Interview: Tony Valentino of The Standells

Tony Valentino of 60s garage rock/proto-punk band The Standells is releasing a new album on May 26th called Dirty Water Revisited. Much like artists Rick Springfield and Taylor Swift, he’s revisiting his back catalogue as a way to reclaim the songs and have control over them after all these years. He is a rock and roll history book and his music has inspired countless musicians. He is still an active musician and producer. Three years ago he released an album called A Suitecase Full of Dreams with the title coming from his journey from a small farming community in Sicily to Hollywood, coming to the USA with a suitcase full of dreams. He’s just one of multiple immigrant stories in California rock and roll history with other rock and roll immigrants including Carlos Santana (and his brother Jorge from Malo) from Mexico, Canadians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, and two Irishmen: Declan Mulligan of The Beau Brummels and Sean Byrne from the Count Five.

On Dirty Water Revisited you can hear re-recordings of Standells classics like “Dirty Water” – which has become a theme song for the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins, the working class anthem “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” – has been name checked by The Barracudas’ in their song “I Wish It Could Be 1965 Again” at about 2 minutes in, “Riot On Sunset Strip” from the film of the same name, and the banned song “Try It”.

We’re extremely lucky to have Tony with us on the blog to talk about his musical journey and stories from the 60s. You can expect to hear a lot of name dropping, as classic rock really is a small world! This is a very special treat for The Diversity of Classic Rock readers and I hope you enjoy it! As always, this is the interview as it happened in full in a Q&A format. If you wanna hear how Tony Valentino crossed paths with rock stars like Sonny Bono, The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, and Dennis Wilson, and hear his amazing journey from Sicily to Hollywood, keep on reading!

Interview with Tony Valentino of The Standells

Angie Moon: How did you get started playing music?

Tony Valentino: I’m from Italy so I wanted to come to the United States because I was playing a little guitar and I heard some American rock and rollers like Buddy Holly and Bill Haley and the Comets and The Platters, you know music from America and I was enchanted by that solo I heard on “Rock Around The Clock”. That was amazing because I’ve never heard anything like that in Italy. So my mum was in America before and then they got deported back to Sicily. Somehow my grandfather did something to do with bootlegging or I don’t know what the hell he did. But anyway I always wanted to come to America so finally I keep bugging my grandma and everybody that we should come to America and so after three years it finally happened and then I wanted to come here and play rock and roll, so that’s what I did. It’s the way I started to play music. I wanted to play rock and roll. And I tried so hard. It was really hard at the beginning, but I succeeded somehow.

Angie Moon: How old were you when you moved from Italy to the US?

Tony Valentino: I was 17. I lived in Sicily up in the mountains. This is not Italy. Sicily was a different thing in those days in like in ’57 they had more, nobody wanted to go to Sicily, even the Italians, because of the Mafia. But that’s what happened. I decided to come to America and play rock and roll music. What I got here I couldn’t speak English. My uncle got me a job in this pastry bakery place where they were baking bread and everything. I was allergic to flour and I requested a transfer and they transferred me into the oven department and I met this guy named Jody Rich and he goes, “Yeah I play bass” and I go, “I play a little guitar” and he goes, “Let’s start a band.” So we started a band and within about a year and a half we started rehearsing in a garage. That was a garage, where I started garage rock punk music. Anyways, from there we somehow were working on a song that was called “Delayed Action” and we started a band called The Starliters with me and Jody Rich and Lenny Duncan. We had this song called “Delayed Action” and the name was not good. We went one night to get up to see a football game in Burbank, California and good enough, they were clapping their hands, all the people were crazy about football. On the way out I told the guys, “Let’s use the handclaps for the song and we’ll call the song ‘Let’s Go’.” So we called the song “Let’s Go”, it was a hit in ’61, ’62. I could barely speak English. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the song. It became a sports song. A lot of people were playing in sports, like every time they did games. Football games and stuff like that. So that was my first experience in recording and getting into the record companies. Then after we did that, the lead singer disappeared, Lenny Duncan disappeared and then me and Jody, we wanted to continue The Starliters and we met this fellow named Larry [Tamblyn] when we were looking for a keyboard player and then we met this agent. The agent got us a gig in Hawaii, but he said that you guys are gonna have to change your name because a new member and so we changed the name from The Starliters to The Standells because he wanted us to do that and so we took three days because we were standing around and because of the Standel amplifier that is still around these days. We thought Standel with one L but we had fears to get sued and then we put two Ls in the Standells and so we became The Standells, we changed it. That’s the way we started it, so I started the band from day one. I’ve been with The Standells.

Angie: When you moved to the US, did you move to LA straight away or did you go somewhere else before?

