BTD Interview with Joe Viglione
Written by Matt Zin on July 23, 2020
BTD Interview with Joe Viglione
Q: Joe, could you tell our listeners where you are from?
A: Raised in Somerville and Arlington, Massachusetts, moved to Woburn for many years, then to Medford, all in the same 15-mile radius
Q: So who is Joe Viglione, how would you describe yourself?
A: In the recording studio I consider myself a “sound chemist.” To me, it’s about capturing a feeling, same as when taking photographs – catching the visual as we catch a different perspective on audio. It all comes down to entertaining people and how you do it, the comedic timing, the serious level – which needs no timing. We all have a mission in life, mine is that of a documentarian.
Q: When did you start recording?
A: I started messing around with a tape recorder back in 1971, 1972, maybe earlier, writing songs, recording them with my guitar and a drummer. The big rock station in Boston, WBCN, used to air local music for 15 minutes at 11 am every weekday. They played about six of my songs, 1972 and 1973, one being “The Salt Water Summers”
Q: Do you have recording studio stories from back in the day?
A: Nils Lofgren came into the studio on Feb 19, 1987, when he was performing in Boston and he said “Joe, no one lets me play the blues! I love playing the blues.” Jimmy Miller was co-producing with me and was in New York and phones and says “I can’t make it to Boston, Joe, you handle the session.” Nils didn’t mind. I said, “Nils, I’ve produced you before!” So I pull a tape out of my pocket, I had recorded a GRIN concert at the Orpheum early 1970s and made a copy. His wife pulls me aside and said: “He will be so happy, that’s the one tour he did not record.”
During the session, I chose “Do You Know What I Mean” the Lee Michaels tune. Michael Barackman, then A & R at Capitol said “What a great choice for Buddy Guy” – I had a bunch of ideas and we’re in the studio, just me, Nils and probably the very excellent Joe Cuneo engineering, and I decide to pull out a verse and do a solo. There’s no solo on the hit record, it’s just keyboards and Lee Michaels singing. So Nils plays this amazing ascending line. Then we do another take and he does a descending line. He says “What do you think?” I said – “Superb. I’m going to take the ascending line from the first take and the descending line and mix them together into a new solo.” Nils says “erase one of them. I’ll do that for you.” Now I’m like “Oh my God, I have to erase a Nils Lofgren take! (I’ve written many Lofgren reviews on AllMusic.com after that…Google ’em) So we let Nils do another solo and he does exactly what I asked for…never saw a musician so proficient that what I had in my head from what I heard him record, mixing the two solos together, that he could play that so precisely. The man is amazing on many levels and despite playing with Springsteen for so many years, people don’t know his brilliance, just like they don’t know how truly brilliant Bobby Hebb was, on multiple levels. Musical geniuses with a word overused, “genius,” but I experienced that with both artists, and of course with Buddy Guy
Ed Derkazarian had a limo service and he used to drive us around, we had our own free limo! My friends drove for Ed and he later had me booking bands into his restaurant. We drove Nils to Rhode Island for his next show (at the same club, actually, where Buddy Guy performed when we recorded him at the studio around the corner, Genya Raven and Jimmy Miller singing with Buddy onstage, THAT was magic!) In the limo Nils and I talked about his work with Lou Reed. Nils has a new album out about Lou Reed and with songs they never released.
Q: When did you record your first E.P.?
A: 1976, Sev Grossman of Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom band, later on, MCA records, suggested Andy Mendelson who was, coincidentally, just a mile away from my home in Arlington. https://www.discogs.com/artist/303972-Andy-Mendelson
Andy later played keyboards for Andy Pratt and got signed himself to Arista
Q: What happened after you released your first E.P.?
A: It was pretty amazing, the little song I aired on WBCN 3 years earlier landed us in Playboy Magazine as one of Boston’s Five best Bands, to perform a concert down in Rhode Island at an amusement park, a half a page in Creem Magazine with The Who, Best Record of the Month in Phonograph Record magazine, Best Record of the Month in Belgium’s L’Attendant magazine and a record deal with Patrick Mathe’s Carrere distributed Flamingo Records
Q: Did you perform?
A: We played the Boston clubs, Cantones, Jaspers, Jumbos, The Rat, we went on to open the Channel Nightclub on the 2nd night, the Saturday night, and we have the world’s record for playing Boston’s Best Concert Club, 49 performances at The Paradise
Q: What has been your most favorite place to perform at and why?
A: Now that’s a tougher one – the Rathskellar in Boston was a blast because I was young and thin and would climb through the pipes in the ceiling. People enjoyed that. Did that at the Honey Lounge in Boston too, but Cantones and The Paradise in the 70s and early 80s were our favorite places, our launching pads. Today we perform annually at The C Note in Hull for the Rathskellar (or The Rat) reunions. We’ve played 7 years now. The largest venue was we performed at Great Woods back in the 1990s, it’s a massive venue out in Mansfield, Massachusetts – they use corporate names now, it’s been Tweeter Center, Verizon Center https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xfinity_Center_(Mansfield,_Massachusetts) now the X Finity
Center…oh well… I was in concert promoter Don Law’s office in 1985 and he showed me the blueprints. I went from performing at his Paradise rock club to performing and booking the place as an independent contractor. We performed with Black Flag, Peter Noone’s Tremblers (in between Herman’s Hermits for Peter,) Pat Travers, Lords of the New Church and we shared the bill with Extreme many times when they were called The Dream, before they sold the name to some TV show. I helped put together the first Bon Jovi show in Boston at the Paradise
Q: Do you have any juicy backstage stories you can share with us?
