long Island band The Illusion and was up for the Fotomaker spot as one of the lead vocalists?
Vinci Masquerade was a kind of prototype of Fotomaker. My brother and I were introduced to Dino Danelli and Gene Cornish through an ex-manager. They were looking for members for a new band they were starting up. My brother Johnny was the lead singer, I was playing keyboards, guitar and vocals. Our early rehearsals were in Dino Danelli's apartment which was kind of silly because we would play really low in his living room so as not to make the neighbors pissed off. When Dino and Gene decided that Johnny and I were the definite band members we told them about Lex Marchesi from our previous band Vinci Masquerade. They liked his songs and vocals and wanted to meet him. Soon after, we were rehearsing as a band. Eventually Johnny decided to leave the band and join up with some of the former members of The Illusion. They called themselves Network. They got a deal with CBS Records and were managed by Tommy Mottola. Their first single was written by Barry Gibb.

I've read initially Lex Marchesi and you were a little intimidated working with Danelli and Cornish. What was it like working with the duo early on and what was the dynamic when creating new material. How much input did you have during the creative process?
I don't think we were intimidated but we were a little star struck. Dino was the drummer I was imitating as a young teen, flipping drumsticks and making believe I was on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' and the funny thing is, I didn't play drums until recently! Lex, Dino and I would write at SIR. We would jam and record it on a boom box and then listen to the whole thing. We would decide what was feeling like a hit groove, then either Lex or myself would write a melody and lyric to it and collaborate if need be.

Bringing on ex- Raspberries Wally Bryson was a masterstroke. What was he like to work with?
We felt after months of writing and rehearsing we needed another member. At that time Wally Bryson was recommended to us by producer Jimmy Ienner. Wally joined the band towards the end of rehearsals as we were about to go into the studio and do our showcases for the labels. Wally is great to work with and we became very dear friends.

Atlantic picked up the band, but were there other labels interested?
Atlantic was the most excited to sign us. Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Greenberg were the forces that pushed it through and they loved the band. We were also being looked at by most of the major labels but Atlantic was the one we wanted to sign with, since the Rascals had a history there. It was a life long dream of mine to be on the label of my Rock idols. Rascals, Led Zeppelin, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin.


L-R: (standing) Dave Glew, Michael Klenfner, Jerry Greenberg, Jim Delehant, Gene Cornish, Sam Hood
L-R: (sitting) Frankie Vinci, Lex Marchesi, Dino Danelli, Wally Bryson
Photo Credit: Frankie Vinci

Eddie Kramer was the group's producer on the early sessions and it's been said, the debut would have sounded very different if he had continued. Was everyone happy with the end result?
We were definitely happy with the first record and Eddie Kramer's involvement. We were sorry to see him leave after he produced and engineered the basic tracks. The sound of Fotomaker was a combo of Kramer and Albert brothers. We recorded the tracks at Electric Lady with the kick ass rock tracks produced by Kramer blended together with sweet vocals/harmonies produced by the Albert brothers. This record was recorded at the point 'Power Pop' was considered a new genre, so I guess we were one of the first bands to incorporate the two together early on to give it that sound. Eddie Kramer left the project due to personal reasons. After he produced all the basic tracks he felt it was time to take a break and bowed out. He was and is a great producer and I am honored to have worked with him and have the opportunity to see a master like him at work.

'Where Have You Been All My Life' is now widely considered a classic power pop song, but it didn't fare as well as expected on the charts and there was some debate whether or not it was the right choice for the first single. Do you think Atlantic gave it enough push?
Wow, too many years have passed to remember what was handled wrong or right at the label. I assume they did their job. It was different back then, no MTV, no I-tunes and it was hard to get noticed and get your record played on the radio. So Atlantic and our booking agents got us on some good shows. We toured as an opening act for bands like Aerosmith, Foreigner, Alice Cooper, Van Halen, Meat Loaf and others.

The debut is filled with great tunes, and 'The Other Side' was chosen as the follow-up single. What were the circumstances behind this choice?
It was recommended to be the first single by focus groups and some of the suits at the label but some of the execs felt it wasn't a good idea because there were no other songs I sang on as a follow up. 'The Other Side' got more national radio exposure than 'Where Have You Been All My Life' which led to Atlantic suggesting that I sing more songs on the second album. 'Miles Away' from 'Vis' a Vis' was our biggest chart success and reached #62 on the Billboard charts. I sang it and wrote it and when I listen to it now I sound about 15 years old.