Tony: We actually moved to Cleveland. My grandparents were in Cleveland, Ohio, but when I got there I was kind of disappointed. I kept asking my grandma, “I wanna go to Hollywood. Can you guys take me there? Can I take the bus?” And she goes, “What are you talking about? It takes three days to get there by train!” I go, “Oh my goodness. Why? You guys are in Cleveland. I want to go to Hollywood, you know!” I gotta see the Tower Building. I’ve seen the Tower Building, the Capitol Tower Building when I was in Italy. I go, “Someday I’m gonna go in there and make a record.” So my grandmother after two months of working in Cleveland, luckily my aunt was here and my uncle in California, so we came here to California. She put me on the train. Couldn’t speak English. It took about three days. It was a riot because let me tell you, because in those days my grandmother packed me a lunch with cheeses and anchovies, Sicilian style, so when I got on the train after about six or seven or eight hours, I figured out all of the people disappeared from the wagon, everybody was gone. I go, “What’s going on here?” and this black guy would come in and check me out and I couldn’t say what’s wrong with it. I had no idea. He was pointing at my bag and then I figured out that because of the cheese meal and the anchovies [smelled]. Everybody laughed. But anyway I got to Los Angeles and my uncle picked me up and I saw the Capitol Building on the freeway on the way to where they were staying, my aunt and uncle. And then one day I kept bugging them to take me there. I wrote in this kind of Italian English songs for Dean Martin and I wanted to get it to Dean Martin because he was very famous. So we went to Capitol Records one day and he takes me there and about 10 minutes after talking to the lady at the front desk she keeps on saying, “Manager! Manager!”. I remember hearing the word ‘manager’ and the next thing I know is two guards come in and escorted us out. So they kinda threw us out and believe it or not, about three years later there I was at Capitol Building signing a contract with Capitol Records, where we signed it. That was unbelievable. Finally I got to Capitol’s building and signed a contract. The same day I remember that Pink Floyd was at Capitol and we took pictures. We took a bunch of photos with Pink Floyd. That was incredible.

Angie: Was that Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd?

Tony: Yeah, they had a song out, “See Emily Play”, and we went up on the roof and took pictures. We went on Laurel Canyon and took pictures and then they became so famous, I couldn’t believe it. I go, ‘Wow! My goodness!’. But that was a great day to remember.

Angie: What were they like?

Tony: Very kinda fun and spoiled. Running around and throwing things around like kids. Like you know when you get a hit record, you do so many crazy things because of the fame, I guess. But we had fun. We had a lot of fun taking photos. So that was the beginning, but before that we got signed with different companies. We got signed with Liberty Records, then Vee-Jay Records. I wanna tell you the story of Vee-Jay Records because when we got signed with Vee-Jay Records, my manager said Sonny Bono wants to produce you guys. You know, Sonny and Cher, and they were just getting started, they were living off their car in Los Angeles. So my manager said to us, he goes “Is it okay if Sonny Bono wants to produce you?” because they had “Baby Don’t Go” their song out, the first song they put out and he was working with Phil Spector at the great recording studio Gold Star Studios on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. And then he goes “Because he wants $5,000”. So my manager and the production company, they give Sonny $5,000 and that was it. He was so broke, he got that $5,000 and I guess they got a place to live and then they got going from there. And Cher sang on our records with it at Gold Star and that was it. When we got signed with Vee-Jay Records we walked in and finally the secretary takes us to see the president, the person who was gonna sign the contract and we were sitting behind the desk and after we sat down and shook hands, he goes, “Welcome to The Standells. Hey, I got great news for you guys. I just want you guys to know that I just let these four guys from England out of the contract and let them go so I’m gonna sign The Standells.” And then we couldn’t figure out who it was. He wouldn’t tell us. On the way out the secretary goes, “That was The Beatles!” Can you believe that? That’s what he did. He let The Beatles go out of Vee-Jay to sign The Standells and you see that The Beatles were on Vee-Jay Records. They had a couple of hits. That was a historic moment. Another crazy thing. I got all kinds of stories. I’m trying to make a movie some day. I’m working on it. I gotta put a script together.

Angie: Is it about your life or the 60s in general?

Tony: The 60s, rock and roll, sex and rock and roll and all that. And then of course when we went on tour with The Rolling Stones that was another big… I’m telling you I’m lucky to be alive because we died so many times. Those guys were crazy. Imagine one night we were flying from Texas back to New York and we’re playing cards every night after the concerts on the plane and there was a huge amount of money on the table and I guess Keith Richards lost a hand or Brian Jones or one of those and he took all the cards, put them on a pile, and lit them on fire. So he started a fire on the plane. Well you know the smoke and can you imagine that? The captain comes out and he goes, “You guys are crazy! I’m gonna land this plane anywhere I can right now! I don’t wanna die!” You know? (laughs) So he had to put out the fire and so there was a lot of crazy moments with The Rolling Stones. You never knew what was next.

Angie: What other bands did you tour with?

Tony: There was The McCoys and we did The Hollywood Bowl with Buffalo Springfield and The Stones and The McCoys. I’ve toured with Paul Revere and the Raiders, Chad and Jeremy, all kinds of different artists. Then in the Midwest we toured with a lot of different [artists] like Johnny Winter. You know, all kinds of mixed rock and rollers. There was a lot of big experience to be going crazy on the road on the plane or on the buses or whatever it was. It was always a challenge.

Angie: What would your average tour be like? What was life like on the road in the 60s?

