Dennis D'Asaro

is a genial, casually humorous person onstage. He often warns his audience not to take anything he says---especially delivered deadpan---too seriously; until he has something serious to say, which is easy to spot.

        There's a heart here, a funny bone, and these days some political anger.

        His songs are made of narrative, monologue, and dialogue. Sounds like someone telling a story, or people talking. Very little didactic messaging goes on. His ear for vernacular is unerring. You won't catch anyone ordering a tonic and gin in a Dennis D'Asaro song!

        Favorite songs to sing: Wild Horses, Ruby Tuesday, Stand By Me. Sense a torch theme? Oh, but he didn't write any of those.   Favorite songs to belt: Fill Your Glasses High, Elvis on a Harley. He wrote those; but, aw, gee, you've never heard of them.

        This Prussian-Jewish / Sicilian man has a strong minor in Irish music (Clancys informed by Silly Wizard.) His band is called "Shakespeare in the Alley," after a Bob Dylan line.

        His performing objective is reduction of distance between stage and audience (sometimes literally.) You will not hear this guy say, "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen."  Just, "Hi," or else something completely disconcerting (see above); and then he's there, and so are you.

        If it's a formal performance, his objective is a journey; if casual, then whatever happens between performer and audience.

        For someone this much fun and this warm and with this nice a voice and who writes such good songs to have stayed unknown for 50 years has taken special effort by his execrable management. 
        (Dennis D'Asaro Talent Agency --- "Don't Hire Us!")

 Ω

 


Hey---cute blurb, huh? Unfortunately I have to write these all myself. Nobody reviews me! That's my favorite picture but it's twelve years old. =sigh=

 A

Hi, Sarah,
        If you don't mind, here is a guided demo of what I'd like you to read and hear first.
No single piece is typically representative of me; the larger the number of samples, the more “typical” the overall picture. And, while it's hardly all I do, I will show you here original (and collaborative) material, that being my claim to being worthy of your venue.
        Part band, part solo, part live.

FILL YOUR GLASSES HIGH
by Robb F. McKay; additional lyrics by Dennis D'Asaro

       [Liner Notes from 2001] 1974, give-or-take, I heard Rabbit McKay a couple of times at the Hootenanny at the Troubadour, where I was the janitor. Never one to let the grass grow around the telephone dial, in 1982, more-or-less, I called him up about this tune, the chorus of which had stuck in my head for nine years. The gracious fellow said he would send me a tape---and he actually did. (This was reel-to-reel, children. It was a bunch more trouble than popping a blank into your dual cassette deck and thence into a Priority Mail envelope.) [Gawd, I've dated myself again----"It was a bunch more trouble than e-mailing an MP3."]
        Time alters memory---tempus novo memoria?---and Rabbit's straightforward lyric had expanded in my mental vacuum into some improbable saga which by now I dearly wanted it to be. Never one to let the mold grow on my notebook [nor ever a stickler for doing a song "correctly"---just ask them at any Irish bar---I fiddled the tune around and arrived at the current version by 1991, plus-or-minus. It has been a great joy to sing, especially with the band. Just to be specific: melody, chorus, and the verse about the harbor gals are Rabbit's and the rest is mine. I pray Rabbit forgives me the license.


B

FOR AS LONG AS SHE LASTS LET ME LIVE IN THE LAND OF THE FREE
by Dennis D'Asaro
Keyboard accompaniment by Mark Rabin

       I write topical songs kind of sideways. This, for instance, germinated as a fantasy of being one of the Iran embassy hostages. I fancied that when I got out of there, I would skip out on the debriefing in Germany, fly to New York, go immediately to Port Authority and get a bus to somewhere in the middle of the country. Ride out there hunched against the window with the American landscape passing. Get off somewhere between Iowa and Kansas, find a job washing dishes and an unfurnished apartment over a hardware store, and not talk much to anyone for a year.
        Figure out how that relates to the following piece, and you will understand how I write songs. Then let me know how it works, will you?

