- - Tuesday, December 20, 2016

In the 1970s there was no bigger singing star than the Canadian-born Gino Vannelli. With his lion’s mane of hair, legions of female fans and a string of massive hits like “Living Inside Myself,” “Black Cars” and the megasmash “I Just Wanna Stop,” Mr. Vannelli ruled the airwaves and concert stages around the world.

Although his biggest hit says he wants to stop, Mr. Vannelli never has. Through the decades he has continued to follow his musical muse, releasing interesting projects while thrilling audiences around the world. His latest is a live DVD and CD of his historic 2014 concert at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills called “Live in LA” which he was glad to discuss. 

Question: How do you keep the voice is such great shape?

Answer: To tell you the truth, I don’t really know. If you do drink and smoke, it does wear the voice down. I don’t.

There are vocal techniques and practices that I do. But some of it is really not getting too neurotic about it. You kinda just live your life — and keep your fingers crossed a little bit.

Q: Because you grew up in a musical family, did you know you wanted to be a musician, or was it just in your DNA?

A: There was no other choice. I just slipped right into it. The well was well-greased. [laughs]

Q: Did you ever consider doing anything else?

A: I was sort of an ironic person in the sense that I didn’t realize it would take an incredible amount of discipline to carry on a career the way I have. That disciplinary person who lived inside me also wanted to join the Canadian military. There was something about the regiment that really appealed to me.

Part of me also wanted to be a literature teacher. I loved literature and poetry. As I grew up I started getting [back] into music. Something just bloomed. I found that the pension for literature and the pension for discipline really found its way into my music.

Q: As a singer, how old were you when you found your true voice?

A: I think it’s a constant search. It never is “there” because it’s ever-changing. You’re 13 and your voice changes. Suddenly you’re cracking all over the place. You can’t sing all the castrati unless someone does something awful to you. [laughs]

By the time you’re 21 it changes again. At 30, at 40. Then you’re 60 and it really changes. You try to keep the high end, but you know your voice is getting broader.

Q: Was there any competition between you and your brothers Ross and Joe?

A: Always. Gotta be. Ross would write a better song than me. When he wrote “I Just Wanna Stop,” I said, “Dammit!” That pushed me to write “Living Inside Myself.”

Joe was always the tech head. Always with new instruments, and he had the ability to look at something electronic and understand it at first glance. I had to compete with that.

Q: How did those two hit songs “I Just Wanna Stop” and “Living Inside Myself” come about?

A: Ross wrote the better part of “I Just Wanna Stop,” and when he showed it to me, I wasn’t really interested in having any top 40 hit. My career was going fine. I was selling out concert halls everywhere I went. My brother Joe said, “If you’re doing this, why don’t you become more popular?” I was afraid, because I know a hit single would put another kind of pressure on me.

I had a really cult audience. We sold 400,000 to 500,000 albums every album. But when Ross came over and played “I Just Wanna Stop,” you would have to have been a fool not to get it. I wrote “Living Inside Myself” at a Christmas party that I was totally bored with. I went to the third floor in this room with a piano and wrote that song.

Q: How does your life change when you have such massive hits?

A: Part of you is elated, part of you dreads it. Because now you have to do it again. If you go for the money, back then you would tell the record company, “This is what I demand now.” They gave it to me, but then their demand on you is greater. Suppose I don’t want to go that way. Suppose I want to write some music that has nothing to do with a hit single?

Q: Is it true you got your first record deal by hanging outside Herb Alpert’s home?

A: Not his home, the studio — A&M Studios. I waited for three or four hours there, and finally I saw him leave the office, and I started running across the parking lot. The guards started chasing me. I gave him my tape. That was the story. Herb and I still laugh about it.

Q: Did the fandom of your female audience have a negative effect on your marriage?

A: With my wife it did. By the second year she wouldn’t come with me on the road anymore. She just didn’t want to put herself through that. In time she began to laugh at it.

Q: Your DVD “Live in LA” was the first time you played here in over 15 years. Why is that?

A: Almost 20 years. I guess we just never got around to it. I had played all over the world [and had] so many projects with symphony orchestras [and] small piano ensembles. I constantly evolved and performed.

An artist who says, “I’m just gonna coast and stay doing what I’m doing” is headed for the graveyard. The key is staying interested. If you’re interested, there is a good chance your audience will be interested.

Gino Vannelli’s “Live in LA” is out now.


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