Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bang Interview with Frank Ferrara, courtesy of Lucille over at Controradio Firenze



Bang in 1972 (l-r) Frank Ferrara, Tony Diorio, Frank Gilcken
(picture from Bang's facebook page)
Download from: [mf] or [yd]

Hi again! Last year the Philadelphia band Bang, who I presume most of you will know by now (appearing on Vol 1 after all!), made a concerted effort to play frequently and see parts of the world that had eluded them during their three-album tenure with Capitol Records in the early seventies. Previous to that, they had played a few reunion shows since the 2000's, and Rise Above's 2010 box set remaster of their records.

Just prior to their 2016 tour of Europe, Lucille aka Lucyfer of Controradio Firenze in Italy (podcast archive here) interviewed Bang's frontman Frank Ferrara and they talked about the band's past and present career, as well as their rekindled enthusiasm to play again more regularly. At the time, Lucille offered to contribute the interview to TDATS, but unfortunately that was around the time I was taking a hiatus from doing the blog. So, here it is now, transcribed by myself. Better late than never!

Listen here and read my transcription following



Interview

Lucille: It’s a great honour to introduce a very special guest, Frank Ferrara from Bang is with us tonight. Hi Frank!

Frank at a show this year
(2017
)
Frank: Thank you so much, hello everybody.

Lucille: Bang is a band that is familiar to the listeners of this show, as I often play Bang songs here, and Frank is the bassist and singer from the original line up. So Frank, first I would like you to tell us something about the roots of Bang, going back to the starting point of your career, and that would be the show in Orlando in 1971 when you played on the same stage as Rod Stewart and Deep Purple. Would you tell us about that crucial show?

Frank: Three days before the Rod Stewart / Deep Purple show [and before we knew anything about it] we had left Philadelphia in a station wagon with a trailer, and were heading to Florida [with the intention of finding places to play there]. We really had no particular place to go, we had our equipment, we had gotten some marijuana, and we stopped to buy some rolling papers.

We were at Daytona Beach which was maybe two or three hours from Orlando and we went into a record store to buy some rolling papers, there was a poster on the wall that said ‘Battle of the Bands’, so we asked the guy behind the counter where that was because we wanted to play the show. He said it was an old poster and that show was last week. “If you guys have a band, Deep Purple and Rod Stewart are playing in Orlando, why don’t you go there? Maybe they’ll let you play.”

So, we spent that night in a tent, drinking some beer and just talking and talking, and we decided “yeah what the hell, why don’t we see if we can go play the show?” We got up the next day, drove to Orlando and pulled behind the venue where the show was. We knocked on the door, this guy came out and we introduced ourselves as Bang from Philadelphia, “We’re the best fuckin' band in the world and we want to play tonight”. He let us in to set up our stuff. So, we had talked our way in to opening up for Deep Purple and Small Faces!

Everything in life is about timing, seventy two hours earlier we were just driving to Florida with a U-Haul with no idea what would happen. So we took a chance and, y’know, it was amazing. Opening up with Faces and Deep Purple, around the time that Purple’s Machine Head had just come out.

Lucille: You said it was a question of timing, but I think it was a mixture of fate and boldness, because you were really bold to force that hand of fate, so to say.

Frank: We had to. Here’s the thing, because we rehearsed every night for eighteen months, I mean every night, we’re talking seven days a week. We were always together, we learnt how to write and we became very tight, we were three people as one basically. When we went to Florida we were ready, we really believed in each other, and it’s funny you say that because the promotor guy who answered the door said, “Hey man, you guys’ got balls like this, and you sound good.”

If you don’t believe in yourself Lucille, nobody else is going to believe in you. That’s the kind of attitude you have to project from the stage, I think you can tell that with most bands, if they really like each other or if they’re just going through the motions. Our music was good (thank you God) but I think the promotor saw our determination and our desire, which was just as much why we got the show as the music itself.

Lucille: What happened then? A short time after playing that gig you got a contract with Capitol Records.

Frank: We played while the people were coming in, the lights were still on, and we had about two feet of stage left to use, it was a very small thing. The promoter of the show Rick Bowen said “You guys did really well. Listen, you’re going to Florida, down to Fort Lauderdale where I’m doing a show with Steppenwolf next week, if you guys wanna open up the show.”

