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Ron Dante In His Own Words

Ron Dante
Ron Dante

Note -- This interview was originally published on Laura's Ron Dante Fan Pages in February of 2003.

 

Ron Dante is best known as the lead singer for the Archies and producer for Barry Manilow, but those are only a couple of entries on his show-business resume. Ron was multitasking well before the word made its way into the vernacular; his career has more facets than a five-carat diamond.

Ron was born Carmine Granito in Staten Island, New York. The love for music ran in his family, and in the mid-60s, armed with a guitar and a natural singing ability, the teen arrived in Manhattan and began making the rounds of the music publishers at the famed Brill Building. His talent spoke for itself, and it wasn't long before Ron landed a stint as a staff singer/songwriter for Don Kirshner, making demo records for the other talented songwriting teams on Kirshner's roster and singing backgrounds for established talent such as Neil Sedaka. From there, Ron became a member of the parody trio The Detergents; and just a few years later, as the lead singer of The Archies, Ron enjoyed his first #1 record with the million-selling "Sugar, Sugar." He went on to become Barry Manilow's first producer, a partnership that spawned record sales in the tens of millions. Today, this handsome, mega-talented man is still going strong.

Despite his busy schedule, Ron was gracious enough to agree to an interview in which I attempt to cover as much of his body of work as practical. Here, then, is Ron Dante in his own words.

 

LP: First I must ask, who were your biggest musical influences?

RD: My musical influences were Elvis, The Everly Brothers, New York Doo Wop groups, The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

LP: You started out, in your teens, as a staff songwriter, gradually moving into demo work. Later you were recording commercials and doing vocals for studio groups. What was the ultimate goal you'd set your sights on?

RD: Starting out, my goal was to break into the music world and get a hit record. I wanted to learn all there was to learn about the music industry and could not have been in a better place than Don Kirshner's office. Being there offered me the opportunity to work with famous singers (Neil Sedaka, Tony Orlando) and writers (Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Mann & Weil, Howard Greenfield) on their records and demos.

LP: After the Detergents were formed and had the hit with "Leader of the Laundromat," the three of you were sent out on tour to promote your album. Was it fun, something you knew then that you wanted to do for the rest of your life, or were you just looking forward to getting off the road and back into the studio at that point?

RD: The Detergents tour was a real blast. I had the best time singing on the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars with Herman's Hermits, Little Richard, The Animals, Little Anthony and the Imperials and so many others. I was very happy to be working on the road and getting all the live experience to use when I returned to the studio.

LP: Thanks to the overwhelming success of "Sugar, Sugar," the Archies stint definitely marked a new phase of your career. Yet you couldn't have predicted this when you were signed to do the Archies in 1968. What was your take on it at the time? Did you feel it was a good way to cut your musical teeth, or was the anonymity kind of hard to swallow?

RD: I lobbied for the job of lead voice for The Archies. I felt it was going to be a huge success what with the TV exposure and the people involved. I knew Don Kirshner and Jeff Barry were hit makers and my sound would be perfect for the show.

LP: Most young people who finally become famous as performers have one thing in common ... they all started out as bright-eyed children dreaming of a career in show biz, singing and putting on productions for friends and relatives. You probably harbored dreams of show business during your preteen years and did your share of private performances before you actually made a name for yourself. Once your dream came true, how did it feel? Was it everything you'd imagined and then some, exciting and wonderful, or was it actually a letdown?

RD: When I finally had my number-one record and had accomplished what I set out to do I felt an enormous wave of gratitude for what I had been given. I still had more dreams. I wanted to build on my success and continue to grow as a performer, writer and producer. I continually set new goals for myself. Some I reached, some I didn't; but I never stopped dreaming.

LP: You met Barry Manilow in the studio while recording a jingle he'd written for a soft drink, and it wasn't long before you became his producer. You went on to produce for others, such as Cher and Pat Benatar. Had you always harbored ambitions to produce, or did you kind of fall into it through that initial meeting with Barry?

RD: When I met Manilow I had been producing for many years. My credits included songs and production for The Archies [Ron produced the final Archies album, This is Love], some very successful commercials including Tang which I wrote and produced and my own solo efforts with a few labels.

LP: I've always been a little unclear as to what exactly a producer's role is. Isn't the producer of a TV or Broadway show primarily a backer, whereas the producer of recordings is more like the director of that TV show or play? Can you elaborate on what exactly a producer does in the recording studio?

RD: There are different kinds of record producers. My style was to find a great voice, then find the songs. After that I would choose the arranger, engineer and studio to work in. Then finally I would mix all the elements together to form a unique sound.

LP: And while we're on the subject of producing, how in the world did you come to produce Ain't Misbehavin'? That's such a deviation from the path you were on!

RD: My involvement with Ain't Misbehavin' came about as a result of a party I attended. An old friend of mine, James Lipton of the Actors Studio interview show, asked me if I'd be interested in backing a little show in town. I saw the show and invested that day. I helped to get RCA records to do the cast album and the rest is history.

