Producer/manager Marty Angelo talks about The God, Hendrix, Raven, Grass Roots, George Harrison, music business, and the connection Disco – Rhythm & Blues.
Michalis Limnios BLUES blog @ GR on February 13, 2012
“I really always equated disco with rhythm and blues. If it had a dance beat… it was called disco, during disco’s heyday. Before that… it was rhythm and blues through and through.”
Marty Angelo: Once Life Matters
Marty Angelo worked in the entertainment business from 1965 to 1980 as a television producer, record promoter, disk jockey, restaurant/nightclub owner and personal manager for rock ‘n’ roll bands. Though at times Angelo thought he achieved success, internally he always felt emptiness in his heart, sensing his life neither had real meaning nor true purpose. Nothing ever seemed to matter to him. Consequently, he lived a rebellious, sin-riddled out-of-control lifestyle.
Angelo is the author of the powerful life-changing biography-memoir entitled, Once Life Matters: A New Beginning. His book reveals how God totally transformed his life of sin into a strong witness of His saving grace, mercy, and love. The book is offered free to prisons, jails, rehab programs, and troubled celebrities. Before Marty Angelo’s dramatic and “electrifying” conversion to Christianity in a farm-house outside of Buffalo New York on March 28, 1981 and going into full-time ministry, he worked in the entertainment business for 15 years, getting his first breaks from “the late Jimi Hendrix” and “the late George Harrison.” He managed several bands including Buffalo’s Raven and the popular Top 40 rock group, The Grass Roots starring Rob Grill.
Angelo also created, wrote and produced the ’70s trendy dance television show, Disco Step-by-Step and in 1978 was voted one of the Top 25 disco record promoters. He promoted hundreds of hit albums, singles, and 12″ disco 45s, receiving numerous recognition awards for his efforts. Angelo is featured in several documentaries, magazine articles, and radio/television productions. Marty was released from prison in 1984 and is living his life as an example to other ex-convicts and former drug-addicts and alcoholics who want to serve God and be used by Him for His glory.
Marty is currently a full-time minister to prisoners, substance abusers and troubled celebrities. His nationwide ministry reaches out to prisons & jails, rehabs & support groups, schools & churches and various celebrities. Marty Angelo is currently a full-time minister, teacher, and author.
Interview by Michael Limnios
When was your first desire to become involved in music?
My first real desire came in high school back in the very early 1960s. I learned I could make money by throwing beer blast parties using bands and records as entertainment. I also took piano lessons as a kid and formed my own blues band while in high school. When I realized I was going nowhere with my band I started to manage groups. In college, I booked bands to open for the Student for a Democratic Society (SDS) speakers (Chicago Seven – Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seal, etc.) the school brought in to protest and stir up un-rest during the Vietnam War days.
I loved music as long as I can remember. I used to listen to my parent’s records when I was in grammar school. I loved to watch the old Ed Sullivan Television Show when it first started to have rock music guests on such as; Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. That was the beginning of the early rock music national movement. I remember very vividly when the first white musicians like Elvis and music business moguls like Col. Tom Parker stole from the black rhythm and blues artists and turned r&b into something new called white rock ‘n’ roll, but they just left out the word “white.” Dick Clark sealed the deal when his American Bandstand television show hit the airwaves in 1952.
We had a radio dj called George “Hound Dog” Lorenz who promoted rhythm and blues back in the early ‘50s in Buffalo New York, the city where I was raised. I was exposed to not only the top r&b musicians through the Hound’s broadcasts but also to many blues and jazz artists. Most of the local musicians in Buffalo also played the music “The Hound” would feature on his radio show. When the “British Invasion” came along years later we never fell victim to it. We thought those musicians were copycats and just didn’t have the “feel” to play it the way the originals did.
We wanted to only listen to the originals. We always had greats like Les McCann, Oscar Peterson or Wes Montgomery come through our city to perform. I was not concerned that much for rock music. I loved blues singers such as Aretha Franklin, BB King, Etta James, Ray Charles, Bobby Blue Bland, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Muddy Walters, Howlin Wolf and many others.
