The native of Montreal grew up with music in his home, literally. An accomplished big band musician, his father Russ had played with practically every major star of the era, exposing Gino to a wide variety of styles – a trademark of his over 3 decades of songwriting. He was admitted into McGill University in the late 60’s to study music theory, having already pretty much mastered every instrument available to him. He dropped out in 1969 to form Vann Elli with older brother Joe, adding youngest brother Ross to the mix a few months later. A loosely constructed r&b outift, they landed a short term deal with RCA and cut the single “Gina Bold” the next year. Though ill-received, the brothers spent the next year and a half on the road before Gino packed up and headed to LA, released from his deal with RCA.
Convinced they had what it took to be stars but just needed the right outlet, they re-did some material they’d written while on the road back home. After peddling the demos to practically every label in town, they finally landed a contract with A&M in ’73. Produced by Herb Alpert, co-founder of A&M, Gino’s first album was that summer’s CRAZY LIFE. Met with indifference, it seemed to lack direction – a horse that bolts out of the gate but didn’t know which way to run. Despite the title track and the somewhat autobiographical tale of a man seeking his fame and fortune called “Hollywood Holiday”, the record was a failure considering no single was released, Alpert’s expectations and the fact he oversaw production, a mandatory stipulation on his part in the deal.
Gino returned to the LA studios with a different approach. 1974’s POWERFUL PEOPLE had more of a dance feel to it and the lead single “People Gotta Move” cashed in on the surging disco market, making it to number 22 on Billboard. The title track was then released, also cracking the top 30 and garnered him a Grammy nomination for best new artist. He also took home that category’s award at the following spring’s Juno Awards.
1975 showed early signs that Vannelli wasn’t one to be ‘labelled’ into a particular category. STORM AT SUNUP was a definitely more jazz oriented record. Despite three singles charting on Billboard, neither “Love Me Now” or the ballad “Keep On Walking” made it over with the US critics. As leaders of the disco deterioration, they were expecting something to boogie to, not appreciate. A&M execs weren’t happy with the unprofitable ‘work’, so they pressured Gino into selling his soul and returning to the disco-ish formula that raked in so many dollars before.
GIST OF THE GEMINI was released the summer of ’76. A happy blend of soul-selling and something he could be proud of, the record spawned the dance single “Love Of My Life” and “New Fix For ’76” but also tracks like “Prelude To The War” and the soulful “Omens Of Love”. A world tour ensued after which Vannelli moved from Hollywood to New Orleans to be away from what was growing to be a creatively-deprived environment. For PAUPER IN PARADISE, released the summer of ’77, Gino travelled to England, marking the first co-production with brother Joe. The record pretty much stayed true to Vannelli’s fashion of not staying true to ANYTHING. With assistance from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, tracks like “Valleys of Valhalla” and the title song helped mold an ‘orchestrated rock opera with a jazz flair’ atmosphere, much to the shagrin of the record label.
The brothers returned Stateside, where they hooked up with brother Joe for ’78’s appropriately titled BROTHER TO BROTHER. A true collaberation, ironically it was Ross’ song “I Just Wanna Stop”, a sort of power ballad with an infectious groove that charted the highest. A&M still wanted dance/pop oriented run of the mill ‘sellers’ and the new single gave them just that. Quick to follow up, “Appaloosa” was releasedearly in ’79, followed by “Wheels Of Life” and then “The River Must Flow”.
Despite the record’s success, garnering another Grammy nomination and now taking home Junos four consecutive years, there were still differences between where the label wanted Gino’s records going, and where he was willing to take them. They parted ways that fall and A&M released THE BEST OF GINO VANNELLI as a standard cow-milking procedure in time for the Christmas rush.
