Before we start, have you
anything to declare?
I declare to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Seems fair to me. How are you, Bob?
I'm healthy & happy thank you Sebastiano and I hope you are too!
Coffee, tea or...?
At this moment I am content, thank you.
Do you remember falling in love with music or is it a part of you that has always been there?
I remember falling in love with music as a teenager. I had a little red portable radio that you might swear was glued to my ear. Growing up in Brooklyn as the rock & roll craze gained momentum was a life changing experience.
How did you meet Donna Summer?
My close friend and brother, Mike Warren, was the guitarist in my band (The Circle of One) originally. He went on to play with and become musical director for a number of superstars. I received a call from Mike to audition for (at the time) a relatively unknown Artist by the name of Donna Summer.
Were you familiar with her music?
I was not!
Do you remember working
with Donna for the first time?
Our first tour was of Mexico and it was brilliant. The band was on fire, the audiences were amazing and Donna's talent became more and more apparent. Underrated even today.
Why do you think it was and still is so hard for some rock music critics (and fans) to get Donna’s enormous talents?
Anyone who doesn't get the fact that Donna was an enormous talent, well... I feel sorry for them. They don't know or understand music, musicians or talent, it's as simple as that. Donna's intonation was impeccable, her pitch was flawless. Listen to what I believe was her last album CRAYONS, listen to the textures in her voice. She was like a chameleon, she had more colors in her voice than you can imagine. Let me put it this way, anyone who can hang with Barbra Streisand, vocally speaking, is no bum. She was a great talent.
Is there a Donna
song you wish you had written and/or produced?
I loved many of her songs but one song in particular... LAST DANCE. Paul Jabara was a character and a half, and that song still holds up. FAIRY TALE HIGH, HEAVEN KNOWS, ON THE RADIO... Bruce Sudano (especially) & Donna wrote great songs together. Bruce is a wonderful writer!
Free associations test. I'll give you five Donna titles, and you'll say the first things that come to your mind:
a) I FEEL LOVE
Sexy of course, Virgil Weber synths, fireworks!
b) LAST DANCE
End of the show...
c) HOT STUFF
Donna having fun making believe she was a rock & roll girl. She was much much more.
d) ONLY ONE MAN
She (Donna) lost the lyrics I wrote 3 or 4 times. I kept making copies and she would loose them or leave them in the last hotel, but I persevered and so did she. I thought I had a nice hook with "only one man in my life... & that's you & you & you & you & you" and Donna loved it.
e) CAN'T GET TO SLEEP AT NIGHT
Mary Kaye Alby aka Ruby. She was the reason for my insomnia. Loved that girl so much the thought of her kept me up at night.
Now I know why I always felt that song would've been perfect for a male singer too... (laughing) Which Donna song did you find the most fun to play, and why?
BAD GIRLS was "the most fun to play" because at times it was like a movie set. Donna would make wonderful costume changes, my pals Joe Esposito, Louie Veglia, Susan Munao, my girl Pat Naderhoff and our friends would all participate in the bad girls street corner scenario. I played a short timbale solo and got to blow my samba whistle all the while watching the show as well as being part of it. It was a joyful experience!
Why did Donna referred to you as "The Doctor Philosopher" on the ONCE UPON A TIME album's liner notes?
As you may have gathered, Donna and I were very close friends. I not only traveled with her as a performer/percussionist and vocalist, we shared insights and spoke about things that mattered, personal things. I guess I gave advice and input that she appreciated, she gave me the same. We spoke about things bigger than ourselves and she appreciated and loved that, so did I. She apparently put value in what I had to say and my point of view. I wish I could have been more of a help to her. I wish she was still here so I could tell her again how much I loved and appreciated her, her good heart, her smile and her depth as a human being.
Do you have a photo of you and Donna that could be used for our interview?
This picture of me singing with Donna was taken at my wedding... That's Joe Esposito Bruce Sudano, and Mark with me in the photo. José Feliciano and his wife were there at my wedding too. José played the theme from The Godfather (just for fun) and Joe before the ceremony sang a song I wrote entitled CLOSER, he sang it acapella. His voice was and is beautiful. I was blessed and honored to have not only family and friends there, but also these great talented brothers as well as the incomparable company and talents of Donna singing and saying a prayer over the ceremony and for us all! It was a special and beautiful moment in time.
This year marks the 40th
anniversary of I REMEMBER YESTERDAY, the album including LOVE'S UNKIND, CAN'T WE JUST SIT DOWN and I FEEL LOVE. I REMEMBER YESTERDAY was the first Donna record I bought when I was a kid and the one that made me fall in love with Donna and music in general. What do you think made - and still makes - that album so special?
I can honestly say that Donna is the only reason that album is so special. I'm not trying to be evasive. I thought so much of her and loved her as a friend and appreciated her so much as a human being that I truly loved everything she did. She was an Artist in every sense of the word.
May I ask you what do you think of THE WANDERER? It's an album that has always divided opinions...
I remember performing THE WANDERER with Donna on the Tom Snyder show, we also performed COLD LOVE. I enjoyed her other albums more. As much as I enjoyed these songs, for me, they weren't who Donna was. ON THE RADIO was such a strong song and she performed it beautifully. I wasn't as much a fan of THE WANDERER, although I liked COLD LOVE very much. I never felt that Donna was a rocker. She could sing the hell out of anything but I have my favorites. MACARTHUR PARK was an amazing performance by Donna and the band. I loved it! It was a challenge for her to hit the high note before that instrumental bridge but she did it every time… and it was in tune!!!!!
MACARTHUR PARK is my favourite Donna performance too! Thank you so much for your kindness and time, Bob. Kindness does make a difference.
My father was born in Sicily and my Mother's side of the family is Sicilian as well so I am no stranger to kindness or to love. You are more than welcome. For me, nothing is as important as those two things. Kindness and Love, and that is what I send to you and to all who read this. Ciao Paisano!
Time: Bob Conti © 2017 Sebastiano Lionti
to be reproduced or redistributed in any form.
Bob Conti worked with Donna Summer from late 1977 until her 2008 Hollywood Bowl performance. In between performances with Donna he worked concerts with Diana Ross and worldwide shows with another great talent, José Feliciano. His website is BobConti.com.