       And, yeah, I learned later the word is pronounced “MWAYzins.”

FOR AS LONG AS SHE LASTS

        I also write topical songs rather after the event. Then I make some small attempt to get them “out there,” get rebuffed by the big nasty world, and nobody ever finds out how affectingly I've pegged the human heart of the situation. My planned 9th CD (we're up to TWO so far) is going to be called Yesterday's Papers.

 

Γ

BY THE SHORES OF SAN CLEMENTE
by Dennis D'Asaro    

       One of my topical fantasies did however make a timely emergence in the long aftermath and living memory of an American historical event. Spilled onto some steno pages in nineteen hours of a long day traveling from Buffalo to D.C.

       [To sing at the White House? Be recorded at the Library of Congress? Have a life mask made at the Smithsonian? Even to busk by the Reflecting Pool? Naw, just to visit family. But I got this lyric written, and a cousin I didn't know I had taught me “The Dutchman,” which was worth the trip in itself].

       Lena Spencer liked this song, and when I showed up again after a lapse of years remembered who the hell I was (amazing lady!) and had me sing it again.

       There is no usable recording of this song.  Taped it once in a bar. Sounds like a bar, with someone singing in the background. Played at a college once where an offered perk was a session in the video studio. Couple of film students brought me in there. I started outlining a little sketch around the tune for them (stealing a gag from The Boob Tube, if you remember that flic.) The boys said they had to get to a class, started up the camera, told me to do whatever I wanted and that they'd pack up the tape for me later, and departed hurriedly. I soloed the song to no one. When I got that tape home and played it, it was blank.

       Did a Gielgud-worthy performance of it for a ripe audience at an Oswego coffee house. Playback revealed that a woman in the back of the room had giggled after every single line. Unlistenable. Like that.

       I did assemble a nice graphic for it in the website songbook, copied here. so if you will just proceed down the page you may see the lyric, and imagine it set a cappella to a trad-like melody.

          BUT WAIT!  Rediscovered another recording.  Cherry Tree Coffee House in the 'Eighties.  Fellow with the button was conserving tape, or something.  Started it up once he was sure I was singing another song and not merely carrying on.   Only missing the first line....

BY THE SHORES OF SAN CLEMENTE

 

Come gather 'round, Republicans, and come, good Democrat
I'll sing a song to make you pour the silver in my hat
You see me here before you in ragged clothes and torn
My story's sad as any man's who ever has been born

I say I was the President, and Richard is my name
And I was like unto a king in power and in fame
Oh I delare it all was true and when my story's done
I will take my seal of office out to show to everyone

I started out as humbly as any public man
But when I saw the creeping tide that threatened all the land
I took my forthright finger and I pointed just like this
Right straight at Helen Douglas and the same at Alger Hiss

Oh, then there came the bounty years --- I'd never seen the like
My eyes were opened to the world as I stood up with Ike
And when Nikita Kruschev tried to trap me in his lair
With the flashbulbs all a-blazing I defied the Russian Bear

But then there rose John Kennedy, so arrogant of mein
And with a glibness to his brain that I had never seen
With youthful face and figure he deprived me of my might
Till he fell to the public guns which proved me in the right

For two-and-twenty years I served the Nation well and good
And they at last returned to me, as faithful well they should
Upon the greatest plebecite this folk did e'er proclaim
The President of this great State they made me in their name

How did I steer the Ship of State across the monstered sea?
So artfully I made a friend of every enemy
The Russian Bear, the Dragon, too, they came with standards bent
And my name was carried to the Moon --- I was the President!

