Friday, November 13, 2009

Exclusive: Interview with Mario Minardi - Plucked From Obscurity To Play Drums for General Public

Long before reality TV shows like 'Making The Band' and 'Rock Star: INXS', well established bands have been plucking musicians from obscurity to live the rock star experience. The most famous instance from the early 1980's occurred when The Clash kicked Mick Jones out and replaced him with two unknown guitarists named Vince White and Nick Sheppard. White would later write an account of his experiences during the final years of The Clash, titled 'Out Of Control: The Last Days of The Clash'. Judas Priest also picked unknown singer Tim 'Ripper' Owens from a cover band to serve as their lead singer for a short time (and his story was turned into a movie called 'Rock Star' featuring Mark Wahlberg).

One such instance with a 2-Tone flavor is the story of the Minardi brothers from suburban Orange County just outside Los Angeles. Mario and Gian Minardi who played in their own ska-rock band The Basics, were asked by Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger to join a revamped version of General Public in late 1985 (the picture above is from The Basics one single). That invitation spirited them from their days as a support band in the sunny climes of Southern California to Birmingham in the UK where they joined the rest of General Public to re-record the band's second major label release 'Hand To Mouth'. The album was pegged as the follow-up to the chart topping 'All The Rage' which included the band's Top 40 U.S. hit 'Tenderness'.

But let's start at the beginning. The Beat had become popular in the U.S. near the end of their run as a band, but their popularity was strongest in California where performances at both US Festivals in 1982 and 1983 endeared them to music lovers there including the Minardi brothers who later opened shows for General Public. After dissolving The Beat in 1983, Wakeling and Ranking Roger emerged in late 1984 with the album 'All The Rage' and a stellar backing band that included keyboardist Mickey Billingham (ex-Dexys Midnight Runners), guitarist Mick Jones of The Clash (who only played on the album and was replaced by Kevin White), bassist Horace Panter (The Specials) and drummer Stoker (ex-Dexys Midnight Runners/The Bureau).

In the UK, General Public had a minor hit with the eponymous track 'General Public', which reached # 60 in the UK Singles Chart in 1984. The B-side "Dishwasher" became a surprise top 40 hit in the Netherlands, after its use as a theme tune to a popular pop radio show. Later in the year, the band fared even better in North America, where their second single 'Tenderness' was a Top 40 hit in Canada (#11), and the U.S. (#27). They capped off a busy year by appearing on the MTV 'Rockin Eve' on December 31, 1984 (see video below).

By mid-1985, General Public had reached a crossroads after the unexpected success of 'All The Rage' and IRS Records had big expectations for the follow-up. After spending a lot of time and money recording the follow-up 'Hand To Mouth' the band was beset with some delays and bad luck. First the band discovered that all the rhythm tracks for the album were off, meaning it would need to be completely re-recorded. This led to the dismissal of White and Stoker. Enter the Minardi's. After endearing themselves to Wakeling, who was preparing to record and produce The Basics first album in the UK, they suddenly found themselves as the new drummer and guitarist for General Public.

Wakeling was quoted in a Billboard Magzine article from November 1986 describing the appeal of the Minardi's skills as a musicians saying "We wanted a new drummer who was as comfortable playing reggae as rock. We write in a lot of different musical styles and meters, mixing up reggae with rockabilly, and pop with soul. We wanted to be able to mix of rhythms at the drop of a hat and Mario was very good for that. Gianni is just a great guitarist." As it turns out, I had an unexpected brush with the Minardi's while waiting in line to see General Public perform at the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1986. There was a large group behind me who were excitedly talking about Mario and Gian who suddenly appeared out of nowhere to quickly greet their family members before returning back inside the theatre to prepare for the show.

You can hear an example of the Minardi's musical chops in a live version of 'Forward As One' from 'Hand To Mouth' recorded during a show in Washington, DC in 1986:

I recently connected with Minardi, who works as a musical pastor at a Church in San Jose, California. He still plays the drums and has very fond memories of his days playing music in Southern California in the early 80's and his unexpected good fortune at joining General Public in the mid-80's. He has wonderful perspective about the opportunity he had to play in a band at the height of its popularity. Read on...

What was it like growing up in Southern California in the late 70's and early 80's and how did that influence you musically and artistically?
I came from a very musical family so there was always mom was always singing songs she grew up with in Sicily, and dad was always jamming on his guitar and accordion. My brother Gian and I loved music our whole lives and always listened to the stuff of the 70’s and 80’s almost like it was “schooling” – in other words, we not only enjoyed listening, but we really studied and internalized the music.

When did you make the conscious decision to become a musician? Were you a fan of ska and reggae growing up?
I decided to become a musician when I was 10 years old in my cousin’s room listening to him play his first drum set….I was HOOKED. I made the professional choice after I graduated college in 1984. I really wanted to honor my parents in that way, but after that, I NEEDED to honor what was in my heart. I was a fan of 70’s rock and pop music. My first real favorite band was THE POLICE. After that I became acquainted with the whole ska movement that was happening in England in the early 80’s and really gravitated toward THE BEAT.