Tony: Well in the 60s it was kind of, at first for a while we had to do it on our own. We had to get either a van, one of those VW vans or a Ford van and put all the equipment in there and us and then drive across America with it. It was kind of challenging because in those days we had to take all our equipment. Imagine all our amplifiers and now it’s so easy. You just tell them what you need on stage and they put it out for you. You go in and they plug in and play. In those days we had to do everything ourselves so we had to take all the equipment with us and driving and sleeping in motels and hotels. But seeing America was great. Going across America about four or five times was an incredible experience, especially going through the south. The south, the Delta, you know like the Delta Blues and it was so magical too because at one point, when we get off the highway and we end up in this little town and it was a black community and everybody was outside on the porch with the swing chairs and rocking chairs. There’s this one guy playing guitar and we stopped and we listened to him and it was incredible. We had no idea in those days, he could have been somebody really important. We had to do the concert and we didn’t have enough time, but we ran across a lot of that scenery in the south. It was like a different country, I’m telling you! It was like completely different from Hollywood. You go in the south. There was much more behind than that in California, but luckily all the blues players they all came up from there, from the Delta Blues. So in a way it was a great experience to see that, the roots of the blues.

Angie: Would you say that was your favourite part of the US to see?

Tony: Yeah I think that was very impressive. I never really forgot that. I never heard such music like that in Italy. It was magical. I go, “Man that guy’s playing guitar like that with the slide!” I had no idea of the existence of a guitar slide in Italy, no. So when I saw this guy that I was telling you [about] that we stopped that was playing the slide guitar and I go, “Oh my god, I gotta get one of those slide things. You could slide and make great sounds.” So I learnt a lot from listening to Albert King and Leadbelly, all those giants of the roots of rock and roll and also the rock and roll like Little Richard or Chuck Berry. I was also a big fan [of that]. We played with Chuck Berry for a whole week one time. We did like six nights in this town near Los Angeles. We played with Chuck Berry for six days in the same club with these six shows and hanging out with Chuck Berry, it was incredible backstage. I learnt a lot from him too. He was absolutely great. But let me tell you, when we were playing at the Hollywood Bowl, I think it was the Hollywood Bowl, my Telecaster guitar I was playing and I remember Keith Richards coming up to me and he goes “That’s a really nice geet. I like your geet.” and so I go, “Telecaster, Fender” because he wasn’t playing that when we were on tour and I guess that’s history now, you know, Keith Richards, that’s what he plays, a Telecaster. Everybody knows that. That was quite an experience also, being a part of that, it’s like my god! It’s like a big hit for me.

Angie: Who are your favourite bands of the 60s?

Tony: I really loved Procol Harum, that’s incredible. I loved the song “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. Unbelievable. I just could not believe when that song came out. I was really, I could not believe that they were incredibly good. And The Beatles of course. The Beatles did a big waking up to everybody when they came out because there was not so many bands here when we were in Hollywood. You could get signed easily in those days. Now everything’s out of control and different with the internet. But The Beatles, I would say. The Stones and there was from the 60s, American, I would say Chuck Berry and I was a big fan of Buddy Holly, unfortunately we lost him, but he was another big influence on me.

Angie: How did American rock bands view British rock bands in the 60s?

Tony: Well there was not much, I remember I used to hang out with The Beach Boys and they were the biggest in the 60s here. They had a lot of big hit records and I became friends with Dennis [Wilson] the drummer. As a matter of fact, with him we ended up going to Charles Manson’s ranch. I’m telling you. That’s why I want to make a movie. It’s unbelievable, I’m telling you!

Angie: You were hanging out with Charles Manson, can you tell me more about that?

Tony: Absolutely, yeah. I’m telling you, when I heard what I happened, I was living in Laurel Canyon and this guy ran to my house because everybody was standing on Laurel Canyon, all the rock stars. This guy comes and slams the door open and goes, “Tony! Tony! Oh my god! Charles Manson, the Family, all the guys, they killed all these people!” I go, “What? What are you talking about?” Oh my god, I got chills. It was like weird, just weird feeling. Imagine this, me and Dennis, and my roommate, we went on motorcycles. We had Triumphs, we used to have Triumph, English bikes, we loved the Triumphs. And we went to Spahn Ranch to deliver the message to Charles Manson that Terry Melcher was going to go there to listen to his material. We gave him, because Terry Melcher didn’t want nothing to do with him. We used to go skateboard at Dennis’ house here in Hollywood and we used to skateboard and Charles Manson used to sit on the sidewalk with his guitar and he used to play songs and he goes “What do you think of this one?” And the three girls were with him and they kinda barely took over his house. I remember there were three steps to go up and he goes, “Tony, you guys, what do you need? The girls will take care of you. Anything you want.” Unbelievable. But when we were at the Ranch it was like very trippy, everybody was like Charles Manson goes, “You guys need anything, you know, What do you want? Some girls?” It was like, I’m telling you. When I heard what happened it was just like, I could not believe it.

Angie: You were completely shocked. Like you didn’t expect it.

Tony: Oh god. I was shocked, shocked! I mean it was like I could not believe it. That we were at the Spahn Ranch and hanging out with the motorcycles. That was another part of my life, rock and roll, a big chapter of my life.