Right now music is does not mean as much as it did years ago. Music was my life up to the age of 35. I lived it, breathed it and I made a pretty good living at it. However, it really became a “false idol” that only led me to a lot of pain and sorrow with a terrible price to pay. I never had a balance in my life between music and knowing and understanding God. It was always just music. It truly was the god of my life for most of those 35 years… along with sex, drugs, booze and everything and anything that would fill a huge void I had in my heart during that time. I learned much later in life that I should have placed God first… above all else.
Which artists have you worked with?
After I disbanded my blues group, I started managing a local band in Buffalo New York called Tony Galla and the Rising Sons who later changed their name to Raven.
My first big time professional break came from “the late Jimi Hendrix” and “the late George Harrison”…
I later worked as personal manager for Rob Grill and the Grass Roots.
I worked with just about every popular band or musician in some way in the late ‘60s right through 1980. I wore many hats within the music business so please see my discography page on my website for a complete list of all the artists, bands, records, movies and concerts I was involved with between 1965-1980: http://martyangelo.com/discography.htm
Which of the people you have worked with do you consider your best friend?
Gary Mallaber, former drummer with Steve Miller, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen and many others. Gary and I go way back to our days growing up in Buffalo New York. I was his manager when he played drums with Raven.
Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
Best Moment: – producing, creating, writing and hosting my own dance television show called, “Disco Step-by-Step”. This was back in 1975-1980.
Worst Moment: While working with the Grass Roots we were seriously threatened with bodily injury by a club owner and his goons in Cleveland Ohio and another time in Memphis Tennessee. There was another “worst moment” while working with the Grass Roots when we all could have crashed and died in a private plane had we listened to our pilot and boarded and took off in minus-30 degrees weather. I write about these experiences in my book, “Once Life Matters: A New Beginning.”
Is there any similarity and difference between the music and lifestyle today and the sixties?
I am not quite sure if anything has changed throughout the years in the music business since I last worked in it. There certainly seems to be more genres.
The lifestyle? I would say living a rock ‘n’ roll party lifestyle is still high up there on why people are attracted to the entertainment business. There seems to be more people today within the business suffering serious consequences from substance abuse. Back in the ‘60s we really didn’t know any better when it came to abusing drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t until some of my friends started to overdose and die did I realize there was a price to pay for leading a “do your own thing” lifestyle.
I finally understood there were serious consequences for my own “out of control” actions when I was standing in a county jail in Dade County Florida arrested for possession of four ounces of cocaine scratching my head wondering how I got there. Who knew anything about consequences my own way? I always thought consequences were for someone else. Certainly not me. I was too busy having “fun?”
I wonder if you could tell me a few things about the story of “Once Life Matters: A New Beginning”
My book is an autobiography. It touches upon my life in the entertainment business for 15 years and many of the ups-and-downs and pit-falls I experienced. I also write about my electrifying conversion to Christianity in 1981 and what happened afterwards. I hope by telling my story it will help others who are going through the same trials and tribulations I did and that they might learn from my experiences and not have to trip and fall so many times themselves. I donate thousands of copies of my book to prisons, jails, rehabs and to troubled celebrities. I’ve received hundreds of letters from people who’ve been deeply touched by my story. It truly blesses me to hear how much of an impact my book has made on so many hurt, confused and troubled individuals. I give God all the praise, glory and honor for using my book in this way.
I learned throughout my life that music was always there as both a friend and foe. It could make me laugh and cry all in the same breath. However, through a process of elimination I learned the hard way that music is not something that should have been first in my life… a seat only God should have. Music did not give me the answers I needed to figure out what life was really all about… as the Bible clearly does.
Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
The most interesting period in my life has to be from the moment I miraculously became a Christian in April 28, 1981 up to and including today. I never ever… ever… ever… ever thought in a million years I would become a Christian and have Jesus Christ come into my life and change me from the inside out. I was given a chance to start new in 1981… and I have not looked back and regretted one day in how I got here today. It took an awful lot to get my full attention being so hooked into the music business and all of its so-called perks… but I am thankful God had mercy and rescued me and gave me a whole new beginning.
Do you believe that nowadays there are things to change in any level?
