PHOTO CREDIT – Casey Steffans
John DeNicola is an Oscar, Golden Globe, a Grammy nominated, and ASCAP’s Songwriter of the Year award for the two mega-hits he wrote for the film, Dirty Dancin’ as well as an accomplished artist of his own.
John DeNicola began playing in bands as a kid in the 1970s and was a member of the jazz-fusion quintet Flight, which released the acclaimed album Excursion Beyond on Motown before collaborating with fellow tunesmith Frankie Previte on “Time of My Life” and “Hungry Eyes,” the aforementioned international monster hits from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. The soundtrack held the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 albums chart for 18 weeks selling more than 60 million copies worldwide and netting.
DeNicola made his first album as an artist in 2019 with The Why Because interpreting tunes he’d originally penned for others. The new album, was conceived and created for one voice, one touch, and one heart: his own. DeNicola assembled a stellar cast of musicians including crystalline keyboards from Vinny Jessel, a spectrum of synths from Ray Weiss and ripping guitar from axeman Zonder Kennedy.
What’s your story as an artist?
I’ve been a musician playing in bands since 7th grade. I became a writer in my late teens when the band I was playing in decided to do original songs. I played in a jazz fusion band Flight that did a record on Motown Records. (Erykah Badu sampled a song Flight recorded for her hit “Back In The Day”) From then on I was in bands writing and trying to get signed by a label which was the only way to get records out at that time. From there a friend played a track I had recorded for Franke Previte to hear and we started writing together. That first song we wrote together was “Hungry Eyes” then “I’ve Had The time Of My Life” Both from Dirty Dancing. Fast forward many years later, after writing and producing other artists, I put a recording studio in my barn upstate NY and started checking out the acoustics in the hayloft and began tracking music. When it came time to get a singer for the songs I put my voice down and people seemed to enjoy it so I finished my debut album “The Why Because” consisting of songs I had written for other people and my own versions of the Dirty Dancing songs. It was released in 2019. After that during lockdown I started on my sophomore record “She Said” which is coming out in November. It is unique for me as it is all songs that I had written for myself as an artist.
What do you want your music to communicate?
I always hope that people just enjoy what they are hearing. A respite from all the trials and tribulations that may be surrounding us. I hope that they take away a sense of authenticity when they are listening. Other than that on the album “She Said” lyrically there are themes that revealed themselves like the heating of the earth, resilient and strong women, unity, healing of our souls, redemption.
What are some sources of inspiration for your storytelling?
Musically I am pretty stream of conscience. Particularly on this record as it was purely written for me as an artist. I basically set up a keyboard or a guitar and followed where the music would take me. Building tracks and melodies along the way. Lyrically 4 of the songs (She Said, High, Love Devine and Breathe Deep) were written with Patti Maloney whom I’ve been writing with for years. I would give her a jumping off point. Maybe a chorus idea along with melodies and music tracks and she would take it where she wanted. Patti and I kind of know what to expect from each other and are on the same wavelength. She never fails to amaze me. We can sort of read each other’s minds when writing a song. Another song “Battered Cloth” my friend Keith Reid ,who wrote Whiter Shade Of Pale and others for Procol Harum, sent me a lyric and I wrote the music around them which is something I do less often but have done before. Two other songs lyrics , Float On Hope and Sky, were written by an artist that is on my record label Jason Stutts. He did such a great job putting lyrics to the melodies I laid down for him.
Who is an artist that you look up to more than others today?
I really enjoy Tame impala, Alex G, The Weekend. Legacy artists like Laura Nyro, Steve Winwood, Moby Grape, Peter Lewis, Neil Young.
What’s the record or artist that made you realize you wanted to be an artist?
So many. As a child like 6 years old I heard Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman which sent me on my way into becoming a musician. Plus the late 60’s-70’s were very fertile times. The Vietnam War, civil rights and music played a really big part in that. The divide in this country today is pretty wide as it was in the 60’s. The establishment against the long hairs or hippies. Music was a way for us to express our side of it.
Another moment is when my mom took me to my cousin’s One Stop (a distributor that mom and pop record stores used to get product) I was able to choose 3 records and I went home with Jimi Hendrix Are you experienced, Traffic
Mr. Fantasy and Moby Grape which pretty much solidified my love of music and sent me in the direction of musician/artist.
Tell us about your current release and how it came about
After my debut release of “The Why Because” I realized that I was really enjoying writing, recording and singing my own songs. To not have someone else in mind while writing other than what I wanted to say was sort of liberating and fun. When the pandemic hit I stayed at our upstate NY residence which has a barn recording studio so I would spend my day out in the barn writing and recording everyday. Again being able to write songs for myself to perform was just really fun.
What inspires your sound?
I guess years of listening to many styles of music. I have a love of so many styles and influences. I believe as a songwriter you listen and you take in all kinds of music and you spit it back out and the parts that have the biggest impact on you come out in a new way. Sometimes an instrument can inspire me. The Juno 106 synthesizer which I wrote Hungry Eyes on back then is still a popular synth prized for its analog sound. I plugged it back in for this record “She Said” and a bunch of songs came out. For sure the pandemic had an influence albeit subconsciously.
What should be the mindset of a professional songwriter and what is your advice for someone who aspires to enter this world?
I think that maybe it chooses you. I was, as I said, bitten at an early age and never shook it. Luckily I had some success that enabled me to continue to this day. The mindset is: have at it. If it’s in your blood you have no choice. The only problem is these days streaming leaves us songwriters out in the cold trying to get paid. The amount that streaming companies pay makes it not sustainable. That’s why I always say if you like an artist download their record or buy their CD or LP because they can’t make a living off of streaming.
What’s your favorite tune of yours?
Oh that’s hard… that’s like saying which of your children do you like the best. That said I am fond of “You’re The Only One” from The Why Because. “She Said” from She Said and “I’ve Had The Time Of My Life” isn’t too bad either.
Where are some things you really want to accomplish as an artist?
For me at this point I would just like people to get a chance to hear what I have to say musically.
Favorite lyric you ever wrote?
Mostly not a lyricist so I have to depend on others to get it across for me and marry a lyric to my melody and music. The lyrics on this latest release She Said are really insipiring. We have a lyric sheet in both the CD and LP. I wanted to make sure they were accessible because I think they say so much.
Was there ever a moment when you felt like giving up?
I have to say no. Always looked forward to making some connection to the music world.
What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
I would say the subtle prompting or shall I say not trying to talk me out of pursuing music that my parents did. Always encouraging.
What are your thoughts on the music industry today, being a very seasoned artist yourself? Anything you would change or improve?
Well as I stated the current model of streaming is unsustainable. Something will have to change because there is no incentive for a songwriter today. I believe something will come along, a different way to get music that can give back to the artist because only the record labels and the streaming companies are making money the way it is now.