Angie: Why did The Standells break up?

Tony: What happened is Dick Dodd, one day decided that he wanted to be a solo rock and roll singer because he was the lead singer. So he left the band and me and Larry were trying desperately to find somebody else and as a matter of fact we found this guy, Lowell George, which he was a genius musician. He was playing the sitar and he formed the band [Little Feat] and then he died, he OD’ed. He was different. He was not a punk player. He was more of a different kind of music so Larry was still trying to find more guys. We found a couple of different guys and this and that and so meanwhile, while Dick Dodd quit, which my manager before he heard the news, he got us a deal with Dunhill Records to sign a big contract and so my manager got ahold of me and Larry to sign the contract in Beverly Hills so we went there, there was a huge contract, it was maybe two and three hundred thousand in those days, it was unbelievable. We were there waiting and waiting for Dick Dodd and he never showed up. So he never signed the contract and so Dunhill dropped us without Dick Dodd. Dig this, my manager, I knew Cory Wells from San Francisco and we were recording at recording studio with Richard Podolor, he produced a lot of big hit records. So our contract ended up in the hands of Three Dog Night. So Three Dog Night took over our contract and they became huge because of us. I was talking about Steppenwolf, I’m sorry, Richie Podolor produced Steppenwolf and then he produced The Standells and then we were recording.

Angie: What did you do after The Standells?

Tony: I was heartbroken. It was really devastating. Our company they really didn’t pay us well. They were a bunch of crooks. They stole our money and I was kinda broke and I guess Dick Dodd quit and Larry quit and he got married and moved to Idaho, went to Utah somewhere, and disappeared. I took the band in 1971 and I got three more guys and I continued as The Standells and I went to play in Canada for about six years. I continued with The Standells and then in the 70s with the disco and punk, it disappeared, all the bands. All the punk rockers, everything. Disco took over and it was hard to compete. Nobody wanted to know about The Standells in the 70s, but then in the 80s when Joe Strummer and The Cure and all these guys from England and the Sex Pistols started to analyse the Standells, you know, that’s when we started to become more famous. Then I got ahold of Larry and Dick Dodd in the 80s and we did a club in Hollywood, a famous club, and then from there we did a concert in ’86 and then after that nothing happened and then The Red Sox adopted “Dirty Water” as the team song so they were playing “Dirty Water” every time they played the games and so we were asked in 2005 to go play in Boston, “Dirty Water” and I started playing my “Dirty Water” riff and 50,000 people went crazy at Fenway Park. That was incredible! And so that’s what happened. One guy decided to leave the band and he was the lead singer and we just fell apart. We couldn’t get back on our feet.

Angie: I read somewhere that you opened a restaurant.

Tony: Yes! Wow! So when I got off the road when I came back from Canada, I figure, I go because I’m Italian, you know, my family, we all cook, everybody’s cooking and then we always wanted to open a restaurant and so we got together and decided to open an Italian restaurant and it was a great success. We had singing servers. Everybody was singing, all the waiters. It was insane! So many, thousands of people, they would would come and sing, it was incredible, the waiters. Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis’ daughter, used to come in there, and The Jackson Five, a bunch of movie stars. I can name some of the movie stars, but I can’t remember. But anyway it became very successful, but then it was a lot of hard work. It was unbelievable. It was like, at the time, that’s when I got married, I opened the restaurant in 1990 and then I have a beautiful daughter, she’s 28 now, my daughter Brianna, so I got married, opened the restaurant, and said I can’t handle it anymore. Too much work so I sold it, but it was fun. It was 12 years of my life I spent in the restaurant. It was fun! It was like, I could not believe it. Every night was a challenge. It was another chapter of my life.

Angie: One of your most famous songs, “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” has a pro working class message. What are your thoughts on rock songs being a vehicle for change and spreading a message?

Tony: You heard Dirty Water Revisited, right? Big Stir Records, by the way they’re doing a great job, Rex and Christina, they’re working really hard right now. They’ve been promoting me like crazy, man, on the internet, everyday, because the album’s coming out in a few days, but it was already kind of out. But “Good Guys Don’t Wear White”, the message, unfortunately, things in those days in the 60s, were restricted with the black community in the United States. I had no idea because when I came here I really liked, I asked a friend to take me to Watts in Los Angeles, a black community because I wanted to see. Because in Italy, I wanted to see where these guys play guitars and whatever and I really liked the black musicians. I wanted to observe what they do. They have some kind of great soul. And I must say that Dennis Channing is responsible for signing me with Big Stir Records, he’s a promoter, a single guy promoting, almost like Clive Davis, he puts deals together. He got me a deal with Big Stir. I’m very grateful. He jumped in and got me a deal. I worked really hard on that album. I recorded my singing in my studio.

Angie: What was your upbringing like back in Sicily?

