Joe Szczechowski, The Paper Magazine, Wilmington, Del., October 1982
The area music scene has come alive in the past few years in terms of local bands performing and recording original music. Jack of Diamonds, Johnny Neel, and the Tom Larsen Blues Band have all produced original albums that have sold reasonably well. The latest addition to the list of area bands that are shooting for the big time is Bad Sneakers.
Their album “Sneak Attack” was released last month and is available at area record stores. The band wrote, arranged, and produced all of the material on the album themselves. Bassist Dale Dallabrida even designed the album’s front and rear cover art, a take-off on electronic video games.
Guitarists Marc Moss and Shane Faber, keyboardist Ward Camp, and drummer Neal Tillotson, along with Dallabrida, produce a sound that is firmly rooted in today’s Top 40. The songs are catchy, hook-oriented excursions that try their best to have you dancing the first time you hear them. It is a sound that Dallabrida describes as “pop/rock,” a Top 40 sound that Dallabrida is quick to defend.
“Going for a Top 40 approach is an economic necessity from our point of view,” he said during a recent interview. “The economy being what it is, the industry is undergoing a serious belt-tightening, and they’re looking for sure bets. In the sixties or early seventies, a record company would say, ‘Well. let’s throw this at the wall and see if it sticks.’
“Those days are gone. Nowadays, if you want to interest a major label, you have to have one, two, or more potential hit singles on your record. Record companies are not looking to take chances anymore.”
Developing a Top 40 sound was not only an economic choice for the band, but an artistic one as well.
“Say it and say it quickly. You can’t spend a whole album side farting around.” Dale Dallabrida, Bad Sneakers bassist
The members of Bad Sneakers enjoy working within the genre, and Dallabrida feels that the music can be interesting, challenging, and still sell records.
“There are particular formal dictates that Top 40 has, just like any other medium. You have to work within the context of the form. You have to be able to say it, and say it quickly. You can’t spend a whole album side farting around the way Yes does.
“So that’s what we’re going for with the album – short songs, real hook-oriented, lots of harmonies, lots of background vocals. That’s not to say that we’ve lost sight of the art that’s involved. There are songs on the album that are not your run-of-the-mill pop songs.”
The Bad Sneakers back story
One thing that is evident from hearing the record, or seeing the band perform, for that matter, is the professionalism of the group. Bad Sneakers has accumulated a vast amount of performing time, both collectively and individually. Dallabrida tells the story of how the band got together:
“Neal, Marc and I have been playing in bands since about 1976. We started out in a band called Stone’s Throw, and we played in a band called Circuit for a while. Then we were drafted to play with Larry Tucker, who, in my opinion, is Wilmington’s answer to Teddy Pendergrass – very, very good at what he does.
“He taught us a lot about being a band, about performing, entertaining, relating to the audience and things like that. We played with Larry for about a year. This was like December of 1979.
“About that time, Ward and Shane were just getting started with a three-piece band: Shane playing guitar and Ward on keyboards and left-hand keyboard bass. Their drummer was Bill Dube, and he had just left to join the Johnny Neel Band. So they were looking for a bass player and a drummer, but we talked them into taking the three of us, because we had been together for so long.”
After almost three years of playing together, Bad Sneakers has become a fairly homogenous group, but that doesn’t mean they agree on everything as far as the music is concerned.
“We’ve learned to keep the fighting healthy. It doesn’t get to personal levels.” Dale Dallabrida
“We argue and fight a lot,” says Dallabrida, “but we’ve learned to keep the fighting healthy, it doesn’t get to personal levels.
“We have five writers, and everyone brings different influences to the band. We have a wealth of material and a wealth of different styles. The problem is trying to trim it down, and tighten it up into a single group sound rather then sounding like a songwriters’ workshop.
“We vote on everything. It’s a good thing there are five guys in the band, that way it never comes to a split. Then we have certain policies that we’ve worked out. For example. we usually let Ward arrange the harmonies for the material because he’s so good at it.”
The making of ‘Sneak Attack’
When talking about the band’s album, “Sneak Attack,” Dallabrida takes on the air of a proud father talking about his first-born son. The group produced the album themselves, using what gear they had. What they didn’t have, they rented. Four weeks were spent laying the basic tracks, after which the band returned to performing. In between gigs, they returned to the studio to record vocals, keyboards, guitar solos, and to mix and put the finishing touches on the album.
“When you go into a studio, you want to take advantage of the situation,” explained Dallabrida. “You don’t have to play and sing at the same time, so you can do a lot of things that you couldn’t do live. We wanted to record the songs so that they sound their best. But at the same time, we wanted to be able to perform them live essentially the way they are on the record. So while we were arranging, we didn’t go nuts. We didn’t do stuff so that it would be impossible to perform live.
“Still, we tend to make music that sounds the way a stainless steel kitchen looks. We’re going for the maximum polish in our sound.”
In the three years they have been together, Bad Sneakers has become one of the most popular attractions in the nightspots of Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
|“When you’re from out of town, people think you must be good.”Dale Dallabrida|
Up until this time. however, the group has not undertaken what could be called an extensive tour. “As far as we’re concerned,” says Dallabrida, “traveling is expensive, time-consuming, and you don’t got a lot of work done as far as writing is concerned. That’s why we try to stay as close to home on possible, unless we have a damn good reason for going somewhere – like they pay us well, or to support the album. So now that the album is out, we will have more of a reason to travel.
“It’s funny, but we don’t get as much recognition in Delaware as we do in some of the places we play. The thing is, when you’re from out of town, people think you must be good. When you play locally, you just don’t get the same star treatment that you do when you’re out of town.”
Dallabrida is aware that Top 40 music has more than its share of critics, who use words like “trash,” “schlock” and “junk” to describe that genre of music. Being that his band describes itself as having a Top 40 sound, Dallabrida is adamant in his defense of the medium.
“I think it’s narrow-minded, and that you have to have blinders on to put down Top 40 from an aesthetic point of view. You don’t write off a particular genre of music part and parcel. It doesn’t cheapen a work of art to make it accessible to a lot of people.
“It’s never been the case that you had to be schlock to be Top 40. There have always been great, great singles on Top 40.
“Another thing is, the people who put down Top 40 are often the same people who like the Top 40 of 10 years ago, as if somehow age has legitimized it.”
Any detractor that feels the Top 40 sound is a sellout should try telling it to the crowds that Bad Sneakers never falls to draw to their live performances. “We relate very closely to our audiences,” explains Dallabrida. “We’re a good-time band. We have fun on stage, and people have fun with us. We try to keep close contact with our audience.”
Although Dallabrida is talking about a mental and spiritual closeness, the wireless guitars and microphones that the group use on stage allow for physical closeness with their fans as well. “Our guitar players are wireless, which gives them unique freedom of movement and close contact with the audience. At the Riptide in Rehoboth Beach, the guys leave the club and go out on the boardwalk and play.”
Bad Sneakers has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Dallabrida feels that the key to the band’s success has been the fact the five individuals who make up the group
|“Personal differences take a back seat to the main goal. Which is, of course, fame and wealth.”Dale Dallabrida|
realize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. “We’ve been together for three years, which is a long time for a band to stay together. We’re strongly committed to whet we’re doing. We feel that sticking with it in the only way to succeed. Personal differences take a back seat to the ultimate goal.” Dallabrida pauses for a moment on those words, ponders for moment and grins. “Which is, of course, fame and wealth.”
Although Dallabrida is smiling, the determination and professionalism the band exhibits might put them in a position where those goals won’t seem so far away.
Sneak Attack review in The Paper Magazine