Felix Robinson of Angel – We should have stayed together and written heavy rock anthems!

 

Interview By Robert Cavuoto

 

 

If ever there was a band ahead of its time, it was Angel. Their untimely break up in the early 80s came before the advent of MTV. Had they hung in there a little longer, MTV and the explosion of the glam metal scene could have carried them on to being a household name.

Angel was on the same label as KISS in the 70’s and 80’s, Casablanca Records, and put out five studio LPs and one live album. They had a heavenly look with their white outfits compared to KISS with their black and silver costumes. They were comprised of Frank Dimino [vocals], Punk Meadows [guitar], Greg Giuffria [keyboards], Barry Brandt [drums] and Felix Robinson [bass].

I had the pleasure of speaking with bassist Felix Robinson to talk about the history of Angel and what the future may hold for the band.

 

 

Robert Cavuoto: What do you think was the main reason that Angel never had the success it truly deserved? You were just as good as similar bands from that era like Styx, REO Speedwagon, Boston, and Journey.

Felix Robinson: Actually, we did have quite a bit of success on an international level, in some markets we were bigger than some those bands you mentioned. However, we didn’t have the benefit of MTV to advance our promotion as we broke up too soon.

Before MTV, we were on a peer level with those bands. The music industry had been in a recession with stadium rock acts because disco had started peaking along with punk and alternative rock bands. Bands like The Cars, Blondie, and other dance-oriented groups were becoming the popular radio programming choice. That’s a reason why Casablanca Records chose Giorgio Moroder, the “king” of disco production at the time, to produce the soundtrack for the movie Foxes. Our role in the movie was to be ourselves, but the two songs on the soundtrack were produced as disco style songs.

Robert Cavuoto: It sounds to me, as if the record company didn’t know where Angel fit in. By merging Angel with disco, it possibly confused your loyal rock and progressive rock fans.

Felix Robinson: Absolutely! The music industry was going through a transitional phase at the time. The record companies thought that the market research provided them with the exact information on what the public wanted. We were in a niche music market, and the music business was trying to create mass appeal. In some cases, it succeeded, and in other cases, it failed. Nowadays, it’s probably easier to recognize where your audience lies. At the time when we were creating records, the music business was being defined by the Billboard charts in just a few categories, so recording artists and songwriters were always trying to create crossover hits within these categories. For example, KISS had a big crossover hit with “Beth,” which was between rock and pop. Music at the time was becoming difficult to define, so record companies figured they had to have acts that hit each market. We should have stayed together and written heavy rock anthems. We should have also found a new record company, management, and a producer who could see who we actually were, instead of treating us like characters in need of direction.

Robert Cavuoto: Since Angel and Kiss were both on Casablanca Records, was Angel offered the same merchandising opportunities Kiss had with the dolls, lunch boxes, and toys?

Felix Robinson: Yes! Many of those very same products were in the development phase for us. We sold a lot of merchandise at our concerts like t-shirts, necklaces, and jewelry. We had an extra truck and people just to handle merchandise. Other merchandise hadn’t come into play at that point. Kiss was leading the way as they had the promotion and product.

Robert Cavuoto: Were Angel dolls in the development phase and if so were there any prototypes?

Felix Robinson: They were in the development phase, but I don’t recall there ever being any prototypes. I remember having discussions about going into the same product types as Kiss but believe that we were kept away from using the same marketing strategies.  I don’t think the record company wanted us to replicate what KISS was doing.

Robert Cavuoto: Why do you think Kiss and Angel never toured together?

Felix Robinson: I believe that would have been a big benefit for us and Kiss, but I’m not sure Kiss and their management felt the same way. The record company owners and respective production/marketing teams, even though under the same roof, were held to different strategies for Angel and Kiss. Call it marketing strategy if you want, but I feel it was driven by Kiss’s requirement of being kept apart from every other band on Casablanca, although we shared the same photographer, many of the same A&R people, and merchandising people.

Robert Cavuoto: Outside of Greg Giuffria, most of the members seemed to have disappeared from the music scene after Angel disbanded. Did you receive offers to join any high profile bands after that?

Felix Robinson: I went on to play with several LA-based original music groups and produced several bands. I played with a band called 7O7 [Casablanca subsidiary Boardwalk Records] for a major America tour. After that Punky and I were asked at one point to join a group that was being managed by Lieber Krebs [Michael Bolton] and to reform Angel with Kiss’s manager, Bill Aucoin. Unfortunately, we were already facing disillusionment by that point. In fact, there were many efforts to keep the group together or reformulate us. At one point, I came to rehearsal with Punky, Greg, Barry, and Fergie Frederiksen on vocals. I very briefly started a band with guitarist and singer Marq Torien of Bullet Boys fame along with Barry. We rehearsed for a few weeks.

