Band Played On
Friday, November 10,1978, Philadelphia Inquirer
By Jack Lloyd, Inquirer Entertainment Writer
Johnny’s Dance Band, which became something close to a Philadelphia institution during the early 1970s, appeared to be on the verge of breaking out nationally a year ago. The payoff after several years of hard work and the usual string of small-pay gigs was a new album for Windsong Records. But the rumors of a breakup began dropping from assorted sources and little else was heard of Johnny’s Dance Band.
Some of the rumors were true enough, members of the band con-cede, but there was never any truth to a report that Johnny’s Dance Band had broken up.
The proof of this is a new Windsong LP, “Love Wounds, Flesh Wounds,” and the group’s current engagement at the Bijou Cafe, which runs through tomorrow night. Veteran JDB fans will miss Tony Juliano and Johnny Jackson. It was the sudden departure of these two members that sparked the rumors a year ago. With this development, the full burden of fronting the group was turned over to the capabilities of vivacious vocalist Nanette Mancini, which is perhaps where it belonged from the beginning.
“When Tony and Johnny left, there was never any thought about breaking up the band,” Miss Mancini noted, “but it was kind of traumatic. We were committed to a tour that started 48 hours after they left and we decided to go ahead with it. But I was really scared.”
“With two key people suddenly out of the band,” noted Chris Darway, “the toughest thing to deal with was background vocals. But I tell you one thing, after getting through that 10-day tour we felt that we could do anything.”
“Fortunately,” Miss Mancini added, “we had been booked in areas outside of the Philadelphia area, which is where our biggest following has always been. But, mostly, we were playing for audiences that did not have that great a point of reference toward Johnny’s Dance Band.”
While Miss Mancini obviously would prefer not to dwell on details concerning the personnel split, she did concede that “had our first album been successful, we would all probably still be together.”
But the debut LP was not successful, and Miss Mancini feels that one of the reasons for this was a lack of consistency in the band’s presentation. The choice of material was clearly made to showcase the depth of JDB, giving all the featured performers a shot at being showcased.
At the time, JDB was sporting a total of four lead singers. But while this abundance soothed a few egos, there is little doubt that the band was at the peak of its form when Nanette Mancini was in the front position, setting the pace with her steamy vocals and sensual maneuvers.
The remainder of the band now appears to accept this reality, and they are content with writing and playing. Darway, for instance, has phased himself out of a lead singing position with JDB.
The band, in one form or another, goes back to nine years ago, with Darway being one of the founding members. Miss Mancini joined JDB five years ago. Prior to that she had been in the advertising business and came to Juliano’s attention as a result of a jingle she had recorded.
“Otherwise, I was interested in children’s theater and puppet shows,” she said. “I hadn’t done much serious singing, though. Except my brother, Bob, used to man¬age this club called the Jailhouse and if there was a group there he would tell them what a great singer I was and have them call me up for a number. You know. . . ‘Let’s hear it for Bob’s sister’ . . . one of those things.”
What JDB evolved into in those middle years was a local band with a passionate following, which was unheard of in those days when it was just taken for granted that a local band could not possibly possess any talent. But the JDB gang did it with a totally fresh approach — lyrics based on satirical themes and a free-wheeling, good-time stage manner that made the band a delight to watch.
Those qualities, however, became a handicap when it was time to record. With its reputation as a “visual band,” the group faced an impossible challenge in attempting to record an “image.”
While the newer JDB material leans toward a more orthodox approach, Miss Mancini pointed out that the enthusiasm and energy of the group remain vital ingredients of a live JDB performance.
And that visual aspect has to be even stronger with Nanette Mancini fronting the proceedings on a full-time basis.