Tony: I’m telling you, this is the truth, I grew up in a farm. My grandfather was in America in New York and he was a genius. He went back to my little town in Sicily, it’s called Longi. My sister’s name is Angie, by the way. But Longi was my little town and I grew up with the cows and goats in the farm. No electricity. We used to make the wine in September and I remember we used to make the cheese and go after the herd of cows, with the pastures. And so I grew up in the mountains with no electricity and it was so primitive. It was incredible growing up like that. Sometimes when I came to see American people throwing things away, I go, “What do you mean you’re throwing that away? Hold on! No! No! Don’t throw that chair away!” In America, people would throw things away and there was nothing like that in Italy. We had to live off the land growing up, grow our own tomatoes and potatoes. In the summer, my grandfather bought a lot of acres of land and he was doing grain and so we had the cows with the rocks to go around and around to smash the grain, imagine that! That’s the way they used to do it. We had to sleep on the hay outside. So it was a very primitive growing up, like being in Alaska, living off the land. So that’s the way I grew up. But then I went to the big towns like Messina and Palermo. Now Sicily’s very famous. A lot of people want to go to Sicily now because it’s beautiful. Oh, it’s incredible. In those days we were stuck in my little town. My dad was [one of] the first people that bought a car, truck in my town. Imagine that! So it was like unbelievable. Everything was done by horses. People used to bring them down to the bigger town to get groceries and stuff by horses. That’s the way I grew up. I would never forget that. It was amazing.

Angie: Your biggest hit “Dirty Water” was about Boston and the band’s from LA and they apparently hadn’t visited Boston prior to recording the song. How did that come about?

Tony: When we got signed we got a producer named Ed Cobb. Meanwhile, we were playing in clubs around towns in San Francisco, like PJ’s was a famous club, Hollywood, The Peppermint West, where all the movie stars used to come. So then when we got signed with Capitol Records we got signed with Ed Cobb. And Ed Cobb one day he comes in and he says “You guys, I have a song about…” You know he started playing the song and it was like halfway done and with three chord changes and we didn’t kind of like it, we started recording it, but we didn’t like it. I remember when we were rehearsing in the garage in those days, that’s where the garage punk started, from me. From going back to the original Starliters, I was telling you before, we used to rehearse in the garage. We had no rehearsal place. So that’s where the punk rock came out, from the garage, rehearsing in the garage. As a matter of fact, we recorded “Dirty Water” on top of this garage. So Ed Cobb comes up with this song and we really didn’t like it, but he wrote the lyrics and the lyrics were good because his girlfriend, I guess was in Boston and one day he was visiting her and he found out that he couldn’t go because all the women had to be in before 12 o’clock. In the song it says “gotta be in before 12 o’clock”. So he couldn’t see his girlfriend because at 12 o’clock they had to be in and then he was walking by the River Charles and he almost got mugged and all the muggers and thieves in Boston, the whole scenario. So then, but the song. We didn’t like it. It was like a three chord change. We put it in the drawer, we’re recording some other songs and then one day, we kinda dig it out again and we start talking about how we needed something. Some kind of the beginning. So I went home and I started messing around with my guitar and then a couple of days later I went back with this riff and then that was it. I made up the famous riff and Dick Dodd started with “I’m gonna tell you a story”. He made up all these lyrics. So that’s the way that “Dirty Water” was born and then it became a hit, mostly because of my riff. All the guitar players, they go crazy! I had people still coming up to me and saying [they love it]… Even Bruce Springsteen! He recorded “Dirty Water”. The other day I was watching and somebody goes, “Hey Tony! You know that Bruce Springsteen recorded “Dirty Water” and I go, “What?”. Yeah he was playing it on stage and I look it up and he’s playing my riff on the guitar and so a lot of musicians, a lot of kids, I guess because of that riff, you know. I had no idea in those days what I’ve done.

Angie: You never got any credit for it at all, like you didn’t get a songwriting credit.

Tony: Well, we sued the company after a while and they paid us, they are still paying us. As a matter of fact, they used “Dirty Water” in the Super Bowl, a couple years ago and they had to pay us. They had to pay me because of the riff, but we never got the actual credit on the record. It doesn’t say my name or Dick Dodd’s name. But we’re getting paid. Once you do that, once you put out the album, it’s too late. They can’t go and take all the albums from the people to add my name on it, it’s impossible. But so that’s what happened. In those days you get ripped off left and right.

Angie: What do you wish you knew about the music industry then that you know now?