Right away he took an interest in us. He said he had a hotel in Fort Lauderdale where we could stay. We waited a week and we drove to Richmond to do the Steppenwolf show. After that he asked if we wanted to do another show with The Guess Who, and at that point, when we stayed at the hotel in Fort Lauderdale, there was a studio there, Criteria Studios, which went on to be one of the bigger studios at that time. We went in and did our demo, of Death of a Country, which is what we’d been working on for eighteen months in the basement. So after the Faces-Purple concert we did two or three more shows, we did the demo and then Capitol and Atlantic Records were both interested in the band, and we were waiting to see which one of those to go with.

Lucille: We know you decided to go with Capitol, it doesn’t sound like you had an idyllic partnership with them, in fact Capitol decided not to release Death of a Country. What were the reasons behind that decision?

Frank: Capitol Records at the time was very middle-of-the-road. Atlantic had all the hard rock groups, Zeppelin etc, everyone that was heavy, and Capitol was more of a contemporary label. They were just getting ready to lose Grand Funk Railroad. They came back to us and said they didn’t think a debut concept album would be commercial enough to put out. Now, the only reason we went with Capitol was because The Beatles were on there, they were our heroes. We were kids, we were 18 years old, we trusted everybody at that age. We thought Capitol Records would do right by the band.

What was happening was they didn’t believe in Death of a Country so they gave us two weeks to write another album. They sent a producer down, he said they don’t want to release DoaC, they think it will go over everyone’s head. So we were disillusioned, but what did we know? We were the musicians, we trusted them. It’s your record company, you sign with them, you trust them because as a musician, you never know the business side of music, which is nothing like the real side of music.

Lucille: In fact you were kind of forced to change a lot, because Death of a Country is more of a spiritual, eco-friendly, psychedelic concept album with some hard rock, while your self-titled debut is more hard rock, more Black Sabbath-style, so you had to change a lot?

Frank: Back in the seventies, bands did two albums a year, so you only had six months in between recordings before you recorded another record. We had two weeks to write the Bang album which in my mind wasn’t a whole lot of time. But we did it, because we knew we could write songs. Still, at the time Capitol was trying to make us more commercial, more commercial, more commercial, so after we did DoaC in the studio they rejected it and we had to write a whole different style of music.

They used to call us the Grand Black Zeppelin and say we sounded like Grand Funk, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin all rolled in to one. To me it was like “Wow, if we’re that good we should be bigger than The Beatles ya’know. We were writing all kinds of music and Capitol wanted top-40 hits. They kept giving us the pressure, “We need a hit record, we need a hit record”.

We weren’t a top-40 band, we were a concert band. We were a band you watched to see a show, we didn’t have hooks, we weren’t Helen Reddy, we weren’t The Raspberries, but Capitol kept sending us stuff and we were like “Why did we even sign with these guys?” If they didn’t believe in our music and were trying to change it why did they even sign us?

Lucille: It doesn’t make any sense

Frank: It doesn’t make any sense. That was where we learned that “the music business” is the business of music, like selling shoes, it’s not about heart. When you write a song it’s about heart, it’s about your spirit, but you gotta sell records, how many are you going to sell? It’s like selling shoes. We learned right away that this is not good. It was disillusioning, it was like an oxymoron.

We went to Woodstock, it’s like a happy feeling, you think everybody’s your friend and then you find out that it’s not really like that at all. It’s about making money. It broke our hearts because we really believed in Death of a Country. I’ve always thought “Wow, maybe if they did release DoaC we might never have made the Bang album.” You don’t know why things happen in life, maybe if we had released DoaC it wouldn’t have done anything.

Lucille: But in some way the commercial ideas of Capitol succeeded, there was a time when Bang were quite famous because you were in the charts.

Frank: Yes, our first single “Questions” was in the forties on the charts and it went to #2 in Hong Kong, it was like #2 on the moon or something. Again, the business took over and they stopped working that record. Long story short, I think what happened with the band was, six months after Bang was signed with the label, Capitol records got a new president and our producer went to Epic records. Everybody at Capitol tower in Hollywood that was behind our band was gone. So at that point other producers and other bands were coming in and all the producers pushed their bands, they don’t care about some other producer’s band. They move to something else, “We work them for a couple of months then let’s move to something else.”

It never mattered to us, sure it was frustrating but we knew we could write songs and we knew we were good and we just tried to keep the faith. That’s what you gotta do, you gotta face adversity and plough ahead because like I was saying before, if you don’t believe it, nobody else will believe it. You have to do that in anything in life really.

