Sunday, September 26, 2010

Driven to Succeed!

You may not immediately know the name Phil Naro, but the Toronto-based singer, songwriter and producer has an impressive musical pedigree that has seen him tour with some of the tophard rock bands in the business, win an Emmy award for one of his compositions and work with some major music industry players.

A Rochester, N.Y., native, Naro has been a fixture on the Toronto music scene for more than two decades, is one of the founding members of the classic rock band DDrive, which recently released it's latest CD, 3D, on the Florida-based label, Melodic Revolution Records.

In the 1980s, Naro was brought on board a new project by internationally-renowned bass player Billy Sheehan for his band Talas, as its lead singer. Talas was one of the most respected bands of the era, but didn't achieve the commercial success of bands like Motley Crue, Ratt or Whitesnake. Talas toured the world as an opening act for the likes of Anthrax, White Lion, Quiet Riot and Iron Maiden, throughout the 1980s, before returning to Toronto to take over vocal duties for the popular band Coney Hatch.With a powerful voice that can hit four octaves, Naro was also an in-demand singer, doing studio sessions with Grammy-winning producer Tom Lord-Alge, who produced albums for the likes of Billy Joel, The Cure, Steve Winwood, Marilyn Manson and The Rolling Stones.

As a songwriter, he has worked with a number of artists, including making major contributions to heavy metal artist Lee Aaron's most successful album, 1989's Bodyrock, as well as its follow-up, Some Girls Do. He also worked with the legendary former drummer of Kiss, Peter Criss, on his 1995 solo record, Cat 1, on the recommendation of another legendary music figure, Eddie Kramer, the man who produced albums by Jimi Hendrix, Kiss and Led Zeppelin.

Last year, Naro, along with cowriters Don Breithaupt and Anthony Vandenburgh, won a Daytime Emmy Award for best original song and main title, for the theme song for the animated series 6Teen.

DDrive has been around for about seven years, and was formed by Naro, and features another music industry veteran from Rochester, Don Mancuso, on lead guitar, as well as John Taylor on bass, Bobby Bond on drums and playing rhythm guitar is Phil's son, John Naro.

"We take straight-up, edgy rock, and make little twists and turns out of the norm with our music. It's definitely not 'by the numbers' stuff. Most times, the formula works quite well," Naro said from Toronto. "It's always our intent to write good music. There always will be an audience for good rock music, undoubtedly. We see a lot of young faces in the crowd at our live shows, along with the older ones. Good music will always be timeless."

Growing up in Rochester, Naro said he didn't have to look any farther than his own family for musical inspiration. "My uncle Santo was my first musical inspiration," Naro said. "He was the only guy in our family who played the guitar, and he also had a strong resemblance to Elvis. I thought he was just the coolest, and I wanted to be like him. I started playing in local bar bands in Rochester when I was 15. My influences then ... were Jon Anderson (of Yes), Lou Gramm (Foreigner) and Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company)." Gramm was an inspiration not just because of his vocal prowess, but because he too was a Rochester boy.

In 1976, Naro joined the popular local band Black Sheep as its singer, replacing Gramm, who had gone on to join a new band being formed by Englishman Mick Jones, called Foreigner. Foreigner would go on to be one of the biggest bands of the late 1970s and 1980s, with songs like Cold As Ice, Hot Blooded, Urgent, Juke Box Hero and I Want To Know What Love Is. "Lou was always one of my idols when I first hit the Rochester music scene as a kid ... I believe people like to hear stories about the small-town boy who left and realized his dreams in the big smoke. There's always been a misconception in our industry that you have to be in New York or Los Angeles in order to make it to the top. The reality is, you can make it anywhere," Naro said, adding that he was fortunate to work with Lou on previous DDrive albums, where Gramm lent his still-formidable pipes to the recording projects.

"Lou Gramm is truly a wonderful person. It's an honour for me not only to work with him, but to call him my friend ... he can still sing like he did on all those classic Foreigner albums. Lou's faith in God and love for music is what keeps him going, no doubt about it." Naro said he enjoyed playing in Talas with fellow upstate New York native Sheehan. "I joined them in 1983. After only eight shows with them, we cut an album called Live Speed on Ice, which made the top 10 charts simultaneously in both England and Japan. We were constantly on the road, performing on the same bill with many of the top acts of that era. The beginning of the end came in late 1985, when Billy left to join David Lee Roth's [who had recently left Van Halen] solo group. I tried to keep Talas going for two more years, mostly to fill out contractual obligations, before deciding to put it to rest," he said, adding that playing with Talas allowed him to experience playing on big stages, in front of huge audiences around the globe.

Another great experience was to sit down and compose music with Peter Criss, The Cat, and former drummer with Kiss. "We wrote some great songs together, especially a tune called No I'm Not Afraid, which I hope gets released some day. The thing I truly benefitted from during my time with Peter was that it enhanced my skills with the business aspect of being in a rock band, along with songwriting."

Besides DDrive, Naro can be seen in around southern Ontario playing music in a variety of acts, including The Phil and John Show, guitar duo with longtime friend John Rogers, as well as
progressive rock cover band Druckfarben, and Ozone Baby, a Led Zeppelin tribute band.
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-- Jim Barber is a reporter at the Napanee Guide and a veteran music industry journalist.

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