Contrary to the perception that Lisa Dalbello has dropped off the music industry map, she’s still out there and you may hear her more times than you recognize. Yes that is Dalbello singing the Ford Focus commercial or the Cheers detergent commercial or introducing Peter Mansbridge on CBC’s National news program. And yes, that is Dalbello’s distinctive voice being utilized in the Sailor Moon anime cartoon TV series or singing the theme song for DeGrassi High Reunion or serving as composer, performer for a number of Children’s TV series.
Ms Dalbello is alive and well thank you very much. It’s just been an 18 year-gap since her last studio album, the 1996 “Whore” release. At that point she decided to apply her talents to a more widespread field of music media endeavours.
A path that took her back to her origins when as a mere 14-year-old, Dalbello was voicing commercials for Molson Canadian and Wonder Bra (even though at the time she was too young to wear one!.
Summarizing her illustrious career, DalBello worked with the elite in the music business, enjoyed recording opportunities with two major U.S recording labels; MCA and EMI, co-wrote songs with such major artists as Bryan Adams, Heart, Rush’s Alex Lifeson and Julian Lennon yet when it came to having success with her own records, Dalbello will be the first to admit that more often than not, the timing wasn’t always quite right.
“Looking back, I realize now that I shouldn’t have recorded those first few albums, I wasn’t ready, writing-wise I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t have a style or a direction and when that happens ,you get pushed in a direction that quite often isn’t you, “ explained Dalbello. “My advice to any new artist is to take your time, undertake and endeavour to learn about the craft of songwriting. It is so important to know what you are doing.”
Dalbello know of what she speaks. As a 17-year-old protégé, the Kleinburg Ontario resident was snapped up by MCA Records in Los Angeles and bundled into a recording studio with no less a producer than the not-yet-famous David Foster to record her debut self-titled release. “It was crazy and yet a fantasic learning experience. I got to interact with the killer LA “session cats” but the project went long time-wise and way over budget.”
By the time her record was released, it was so over budget that MCA Records president Lew Wasserman decided to drop her from their roster. “I remember walking into his office, totally without an appointment and pleading with him to keep me on their roster but he was adamant that the project was too expensive.”
[quote]I was still experimenting, trying to find myself as a songwriter.
Unperturbed by the set-back, Dalbello promoted her debut release in Canada by opening on tour with Gino Vannelli , who was at the peak of his stardom, exposure that earned her a nomination for a Most Promising Female Artist at the 1978 Juno Awards as well as a singing spot on the TV telecast. Yet when she and her brother arrived at the Harbour Castle Convention Centre for the awards, MCA didn’t have a place for her at their table. “As far as they were concerned, I wasn’t on their roster so they didn’t have a spot for me,” noted Dalbello.
Imagine the reaction at that table when Dalbello actually won the Juno as the Most Promising Female Artist of 1977, even though she’d been dropped by her own label. “The MCA people didn’t know what to do or what to say,” she explained. “But it wasn’t their fault, it was a U.S decision and I kinda felt bad for them.”
Convinced that no record label would sign her, Dalbello pooled her own finances into her own record label, Talisman Records and released `Pretty Girls’ in 1978 with the self-titled single shaping up to be her biggest hit ever. “That single did great but I still didn’t know what I was doing, I had no idea about record distribution or marketing and the overall direction of the record was dance-oriented which I knew wasn’t the real me.” Dalbello continues “I was still writing songs that didn’t have a direction, I was still experimenting, trying to find myself as a songwriter.
It didn’t hurt that Vancouver recording ace, Jim Vallance was tapped to produce her follow-up record, Drastic Measures. Also teaming up with Tim Thorney, Dalbello and Vance had produced a number of demos for the record when she was picked up by Capitol Records U.S.
Dalbello’s plans to record with Vallance were foiled when the label’s new A&R director, Bobby Colomby was invited over to her parent’s house to hear her present some of her demos and when he asked her her what key a specific song was in, she told him she didn’t know because she was self-taught and wrote and played by ear. So he decided to scrub my demos, wanted me to start again from scratch and he invited me to stay with him and his girlfriend (70’s blaxsploitation movie star, Pam Grier) to start reworking the material,” noted Dalbello. “I was crushed, all my work with Jim Vallance was gone, I had learned a lot from him, I honestly thought my song writing was taking shape.
As a result, her 1981 `Drastic Measures’ album lacked the same definitive direction as her past two with the only positives being that Dalbello got to experiment with new sounds on two synthesizers that Colomby had in his studio although she did get release two singles co-written with Bryan Adams; “She Wants To Know and “Never Get To Heaven”.
Dalbello was initially informed by Capitol/EMI Canada president, Deane Cameron that Capitol U.S was going to drop her following the release, but once that was supposed to happen, he extended an invite for her to sign with his label domestically. Thinking she was going to lose her U.S deal, Dalbello took the time to start to re-shape her musical image, utilizing the experience she had gained tooling around with Colomby’s synthesizers. Her new direction became more alternative and this was encouraged by former David Bowie sidekick, guitarist Mick Ronson, who viewed a TV documentary on Dalbello and elected to work with her on a new record.
“I had three years to find myself, I was able to put sounds in my head down on tape and that’s what Mick heard. He said `I wouldn’t change a thing’ and that was the validation I was looking for. “confirmed Dalbello. “With `Whomanfoursays’, (released in 1984), I was fighting to establish my fingerprint as an artist, I felt completely comfortable in my own skin. For the first time, I was actually confident about my musical direction.”