Lucille: What about your last record with Capitol, it was 1973 and it was called simply “Music”. It was more pop-melodic, somehow almost Beatles-esque. What inspired that change?

Humble from Mother/Bow to the King


Frank: Even on DoaC we always did a lot of harmony. I think harmony in vocals is just as important as the instruments and we liked the two-part and three-part harmonies. The thing with “Music”, that was our final thing with Capitol. After the Bang album they basically made us change drummers right before the Mother album which was our second album. So we ended up recording the Mother album and Music with a different drummer. The continuity was getting worse and worse, we did “No Sugar Tonight” by The Guess Who just because Capitol was pushing us to get a hit record and by the time we did the Music album we changed our sound, we changed our style because we were trying to do what the label wanted us to do. We got more commercial, that’s why the Music album is so different.
Hey ya’know what? Bang was always Tony Diorio’s lyrics, Frank Gilcken’s guitar and my melodies and vocals. Even though the album is not heavy and in your face, I think we have some great songs on that record.

Lucille: I like that album very much, it’s a very good album. 

Frank Gilcken (guitar)
at a show this year
Frank: The people that liked the Bang album which was much heavier thought we had sold-out by the Music album, we didn’t sound hard & heavy and Frankie’s guitar wasn’t in your face, it was more of a pop record but hey, for us, I think if you try to sound the same on every record you get stale. We were young, I think as musicians you follow your talent where it takes you. I don’t want to make the same record over and over again, that would be boring and back then it was fun to write some different kinds of songs, to use the Mellotron, to do all those things back then. It was fun changing and we evolved. Not that we couldn’t write anything heavy, that’s just not the mood we were in that day ya’know? That’s what music is, it’s a mood and you’re in a different mood every half hour.

Lucille: After many years, Death of a Country finally saw the light when it was re-issued by Rise Above records. How did the collaboration with Rise Above start?

Rise Above's Bang box set
"Bullets"
Frank: Lee Dorian approached us, he was a long-time Bang fan, and he said he’d love to do a box set of our records. By then we’d just started playing again, it was a great idea and we were very flattered that somebody wanted to do a “box set”. Lee and Rise Above did a great job and we were very happy with it. It came from Lee getting a hold of us, getting a hold of our drummer/lyricist Tony Diorio and we just struck a deal for them to put the box set together. 

Lucille: And it’s a deluxe remastered CD set with everything you made right?

Frank: Yes, it was our entire Capitol catalogue.

Cover sticker from the "Bullets" box set: "Limited Edition Four CD Mini LP Box set containing three classic full-length albums released between 1971 and 1973. Also includes the "unreleased at the time" debut album Death of a Country. Plus forty-page collectors booklet and Exclusive sticker. Black Sabbath heaviness meets Grand Funk Groove & catchy as hell"

Lucille: You are from Philadelphia, a place that was more into sweet soul music than hard rock at that time, so how was it to play hard rock there in the seventies?

Frank: It was the same as it was in New York, as it was in Florida. If you liked hard rock that’s the kind of music that you wrote, as kids we loved Black Sabbath, there were a lot of bands that we loved, and you’d play those songs and a little bit of influence comes off. That’s why we were compared to Sabbath a little bit because we had that kind of style. That just comes from what you grow up with, Philadelphia was known as a big Soul town but we were hard rockers ‘cuz we loved The Cream and Jimi Hendrix, that’s the kind of music that we wrote, learned a lot of different music and we started writing music with bits and pieces of everybody we loved.

You say it sounds like The Beatles too, that was because we loved The Beatles and there’s a little bit of something in each song that reflects what your influences are. That’s what we’re finding out today with these Bang shows, we’re playing in front of 20-30 year olds that weren’t even born when we wrote this music and for them to say “Hey, you inspired us to write music”, it reminds me that we were inspired by somebody when we started. So that aspiration turned into being part of our song-writing. We didn’t have a Philadelphia style because we liked hard rock, we were a hard rock band.

Lucille: You are widely considered as forerunners of the doom metal genre, how is it to be considered as a seminal band in that sense?

Frank: You know what? Whatever sense, our Bang album went to the heavy metal hall of fame six months ago. To me, whatever genre or whatever mode it goes into we’re grateful for it. I never thought of us as a doom band because I thought we were always more of a rock ‘n’ roll band. Doom is sludge kinda stuff, we were more about having a groove, there was a difference in our music, but hey, if it’s stoner rock, if it’s acid rock, if it’s hip hop, whoever loves us we’re grateful for it but to me I don’t see us as that kind of band because every album we did was different. We didn’t stay in that vein, coz we were being pushed by Capitol to be commercial and do something else. They expected the Bang record to take off and sell a million copies, and when it didn’t they were trying to push us to be more commercial and so we lost that vein.