Tony: The music industry now is completely, everything’s all messed up. It’s out of control. I feel bad for the new artists because you can’t even put out a record now. Everything’s on the internet. before you know it, people can download it and they have their ways, they can cheat and download the song and all the record companies disappeared except Universal and Atlantic and Capitol Records and that’s about it. Now it’s really tough. People have to put their songs out on their own names, on their own label, but there is not much distribution. The beauty of before the promoters going to the radio station and the record goes on and you go to the store and these things, everything disappeared! I remember I used to go to, there was a famous record store in Hollywood, everybody used to go there and we used to go and look to see how many records they would sell. Every day we used to go, how many would they sell? They used to put them up like, and then the next day they sold like six yesterday. In those days we used to go to the store and we could see how many they sold in reality. But now everything’s like all internet stuff, it’s like complete out of hand. But before I forget, because of that I released an album, because I couldn’t get a deal before I got signed with Big Stir Records. So I released my own album called A Suitecase Full of Dreams, because when I came from Sicily it was just a suitcase and no money and no nothing. Just the clothes that you were wearing. That was about it. We had really nothing when we came here. So that’s what I called [it], my suitcase was full of dreams instead of money when I came here to the United States. But the album is on the internet, it’s on CDBaby, it’s called Suitecase Full of Dreams. And I have some great songs on it, a lot of originals. You can check it out if you want. You can check it out on CDBaby, just put Tony Valentino – The Standells. That’s why I put out my own album. A lot of artists do that also, they [are] putting out [their own albums] because they can’t get a deal. So it’s tough, but there are some lucky kids and they make it. As a matter of fact I’m producing also some different artists, young people and I’m going to be producing this band called The Woolly Bandits. A couple of songs later on at the end of the month in June. Then I have an artist coming from Kansas City, but I’m busy, always writing and recording. And I was in the Midwest I did some concerts this last November and October. But right now I’m really just doing recording, just kind of doing that for this year and we’ll see what happens.

Angie: Where do you see rock music heading now?

Tony: Well, I think it’s getting a little bit better because now we got the rap music, so it’s another scenario. So if you are a punk rocker, you know, and there is the disco or there is the rap music, it completely takes it away, it’s like The Beatles music [with American artists pre-British Invasion] and like rap music, so I mean, with the rap music, which is really famous right now and popular, the rock and roll, we’re still trying hard. There are still some old rock and rollers so the new guys, unfortunately, everybody’s standing on more or less on going that way, kind of rapping. The kids, the new fad, they’re just going on now. It’s tattoos and rap music. So we’re competing with that, all the rock and rollers and punk rockers. So right now it’s like only the old artists who get to do concerts. To get some kids to have a rock and roll it, it’s barely happening right now. I would say it’s leaning more on the rap music scene than rock music. But I think we are succeeding. A lot of kids, believe it or not, they are tuned into the 60s. I was at Home Depot, this big department store, the other day and a father and son stopped me, the guy recognised me after all those years and they go, “Ahhh! I can’t believe it! Are you Tony Valentino?” And he goes, “Wow! My son is a big fan, he’s a big fan of The Standells. Could you sign something for him?” In these days, it’s 2023, you know. So it’s still, some of the new kids in town, they want to do rock and roll. They want to do the roots of rock and roll like Chuck Berry songs and stuff like that or blues, not rap, just straight, pure rock and roll.

Angie: Does it make you happy to see young people get into that?

Tony: Yes, I’m helping out a lot of them just by surprising that some of the kids are getting toward that direction, you know. I’m glad that finally maybe the new generation might take it over and kind of get more popular again.

Angie: I think a couple years back in Eurovision, Maneskin won and they’re a band from Italy that do very classic rock style music.

Tony: Yeah, right. Even in Italy now. Even in Italy, amazing, I got a station on my TV here, I get satellite thing from Italy and everybody, I’m so sad because everybody’s doing rap, yo yo yo, with the tattoos and everything and I go, “Oh my god, please no!”. I’m so embarrassed. They’re doing that. There’s been a few bands from Italy that do rock music, they’re really good.

Angie: Now coming back to the “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” song, you talked about going to Watts and that kind of being an inspiration behind it.

Tony: It was mostly because of the blue and white collar workers, you know, because who says who’s better? Who’s better than two guys, you know the white collar worker or the regular. So it was kind of a messaging to try to unify and kinda be together, don’t have a separation of power because you’re black or white, you know what I mean? Unfortunately right now in the United States things are really out of control. It’s sad because when I came from Italy, America was so pure, so great and now it’s so out of control. It’s like really scary. With the guns. Everybody’s going crazy and there’s guns. It’s out of control with this AR-15, everybody goes outside and shooting at everybody. It’s like it doesn’t make sense. It’s out of control, unfortunately. But I think in those days “Good Guys Don’t Wear White” it was more meaningful than now. Now you can’t even talk about that, it’s completely out of control, you know. But luckily there’s been some progress on recognising the black community to make things better for them and also when I came here from Italy, I learnt a lot about Indians, I had no idea that the American Indians, what happened to them, what they went through. It was crazy. They got wiped out, it’s sad. That’s history. History’s got it’s own, for each country, you know. But I hope things get better. I hope so. “Good Guys Don’t Wear White” is one of my favourite songs and I hate a lot of fun re-recording it again and a lot of people really like it. A lot of people really like it. As a matter of fact, in England, I think there was a video I saw and I think Joe Strummer was on the scooter on the Vespas in the 80s, it was a big thing in the 80s with The Mods and they were playing “Good Guys Don’t Wear White” on the video. It was great! I couldn’t believe it! But I had no idea that the success, it was like a dream, coming from Sicily and getting to record and be on TV. When I came here I wanted to see Dick Clark, the American Bandstand, it was incredible, Dick Clark, The American Bandstand. It was like everybody was there. And I go “Someday I wanna go there, I wanna go there!” Each day I told my grandmother when I was in Cleveland I saw Dick Clark and American Bandstand and I go, “Oh my god! This is great!” So one day, then I went there. One day we did American Bandstand, we did it three times actually, which was great, I couldn’t believe it. I was on American Bandstand, wow! But that’s part of my life, another chapter.

