Today, Gino Vannelli will be celebrating his 61st birthday. As with the majority of others, the only songs of his that I knew for years were “I Just Wanna Stop” and “Living Inside Myself”, both songs I enjoyed and found to be very unique and elegant. If most of us are honest with ourselves, we listen to music through some type of outward filter. The filters of our family’s,peers,radio or even a song we hear on television or in a film. One day while doing a search for Steely Dan and the Crusaders on Amazon.com, I noticed a few albums by Gino Vannelli that I knew nothing about that were in the “recommended for you” column. By the time I had done this I had learned via the Doobie Brothers,Steely Dan and Edgar Winter that some wonderfully soulful and funky music disguised itself in what is known alternately as the “soft rock” or more pejoratively “yacht rock” sub-category of music. This tends to be a highly segregated musical area-considered completely “illegitimate” territory for any “genuine” rock and roll admirer. And that is the domain in which Gino Vannelli is categorized: one that is seldom taken seriously. But with no credibility based prejudices, Gino Vannelli is one of the most vitally important creative forces of the funk era.
The Montreal native was born in 1952 to a former big band jazz musician. During his teens he dreamed of being a musician as well. After studying music formerly at McGill university Gino and his keyboardist brother Joe began to scope around NYC looking for a record deal to the point of becoming close to starving artists. After this period of serious dues paying Gino was signed by Herb Alpert to A&M records and recorded his debut album Crazy Life that same year. With the release of his second album Powerful People he had his first hit record with “People Gotta Move”, which set the musical pattern for his next three albums: a heavily reverbed mixture of multi tracked synthesizers along with Gino’s singing and songwriting-both of which drew heavily from jazzy,Broadway show tunes and the polyrhythmic possibilities of the funk/soul music. On his 1978 album Brother To Brother he added heavier guitars to his music and proceeded to create a sound that was more attuned towards commercial success. And he got it-even after a contract dispute with A&M records forced him to stave off recording until his come back in 1985. Today he has left the pop world almost totally behind and focuses primarily on jazz.
Musically speaking he is very much the Italian/Canadian equivalent of Stevie Wonder. His love of rhythm,melody and harmony have allowed him to create a unique sound blending many of the livelier music’s of his era together and gain a measure of success in doing so. Lyrically he shares a similarity as well. Gino Vannelli’s music has a far pure and intense level of emotional expression that went perfectly with the 1970’s. On his 1975 release Storm At Sunup, he fashioned a concept album of sorts with the lyrical theme dealing very intellectually with the emotional,romantic and sexual insecurities of an adolescent growing into a man. Rather than taking the painfully regretful tone Brian Wilson often did with the same subject, Gino chose to question manhood and the general idea of what he and others valued about masculinity-even to the point of addressing romantic. infidelity as a form of self torture. On his 1976 release Gist Of The Gemini he took on his own generation as the counter cultural ethic was beginning to erode on America’s bicentennial.
Interestingly enough Gino Vannelli’s almost Adonis-like facial intensity, bear chested and testosterone fueled body and his trademark mane of curly black hair puts him image wise as very influential on the big haired ethic of the 1980’s-more associated with the harder level of rock n roll. His music however, tells a different story. While commercially popular via a select number of songs, the best work of his career (which incidentally came out during his hit making prime) doesn’t receive the sort of commercial recognition that it should today. Since the late 1980’s, individuals love of music has tended to be bound by very strict musical categorization. Are you a rocker,a jazz man,a country boy or a funkateer? These are examples of the way male music lovers still tend to approach one another. Gino Vannelli’s music doesn’t necessarily defy categories. But it doesn’t deliberately endear itself to them either. Which is why,ironically for such a male focused artist, Gino’s music has had a largely female (and apparently homosexual male) audience as well. Yet his entire musical oeuvre is one to be greatly admired. And I would like to wish this wonderfully creative soul the happiest possible of birthday’s today.