Tony Valentino is a legend. From the iconic “Dirty Water” and “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” to his new album on Big Stir, he has made some of the best garage rock. I always have been a fan and was glad to listen to this album, to hear it all.
Tony was kind enough to answer some questions for me.
Andrea Weiss: Can you give us a brief history of the Standells and what you've been up to since?
Tony Valentino: So, myself and Jody Rich, we started a band in 1961, the Starliters, [with] which I was a part of the hit song "Let's Go" by the Routers. It was myself, Jody Rich, and Lanny Duncan. To record it we all paid for the studio time, $5 each. One day Lanny disappeared, and me and Jody, looking for a keyboard player/singer, we found Larry Tamblyn. With Jody being the leader, we started looking for a booking agent and we found Mc Conkey agency in Hollywood in 1962. He suggested to change the name, because 'a new member,' so he sent us to the corner of Yucca and Wilcox. So standing around for three days, finally back to the office, at first it was the Standels, but realising that there was an Amplifier name Standel, later on we did a DBA changed to The Standells, with two "l"s, and because we were standing around for three days.
Everybody around 1969 and '70 disappeared: Dick Dodd quit in '68, Larry went and got married in Idaho, something like that. I continued with the Standells with new members, went to Canada for almost six years, then went back to the US to continue with writing, and recorded several songs, and then more and more. So I stayed with music. In 1986 I got Dick and Larry to record some songs and we did few clubs gigs. In the 90s I opened a very successful Italian restaurant, Caffe Bellissimo. for 12 years. I got married and I have a 28-year-old daughter, Brianna, but I'm divorced. I sold the restaurant and I went back to do music.
AW: Who are and were your influences?
TV: Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley and the Comets – this is important because I'm from Italy from a small village in Sicily, Longi. My parents took me to see a movie one day. Had no idea what it was all about, but to my surprise this song came on and in a second I was, like, in La La Land. This guitar solo came on I've never heard anything like, and I'm talking about "Rock Around The Clock," so after that I kept on saying, "Got to go to America."
AW: This album is so much fun to listen to. Was that the main point here, to have fun?
TV: Yes. I must say fun and also challenging, and painful. I have a studio in my house. Worked nights and nights to make sure it was right. It was all on me for everything, like making sure the sound was okay. Had to work with guys on vocals and so on, but I'm happy that it rocks. I was in touch with Dennis Chunning. One day he is a making-deals- and-getting-records-promoted dude (he connected me with Big Stir Records), and next thing I know, he helped me put the deal together, and so I got signed, finished the Dirty Water Revisited LP, and now it is out. Wow! So many years.
AW: Do you have any favorite Standells songs?
TV: "Have You Had That Feeling," "Riot On Sunset Strip."
AW: What did you think when the Red Sox and Bruins made “Dirty Water” their official anthem?
TV: The Red Sox, yeah, that was unbelievable, and when we went to Boston to play "Dirty Water," at least four times at Fenway Park – awesome! I remember I started my guitar riff on "Dirty Water" and 50,000 people went wild! Yes, I'm glad.
AW: Are you glad that you influenced bands like the Sex Pistols?
TV: I influenced so many big time artists, even Bruce Springsteen playing "Dirty Water." The other day I saw a video of him.
AW: Any plans to play any shows?
TV: I'm working at the moment producing young artists, but I may go back to the Midwest and do some more shows.
AW: What would you say to someone who is just starting out in music?
TV: I would say I feel sorry for them, because with the Internet now it is so out of control, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Just get yourself prepared and practice, practice, and go for it.