Back in ’71-’72 hard rock was really obscure, it wasn’t radio-friendly, they didn’t even have FM radio back then, everything was AM so it was just the beginning of everything and we kinda got lost in the shuffle. But we’re very happy to be attached to stoner & doom rock. We did a tour with Pentagram and our music fitted right in with theirs and people loved it and that’s good with us.

Lucille: So after many years of silence, Bang are back and touring again. Why have you decided to bring the band back again?

Frank: I think we were so young the first time around, we’ve had forty years of really nothing going on. We all went our separate ways and when we reformed and put a website up we started getting fan letters. It made us realise the music was still valid and we still had an audience out there. Time went around and the stars aligned for Tony, Frank and me. Our legacy is not done, we hadn’t seen each other in 25 years and within a week we had written 15 songs.

Once you have magic with somebody it never goes away, and I think when we got back together again, we realised that we still had a lot to offer so we decided to go back and do what we love, we’re musicians, we love to play. At that point the buzz got out that we were back and we were lucky enough to get the Pentagram tour and get back out there. That was our first tour in 42 years and to be out there playing again and realising “Wow, people love our music”, that’s what brought us back. The fact that the music is still strong and it’s still original and I think what goes around comes around, our music was just as good as anybody’s and it was time to go play it and have fun.

Frank had the time and the enthusiasm to do it again. That one hour you play on stage, that’s the reward for putting up with a lot of trials and tribulations along the way, that’s really when a band has the most fun, when you’re on stage playing for that hour. That’s what makes everything worth it. We just want to finish what we started, add on to our legacy, hopefully do a couple more records and see where it goes, before we’re in the rock’n’roll heaven with David and Lemmy, coz we’re at that age.

Lucille: It’s terrible, [the recent rock’n’roll deaths are] getting really depressing 
      
Frank: When I tell you we had 30 year-olds coming out, I think now old music is out-selling new music, I think the young people don’t have what we had and they appreciate it now because they don’t have it. I think it’s a great thing because to me the sixties and seventies was the best era in music. Everybody had their brand, The Who was The Who, Zeppelin was Zeppelin, there was nobody sounding like anybody else. Now you got a billion bands you couldn’t tell one from the other because they all sound the same and I think the golden age of music is really over with. I don’t think we’ll ever have the phenomenon of The Eagles, or The Beatles, Bowie, who was just tremendous. I don’t think that will ever happen again actually, which is a shame.

Starting in April 2016, Bang did their first European tour, which visited the UK, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and Portugal. During the interview Frank described his anticipation for that tour:

We’re like children at Christmas time. I really appreciate the fact that we’re able to go to Europe. If I was a young man it might not be a big deal. “Oh big deal I’m going to Europe” ya’know, but at this point in our lives we’re just very thankful that our music stayed strong enough to be able to get somebody to bring us to Europe. We broke up right before we were scheduled to go to there, to go to the UK and do a tour with Rod Stewart because we played with him right when Maggie May was a hit, we broke up right before that and we were never able to go to Europe. At 62 years old I’m now getting the chance to do what I should have done when I was 20. European fans are the most loyal of any fan, it’s quite different in America coz there’s so much going on here. Europeans still have the old values, the old virtues.

Lucille: Some of them yeah haha

Frank: It’s the thrill of playing to people that I wouldn’t normally see, in places I’ve always dreamed of going to. If I can be on stage playing and doing what I love, I could die right then and I’d be the happiest man in the world because to me success isn’t about money, it’s about doing what you love and you have a passion for. A lot of people take opportunities for granted, but I think the older you get, the more you appreciate when something happens, you have to enjoy the moment. To me there’s a special saying of Shakespeare’s: “Expectation is the root of all heartache” so in my mind, do what you love and don’t expect anything, if you think too big then you’re just going to be heart-broken.

--------------------------------------------------------- 

And that concluded the interview. This year, Bang has so-far played a few shows in the US and has chalked-up some more Europen shows for the summer. Check them out in the touring section of Bang's facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/Bangtheband/app/123966167614127/
So far they have mentioned dates in Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark!

Finally, thanks to Lucille for allowing me to post this interview!

Still Bangin' away in 2017!

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