The Love-Muggers Sizzle

Tuesday, November 4, 1975
By Bruce Buschel, the new paper

JDB Photo

Johnny’s Dance Band (left to right); Tony Juliano, Bobby Lenti, Johnny Jackson, Nanette Mancini, Courtney Colletti, Dave Mohn, Chris Darway

Pat McCoy is a bounty hunter for ABC Records. He roams the country¬side hunting down bad-ass rock-and-roll bands. His calling card could read: Have Pen Will Sign. Last month he saw a group in Austin, Texas, one night and within 48 they were in Los Angeles—signed, sealed and delivered. Pat McCoy means business.

Three weeks ago he was at Grondel’s Lair to see Johnny’s Dance Rand. The word is out on JDB. and in the world of vinyl and venality word gets around faster than groupies. By night’s end, after the band’s third encore, the bounty hunter shook his scotch-laced head, extracted the thin dark cigar from his teeth and simply said, “I wish I had seven plane tickets in my back pocket. One-way to L A. We want this band.”

Johnny’s Dance Band has a price on its head and the price is getting higher all the time. Pat McCoy is standing in line with Columbia, Epic, United Artists, and A&M Records, all of which have dispatched their heavy artillery boys to bag the band.

In the great American scheme of things, competition breeds bonus babies, big contracts and promises of rock and roll heaven. Any day now, Philadelphia will kiss its current musical phenomenon good-bve and hope to see them on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert some late Saturday night. It’s just a matter of time. Last Friday, JDB was the opening act for Procol Harum at the Tower Theater, and, lo and behold, they upstaged one of rock-and-roll’s most venerable groups. Yes, it’s only a matter of time.

JDB is unquestionably, the best white band this city has spawned since Darryl Hall and John Gates They are the only local aggregation worth paying to see, and one of the few bands in the country that don’t need a hit single or a high-powered promotional campaign to galvanize an audience or enlist a coterie of hardcore fans. You can walk in off the street and, having never heard them on radio or seen them on television, make an immediate connection. Their humor is infectious, their energies contagious, and their music instantly likable. And they possess more native ability than any local group since Todd Rundgren’s Nazz.

JDR is a consistently good-time, kick-ass rock and roll group with equal parts of self-awareness and self-mockery who revel in their frenetic theatrics The choreography is at once chaotic and controlled. You can watch “and/or listen to and/or dance to JDB. Whether full-tilt boogie or flat-out funny, they are sensational. There is so much electricity on stage that one fears if two bodies ever collided both would be electrocuted. Each of the seven members retains an individual identity while complementing and playfully foiling for each other.

Since the singing duties are shared by six members, four-part harmonies are not uncommon. The vocals are clear and powerful. Everyone takes a shot at the spotlight, but the only superlative voice belongs to Nanette Mancini, the sole female in the group. She is both the vocal and the visual center of attention, the unifying force and the transcendent stage presence.

Where her colleagues are blatant, she is subtle and sinewy, conscious of her sexuality and able to play it for all it’s worth without seeming to take herself seriously. Nanette is the personification of innocent seduction, a Lolita projecting more sensuality in a simple nuance than a black-leathered Suzi Quatro manages in a Pent¬house Magazine touch-your-toes pose.

While the men have adequate voices (Tony Juliano’s the best), Nanette’s is staggeringly potent and versatile. Shades of Etta James and Aretha Franklin. She has worked in commercials for TV and radio and has learned to sell a song from note one.

“Performing is an orgasm,” says Juliano, the creative guiding light of the band i though he’d be the first to deny it). “The climax of performance far surpasses any artificially induced high. We work with lots of bands and we are the straightest when it comes to drugs. Performing is the highest of highs. Everyone in the group will agree with that—performing is all.”

The best thing that could happen to Johnny’s Dance Band is to run up against a producer who will fight them note for note, who will force their visual energies into aural excitement, into a distinctly recorded JDB sound. As things stand now, they have to be seen to be believed.

The only Mher problem with the band is trying to discern where their heart meets their head. Tony Juliano and Chris Darway wrote most of JDB’s 50 songs. Juliano, in a previous artistic incarnation, wrote commercials for Kinney Shoes, Ford automobiles, the McGovem campaign, and the theme for “Saturday Night at the Groovies.” He also wrote and performed over 15 unique station identifications for WMMR in its heyday.