LA was running out of options for me, so I moved to New York while beginning a technology consulting career. I started White Lion with Mike Tramp and Vito Bratta and played on the first album, Fight to Survive, before quitting due to a legal conflict. I was a founding member of the band playing bass, keyboards, and singing background vocals. I was also responsible for arranging and co-composing some of the songs. They ended up using some of my songs on subsequent albums. I left after the first album was finished. Electra shelved it for over a year before being releasing it, and I received my full advances and royalties. I was listed as “bass player,” which was intended as an insult due to my contributions. We didn’t end on a happy note.

Robert Cavuoto: Punky told me that you recently found some of Angel’s costumes in a trunk. Tell me about that.

Felix Robinson: Yeah, after we finished the final tour, our costumes went to the dry cleaner. Well I believe they went to the dry cleaner [laughing]. I had them delivered to my house in North Hollywood because for one reason or another, the roadies decided that they should be stored with me.  The costumes followed me around from various houses in LA to finally, my relocation to New York. I then ended up sending some equipment and those costumes to one of our road crew in the Mid-west where they were stored for about 30 years [laughing].

Robert Cavuoto: Did you try them on and did you return them to the band members?

Felix Robinson: No, I didn’t try it on. I distributed them to anyone who wanted it. I gave Punky his costume when we were doing his solo CD. I sent Greg’s and Barry’s costumes to Frank. I still have several here in my home.  In the new video with Punky and Frank, I’m wearing a scarf around my neck which was a sash from my last Angel costume.

Robert Cavuoto: That leads nicely into my next question. You, Punky, and Frank reunited for one of Punky’s videos. Was this testing the waters for a reunion?

Felix Robinson: Now there’s a big question to answer! I wish we would reunite but I don’t know if it will happen as I’m only 1/5 of the band. I would be prepared to make the effort if the opportunity comes around. We’ve certainly discussed it among ourselves. I can’t share every aspect of those discussions but there are certain issues that we all feel must happen in order to do it. We are all still capable and happy to participate. I think there are some business concerns and I’ll have to leave it there.

Working with Punky on his Fallen Angel CD has been a reminder of how great he really is and how we complement each other as musicians. From the second we started playing in rehearsal, it was as if we entered a time warp. Hanging out with Frank again and recording the song – it became obvious that the chemistry was still intact.

Robert Cavuoto: You did a lot of session work I assume back then?

Felix Robinson: My work as a studio player began long before I joined Angel.  I’ve done a lot of session work as a vocalist and instrumentalist. I also play guitar and keyboard.

Robert Cavuoto: What is it about the mystique of Angel that people are still intrigued in seeing the band reunite?

 

Felix Robinson: That’s a great question! It encompasses many different reasons as I have heard from so many people as to why they want us to get back together. The band had a thematic appeal which went beyond the fancy photography, glamorous image marketing, and androgynous vibe, which was not unique at time. Many imitators picked-up on the fact that theatrical production for a rock band was far more exciting than watching guys with beards in flannel shirts and jeans play on stage. We were proud to be one of those formative acts that may have influenced so many great bands.  When you look at bands like Motley Crue and Guns n’ Roses who had big hits in the 80s and 90s, they seem to have been influenced by Angel. We took the theatrical approach very seriously and we made an effort to have a great show.  We were committed to it with the special effects, magic, and costumes. People still talk about our shows and remember it all. If we had not been a great band and played the music properly than we would have been remembered only for our image. I can tell you this as a matter of pride that a lot of that bands you mentioned earlier went on to further success, but when we were touring together, we blew them off the stage. Some people like to point to us and say we were a “pretty boy” band but we were seriously hard rock experts on stage. 

Robert Cavuoto: Have you ever considering doing a book on Angel’s career?

Felix Robinson:  We are going to do one better, as there is a film in development about the band. I can’t tell you very much about it. It is past the concept point and is now being researched and is in pre-production.

Robert Cavuoto: What are your thoughts on the loss of Tom Petty?

Felix Robinson:  I want to mention my sadness at losing Tom Petty. For me, he always represented the honest approach to songwriting and the business of music. He took simple chord structure and added just enough variety to have an easy-to-understand story within the lyrics. It’s something that I’ve always aspired to. When he faced down the record company over pricing of his albums, that was something that every artist should have followed.

 

 

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