Of course this new, more alternative direction, was totally alien to the dance/pop records Dalbello had released before so she felt it was time for a personality makeover also. “There is a power of perception that made me feel this record would work against me if I put it out as Lisa Dal Bello so I knew I had to do something drastic.”
This came in the form of a new name, simply `Dalbello” and an album jacket for `Whomanfoursays’ with a facial image of Lisa which shocked even her most ardent fans. “I was working with album artwork creative director, Heather Brown and we started looking at photos of face art and I saw these amazing photos of the Māori people of New Zealand so I said to Heather, why not go with this.
So the face-painted image of DalBello, photographed by Deborah Samuels, made its debut in 1984 and shook up the entire industry. “The idea was to have my painted face on the front of the record and a picture of me with absolutely no makeup on the back of the record – but no one was talking about the back of the record.”
“Musically, the album was a natural evolution of three years of finding myself and exploring what I was really all about and finally developing my own direction,” confessed Dalbello. . “Mick (Ronson) was all about pushing the envelope and developing these new sounds even more, he kept urging me to dig deeper.”
The resulting album with edgy tracks like “I’m Gonna Get Close To You” and “Wait For An Answer” and Dalbello with her punky hairdo and shaved eyebrows may have lost her former dance crowd but she gained a whole new alternative audience. And with the project finished, Aussie Roger Davies, who had just successfully resurrected Tina Turner’s career was contacted about also managing Dalbello. At that point, all the pieces seemed to be falling into place. To a point that EMI, buzzed by the revival of Tina Turner, elected to maintain Dalbello on their label.
Unfortunately, the fates conspired against Dalbello again. She was confident she would be working with Ronson on a follow-up album but an incident between Davies and Ronson ended that relationship. Supposedly, Ronson had been invited by Davies to write some songs for Tina Turner but when he turned up at Capitol Records Hollywood office of A&R chief, Don Grierson for a meeting with Davies, Ronson was in a somewhat inebriated state; forcing Davies and Grierson to dump him from all future assignments. Ronson later succumbed to liver cancer nine years later in 1993.
Davies convinced Dalbello, that the same British producers who had supported Tina Turner’s comeback record would do the same for her but when approached, a number of them said they would have to clear existing projects first. She did connect with ace British producer Rupert Hine and they recorded four demos together but when Davies passed on those demos, Dalbello decided she had waited long enough. Dalbello recorded four of her own demos (together with her `Whomanfoursays’ audio engineer Lenny DeRose but when she submitted them for consideration, they were also turned down by the label.
[quote]I was socially inept…I didn’t know how to make friends with people… [/quote]
Frustrated by the delay, ( and as an inside joke between Dalbello and DeRose) she resubmitted them as being produced by a new New York producer Bill De Salleo ( an anagram of her real name `Lisa Dalbello’ and the label raved about the work and encouraging this mysterious Da Salleo guy to finish off the job. When the recording, for what would be her 1987 album `She, was presented, Dal Bello had to come clean with Capitol Canada president Deane Cameron that Mr Da Salleo actually didn’t exist and that she had produced her own record.
“At first, Deane thought that it was great I had pulled off such a scam but then Davies and Capitol U.S seemed to have their doubts about the project and it got held up for like another 18 months,” noted Dalbello.` She’ was finally released with her production intact and spawned two more key singles with “Tango” and “Black On Black” but all this drama began to take it’s toll on Dalbello.
“I was socially inept (having started in the music business at such a young age) I didn’t know how to make friends with people, I didn’t know how to interact with people, in all the years or touring and recording, I had never had a normal life,” explained Dalbello. “So I thought it was time to walk away from the recording business. I began working with music programmer and arranger Scott Humphrey and became involved in a personal relationship not long after we met during the making of my `She’ album.
“ I moved with him to Los Angeles where I started to focus on write songs for and with other people including The Wilson Sisters (Heart), songwriter Carole Bayer Sager, Holly Knight, Carole Pope ,Julian Lennon.
Yet five years into her L.A residence, Dalbello was kicking around recording another album. She reacquainted herself with former manager Roger Davies who expressed an interest in getting involved with her new project and successfully found Europe-based EMI Electrola to release her `Whore’ release in 1996.
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As far as her recording career, `Whore’was her last project, yet since then, Dalbello has continued to make a name for herself singing and writing songs for commercials, television shows, including the DeGrassi Reunion theme as well as trying her hand at voice-overs for the popular Sailor Moon television series. Dalbello also currently serves as a songwriter/performer for a series of Kids TV shows including the Doodlebops, Melody Live! (where she is currently working on a companion record for the show) and spin-off series OneTwo5 about a budding boys band.
“What attracted me to working on all three shows was the opportunity to work together with music director Carl Lenox and his creative objectives to not write down or be musically condescending to a younger audience.”
She’s also worked for the Canadian Recording Industry, promoting songwriting clinics with their `Date With A Tape’ formats in which budding song writers are invited to submit demos for appraisal but top composers and also works with former Jitters’ front man Blair Packham tutoring students at Toronto’s Humber College – while devoting quality time with her 86-year old father.
“It’s gratifying to work with potential song writers and to give something back to the industry,”concluded Dalbello. “And the one thing I stress to them is to get to the point of being confident about your own song writing skills before you record that first record. It’s a mistake I made which I try to stress so that others don’t make the same mistakes I did.”