Richard Barone, the former lead singer of the Bongos, has recently written a memoir, Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth. The book details his rise from a teenage T. Rex fan and child D.J. in Tampa, Florida, to lead singer the Bongos (a highly acclaimed “alternative” rock band in the 1980s) and his subsequent career as a solo artist. It makes for a fun read, even if you don’t know anything about Barone or the Bongos. There is also a motivational element to Barone’s memoirs, a “think positive” message that some readers may find quite inspirational. Barone writes eloquently of the “dark days” when drug use got the better of him, but shows that the power of the human spirit, and that of his music, was able to lift him out of that ditch.
Barone has led a colorful life and met tons of musicians and celebrities along the way (be prepared for a LOT of name-dropping within these pages), but anyone who was involved with, or interested in, the “alternative” music scene of the 80s, will find his tales quite entertaining. One of the most fascinating is Baron’s meeting Tiny Tim, the famous singer of “Tiptoe through the Tulips,” at a small club show in Tampa in the late 70s, and later arranging for Tiny Tim to record some songs at a local studio. Years later, Barone bumps into Tiny Tim in New York City and is asked if he still has the tapes of those songs. He did. And does.
Barone’s newest album, Glow, released in 2010, is a splendid collection of songs, some of them written with the album’s producer, Tony Visconti, best known for his production of T. Rex and David Bowie albums. Barone’s talent for penning catchy songs remains intact, and he still possesses a luscious “forever young” voice. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that there is a Marc Bolan/T. Rex cover included on the album, in this case, “Girl.” Another of the album’s highlights is “Silence is Our Song,” a tune that Barone collaborated on with legendary songwriter Paul Williams.
I interviewed Barone in the early 1980s (thirty years ago!?), back when we were both young whippersnappers. The Bongos were playing the 688 Club in Atlanta, and I drove all the way up from Orlando, Florida to see the show. At the time I published a fanzine called Dogfood, and was eager to interview Barone and his band. He graciously consented to speak with me, detailing the band’s history and giving insights into Drums Along the Hudson, the fabulous album they had just released. An hour later he and the Bongos were onstage, thrilling the crowd with a very energetic performance.
Drums Along the Hudson has recently been re-released, sporting extra tracks this time around that weren’t on the original version. I only wish that Nuts and Bolts, the album that Barone recorded with guitarist James Mastro the following year, would also see the digital light of day. That one is a stone-cold classic that deserves to be made available once again.