LP: What were your impressions of the immortal Nell Carter?

RD: I met Nell Carter while producing Ain't Misbehavin' on Broadway. She could out-sing, out-dance and out-act the whole cast. We knew going in that she would come out of the show a star. Besides being a very talented person she was a joy to hang out with. Very funny and kind.

LP: Your first solo album ("Ron Dante Brings You Up") was released in 1970. You then had the Dante's Inferno LP in 1979 and "Street Angel" [co-produced with Paul Shaffer] in 1981. You were Manilow's producer from 1973 until the early 80's. What occupied most of your time between the mid-80's until the release of your CD "Favorites" in 1999?

RD: From the mid 80's until my "Favorites" CD was released, I made a move from NYC to LA and set up shop working at Motown in their publishing company Jobete. I wrote and produced for different TV shows such as The Little Mermaid for Disney, Showtime Cable Comedy series Full Frontal Comedy and The Comedy Channel. I also took some off time to focus on where I wanted to put my talent.

LP: Which do you like doing best? Producing, recording, composing, or performing live?

RD: My favorite thing to do is perform followed closely by singing in the studio and producing.

LP: Times have changed a lot since you started in the business. Back then, there were no camcorders, VCR's, computers, CD burners (heck, there were no CD's), MP3's, or most significantly, the Internet. How has all this new technology changed the way in which youngsters wanting a show-business career get their foot in the door? Has it helped or hindered the music profession in general?

RD: The technology has added many things to making music but it's still the song and the singer. It is very, very hard to break into the record business today because there are only a few major companies that control all the access. Also there are not as many original artists around as there used to be. Many singers copy too closely to their idols and never manage to develop their own personal stamp.

LP: True enough, but for truly talented and dedicated young people, I would think that the relative ease with which they can come up with a demo (or even a finished production) of their work would be very much to their advantage. After all, it would eliminate a lot of the guesswork on the part of the powers that be; the record company exec is able to hear an approximation of what the singer will sound like on a completed album. Unlike the 60's and 70's, when the only way you could demonstrate your talent was in person, usually unaccompanied by anything other than a guitar or piano and your wits, or (hopefully) at a microphone in a recording studio. Plus, a producer can listen to quite a few demos in the time it would take to audition just one singer. Isn't it a much more level playing field now?

RD: True, it's easier to make a listenable CD today but there are so many home CD's being made that the A & R people at the labels still throw them out by the tons if they don't come in from a reputable source. Often new artists are brought in by known managers, hit producers and even other artists on the label.

LP: So now I must ask the age-old question: What does a young person looking to break into the business need to do to realize his goals? Many aspiring singers have talent, but no contacts. How would you advise such a person who may be reading this to proceed?

RD: I would advise new talent to know where they want to position their career and do the very best demos of their songs. The best way into labels is through the production and publishing companies. It's easier to get to see a music publisher than it is to get into a label. Also talent managers are always looking for their next big artist.

LP: Do you have any plans to re-record any of the Archies material, both released and unreleased? I think an album under your own name singing the Archies stuff would be terrific! You may consider this a strong hint.

RD: I might do a CD of just the dances we did on the shows. New and longer versions would be fun to try.

LP: Is there any established singer or group with whom you havent worked but would love to? As a producer I mean.

RD: I've always wanted to work with The Rolling Stones, Bruce, Barbra and Celine. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to do it in the future.

LP: Any songwriters with whom you'd like to collaborate?

RD: I would like to write with Diane Warren and David Foster.

LP: Would you like to produce shows in Vegas, or perhaps even put together your own nightclub act?

RD: I am currently working on an act for Las Vegas with my old friend Andy Kim and hope to have it ready by the summer. [Note--Ron Dante and Andy Kim headlined at the Riviera in Las Vegas on September 6, 2003, and plan future appearances on the Strip.  To see photos from this concert, go to Laura's Ron Dante Fan Pages and click on the appropriate link.]

LP: What are your current projects?

RD: I'm in the studio with three artists at this time. Danielle VanZyl, a 14 year old from South Africa; Sabrina is a young Latino girl from Miami who I am producing for the Kirshner label; and I've just signed a young singer/songwriter from LA named George Romano. All of these should be ready by the fall for release.

LP: What are your plans for now and for the future? Which direction do you foresee your career going? More producing, perhaps some new recordings, touring, television?

RD: In the future I see myself performing more and running an international music company.

 

Interview conducted in February of 2003

Copyright 2003 Laura Pinto and Ron Dante. This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without express permission from Ron Dante.

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For a complete bio on Ron, go to his Artist Profile page right here on Oldies Connection.
 
An updated version of this interview, titled "Then and Now: A Ron Dante Perspective," can be found on the Spectropop site.  Also on Spectro, "Ron Dante Remembers the Sixties."

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