Jerry Velona

Metronome Magazine - CD review

Top 5 for February 2010! Jerry Velona - Random Emotion - 13 Song CD Random Emotion. 

Duke Levine (guitar), Zac Casher (drums), Richard Gates (bass), Tom West (keyboards), Kevin Barry (guitar), Gordon Beadle (sax), Larry Finn (drums), Walter Platt (trumpet), Anita Suhanin (vocals), Kevin Belz (guitar), Anthony Vitti (bass), Julie Rama (vocals), Marty Richards (drums), Mike Dailey (pedal steel), Ian Kennedy (violin), Rob Martin (accoustic guitar), Fernando Brandao (flute), John Curtis (guitar), Brad Hatfield (piano), Kathy Sommer (synthesizer), Ted Sommer (percussion), Oscar Stagnaro (bass), Wanda B Free (vocals) along with multi-instrumentalist Larry Luddecke who also engineered the project, all weigh in on this lush sounding CD that spans the genres of R&B, rock, pop, country and soul.

Velona boasts smooth R&B vocal chops that meld naturally to his direct-and-to-the-point lyrics and wide-eyed subject matter. With the addition of horns, honky tonk piano, funky bass lines and some deft guitar work, Velona offers up a qualified musical effort that can't be ignored. Best tracks on Random Emotion include the clever "Talk To The Ossifer," the country tinged "Miss Understood," the hard drivin' gravel kickin' of "Undercover Appetite," the mesmerizing instrumental lilt of "The Last Paper Boy" (that features the beautiful guitar work of John Curtis), and "Wedding Band Tan" featuring the lead vocals of Wanda B Free.

The Examiner

Metronome Magazine - Interview

Singer, songwriter, guitarist, drummer, percussionist...Jerry Velona can do it all. His new album Random Emotion  has been years in the making but well worth the wait. Enlisting an army of local talent, Velona delivers an inspired collection of songs that range from fatherless kids ("Talk to the Ossifer") to a fitting ode to paperboys ("The Last Paperboy"). We talked at length one winter day and he explained how Random Emotion was created...

METRONOME: Tell me about yourself. By the looks of the photograph in your CD liner, you're playing a drum pad. Are you a drummer originally?

Jerry Velona: I am. That's my main instrument. I've been playing the drums all my life. I went to Berklee as a drummer. I majored in arranging/composition but drums was my major instrument. It's only the the last fifteen years or so that I've become more of a singer than a drummer in terms of what I've been doing performing wise. But I still play alot. I freelance with people and get calls occasionally. I studied drums for many years with the late, great Alan Dawson at his studio in Lexington.

METRONOME: Who are some of the acts you've played with over the years?

 I played drums, guitar and sang in a variety of bands spanning several decades. In the late 70's, I was in a disco showband called "Inferno". In the 80's, a pop band called "Star", the early 90's, an R&B act called "Blue Diner" and from the late 90's into the 2000's, my own band, "The JV Band". I had a fair amount of success with that, playing clubs in town and doing some corporate work. I released a two song CD in the 90's that did pretty well. That's when I started writing alot. I put the band together to do original music and we did that quite a bit. It was a killer band with alot of Berklee guys. My originals at that time were more in the funk and R&B category.

METRONOME: What made you start singing?

I've always been a singer. I have sung my whole life. In many bands, I would sing and play drums. That was always a good selling point for me to get a gig. I think once I started writing and recording. I made the decision to be out front if I'm singing my own music. I'm pretty adept at doing both at the same time but frankly, you're never doing a 100% of the job when you're singing and playing at the same time. Something is suffering a little bit. So I decided I would just front the band and that was something new and different which I had to get used to. But I really came to like it and now I feel totally comfortable doing it. That was where the singing came in.

METRONOME: What year was that?

That was 1994. That was really the start of the JV Band.

METRONOME: Other than your new disc, Random Emotion, have you released any CD's before?

Yes, the two song CD release back in the mid-90's. We got some decent airplay nationally and some of the music ended up being used in quite a few episodes of MTV's "Cribs" back in the late 90's and 2000s. Some of it was used in an HBO special. It got around a bit, but that's the only CD I issued prior to this one.

METRONOME: When did the germ of recording Random Emotion come to you and why?

I had been writing alot of songs and some of them were being written to pitch to other artists. I belong to a group called Taxi. I've used them to hone my songwriting skills and getting alot of constructive feedback on the songs that I would submit to various listings they would have. Some of the songs were written for that purpose and some of them were songs that I liked but didn't necessarily think would be good songs for me to release or to do in a live performance situation. I started collecting all of these songs and after a while, some of the demos I recorded sounded great so it struck me that I should release it as a record; a collection of my musical output over a long period of time. I felt there was merit to some of the music so I wanted to let other people decided if they liked it or not.

METRONOME: What year did you make that decision?

I probably made the decision to release the songs as a CD thre or four years ago. It took a while to do it. I redid a number of the songs. I put alot of effort into each song, so it took me a number of years to put it all together. I went down to Nashville to record some of the tracks.