Fotomaker - live 1978 - The Palladium, NYC, supporting Van Halen
Photo Credit: Frankie Vinci

'Vis -a- Vis' was much more of a harder rock album, was this conscious decision or just the way the record gelled? Marchesi has said the album sounds a little mixed up and lacking direction. Would you agree?
I think Lex is correct in his assumption. We had three lead singers so who were the fans to focus on? With no Steven Tyler or Mick Jagger, I was confused too and I didn't know if we were pop rock or southern rock or who was taking control of the stage. The songs were diverse but we had too many genres going on. The album cover to 'Vis-a-Vis' tells it all... the old, sad jester wondering where the hell the bright eyed little girl went from the first cover - a metaphor to our music and spirit as a band.

I have to say, 'Miles Away' is a great tune. I can still remember when I first heard it on WNEW and ran out and bought the 45! Looking back at this song and the other Fotomaker material from the first two albums, which ones do you think still hold up and are most proud of?
Thanks for the compliment. I think 'Miles Away' is definitely a cool tune but I like 'If I Can't Believe In You', 'Pain', 'Can I Please Have Some More' and 'Lose At Love'. I thought 'The Other Side' was a fresh and young song for the time. I used the original Moog synth at Electric Lady on that song.. It was the size of the studio wall and had just a few analog 'buzzy' sounds and a lot of wires patched into it. We have come a long way now with our technology of musical gear.

How did the departure of Bryson affect the dynamic of the band?
Well, I guess Wally saw the demise of Fotomaker before the rest of us did and wanted to leave New York City and go back home to Cleveland. He had uprooted his family to make a go of it with Fotomaker, so after the writing was on the wall he decided to go back his roots. The climate of the band was one of disappointment but we felt we had to go on and complete our third record without him and a replacement.

'Transfer Station' - These days I enjoy some parts of the record, but at the time it was a big disappointment with the disco vibe and move away from power pop. What were the circumstances behind the change in style and how much pandering to Atlantic was going on?
Disco was just coming in a big way and I was singing most of the final album, which was a pop/disco train wreck. We thought we could jump on The Bee Gees, Michael Jackson, and Rod Stewart bandwagon. We tried to produce all the songs to sound like 'Da' Ya' Think I'm Sexy' meets the Bee Gees which was a big mistake. I like a few of the songs but it is not my legacy album. Some of the songs I sang with a falsetto vocal sound ala Barry Gibb and Michael Jackson.


[Frankie Vinci and Gene Cornish]
Photo Credits: Ken Riccio

Did the group tour supporting this record and when and why did Atlantic give you guys the axe?
We toured as I mentioned earlier, but that was really it. We had a great run of shows to support the first album and some for 'Vis-a-Vis'. Atlantic cut us loose after the 'Transfer Station' failed and as I said it was time for Disco to take control of the charts. Rock was fading out at that point in time and Disco was dancing in.

Fotomaker carried on for a year after the third album. What did the band do, and was any material recorded during this period? Were any other labels interested in picking you guys up again?
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.

[Fotomaker - s/t (1977)] [Fotomaker - Vis A Vis (1978)] [Fotomaker - Transfer Station (1979)]

What did you do after the break-up and what type of projects did you get involved in and what are you involved with at the moment?
After Dino, Gene and I parted ways I went on to write TV themes and Jingles for about 18 years. I wrote jingles for national campaigns such as Mountain Dew, Bounty, Duncan Hines, Hasbro, Milton Bradley, Nestles Crunch, Welch's, Pringles and many more. I also wrote the Super Bowl theme which aired for eleven years and continued on as the theme for CBS Football game of the week. Years later after the jingle biz crashed, I placed a song that I co-wrote on Tim McGraw's Grammy nominated triple platinum CD 'A Place In The Sun', the song is called 'Somebody Must Be Praying For Me'. At the present time I have a music production company-'Da Vinci Music' located in Connecticut. I am writing and producing for up and coming talent. I am also writing and producing songs for TV and film and major artists. If you'd like to hear what I am writing lately check out my MySpace page: www.myspace.com/frankievinci and for more info visit my personal site: www.frankievinci.com. If you are an artist and you are looking for some hit songs and or productions don't hesitate to contact me.

Thanks Frankie. Any final words to the many Fotomaker fans out there?
Thanks to all the fans for their support and maybe we can get a Fotomaker reunion together this summer 2009. I'd also like to thank the fans for the memories and I appreciate all the email inquiries I receive about the band. Peace.


Photo Credit: Kristen Jensen


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Comments
#1 | trillion1999 on November 08 2011 12:25:49
Frankies reflections about the Vis-A-Vis-cover and the three covers pictured in their chronological order suddenly made me realise that this trifecta might be one of the most ingenious pairing of album-covers of all time.The sad old jester,the bright eyed little girl and the Transfer Station-babe .Now I see the beauty of it all.Perfect like poetry.So totally Power Pop! I love the first single as well.Thanks for letting us know the story.
 
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