Angie: Do you think rock music can definitely change things and spread a good message?

Tony: The thing is that the message, if you do something that is against the Republicans, they won’t buy the records, but if it’s against the Democrats, now because of this, America’s divided. You cannot talk about politics, things, to try to make things. I mean I’m writing songs, you know I wrote a song, working on a freedom song. I played it for some people who go “Yeah, but I don’t know if the Republicans are gonna go wild and this, or I don’t know if the Democrats…” The whole thing is so crazy with the Republicans and the Democrats that you know, I feel they need a new kind of a system. Somebody new, somebody like Kennedy, somebody new who would wake everybody up. But rock and roll, we’re trying. I’m trying to write some songs with a good message to see if we can change things, you know, for the better, you know. So we’re trying. But unfortunately as I said, some radio stations because of their belief, the Republicans or the Democrats, they won’t play the records because you say something against them. So you really gotta watch out. So you have to be in the middle, try to kinda spread the message but don’t go there. Don’t go to the left or the right.

Angie: What do you think it was about the 60s that made it a golden age for protest music?

Tony: I think it was time. It was like a revolution on a lot of things. It was a revolution of marijuana, the marijuana scene, and the acid, you know, the acid, and the revolution of the messages and the music and I think the whole thing started with the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War made the 60s kind of the revolution, the rebellion go on, happen because of the Vietnam War, because of the draft. A lot of kids, a lot of people got wiped out. They got sent to war and never came back. So a lot of people were rebelling and protesting against the war. I remember I was in a lot of those protests. I remember I went to see Robert Kennedy speak at the park here in Los Angeles, it’s called Griffith Park and he made a speech and unfortunately, two days later he got assassinated. He was like trying to stop the war, he was trying like his brother, you know, and he was trying to make good and then somebody [Sirhan Sirhan] killed him. It’s so crazy with the guns again. But that’s unfortunately… Fortunately, it was great because a lot of the music from the 60s came out, a lot of different bands came out with the messages against the war and this and that. We had a lot of stuff to talk about and so all the hippies, revolution of the hippies and Bob Dylan comes out with a lot of protest songs. Bob Dylan is my idol. We’re born on the same day, May 24.

Angie: Same year too?

Tony: Yeah, May 24, [1941]. Mine is in a few days, next week sometime.

Angie: Happy birthday!

Tony: So I remember I think Capitol Records made a calendar with the artist birthdays and it was mine and then Bob Dylan next to me. I couldn’t believe it on the calendar. I got it somewhere. I gotta find it. But yeah, Bob Dylan did a lot of protest songs and Joni Mitchell, you know, Joni Mitchell, another big star that she protested against the war. But it was tough because the cops tried Riot on Sunset Strip. Because of the riots on the Strip, I remember one night we were walking around and we had long hair and all of a sudden the cops and the horses, they started coming towards the sidewalk with the batons and started hitting us to get out of there, to go home. That was unbelievable. So Sunset Strip every night, people would march, would walk, it was like they want answers, they needed to do that, all the kids, the new generation needed to do the protest, rebellion, you know. They went on and luckily a lot of good stuff came out of the 60s, you know. So that was the 60s. Then the 70s come in with the disco and the whole thing changed completely.

Angie: With Reaganism and all that.

Tony: Yeah, right.

Angie: Would you say today that things are worse politically than back then?

Tony: Oh definitely, absolutely. It’s so bad. This Trump guy, I don’t know, man. This guy, man. I don’t know. He gets away with everything he does. I don’t understand. It’s like lies, lies, lies. He’s so bad for the kids, for the new generation to be able to hear this stuff in these times and age. Unfortunately, you know. It just changed the whole scammer, the whole thing, like they wanted to scam everything. It’s so ugly. So out of control and unfair, especially for the kids. They go, “Hey, you lied, you lied, the guy’s lying!”, but nothing you can do. He gets away with it. No way, there’s gotta be some kind of system, you know. Everybody’s trying to go, “You did that also”, “No you do that, that’s what I say”. Let’s have another system, another party, a different centre, somebody completely new. Get rid of the Republicans and the Democrats, do something new, you know. Because right now, it’s completely out of control. The scene, it’s bad, unfortunately. We have to go through with it and see what happens.

Angie: Yup. So your song “Try It” was banned from the radio, how conservative would you say the music establishment was in the 60s?