He shopped himself around and landed a deal with Arista, resurfacing in the spring of ’81 with NIGHTWALKER. Initially it seemed like a match made in music heaven, with executives allowing Vannelli more freedom than was given with A&M. With his brothers again with him, the record was pivotal in the development of Gino Vannelli the artist. Though it had a definite pop flavour with the singles “Living Inside Myself”, reaching #7 and the title track which also cracked the top 30, but others like “Seek and You Shall Find”, penned by all 3, and “Stay With Me” showed a growing maturity. Unfortunately tho, his marriage with Arista was short-lived, as there was a new coat of brass in the office and the people handling Vannelli were dumped.
He took a step out of the spotlight, doing production and session work while re-assessing his career and to build his dream studio, Hollywood’s Larkfield Sound Studios. He landed a deal with Mercury in the spring of ’84 on the condition he produce hits, not just explore his musical dexterity. His most ‘produced’ album yet was the result of nearly a year in his studio. BLACK CARS was an instant smash, eventually cracking the top 10 by the summer of ’85. The re-energized Vannelli was exploring more into production techniques, sticking to a pop formula but with a laid-back Latin feel with the other singles “Hurts To Be In Love” and “Just a Motion Away”.
Less than a year later he used a cookie cutter approach to release BIG DREAMERS NEVER SLEEP in the summer of ’87. The first single “Wild Horses” seemed like a power ballad being restrained, not only making the top 20, but showed off his attention to detail behind the board. Needless to say – Mercury was happy when “Persona Non Grata”, “Young Lover” and “In The Name Of Money” all helped make BDNS made it 2 straight gold records for them here in Canada and in Europe, but the American markets all but ignored it.
His next offering was 1990’s INCONSOLABLE MAN. A hit with the critics and fans alike, the lead single “Cry Of Love” immediately charted, right ahead of “The Time Of Day” and “If I Should Lose This Love”. His return spawned his first world tour in over 12 years. Capping off the celebrations was the LIVE IN MONTREAL album released in early ’92 following the tour – a full year and a half after the concert. Gino and Ross both kept busy following the tour with outside projects while recharging his own batteries, including working with acts including Frank Nimsgren, Denmark’s Ku Da Sai and fellow Montrealer Martine St Claire, which netted them a top 10 French single “L’Amour Est Loi”, a loose interpretation of “Wheels Of Life” from the ’78 BROTHER TO BROTHER lp.
YONDER TREE was released in 1995 amid more hype. It possessed a ‘for the fans’ appeal more so than perhaps anything else Vannelli’s ever recorded – although revisiting his jazz roots. “A Little Bit Of Judas” and “Come To The Well” seemed geared not for airplay at all, but for the faithful following that had accompanied him for the last 2 decades plus. YONDER TREE HITS was released shortly after as part of a marketing ploy. It was basically the YONDER TREE album with seven of Gino’s hits while still with A&M.
He again retreated to working with other artists, including David Meece and again with Ku Da Sai, coming out of the shadows in 1997 with DUETS, featuring his teaming with such stars as Nimsgren and St Claire, The Yellowjackets, Gianni Bella and The Dorky Brothers. Perhaps more so than any other record, DUETS allowed the Vannelli Brothers creative freedom in the studio, recutting some of Gino’s earlier hits, as well as “Christmas Eve”, “L’Amour Est Loi” and the new studio song “Tender Lies”.
His next full studio album would be SLOW LOVE the next year, a sort of emotional journey geared for an adult contemporary audience, with “Lost and Found”, “A Woman Crossed With Love” and the title track. He hit the road in support of the album, playing mostly medium sized arenas that year and recorded the show in Montreal – again. LIVE, a 7 track CD, marked Gino’s second live record when it hit the stores in 2000, while THE MILLENNIUM COLLECTION nicely summed up the career of one of Canada’s most prolific songwriters in 2002. CANTO, released in 2003 and his first new record in nearly 5 years was eagerly awaited by Vannelli’s fans and they weren’t disappointed. 11 new tracks have thrilled the stronghold of devotees, with the title-track, “The Last Dance” and several Italian pieces reaffirming him as one of Canada’s most prolific songwriters/performers.