METRONOME: How long did it take to actually record the CD?

I didn't record it all in one block. Each song was recorded separately. Some of the basic rhythm section tracks I might have done two at a time where they would have had the same rhythm section, but for the most part it was done individually over the span of years. Some of them had been recorded and I thought they were ready and then I changed my mind and redid some of the tracks. It's hard to estimate but it was alot of hours.

METRONOME: You have an impressive list of players that helped you with this project. Were they all introduced to you through Larry Luddecke, who recorded the project, or did you know these folks?

Alot of them I had worked with before. Most of them had played with me in the JV Band in one way or another. For some, like Brad Hatfield, I went to Berklee with Brad. He's a great player. Some of the guys, Larry introduced to me. I met Duke Levine through Larry, but pretty much everyone else I've known for a long time and become friends with.

METRONOME:  When you were recording a certain song, did you have specific people in mind thinking they would be a good fit for the song?

It was more the opposite. The song was written and then I would say, yeah, Kevin Barry would be great to play that part in the song. From knowing the guys and working with them and knowing what they played well, I felt like I fit them in where they were best suited.

METRONOME: Did you play drums on any of these tracks?

None. However, I did play all the percussion parts except for the song, "End As A Man". "End As A Man" was written by my uncle, Anthony Velona, who wrote the song "Lollipops and Roses" and a number of other hit tunes in the 50's, 60's and 70's. My aunt, Uncle Tony's sister, had the sheet music he wrote in a file cabinet along with a bunch of his other stuff. The song had never been recorded so I took that one and some others he wrote and worked out alternate arrangements.

Another uncle, Ted Sommer, played the percussion parts for "End As A Man". I sent him the basic tracks and he laid down the conga and cabasa parts in a New York city studio. My uncle Ted is in his 80's and is still gigging. He plays with Rita Moreno for whom he has directed the music and played drums for 30 years. He was also the percussionist in Sinatra's touring band for many years and was one of my early mentors. I studied drums with him when I was a teenager.

My cousin, Kathy Sommer, another accomplished musician in the family, played some of the string parts on the CD as well. She has written songs for Daughtry and others.

METRONOME:  Was your plan not to play the drums on the recording a conscious decision on your part?

Yeah. I just wanted to be the producer, arranger and singer/songwriter. That's what I felt would be best.

METRONOME: On the back cover of your CD, you're walking down the street with a guitar case. Do you actually play guitar and when you're on stage, do you play?

Yeah, sometimes I do. On certain songs I play mostly accoustic guitar. Many of the songs were written on guitar.

METRONOME: You mentioned something earlier that I wanted to explore with you. You said you were affiliated with Taxi. What's your take on Taxi and how has it worked for you? Has it been a fruitful relationship?

Taxi has worked out really well for me. I never got anything out of it...some of the songs I pitched to various listings were forwaded to the listing and I never heard back. I never got any kind of a deal although I know that happens all the time. I do know people who have gotten deals through Taxi that have paid off for them. The advantage it had for me was that it was a very useful source of feedback for my music. Let's face it, very few of us have somebody that's going to sit there and really critically listen to everything we've done and give us detailed critiques and responses on how it sounds. It's all subjective obviously but I found all the critiques I got to be extremely helpful. Prior to me being a part of Taxi, I had never actually rewritten a song before. I always felt that once I wrote the song, it was sacrosanct and that was it. But Taxi forced me to act more as a working songwriter would. Everyone has an editor and and the editor suggests certain changes and you have to deal with that and adapt and come out with something that's more acceptable and palatable to the audience that you're going for. Taxi definitely helped me to develop those skills. It was liberating in many ways. I found it to be extremely beneficial for me.

METRONOME: That's an interesting point. I would never have thought of that angle but it's certainly valid. To have a positive outside viewpoint could prove very helpful.

No question. Everybody's a critic and everybody has their own opinion but I think for whatever you do, if there's a similarity of criticism by more than one person, then I think you have to pay attention to that. You may not agree with it but if there's a theme in the criticism, I think you have to step back and be humble and say, yeah, maybe I could do that a little differently. It's only a couple hundred bucks to belong to Taxi and you can send as many songs as you want and you'll get back as many critiques as songs that you send. You could literally get 50 song critiques a year. I think it's well worth it.

METRONOME: I like the song, "Talk to the Ossifer". What's that one about?

The theme of that song is about fatherless boys. It's something that I think is a big problem in our culture and society in general. The number of kids who are born out of wedlock and don't have fathers to help them get along. My dad was around for the first ten years of my life but then, for a variety of reasons, took off and wasn't much of a presence in my life after that and that definitely hurt me. I think I have some personal experience in that regard.

It's got a wry take on it but it's a serious message done in more of a humorous way. I try not to be preachy about things like that. I've always admired guys like Warren Zevon and Ray Davies and people who could talk about significant issues or matters of consequence but do it in a very artful and sometimes oblique way. That was my attempt to do that.

