Angel – Helluva Band – Interview with Frank DiMino

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I risk dating myself here, but for me the 70s can be remembered for bands that appeared larger than life. Of course there was Kiss – straight out of a comic book, Queen – with their mix of opera and rock, and even Cheap Trick with the geek/teen idol image. Many of rock’s biggest players were still going strong in the mid to late 70s – Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Who.

It was an amazing time to be a young music fan with new wave, punk and metal just beyond the horizon. Through all the noise one band I remember making an impression is Angel. The fact that my Angel vinyl has survived numerous record collection purges says something.

Long before MTV, I used to see live Angel videos on a local multicultural channel after school. Seeing the video for “Tower” off their 1975 eponymous debut album certainly caught my attention. Angel seemed to mix progressive rock with glam and heavy metal – the all-white costumes, perfectly coiffed long hair, smoke rising from the stage, a giant talking Angel head, heavy keyboards, even heavier guitars, thunderous drums and a textbook rock voice. They were even label-mates with Kiss on Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records.

Formed in the mid-70s on the East Coast and relocated to L.A., Angel consisted of vocalist Frank DiMino, guitarist Punky Meadows, keyboardist Gregg Giuffria, drummer Barry Brandt, and bassist Mickey Jones (who sadly passed away in 2009). Felix Robinson had replaced Jones on bass in 1977.

Angel was always a kind of enigma – at times too heavy for radio, too melodic for heavy metal, and often much maligned for their glam appearance and over-the-top keyboards and stage show. It took three albums before they had a small taste of the commercial chart success they had earned, albeit with a cover version of The Young Rascals “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore”. That single, the band’s only Top 50 hit, appeared on 1977’s noticeably more commercial, but bestselling record “White Hot”.

White Hot would be the beginning of the end – with 1979’s “Sinful” marking the final studio alum for the band – a significantly more poppy record that disappeared in the din created by new wave and punk. After releasing the excellent “Live Without a Net” in 1980, Angel called it quits in 1981 when DiMino and Brandt departed. The band reformed in 1999 with DiMino and Brandt joined by Lillian Axe’s Steve Blaze and Hardline’s Michael T. Ross. This lineup recorded and released a new album called “In The Beginning”, touring a little as well.

All has been quiet on the Angel front for a number of years so we tracked down vocalist Frank DiMino for a quick interview (with a little help from a friend). DiMino lives in Las Vegas and has a successful business in vocal coaching, career advisement and consulting. He still rocks the stage from time to time with various musicians, mostly for charity but doesn’t rule out another go with Angel.

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50third: You attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston – what was your ambition as a young music student?

FD: My ambition back then as well as now was to learn theory also reading and writing music was an important interest to me.

50third: You have a very distinctive voice, but not dissimilar to other greats of the time – Freddie Mercury, Ronnie James Dio and maybe even Steve Perry. You were also certainly influential to singers in the Metal scene of the 80s. Who were your influences for your singing style?

FD: Steve Marriott was a huge influence as well as Paul McCartney, Paul Rodgers and Steve Winwood. All great singers though just a few of the many great ones.

50third: How did you meet the guys from Angel?

FD: I met Barry and Mickey in Boston while I was going to Berklee. When they went back to Washington DC they put a band together, then called and asked me to come out and sing. That band was Max. I met Punky while I was out there. He was playing with the Cherry People at the time. It was a pretty cool community of musicians at the time. A lot of really good players.

50third: How did the “concept” – the white costumes, the stage show, the logo etc. for Angel come together?

FD: The logo came first. We took the idea of the face with the “A” from a piece of jewelry that Barry had bought in Georgetown, an area in DC where a lot of clubs were.
The stage show came from a lot if different ideas that we all were throwing around. Of course from being around Kiss and seeing their show many times, and also being on the same label we wanted to try and do something different from what they were already doing so well.

The costumes were the last thing we decided on. We knew we wanted to do costumes but the idea for them came last. It wasn’t chosen because Kiss was in black or cause we wanted to be the opposite of Kiss. It was just a color we thought would stand out, especially since a lot of metal bands were dressing in black.

50third: What was the band’s reaction to the Frank Zappa song “Punky’s Whips” which takes quite a shot at Angel’s “look”?

FD: It’s Frank Zappa so it was all taken in stride. It started with Terry Bozio seeing press pictures of us that Dale had. If I remember, Terry told us or Barry or Punky before it came out and Frank invited us to the first show that they unveiled the song in. We all met and spoke with Frank after the show. It was great fun.

50third: The early records were a little more “progressive” – keyboard heavy and songs over 6 minutes, what inspired the songwriting in the early days?

FD: That was really where we were at. Trying to put guitar and keyboards together playing harmonies in songs and playing riffs together. We really were a live band back then. We wrote and played a lot of those songs in the club Bogies where we played 5 nights a week.

50third: Lyrically, I’ve read that reading Science Fiction inspired you for a few of the bands legendary epics – Tower, The Fortune and Mirrors. Are there any particular book-song links?

FD: Just a fusion of a lot of different books. Making my own little fictional world.

50third: Was it difficult to juxtapose deeper lyrics with the more commercial songs on the same record?

FD: It was just a different mode of writing. A different approach.

50third: My first exposure to Angel was live clips I used to see on TV after school in the 70s, obviously well before MTV. Were the videos created with marketing in mind?

FD: Yes. It’s funny cause there wasn’t any place to play them when we first did them. But had an idea to do them and went ahead anyway.

50third: How much of Angel’s strategy was in the hands of Casablanca? Would the band have charted a different course for Angel? Particularly after the success of White Hot with “Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” reaching the Billboard charts.

FD: Maybe, I don’t know. Sometimes it’s hard for the band and the label to be on the same course although I think Neil always tried to understand and tried to guide the band, as well as listen to us.

50third: Do you feel Angel was ahead of its time and would have had more success in the 1980s with all the glam hair bands?

FD: I think MTV would have been a huge boost. But I think we laid out a pretty good foundation for ourselves that we kept to. I don’t think too much about what could have happened. What did happen was a great roller coaster ride and I’m glad I had my ticket.

50third: Angel is still technically a band with you and Barry Brandt the only original members. Is there any chance for a reunion with Gregg, Punky and Felix?

FD: There is always a chance. We all talk to each other. We shared a bond that only we can share. We would live and breath Angel everyday that’s what we did. We all played in clubs for years, night after night and we toured with Angel sometimes 10 or 11 months a year. So if some of the guys are tired of doing that, I understand completely. So the answer is never say no, maybe it will happen maybe not. If it feels right then it will happen. Until then it’s a wait and see thing

50third: You have had a very successful career after Angel stopped recording. What have you been up to?

FD: Singing. It’s what I do it’s what I’ve always done. I teach and sing with a few different projects. Although I think my next venture may be a solo project. We’ll see.

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Stephen

Domestic now, but spent early to late 80s playing drums in a hair metal band in Toronto. Since then I’ve lost the hair and have found new ways to scratch the rock and roll itch.

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