A: When I signed Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls to New Rose/Musidisc in Paris, France (I was A & R for New Rose Records, and the first artist Patrick Mathe’ put on a full album in 1978 when the label was called Flamingo/Carrere) we were backstage at the Paradise. We were one of the two opening bands. Some DJ from WERS radio (Emerson College) wanted to interview Johnny and he was his usual belligerent in a fun way. He demanded that the student make me interview him “I want Joe to interview me” so I did the interview, guess you had to be there. I wish I could find the tape. Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were touring, 2/3rds of CREAM, they were both very nice to me …they knew me because of my connection as representative of their producer, Jimmy Miller (Rolling Stones producer as well.) People may not know that Jimmy worked with Jack Bruce…it’s a secret on a very famous album. When we were producing Blues guitarist Buddy Guy I was on the balcony of the Limelight in Chicago with my secretary. Buddy was onstage with Phil Collins on a small drum kit and two members of Cheap Trick. Eric Clapton and his entourage wanted our spot on the center of the balcony and they literally pushed us to the side, this is – if my memory serves – April 19, 1987 …I had produced Nils Lofgren of Springsteen’s band on February 19, 1987, two months before in Boston. So I had the tapes for Eric and Clapton was being a funny man and refused to take the cassette, even though we had permission from Warner Bros and we were negotiating with Columbia. Eric said “I’m not taking the tape” and he laughed and Robert Cray intervened and said “But it’s BUDDY” and Eric’s laughing and not taking the tape. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Cray Robert Cray said “Joe, I’ll play this for Eric in the car tomorrow” and Eric laughed and said, “No, I won’t listen.” It was funny…and that interaction made up for their pushing me and my secretary to the side of the balcony! when we had a front row!
Talk show host Phil Donahue’s son was there…good looking fellow, and he asked me and my secretary to bring him backstage so it was fun hanging out with all these people while Buddy was wailing onstage. Eric took the stage with Buddy and Buddy started playing the guitar with one hand, just the strength of his hand on the strings without strumming, Eric did an intentional jaw drop …it was jaw-dropping, fun times…God, it was a lifetime ago, 32 years ago…
In 2014 at the Beatles tribute at the Apollo Theater in NY we were having fun, I produce Bobby Hebb the great musician who wrote “Sunny.” His daughter was there singing her dad’s tune and we were taking photos with Geraldo Rivera.
There were a couple of fun Aerosmith moments backstage, before they were famous and after they were famous. I took Kitoto Von Hebb to see Aerosmith in 2014 at Great Woods (X Finity Center) and I walked up behind Steve Tyler and said: “It’s me, Steven, Suky Jones.”
I named Suky “Jones” because she was nuts about David Bowie, we met David together at the Springfield Marriot and hung out with him back in 1976 and Iggy Pop, Iggy introduced us. I was in the elevator with Iggy alone and said: “You look like a friend of mine.” He said “yeah.” I said “James.” “James Osterberg” he said THAT’s ME, he was impressed I loved his music before he got really famous and we hung out for a couple of days there in Springfield …maybe one of the girls has a tape of Iggy and I singing “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights’ together in the hotel room. So back to 2014 (which is only 38 years later…fast forward) and Tyler turns around and I said “Hi, Joe V” and then I introduce him to Kittoto Von Hebb and he has a photographer take a picture of them together and he starts singing “Sunny” her father’s song to her and she was blown away, Tyler’s her favorite artist next to her dad.
Another time backstage at the Paradise, 1980s Tyler was up there backstage and there were the late famous Boston DJs Sonny Joe White and Mark Parenteau and some press people and I and Tyler says “One of every kind of animal…” Too funny
Q: Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller produced your third album?
A: I signed Jimmy’s production of Johnny Thunders of the NY Dolls to New Rose Records – Mathe opened a new label after Flamingo and had me as A & R man in America. We opened for Johnny Thunders too…it was fun, a fun time
Q: Jimmy passed away 25 years ago?
A: Yes, and his production of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” is the first song in Avenger’s Endgame, the biggest film of all time. He had three songs in Robert Zemeckis film Flight. when interviewing Mr. Zemeckis I told him Jimmy would have really appreciated the placement of the songs in his film
Q: What was it like working with Mr. Jimmy?
A: When we did our first recording in Normandy Sound with engineer Phil Greene, it was like recording the way the Stones would. It was breathtaking. Phil gave us a free day of recording just to meet Jimmy, they became a great team. We actually spent twenty-five thousand dollars at Normandy between 1986/1987 recording Buddy Guy and the great Jo Jo Laine (ex-wife of Denny Laine from McCartney and Wings) …and it’s more than dropping names, it’s a reminder of what an incredible ride it was.