The great thing about life is things do not have to remain the same. We all change each and every day… some for the good and some for the bad. I’ve ran into many brick walls over the years that God used to get my attention and to teach me something very important. I learned through His wisdom that I did not have to keep running into the same ones over-and-over again.
I truly believe anyone can change… even in mid-stream. I’ve learned to turn life’s stumbling blocks into stepping stones. I have learned from my mistakes and moved forward. We all reap what we sow. No one is immune to all of life’s consequences. What I’ve learned when consequences come my way for the decisions and actions I make in my life that I seek out God through prayer and Bible study to understand exactly what He is trying to teach me. This is one of the ways I have grown in Christ over the last 30 years.
Jimi Hendrix was a great guy. He really helped me out a lot. He was willing to listen when everyone else said to “get lost.” I will never forget when he said; “Sure… I’ve love to listen to your tape” after I confronted him face-to-face in 1968 inside Steve Paul’s Scene in New York City. Steve had told me to “forget it” when I asked him if he would be interested in listening to a tape of the group I was managing at the time. But when I asked Jimi? He welcomed me with open arms and after listening to my tape and liking what he heard he then convinced Steve Paul that he should book my band. Steve did… and my group, Raven became his house band for well over a year. The Scene was “the spot” to play in at that time. It was considered a musicians club and just about every well-known musician partied there when they were in New York. It was quite a place.
It is such a shame Hendrix got so messed up on drugs. I have wondered many times where he would be right now had he not died at such a young age.
For more than 25 years, Marty Angelo has worked with various ministries, how did these projects come about?
After becoming a Christian in 1981 my heart’s desire was to serve God in whatever capacity He wanted me in. He began to open doors for me to minister. First it was while I was serving time in prison for cocaine possession. I miraculously became a Christian seven-months prior to going to prison. I first wanted to go to Bible College but the sentencing judge told me that if Jesus Christ changed me then he felt I should go and possibly help people change in prison. Once in prison I understood exactly what the judge meant. I met Chuck Colson, former President Richard Nixon’s white house aide, who came into my prison and spoke. I was truly inspired by his message as I was with other former convicts who came in to speak who were now prison ministers. I wanted that. When I was released from prison God opened a door for me to minister in south Florida at a wonderful Christian-based substance abuse residential treatment center called Faith Farm. After that I went onto southern California to minister with Teen Challenge (another Christian-based substance abuse residential treatment program), then to Washington DC to minister with Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries. Then it was back to Florida to minister again with Faith Farm and then the Drug Abuse Foundation of Palm Beach County. God opened each door for me so wide that I could have driven a freight train through them sideways.
Do you have any amusing tales to tell of Grass Roots & Raven?
There were many good and bad times with both bands. The level of professionalism was like night-and-day though. The Grass Roots had 14 hit records and were not prima donnas when it came to what and how they projected themselves to the world and each other. On the other hand, Raven had a lot of hang-ups and personality clashes that eventually did them in. They were the best musicians I ever heard. Many of the world’s top musicians also felt the same way. Jimi Hendrix even went so far as to call Raven: “The best blues/jazz band in the world.” He liked them so much that him and his partner Eddie Kramer even wanted to produce them.
I do write about my experiences with both bands and others in my book, “Once Life Matters: A New Beginning” and hope people reading this interview will purchase a copy on Amazon.com. All of the proceeds go to pay the expenses to print and ship thousands of books that are donated to prisons, jails and rehabs across the United States. I also give away many books to this generation’s troubled celebrities.
I would love to correct the misunderstanding of many Christian’s belief in mistaking Jesus Christ is physically coming again sometime out in the future. Futuristic Christianity has done more damage to our world than most people even realize. I write all about this in my new book, “Vision of New Jerusalem: Now!”
The BODY or the SPIRIT is captured in jail?
The body maybe captured for the time being in jail or prison but definitely the SPIRIT is not. Your spirit (who is the “real” you) can soar feely in jail, especially if one has Christ living within. I felt the most free and the happiest I ever was in my life while in prison. Strangely as that statement may sound, I was in a much worst prison when I was strung out on drugs and booze while working in the music business.