Tony: Oh man, that’s unbelievable, what I’ve done. Because of us, “Try It”. It was a big hit, it was number one on the stations it was played, it was number one. And this idiot from Texas, Republican of course, because he had about six or seven radio stations, he decided that “Try It” was too suggestive. Try what? And then I remember we did a TV show, it was called Art Linkletter, we debated the guy, the guy was a nutcase because I go “What are you talking about? What are you trying what? You wanna try Coca-Cola? Try to have an apple? Try to… What is it? What does that mean? Come on baby, try it! You can try anything!” But then the guy put in his mind that it was suggestive, it was because it was sex. So he banned the song and it screwed us up because that song would have made The Standells another level, but unfortunately that happened and the whole thing fell apart. It cost us a lot of money. It cost us our career because Dick Dodd quit and you know. But now I looked up on the charts and it’s now number four on my new recording on Dirty Water Revisited so the kids get to hear this now, they like it. So it’s number four on some of the stations. So thank god because just think of this, The Rolling Stones, they’re gonna spend the night together, they couldn’t even say let’s spend the night together, you know? What the hell, you know? Look at now what they’re saying on records on rap music, oh my god. “Screw this” and “fuck that” and whatever, you know. It’s unbelievable. So we were the guinea pigs that suffered on that “Try It”.

Angie: Why did you decide to revisit and record your old music?

Tony: Well because I was not in control at that time and they ripped us off so bad, and me myself, I got ripped off because of different things and different music that I’ve written. I was so mad and also because also I became, when I had the restaurant, Rick Springfield used to come to the restaurant, I’m sure you know who he is. He goes, he used to bring his dog there and sit on the patio and we used to talk a lot and he goes, “I’m re-recording my album because I got in a fight with my recording company, they took all my money.” So he goes, “To hell with it, I’m going to re-record my album and put it out.” The same way, that’s what I did, he gave me the idea. So I go “Hell, I’m gonna record the album. Maybe I can make some money this time.”, you know? I’ll be in control, you know. Don’t have to get ripped off. So even what’s her name did it.

Angie: Taylor Swift, right?

Tony: Yeah, she did it! She goes, “To hell with you, I’m gonna record a whole album”. (Laughs). So that’s what I did, you know?

Angie: What were your favourite moments re-recording all these songs?

Tony: Well I was trying to get the sound. I still got some amps that I recorded “Dirty Water” originally, some Vox. I got a Vox amp, we were sponsored by Vox, by the way. I got a poster with The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Standells, Dave Clark Five, we were sponsored by Vox, it was a great poster I have on the wall here next to my gold records. I had to get the sound right, I was trying to use the right guitars and trying to go at the tape. I was trying to go back in those days to when we put the mic on the amp and the way, what we did and so and actually I succeeded pretty good, trying to get that sound. What do you think? I think I got pretty close.

Angie: It was excellent.

Tony: And I did it here in my studio. I got my guitar, I have my Telecaster. I got a [Vox] Teardrop guitar (points at the guitar behind him)

Angie: Yeah! That’s beautiful!

Tony: A Teardrop guitar, then I have a, let me see. My first guitar was actually a Silvertone from Sears. Sears (laughs). An amplifier that I kicked one day and I got a different sound by mistake, you know. So I am trying to do the sounds from the 60s, but I think it was fun, it was a challenge. It was painful, but it was, I just did another interview for England, another interview I just did yesterday, it was for London and I was talking about that also. It was painful, it was fun. It was challenging. But I made it, just a little bit, a notch up, then I put a couple original songs on the LP. Actually there’s a song called “Vicki”. That is already, people are playing it here, got on the charts also. I don’t know if you’ve heard that yet. It’s on the LP. It’s a new recording that I did, a new song, I recorded it with my bass player, Gary Kaluza. Anyways so that’s what I did. I tried to recreate that album, the Dirty Water, the original “Dirty Water” sound.

Angie: Even with the amp being kicked basically?

Tony: Yeah, right, right. (Laughs)

Angie: Makes me think of the whole story with The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” guitar sound with Dave Davies and the razor and the speaker cone [on the green Elpico amp].

Tony: Yeah, kicking the speaker, because I was frustrated. I remember I went to this club one night. There was one of the guys from The Germs and he goes “Tony, I got a great story. Tell me the story about you kicking the amplifier and then you got a different sound!” (Laughs) I go, “It’s true! It’s true!” It was like an old Silvertone amplifier. I couldn’t afford the Fender amplifier because I had just came here from Italy and I got this kinda crazy sound, it was a fuzzy sound. The fuzztone, that’s what they call the fuzztone, you know. I got this fuzz sound on my amp. So that’s unbelievable, what I’ve gone through with my career here.

Angie: Absolutely, what an incredible story. One last question for you, what advice do you have for an aspiring rock musician?

Tony: As I said yesterday also, it’s very challenging. I would say whoever, male, female, if you want to start a band you’re gonna have to practice because now everything, you have to be perfect. You have to be incredible, great musician. You cannot be halfway. You’re gonna have to practice, practice. Even if you have to go a hundred times on one song. I told this one recording artist the other day, I go, “Listen, some nights, I sit here and I swear some nights I go over this one part for over 100, 200 times, you know?”. We have to do that. Until you get it right. So I would say they need to practice, get stuff together, vocals, guitar playing, keyboard playing, everything’s gonna be now, really really good. You have to be really really good. You can’t be like so-so musician, you have to be a really good musician to be liked by the new generation now. I would say do that, just practice, practice, practice!

You can follow Tony Valentino on Facebook and his website. Dirty Water Revisited can be purchased on Bandcamp.

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