The band had practiced two songs, the then-unreleased Blood Red Wine by the Stones and my song “I Love that Feeling.” Phil Greene and our drummer, Joe Petruzelli from the Joe Perry Project started trading sounds. Miller said “Let them have their fun” I agreed and sat in the studio and wrote a new song, “I Want You Sexually” about a threesome that never happened because my significant other flipped out that I would set such a thing up without permission! HA! Got a great song out of it.
Once Phil and Joe had finished trading samples we began the recording…the band was freaked because all those weeks, maybe months of practicing (a la Steely Dan) were out the window and we were now in uncharted territory, like the Stones with Jimmy producing Exile on Main Street. I Want You Sexually by Joe Viglione
We did 3 takes. The last take was the most refined. Jimmy looked at the band and said: “I know what take I want.” I looked at Jimmy and said, “I know what take you want.” I told the band, Jimmy wants the first take.
The band freaked out…again…”But it has mistakes”
Jimmy said “The mistakes can be fixed. The first take has the feel, the vibe…” And he was right
Q: I listened to your song, “I Want You Sexually.” That’s a bold song to throw out there. Did it come to you easily to write and sing it? If you were to describe this song to a stranger on the street, what would you tell them about your song?
A: Well it’s hard to explain to a stranger on a street that you’re at a homosexual establishment with your boyfriend and he tells you he had slept with some good-looking married man and the married man hit on me so I asked him to have a threesome and he said YES as he was …ahem…at the bar and his hand reached …oh, nevermind… and my boyfriend flipped out and didn’t talk to me for weeks because HE wanted to decide if there would be a threesome or not. Ha…so we all went our separate ways…no threesome! HA HA …until I wrote the song…
The fade out line is “Got a wife and kids? Don’t tell me your fxxxxng problems I don’t want to know…” We mailed a copy to his work – he worked for a phone company and he mailed it back with the envelope OPENED so he heard the song… it gets better…we go to THE PORCH in Maine – Ogunquit – and the dude was there, only two times I ever saw him in my life…so my roommate goes up to him and says “I know Joe V” and he says “He writes dirty songs about me” and bolted…ha ha…but it was funny….”I don’t want you emotionally, I don’t want you spiritually, I don’t want you affectionately, I just want you…sexually.”
File that under: The one that got away. I still remember his name…just one of those odd things
Q: Judith Miller, Jimmy’s sister, is the famous writer from the NY Times, she just wrote about Jimmy
A: Yes, 25 years after Jimmy’s passing she published a lovely look back of being very young and hanging out at Rolling Stones session
Q: What are you doing today?
A: My bandmates have merged into another band, Club Linehan A Go Go. kenney Highland’s been playing with me since the 80s, their lead singer, Lady Carolyn, has played with me since the mid-70s. Carolyn’s first record was the flip of Moe Tucker from the Velvet Underground’s very first solo 45
Q: Do you play out?
A: Well, the beauty of it is I have a band “on call” with CLAGG (Club Linehan) so we do the C Note in Hull, Massachusetts, every year…seven years now, with different members of my previous bands, mini-reunions for us…
Q: Where’s the best place to buy your music?
A: I put one album up on CD Baby – we’re planning a launch of re-releases, but CD Baby is a humble beginning for the new world. If you can find my albums from back in the day probably eBay.
Q: Any upcoming projects that you can share with us?
A: Well we have weekly shows (other artists) at Club Bohemia in Cambridge, I’m the publicist, these days it’s more about pitching the artists to the radio stations, especially the ones near the club, but we do appreciate the support of Cox Music show and other DJ’s who care about independent artists.
We’re working on a movie, and the TV show is always taping, and the radio show, never enough hours in the day.
Q: It sounds like your career has taken you on a fabulous journey. Looking back, is there anything that you would have changed?
A: Oh, certainly, especially understanding the aspect of publishing. Musicians like to create but Joe Perry says you have to have a guitar in one hand and a briefcase in the other. He’s right. As much music business as I did I should have concentrated more on the briefcase, but that’s the trade-off, isn’t it? You create and you do the business but years later you know how you could’ve done it so much better. Just have to live with today and do a better job today making the history and enhancing the recordings and what you’ve taken with you over the years.
Q: It was a pleasure getting to know you, Joe. We are coming to a close of this interview, was there anything else that you would like to add?
A: Just that the studio is a world within a world and what you put on tape or digital should always be exciting. Your art can be whatever you want it to be. Jimmy Miller said “There’s no right or wrong in production” with a twinkle in his eye. Meaning – you can dangle a microphone outside a window and capture sound, it might bore people, it might excite people, but capturing sound is just that, capturing sound. Of course, there is a “right” in production, if you are thinking of entertaining people, and that is capturing the best performance with the best groove, and mixing it properly and mastering it properly, and the greatest work can be killed if one of those three steps messes up. So there IS a right way to record and a wrong way, but Jimmy was also right, there is no right or wrong…. the divine paradox. You gotta know in your heart how to make it dynamite.