Drugs are “the doors of perception” or a toll for “Highway to Hell”?
There is nothing perceptive about using drugs. I remember smoking marijuana while in college and one time after smoking a few joints I didn’t even study for an important test I was about to take because I thought I “knew it all”… I was the first one to finish the exam and walked out the door so confident I aced the test. My score? ZERO… I did not answer one question right!!
I’ve known many musicians who functioned high on drugs and wrote some wonderful songs. But the horrible consequences that came afterwards were just not worth it. I’ve watched many lives go downhill even after writing a million-selling song! There is pleasure for a season, but rest assured the fun quickly turns around and bites you right on the butt… hit record or not!
I think about all the very talented and successful musicians, actors and others in the entertainment business who are no longer with us because of the very serious and deadly consequences of substance abuse and living life recklessly in the fast lane. I have learned over time there are only three things that will happen to someone who continues to abuse drugs: prison, mental/physical hospitalization or death. There is hope for recovery though; for those who really want to change. The key here is one has to “want to.”
The secret about the music is ‘there is no secret’. There are thousands who have been down the music business road and wound up at a dead end. There are only so few who become successful and many of those find life at the top is not all that they expected. I have learned that money cannot buy “real” happiness or peace.
LIFE? Now you’re talking! Jesus Christ came to give us all LIFE and LIFE more abundantly.
The MYSTERY of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that He lives “within” His followers… not just out somewhere in heaven. He is alive and well inside His followers… burning off our old habits, sins and fleshly life-threatening desires and miraculously changing us into new creatures. What a plan!!!
While the world offers counterfeits Jesus Christ freely gives true love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I tried to find all of those in sex, drugs and living a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and all I got was a lot of extreme pain and suffering and a serious stint in prison. I prefer God’s plan over all others!
What MOTTO of yours you would like to stay forever?
“The truth will set you free”… and the truth is Jesus Christ has a much bigger and better plan and purpose for all of us.
What does grace, mercy and love offer you?
Freedom. Freedom to be the man I always hoped, wished and longed I could be. Finally after 35 years of aimlessly trying everything in the book, God touched me a made me whole… through His grace, mercy and love. He is a just God too… Many leave that part of God out. I’ve learned this the hard way. He is faithful “and” just. When I make right or wrong decisions I expect consequences. I am making fewer and fewer wrong decisions and yearning only to make right ones. I like the blessings more than the spankings.
When did you last laugh and cry and why?
Last laugh – A friend sent me one of jokes that come in those never-ending type emails. I usually don’t read them and quickly delete. But I read one today that really made me laugh.
Last cry – when Susan, my former wife and mother of my two children passed away last year after her seven-year battle with cancer. Susan was such a dear sweet lady who will always hold a very special place in my heart.
Learn from other people’s mistakes. There is nothing new under the sun. There have been millions before you who travelled this road. Learn from their lives and don’t make the same mistakes.
Please remember Noel Webster’s (author of the Webster’s Dictionary) famous quote: “Education without the Bible is useless.”
Let the Word of God (the Bible) be a lamp upon your feet. You do not have to follow after man. Put Jesus Christ first in your life and He will supply all of your needs according to His riches and glory and give you the desires of your heart. God will make a way for you.
What experiences in your life makes you a GOOD person?
There is not one thing about me that is good. I learned a long time ago that we are ALL sinners and fall short of the glory of God. None of us are righteous. We all are in the need of forgiveness. It was only after having Jesus Christ come into me that I could even think about knowing how to live a good life. God has guided me into wanting to do good things… casting off my old fleshly nature and putting on the willingness now to help others instead of always being a taker. I was such a terrible taker for 35 years until Jesus Christ blessed me with a whole new life. It is no longer about “me” but about others.
How do you want to be remembered?
I am thankful to God from bringing me through my troubled past and blessing me with a new life in Him. I have tried to live my new life in Christ as an example to others who are troubled and addicted. There is hope… God still changes lives to those who put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. After that… the sky is the limit! He has taken me places and shown me things and opened doors of opportunity I would have never even dreamed of.