On radio, it was obvious he was having fun with the medium in which he was working, but now one is never quite sure if the persistently sardonic lyrics are making fun of the audience or the subject of the song.

These minor sins shall, however gain quick redemption when JDB becomes a major act. And that is just a matter of time.

* * * * * * * *

“It’s happening, all right,” laughs JDB’s manager, Rich Akins. “But it’s under control. Every vulture in the business is after them now, but these people won’t be slaves for anyone. Jesus, you should’ve seen Grendel’s during the live MMR concert—it was like a Billboard convention.”

After seven years of hassles, break¬ups, aborted record contracts, despair, regrouping and refining, the MMR concert came none too soon. JDB was on the edge of the abyss last summer. “It was our lowest point, morally, musically, financially, every way,” says Chris Darway.

Then the Drummer did a story, Phil Roy booked them into Grendel’s for an indefinite run, the Inquirer’s Jack Lloyd bestowed glowing accolades on them, and MMR broadcasted a live two-hour concert. That was the capper, an unprecedented and attention-grabbing move. There was no record label footing the bill, no promo man hyping the act—just a lot of people who wanted to hear the band that was generating so much street talk.

A live concert on MMR is not rolled over lightly by big wheels in the music machine. Billy Joel went virtually unnoticed until his MMR gig. Ditto Bonnie Raitt. And, to a lesser degree, Bruce Springsteen. More and more, record labels are again looking to Philly as a launching pad for new artists, and for a nationally recognized station to donate two hours (and $500 of lost commercial revenue) to a band with no product to push and no tour to tout surely whetted some appetites.

So success descended upon the band in a long-awaited rush.

“You can tell why someone wants you in this business very quickly and we choose to be with people who believe in us,” says Tony Juliano. “That’s how we’re dealing with this success crap. We’ve all been fucked over too many times to get sucked in now.

“We want to be rock and roll stars, every single one of us. We believe in our musical concept and we want to get it across to as many people as possible, but the concept is seven years in evolution now and no one is going to fuck with us. A couple of months ago we were eking out a living, and now when record companies come a-calling, we’re looking for one thing a connection. Everything has to connect. It doesn’t have to be the biggest label; it just has to be a company that respects what we’re doing and understands what the band is all about.

Two years ago, JDB made a demo tape and tried to peddle it in New York. They weren’t getting much attention here in Philly, so they figured that Muhammad should go to the mountain. The record companies were impressed, but confused. The band didn’t fit into any trends, didn’t sound exactly like any other group on the charts.

After the multiple rejections in New York, the band was disjointed and dismayed. Enter Alex Matter. Filmmaker and screenwriter, winner at Cannes in 1963 for his film The Drifters.

“The main trouble at the time was bread,” says Juliano. “With no gigs, everyone had side jobs and it caused some conflict. Alex gave us a house to live in and practice in, he got us gigs, he helped us creatively because he’s such a sensitive dude.”

When the vultures starting circling a few months ago, the artiste had to give way to a smooth-talking, high-pressure muscleman. Though still financially and spiritually aligned with the band, Alex Matter turned over the magic wand to Rich Akins.

“I’m the group’s manager and agent,” says Akins. “Then again, I’m not their manager or their agent. It’s a crazy kind of relationship. To be perfectly honest,” says Akins, leaning forward as if to reveal his first truism, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing—I’m not a musical agent—I’m not in this business—behind these dungarees is an executive who deals with the biggest corporations in the country, people like Pepsi-Cola and . . .”

Rich Akins and Rick Trow are partners in a very successful multi-media company U. Cheltenham that specializes in educational materials. They are presently under a $1-million contract to Pepsi-Cola to produce “The Great American Teen,” a show that will play auditoriums across the nation and will be viewed by 12 million high school students Johnny’s Dance Band is the musical director of the multi-media blitz, writing, producing, and starring on film and tape. In pure business terms, this means that during every month of 1976 one million media-reared, music-crazed, record-buying teeny-boppers will see and hear Johnny’s Dance Band in their high schools. That’s more people than the Rolling Stones reached on their Tour of the Americas this year.

So fast and so slowly, so easily and so painfully. Johnny’s Dance Rand has thus far passed every test on their search for stardom. After the lawyer is retained, after the auction is over, after their names are on the dotted line, then they will know if it’s St. Peter who awaits their knockin* or some rock and roll Lucifer