But when the war in Viet Nam with honor I made end
I then aroused the hatred of other greedy men
Who so wished for themselves that fame their pride my treaty galled
And they called me names in jealousy that all great men are called

They said that I have feet of clay --- I ask: What man has not?
But other men have not the glowing visions I have got
'Tis privileged of executives to lead as they see best
To win the higher aims of men and justify the rest

But there was too much of Haldeman and Mitchell and their kind
Too much of Dean and Erlichman --- they tangled up my mind
Seduced me and betrayed me till I was bent out of shape
Oh, if it were not for men like those, and miles and miles of tape

The Congress rose all frenziedly and so took me to task
As to hound me from my office, which was more than they should ask
They held my indiscretions up for all the world to see
And for such crimes as all have done they made a case of me

So I relinquished power though it went against my blood
The President should not be soiled by fighting in the mud
And so I fell as every prince falls hard upon his fate
Napoleon his Waterloo and I my Watergate

And now it's to my last abode they have remanded me
With my last hundred thousand, here to live in poverty
By the shores of San Clemente till all the tides run cold
I will ponder on my yesterdays when all I touched was gold

But now I'll show my token, which I promised you should see.........
Well I've just looked in my pocket where I thought that it should be
It sustained me through my illness and the whitening of my hair
Now I've looked in all my pockets and it isn't anywhere

Oh, you would have like to see it, the symbol of the land
I know you all believe me that I held it in my hand
I thought I had it here with me, I can't think where it went
My name is Richard Nixon............I AM THE PRESIDENT!

 

In the mid-'Seventies, this piece actually stunned audiences. [Though not Sing Out!: “Oh, there are so many Nixon songs.”] I opened for Rosalie Sorrels once at SUNY Buffalo and had the hubris to wonder if it were professional of me to sock the audience so hard just before her entrance. That doughty lady took the stage and came right back with a talking blues about Eisenhower.

 

 Δ

A:  "Pretty deadly serious guy, eh?"

S:  "Arf!"

JACK'S OFF A-WHALING
by Dennis D'Asaro

MILK AND COOKIES AROUND THE CAMPFIRE
by Dennis D'Asaro and Roy Atkinson
Cherry Tree Coffee House, 1982
[It's 30-odd years later, now, and I don't try quite so hard to be cute].

 

Ε 

And some additional songs. Heck, I dunno what to show you out of the disparate repertoire!
Call these "mainstream," and "humanist."

CLERK SAUNDERS (trad) and SHELTER IN THE LIGHT (D'Asaro)
Carden Street Cafe, 1980

LeROY
by Dennis D'Asaro

a portrait song

1975, Toronto


Hello, Dennis
I would really be happy to give a short resume for you, and I don't want to sound dreadfully pessimistic, but really it's very hard. I think you have to be in the right place in the right time. And slogging for it is the very hardest way! But I admire your perseverance and can only wish you much luck.
Here - as they say - goes!

"The first half-hour spent with Dennis put my mind at ease regarding his capabilities as a musician. After I sang a couple of songs for him, he quietly picked up his guitar and began to play and sing for me.
His voice was velvety, really articulate (I can't stand singers who sing behind barred teeth) and his first song traditional - or so I thought. When I asked him where he'd collected it from he said he'd written it!
Here, then, is a person who not only sings well but writes good modern songs in a traditional style (a feat seldom mastered.)
With his strong/gentle personality he drew my attention into him and he was quite able to captivate me."


Margaret Christl

 

 

2007, Averill Park


I coordinate a concert series for our local art center and I book primarily nationally touring musicians. Shakespeare in the Alley did a concert for us last fall and I thoroughly enjoyed it. They're very talented, lively, and entertaining, and Dennis's stories are - - well, Dennis is indescribable, but I recommend him and his band highly!

CarolLynn Langley

 

"I need to get the impression that the artist is familiar with American roots music, and that those old songs inspired the current work in some way. "

While I don't know that I know anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who knows Kevin Bacon, I know exactly where I stand on this:

In 1955 (I was 8) my dad got his Ph.D. and started teaching at UCLA;  and my mother's Uncle Sidney left her $50.    The 'rents took this legacy down to Tijuana and bought Dad a nylon-string guitar with a neck like my (adult) upper arm, and he took an extension course in folk guitar and singing from Bess Lomax Hawes, once on-and-off member of the Almanac Singers and co-author of "MTA," about whom Wikipedia has this to say:

Bess developed her technique for teaching guitar to large groups of people simultaneously, a method for which she became well-known, and which accounts for the fact that over the years, especially after she moved to Los Angeles in 1951, she was able to teach so many people to play guitar. Many of her students, in turn, became guitar teachers, spreading her method - and her enthusiasm for music - which helped catalyze the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s.