Of all the people you’ve met, who do you admire the most?
The person I most admire is “the late Rev. Garland ‘Pappy’ Eastham” – founder of Faith Farm Ministries in Florida. He started a ministry over 60 years ago that still to this day feeds, houses and clothes over 350 needy people 365 days a year.
Rev. Eastham told me 30 years ago that God sent me to him. This happened right after I got out of prison and “Pappy” welcomed me with open arms and gave me a place to live and work within his wonderful ministry. He had tremendous impact on my life. I’ve never met anyone else like him. I only wish I can accomplish one-tenth of what he did in his lifetime. He was such a giving person and I will never forget everything I learned from him. In fact, my latest book is dedicated to him.
Which of historical personalities would you like to meet?
I’d love to meet Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate, Ron Paul.
What is your “secret” DREAM?
For more of my friends and family to come into the complete saving knowledge of just who Jesus Christ really is.
Which memory from the entertainment business for 15 years makes you smile?
The memory that makes me smile the most is the day I got arrested for cocaine possession. One of the cops who arrested me said; “The party is over Marty!” That arrest literally saved my life. I can laugh about it now knowing God had the whole situation under control and was answering the prayers of my sister who prayed, “Lord Jesus, please do whatever it takes to save my brother, Marty.”
I was a real mess and on the brink of death many times. If I didn’t get arrested back in 1980 I know for a fact I would have died years ago. I came very close to dying many times while working in the music business and if God did not intervene in my life I wouldn’t be here today answering your questions. Each breath I take is a gift from God. That fact brings a smile to my face each and every day.
I first met George Harrison via a telegram back in 1968 when the Beatles first started their own record label, Apple Records. I had sent George a copy of a tape of Raven, the group I was managing at the time (the same tape Jimi Hendrix listened to at the Scene). Apple was just starting and was looking for talent to sign.
Harrison responded after listening to Raven’s tape by sending me a telegram letting me know he was very interested in my group and wanted to talk to me about producing and signing them to Apple Records. A year-and-a-half or so went by with lots of traveling in-between and negotiating. We finally decided to turn down Harrison’s offer after he said he couldn’t start to produce the band for well over six more months because of some medical issues he had. That was my most vivid memory I have of George Harrison. I was so disappointed. I really thought Raven would have a big shot at making it if Harrison produced. The band just couldn’t wait any longer for him. Harrison said he wanted to instead use Peter Asher to produce the band. But by then the Beatles rumor of them splitting up was running rampant and we decided that if Harrison couldn’t produce then Raven would be better off with a different record company. The group finally did sign with Columbia Records.
What do you miss most from the Disco Step-by-Step Television Show?
I don’t miss much. It was such an out-of-control time in my life that I sometimes prefer not to even think about. However, please don’t get me wrong… I met a lot of great people back then whom I love and cherish. But I was way too strung out to realize just how important those people were to me. The end of my television show and drug arrest brought me to a time in my life that I had to make some very serious decisions which would ultimately change my life forever. I have re-connected with a few of my old disco dance show friends over the years but it is on a very different level now.
Are there any memories of all GREAT MUSICIANS you’ve met that you’d like to share with us?
Sorry to say…. the only memories I have of all the great musicians I met along the way in my life are not very positive. Not one had the slightest idea on what life was really all about. The more famous they became the more bizarre they acted. The ones I met who had all sorts of money never were really very happy. Oh sure… they “acted” like they were happy but deep down inside they were very miserable and their lives reflected it. They just knew how to put on a good façade.
I’ve learned that life as a rich and famous celebrity is not all lights, camera and action. When the party is over everyone has to go home and face reality and in way too many cases; it is not a very pleasant and pretty sight.
As far as I can tell the music business has not changed very much over the years. I am not an expert on the subject… seeing I have been out-of-the-loop for over 30 years. Everyone seems to be doing the same things we did years ago; making money… living a fast life … and hoping for a better future.
The technology certainly has changed within the music business and I love that new artists have the ability to by-pass big biz and present their music directly to the masses via companies like YouTube, Itunes and other music related internet websites.
