Proudly Canadian: Gino Vannelli

Early Gino Vannelli.jpg

Submitted by Cashbox Canada

Born in Montreal, Quebec, Gino Vannelli grew up in a family headed by his cabaret-singing father, Russ and a ‘keen-eared’ mother, Delia. Instinctively drawn to jazz, drummers in particular, such as Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Joe Morello, Ed Thigpen and Elvin Jones, as a child Vannelli studied drums and music theory for five years. Gino’s first foray into pop music came one afternoon as a group of young drummers stood in line, waiting to take turns to audition for a Montreal East group called The Cobras. The rite of passage involved playing a tune called ‘Wipeout’ by The Ventures. Having never heard the song before, Gino made sure he waited to the very last, studying the parts every aspiring drummer played (or was trying to play.) That afternoon, Gino came home a little later than usual from school, but as the official drummer for The Cobras. A year later, with his brother Joe holding down the keyboard chair, Vannelli headed up the Motown-influenced Jacksonville 5 (note, this is five years before the Jackson 5 recorded their first record). Along the way, there were guitar and piano lessons. The urge to compose words and music followed not long after. At fourteen, Gino began his official singing career when the singer in the band fortuitously couldn’t make the high water mark in a then popular tune by a gritty Welshman, Tom Jones, called ‘It’s Not Unusual’.

To add complication as well as interest to his musical affinities, Gino had fallen in love with classical music—French Impressionism, Italian Opera, and 20th century Russian composers in particular. Attending concerts given by the Montreal Symphony every last Thursday of the month for one semester, had proven to be life-changing (his 2000 release of Canto being testament). “I seemed to have had a double standard, or at least torn between a few distinct sounds and styles,” reflects Vannelli. “I used to defend Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr, insisting they were part of something new and exciting to my purist, jazz-head friends. Yet, when I’d listen to Dave Brubeck’s ‘Time Out’, or Miles Davis’s ‘Birth of the Cool’, pop would suddenly plead no contest—well, at least for that moment. . .One Thursday afternoon at Place Des Arts, I remember hearing the Montreal Symphony playing ‘Daphne and Chloe’ by Maurice Ravel. I walked away shaking my head, muttering to myself, ‘What was that!? I was so deeply moved—bewildered by the sounds I had just heard. It was the moment I discovered to what heights music could draw a man’s soul.”

Before his seventeenth birthday, Vannelli had signed with RCA Records of Canada, releasing a single called ‘Gina Bold’ under the pseudonym Van- Elli.” Ambitious and now bitten by the music industry bug, Gino lived on and off in New York City, making the record company and publisher’s rounds, finally ending up at the foot of the Gates of A&M Records in Hollywood three years later. Gino, accompanied by his brother Joe, and down to their last five-dollar bill, made one last ditch effort to get signed before having to trek back to Montreal. Early one morning, Gino headed out to the offices of A&M Records where he waited outside the gates for any sign of company co-owner Herb Alpert. As Alpert was walking through the parking lot hours later, Vannelli ran past the gates, racing by a startled and furious security guard. Before he could be accosted he begged a slightly apprehensive Alpert for a chance to audition. Acting on a hunch, (and much to the guard’s annoyance) Herb was sympathetic, telling the young hopeful to return later that afternoon. Gino proceeded to play songs on his acoustic guitar he had recently written, including ‘People Gotta Move,’ ‘Crazy Life,’ ‘Mama Coco,’ ‘Powerful People’ and ‘Lady’, songs that would end up on the six albums Vannelli would record for A&M between 1974 and 1978.

Herb Alpert liked what he heard and two days later signed Gino Vannelli to A&M Records, releasing his first album in 1973. Vannelli's brother, Joe, served as arranger and keyboardist for most of his recording career. At a time when polyphonic synthesizers were non-existent, Joe overdubbed multiple parts to create a texture of sound that was progressive for the early 1970’s.

In 1974, ‘People Gotta Move’ made it to # 22 on the Billboard Top 100. On February 15, 1975, Vannelli became the second Caucasian performer to appear on Soul Train (Dennis Coffey appeared on January 8, 1972). This was his television debut. With his records climbing the charts, Vannelli toured as the opening act for Stevie Wonder. In 1978, the song ‘I Just Wanna Stop’ earned Vannelli an American Grammy Award nomination and was a number # 1 single in Canada (#4 in United States). Vannelli's album Brother to Brother was certified platinum in early 1979. Vannelli won Canada's Juno Award for Best Male Artist. Vannelli also won Juno Awards in 1976 and 1979. Vannelli's additional recordings of the 1970s include: "Crazy Life," "Powerful People," "Storm at Sunup," "The Gist of the Gemini," and "A Pauper in Paradise".

In April 1981, ‘Living Inside Myself’ was on Billboard's Top 100 at # 6.The Vannelli brothers shared the Juno Award for Recording Engineer of the Year in 1986 for ‘Black Cars’. The Juno Award for Recording Engineer of the Year was again shared by the Vannelli brothers in 1987 for ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Young Lover’. Gino's additional recordings of the 1980’s era include ‘Nightwalker" and ‘Big Dreamers Never Sleep’.

In 1990, the album Inconsolable Man delivered new releases by Vannelli to excellent reviews. In 1991, the Vannelli brothers shared the Juno Award once again, for ‘The Time of Day’ and ‘Sunset on L.A.’, both from the Inconsolable Man CD. In 1993, French-speaking Quebecer singer Martine St. Clair recorded ‘Wheels of Life’ as a duet with Vannelli as well as a French-language version called ‘L'Amour Est Loi’. On Vannelli's next CD release, Yonder Tree, he pays homage to his roots in jazz (apparent on his earlier albums). On Yonder Tree, Gino sings a musical tribute to the renowned poet, author and humanitarian Walt Whitman, in "Walter Whitman, Where Are You?" Vannelli's additional recordings of the 1990s include: ‘Live in Montreal’ and ‘Slow Love’.

The latest recordings released by Vannelli are ‘Canto’ and ‘These Are the Days’. He surprised the music world by revealing his operatic license in ‘Canto’, which heralds Vannelli's superlative vocals in Italian, French, Spanish and English. The Northwest Orchestral Assembly is also featured on the ‘Canto’ recording, which aired on CBC in Canada. Vannelli was commissioned by the Vatican to perform for Pope John Paul II. On the ‘Canto’ recording is a loving tribute to Vannelli's father titled, "Parole Per Mio Padre", which was also a favorite of Pope John Paul II. Vannelli's electrifying vocals and music garnered rave reviews for ‘Canto". ‘These Are the Days’ made yet another hit; a wonderful combination of Vannelli's new releases and classics. In March 2007, Vannelli performed in Las Vegas to sold-out shows. By request, encore performances were given two months later at the Flamingo Showroom. In November 2007, Vannelli gave three sold out performances in New Orleans, Louisiana. The concerts were a humanitarian effort with proceeds benefiting local charities.

Gino Vannelli lives and works in Amersfoort, Netherlands and in the United States. His music is also heard on popular European television and radio commercials. By popular demand, Gino Vannelli continues to tour globally.

People Gotta Move Gino Vannelli

For more on Gino Vannelli visit his official website at