METRONOME: Where did the play on words come from or did I misunderstand "ossifer" for officer?

Yeah, it's basically how a drunk guy would say officer. The father figure in the song is a ne'er-do-well that gets arrested all the time and they call him Buddy and he names his son Buddy. It's a carry-over of one bad story to the next generation. I think there's too much of that and it really affects our society for the worse.

METRONOME: I like the song "Miss Understood". It's got a nice country twang to it. What's that about?

Again it's a little play on words. That was one of the songs I pitched to Taxi. Most of the feedback I got was that they didn't think people were going to "get it". I had to scratch my head on that one. If you listen to the song, it's fairly obvious what I was trying to do there. That's the only song I collaborated on with someone else. There was a guy I met, Mark Maser, who was a bass player that wrote a song for a band he was in back in the 90's called Release. It had that signature rhythm guitar line that you hear in that song. I took that lick and wrote a country song around it.

METRONOME: The song "Wedding Band Tan" features a female singer, Wanda B. Free. Who is she and how did you get her involved with this song?

The singer of that song is a Nashville singer whose name I am not allowed to mention. She is a pretty well-known singer in the Nashville area and a really good person. When I went to Nashville, she was referred to me by the producer that I was working with down there.

METRONOME: Were you looking for a female singer for that song?

I was. I had written that song and had some female singers up here record it but they just didn't do it justice. They were great singers but just didn't have the style I was looking for. I looked for months and months and maybe over the course of a couple of years in the Boston and New England area. I asked everybody.

METRONOME: When you met Wanda, did you have her audition this song or did you just listen to her sing?

The guy that owed the studio where we recorded it sent me demos of four or five singers. I told him what I was looking for and described it as best I could and he sent me some clips and I picked her out of the lineup.

METRONOME: I love the song "Undercover Appetite". It has a really hard drivin' edge to it. What inspired that song?

It's lyrically written from a semi-autobiographic perspective (laughs). I had actually recorded that song as a demo in 1992 with me on drums and Stephen Paul Perry on guitar but the production values on that demo were not great. I thought the song was worth carrying forward into the new millenium so I rewrote the lyrics and decided to bring Duke Levine in to play it. He's amazing.

METRONOME: Since Stephen Paul Perry recorded orginally with you, did it ever cross your mind to have him rerecord it with you?

It did cross my mind but I've been out of touch with him and I felt that I wanted to go in a different direction.

METRONOME: The song "The Last Paper Boy" is a beautiful instrumental played masterfully by John Curtis. Did you write the music and he played the song? How did that work?

I wrote the song and fleshed it out on guitar but obviously can't play it anywhere as good as he played it. I did a very rough demo down in my basement enough for him to hear it. I had actually asked Duke if he wanted to play on that song but he recommended John. I never knew John but Larry knew him well. I sent him the demo and he said, "Sure, let's do it." He captured all the little different inflections. He played it almost exactly as I wrote it and it was originally going to be just him on guitar but I thought I might want to put a bass part on it so I gave it to Richard Gates. He did a beautiful job with it.

METRONOME: What inspired you to write that song and why an instrumental?

My son was a paper boy for many years and delivered the Boston Globe. He was a conscienctious kid and I always admired that. There's something very nostalgic about that. I don't even know if there's such a thing as paper boys anymore! To me, it's a combination of the sentimental aspect of my son and remembering him doing that and then sort of a wistful feeling about things changing but maybe not always for the better. The newspaper industry is probably going to be a thing of the past in another five years...

METRONOME: Don't remind me Jerry (I laugh)

Yeah, and I don't like that to be honest with you. I'm one of the few and the proud that subscribe to the Globe seven days a week. I can't imagine not having a newspaper on my coffee table in the morning.

METRONOME: Did you have a CD release party for the album?

Yes, it was actually February 20th at Sally O'Brien's Pub in Somerville.

METRONOME: I notice that Jonas Kahn (who books Sally O'Brien's) did the photography for the CD. How did you meet Jonas?

Jonas was referred to me by the owner, John, of Back Bay Hair on Newbury Street where I've been getting my haircut for many years. John plays in a band with Jonas and he overheard me talking about needing a photographer for my CD and he gave me his name. Jonas is a great guy.

METRONOME: Do you have a website?

Yes. It's www.jerryvelona.com. Everything is there.

METRONOME: Where can people buy your new CD and is the old two song sampler still available?

No, that one isn't, unfortunately, but the new one is for sale at www.cdbaby.com. It's also up on all the download sites, Amazon and iTunes. It's literally available all over the world. You can also watch a YouTube video of the song "Leave Me Alone" from my CD.

METRONOME: Who shot that?

That was actually done by a group of grad students at Boston University. Their professor, Sam Kaufman, who is a big deal, and I, became gym buddies, working out at Gold's Gym in Boston. I never knew what he did, then I found out one day and was thinking, hmmm, maybe he has some students who are looking to put together a project. He gave me this great group of three guys and a gal. We did it all ourselves. I've gotten alot of positive feedback on that video.