Thus folk singing came into our house.  "Leatherwing Bat," "The Frozen Logger," Spanish songs about Chicken Hawks and Insurgent Generals.  I loved singing this stuff.  Couple years on, we acquired "The Kingston Trio" and "The Weavers at Carnegie Hall."  My enthusiasm stepped up to folk-pop.  In 1960 I finally got Dad to show me the chords to my favorite KT song, and three of us high school buddies started a folk trio called...

The Three Folksingers!

You believe we all proprietorialy claimed to have thought of the name?  I'm the one in the middle.
Big guy is Robert Lloyd Webb, who went a lot farther than I have.

Now a complicated little thing happened.  Bob Dylan, actually.  That much wasn't complicated.  He was my Ideel as much as L'il Abner aspired toward Fearless Fosdick.  But eventually he released "Like A Rolling Stone," with (pretty awful, let's say it) drums.  I actually stopped listening to him.  Maybe for five years,  till another of the (post-) high school gang was putting on a music show, "The History of Rock 'n' Roll."  He wanted me to "be" Dylan.  So I had to learn that infamous electric song, also "Baby Blue," and play them with a band.  They were real good songs, once I paid attention.  One of the eight dedications on my first CD reads

To Doug Carnahan, who brought this anal folkie back to post-Stratocaster Dylan."

And I guess we will say my heart became attuned to folk-rock.  It's not all I do.  I sing everything I can get away with.  But I can claim and prove that I am two degrees of separation from the origin of the Folk Boom, and a member therof.

I would about kill for the notebook from that Bess Hawes class, but I'm pretty sure Dad gave it to some music friend 20 years ago.  Dad got a better guitar and the original fell to me.  Remembering how hard its action was,  I can quantify how much I wanted to play.  It was stolen from me at college and I moved to a Guild F-30 with bronze strings.  That was stolen years later in Albany.  Years after that, my D-35 was stolen by the crew of an impound lot after a car wreck.  Years after that, Dad's better guitar was apparently stolen by one of the home health aids who assisted him during his final decline.  I am one or two degrees of separation from a whole pack of thieves. 

Never been exactly sure what "roots music" is, but possibly that extension course stuff.  And it's in the mix.  1977, maybe, I played at Fiddler's Green in Toronto, and a woman asked for "The Frozen Logger."  Dunno what I said, exactly, but she started arguing with me in the middle of my set that she'd heard me a few years before and I'd sung it then.  A few years before I'd been the janitor at the Troubadour in L.A., and I knew danged well I'd never sung that song anywhere but a living room or a campfire in my life.  But I knew it (see above.)  I sang it for her.  Haven't been asked for it since.  I still know it.  Just in case.

That stuff''s where I started. 

OK, so lastly I observe your wonderfully explicit parameters from the applicants' page of the Lena website. Lemme see..."Experienced act yep! with a following." nope!   "Young act nope! who is looking to get on a real stage for the first time." hmpf!

I'm actually delighted to play opening sets for acts who will draw a compatible audience, but ---Oops! Don't say "opening act" or she won't even reply to the inquiry!!

I'm afraid I may categorize here as a fish up a tree.

I must leave it to you to decide whether I fit on your stage, and, if so, how and when.

[Have I mentioned my having played at the Caffe twice? Once in the '70s, duo with Ed O'Reilly. Once in the '80s, solo. Combined audience, 9].

Feel free to call, write, ask quesions, poke around the website. Please do reply with whatever your reply is.

Regards,
Dennis

Website Home Page

to get you back here, near the bottom of the home page I'll put a link says, "Lena"

 Δ