The Rap and Hip-Hop artists have truly proved that one can sell millions of records (cds) without having to go the old traditional way.
I think Top 40 Radio years ago killed the ability for new artists to get heard. It is a good thing is that today’s musicians no longer have to be in bondage to what a radio station decides to play or not to play.
What do you think of DISCO music and how close is it to BLUES?
I really always equated disco with rhythm and blues. If it had a dance beat… it was called disco, during disco’s heyday. Before that… it was rhythm and blues through and through. Disco went on to be split into many other genres such as techno, rap, hip-hop, old school, etc. but again… it is rooted in rhythm and blues and that fact will never change. If you can tap your foot to it … it is true r&b.
“When in Rome… do as the Romans do”… One does has to eat and pay bills while working in the music business. Disco had a profound effect on the music business. It was making billions. If a certain genre is selling records and you can make a buck at it yourself then you might as well throw your hat in the ring and go for it. At the time it was the only genre that was really selling records.
Hey… it’s called the music “BUSINESS” meaning… “Let’s make some money.” Not only did bluesmen jump on the disco bandwagon but so did many others such as; Maynard Ferguson, Ethel Merman, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Arthur Prysock, Les McCann, Lou Rawls, Herbie Hancock, Herbie Mann, George Benson, Cab Calloway and even numerous rock bands such as the Rolling Stones and many others.
If you go back to the past, what things you would do better and what things would you avoid doing again?
There is not one thing I would change. The road I was on while working in the music business was filled with a lot of ups and downs… many trials and tribulations… with very little hope.
My desire always revolved around someday hoping to find a way that would bring true peace and joy in my life. I thought I would find it in the “biz” making big money but found out that road to me was a dead-end.
I needed and wanted so much more than gold records on my wall, rubbing elbows with rock stars, flowing vials of cocaine, fat checkbooks and all the rest of the pretty picture the entertainment business paints.
I’ve learned that it is not a good thing to “look back” cause there is nothing I can do to change anything. However, once Jesus Christ saved me from death… there was never ever any reason to even think about turning back. The past 30 years have been the absolute happiest I have ever been in my life.
I wouldn’t go back into the music business for all the money in the world. I had plenty of chances over the years but always felt that God was not the one behind that open door.
The lifestyle I led while working in the music business was wrong. That is not to say everyone who works in the biz is wrong or screwed up. However, I do apologize for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle I lived and promoted. It was wrong. I see how wrong that lifestyle is every time I walk into a prison to minister.
Music and the lifestyle it offers can put and keep people in a certain type of bondage especially if they do not have any balance in their lives. Most don’t want to hear about living a better life through Christ so they sit in our highly overcrowded prisons and jails waiting to be released so they can go back to their sex, drugs and rock & roll lifestyle and wind up right back incarcerated within a few short months or years.
The statistics in the State of California prison system is 80% of inmates released from prison will wind up back inside within one year. The national statistics are 75% of inmates released will be re-arrested within three years. There is a better way and I try to live my life as an example to others who have gone down this same path.
Marty Angelo on the set of the Disco Step-by-Step Television Show – 1979
George “Hound Dog” Lorenz
Marty Angelo – back when he was the owner of a bar in Buffalo New York – 1966
Rob Grill (the Grass Roots) and Marty Angelo – 2004
Marty Angelo (Disco Step-by-Step TV Show), Kurtis Blow (rapper), “the late Mel Cheren” (West End Records), Vince Montana (Salsoul Records) and Earl Young (drummer, The Trammps)
Marty Angelo and Chuck Colson – 1989
Marty Angelo (left) with the band Raven – Gary Mallaber, Jimmy Calire, John Weitz, Tony Galla and “the late Tommy Calandra” – 1969
Marty Angelo (right) and his blues band – 1964
Marty Angelo in front of Steve Paul’s Scene in New York City – 1968
Marty Angelo and Rev. Garland “Pappy” Eastham, founder of Faith Farm Ministries – 1985
Eddie Rivera (president of the International Disco Record Pool) and Marty Angelo – 1979
Johnny Guitar Watson
Marty Angelo speaking at the California Institution for Women – 2011