#77: Black Cars by Gino Vannelli
Gino Vannelli was born in Montreal in 1952. During his childhood he was exposed to jazz music and cabaret. His father was a cabaret singer and his mother had a good ear for music. Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich and Ed Thigpen were among the drummers that inspired young Gino. At the age of eleven, Gino was one of a group of elementary school-age drummers trying to audition for a Montreal band named The Cobras. He arrived home from school later than usual to announce he had been picked to be the new drummer for the band after impressing them with his rendition of “Wipeout”. In 1964, five years prior to the Jackson 5’s debut hit “I Want You Back” on Motown, Gino Vannelli happened to join a band in Montreal called the Jacksonville Five. And that Montreal band happened to tailor itself to Motown-sound-alike tunes when The Supremes, The Miracles, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder and Mary Wells were all topping the charts. By 1966, Gino Vannelli became the lead singer of the Jacksonville Five when he replaced the current lead singer who couldn’t hit the high notes on Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual”. He was fourteen.
In 1969, at the age of 17, Vannelli signed a record deal with RCA and released a single titled “Gino Bold” credited to Vann-Elli. The song was a minor hit in several radio markets in Canada in 1970. Over the next few years Vannelli lived in New York City and Montreal, performing and learning the ropes in the music industry. In 1972 he and his brother, Joe, moved to Los Angeles. They were living from hand to mouth and desperate to make a living as recording acts. They got a record deal with A&M after Gino Vannelli saw Herb Alpert in the record companies’ parking lot and ran up to him with a demo. Alpert waved away the security guards and took the demo. In 1973, A&M Records released Gino Vannelli’s album Crazy Life. In 1974 he appeared on the variety show Soul Train, a rare occurrence for a Caucasian singer, and toured with Stevie Wonder. His hit single from his second album, Powerful People was “People Gotta Move”. It made the Top 30 on the Billboard Hot 100. Joe Vannelli played electric piano and synthesizer on all the tracks for Powerful People.
He released a new studio album each year and his sixth album, Brother To Brother, featured his biggest selling single “I Just Wanna Stop”. The song peaked at #1 on the Canadian RPM singles chart and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1978. In 1975, Vannelli won the Juno Award for the Most Promising Male Vocalist of the Year. In 1976, and again 1979, he won the Juno Award for the Best Male Vocalist. He and his brother Joe Vannelli shared the Juno Award in 1979 for Best Production for Brother to Brother. On May 5, 1979, Gino Vannelli gave a concert at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.
In addition to “I Just Wanna Stop”, Gino Vannelli released “Wheels Of Life” as a second single from the Brother to Brother album. His seventh studio album, Nightwalker, was released in 1981. It featured the hit single “Living Inside Myself” which climbed to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and made #13 on CKLG in Vancouver. Vannelli released a “Best Of” album later that year. His eighth studio album, Black Cars, was released in 1984. From the album came the title track “Black Cars”.
“Black Cars” was cowritten by Gino Vannelli and Roy Freedland. Freeland is a songwriter whose material has been recorded by Lynn Anderson, Bill Medley, Melissa Manchester, The Judds, Ronnie Milsap, Anne Murray, Joe Cocker, Patti LaBelle, the Miami Sound Machine, Barry Manilow, Laura Branigan, Smokey Robinson and others. Freedland was also a backing vocalist on Aretha Franklin’s song 1985 Top 30 hit “Another Night”.
“Black Cars” is a song about a woman who dresses alluringly at night, striking a “perfect silhouette.” At the nightclub, she has a mystique about her. We learn about her “dark glasses,” “false lashes,” “French cigarettes,” “cocktail gloves,” and “strapless dress.” Perhaps she picks up guys, or gets picked up. However, in the song once she’s back in her home the lyrics don’t show her with a hot date. Instead, she’s on her own when she goes to bed: “She smears her lipstick on right before she sleeps. For all those phantom lovers in her dreams.” The depiction of this desirable, mysterious woman left to sleep alone dreaming about her phantom lovers, perhaps motivates some guys to step up and express interest in women like this smoking French cigarettes in dim lit corners of clubs and lounges.
The woman is like a “black car.” The first line of the song has us looking under the hood of the car: “under the cover” (of night). The woman in a dimly lit corner, is like the black car in the chorus: “Black cars look better in the shade.” The song alludes to the woman having a lot of energy – perhaps a good engine – as well as “dark horses” and horses are wild animals.
“Black Cars” peaked at #1 in Saskatoon (SK), and Ottawa (ON), #2 in Vancouver, Edmonton (AB), Moose Jaw (SK), and Lynn (MA), #3 in Montreal, #4 in Regina (SK), Toronto, and Boston, #7 in Calgary (AB), #9 in Hamilton (ON), and London (ON), #10 in Dallas, #11 in Guelph (ON), and Minneapolis/St. Paul, #16 in San Francisco, and #17 in Cleveland and Seattle.
From 1980 to 1990 Vannelli didn’t launch any concert tours.
In 1987, Gino Vannelli released his eighth studio album which included the single release “Wild Horses”. Gino Vannelli and his brother Joe shared won the Juno Award for Recording Engineer of the Year in 1986, 1987 and 1991. Gino Vannelli has been nominated for times for a Grammy Award.
In the early 2000’s Gino Vannelli’s recording of “Parole Per Mio Padre” (Words For My Father) caught the attention fo Pope John Paul II. He was flown to the Vatican to perform for the pontiff. BGM Records next approached him to make a record and his multi-lingual Canto in 2003 featured songs in French, Italian, English and Spanish. In 2010 he wrote a 132-page book, Stardust In The Sand, to accompany a CD release. On March 5, 2011, Vannelli played at the Red Robinson Show Theatre in the Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam.
In 2015 Gino Vannelli released Live In LA, taken from live performances of his greatest hits at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. He lives in Oregon and continues to teach music and perform in concert.
December 28, 2020
Gino Vannelli biography, Ginov.com
Eric Apalategui, “Gino Vannelli Avoids Spotlight in Oregon Where he Lives, but Draws Crowds Elsewhere,” Oregonian, August 28, 2013.
“Gino Vannelli Concert Dates – Canada,” setlist.fm.
“CKLG Top Thirty,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, June 20, 1985.
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