Tell me about The Basics, the band you and your brother Gianni performed with in the early 80's? How did the band get started?
We wanted to copy our favorite bands (Police, The Beat, The Specials, etc.). We started the band with my best friend Marc Taub who was living in Laguna Beach, CA.

How would you describe the early sound of The Basics? The one song I've heard that you recorded 'Run By You' sounded very influenced by The Police?
You nailed it on the head….we LOVED The Police. You gotta start somewhere, and it’s usually mimicking your favorite bands. Living in Laguna Beach, we were surrounded by Reggae bands, world-beat music, ska, drum circles, etc. All those became influences on our music

Did The Basics play shows around Southern California? Did you open shows for bands that were touring through LA and San Diego?
Because of our relationship with the popular Reggae band THE REBEL ROCKERS, we had a chance to play almost every great club (and plenty of dives!) from LA to San Diego. Those days were hard, fun, and a great (and necessary) training ground.

What was the music scene in Southern California like in the early and mid-80's? Were you a part of the ska/mod scene that developed around The Untouchables in LA?
The music scene was as diverse as Southern California was…glam-rock, Toto wannabees, the whole 80’s techno-thing….but there were actually a few good bands around. We never officially called ourselves a ska band because we had other influences. But we were able to fit in to a lot of ska events during that era.

How did you meet Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger from The Beat and General Public and how did you and your brother end up officially joining the band?
Very fun story . . . . . every time they were on tour in the LA area, we would ALWAYS find a way to sneak into their concerts, get back-stage, or follow them after the shows to their hotel. We were Beat freaks! Dave really was amused with us (he called us “The Minardi Brothers”). He’s such a gentleman really….he always asked us for demos of The Basics and was truly concerned about our music career. When they toured as GP (General Public) we still found ways to sneak back stage. On their first tour, Gian and I told Dave that we REALLY needed a lucky break. They had one night in Hollywood that they needed an opening act. A few weeks later The Basics opened up for GP. There was a great chemistry between the two bands, and we were only a three-piece band so we were the ideal opening act. A short time later they asked us to open for their entire Canadian and mid-west tour. Finally things started coming together. After that Dave wanted to produce our first CD. We shipped all our gear to England, and arrived as they were completing HAND TO MOUTH. The engineer they hired to mix the project said the rhythm tracks were all “off” and said they would have to re-record the ENTIRE ALBUM!!! In order to raise more money for recording, GP had to return to America for a west-coast tour. Gian and I got a band together to open up for them, and also sang background vocals with GP….we had so much fun! We didn’t care that we got all the way to England and Dave couldn’t work with us! It was at the end of that tour (December 1985) that Dave fired their drummer and guitar player and hired Gian and I to take their place. A few weeks later we were back in England learning the songs for HAND TO MOUTH. We recorded part of the tracks at UB40’s studio in Birmingham, and the other tracks at a studio near Oxford. The project was completed by late spring 1986.

Tell me about recording the 'Hand To Mouth' album with the band at UB40's studio? Are there any interesting stories to share about that experience?
Well, my favorite memory at The Abbatoir was being able to jam with the guys in UB40 when I wasn’t needed to record my drum tracks. The studio thing was very new to me, and it was nerve wracking to say the least! It was also very interesting to get acclimated to the English culture. Gian and I got our own flat, learned the public transportation system, and expected to live there indefinitely. My all-time high was opening for STEEL PULSE after our recording was done. Their drummer (I forgot his name) came up to me after our performance and said, “You’re a hard drummer MON!” That’s the highest compliment in the Jamaican culture for sure!

What was it like to go on a national tour with General Public? Can you share any unusual stories about any live shows that were particularly memorable?
Touring was (and will always be) my favorite part of music. I love traveling, meeting new people, playing my heart out, eating good food and trying local beer! Playing in front of a lively crowd will always be a rush. We played a lot of college campus’. That was the age group that GP really appealed to. It was an honor to play the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden in front of about thirty of my New York Minardi relatives. And I got to experience all of this with my younger brother. I guess I’m kinda old-school!

Why did the band break-up following the release of the record and the tour to support it?
I think Dave and Ranking Roger developed different tastes and directions in music. Dave wanted to go a more “pop” direction to appeal to more people, and Ranking Roger was more alternative and probably wanting to return more to the roots of The Beat. They both tried solo stuff after GP, but there was a chemistry between those guys that was magical!

Tell me about your life outside of music? Do you still play the drums?
I’m currently a music pastor at a church in San Jose, California. I love connecting people with God through music. I have a beautiful wife (Cheryl) of 16 years, three kids, lots of friends, students I teach drums to, and a love for biking! I’m actually looking to return to music full-time. I’m not sure how or when, but I’m a better drummer than I’ve ever been, and I really want to hook up with some gifted artists and create some new music that will really inspire people. I’ve really grown up and am ready to give of myself through the gifts God has given to me. Know of any bands looking for a drummer???!!!

What are your lasting memories of performing with General Public?
To sum it up in one word: PRIVILEGE. I didn’t necessarily deserve to be in GP, but it happened, it was fun, I got to travel and experience the beauty of England, Canada, and America. The coolest thing that happened was I got to experience this at 23-years-old. And even then, I had a sense that there’s gotta be more to life than people worshipping you just because you’re a drummer in a famous band. I really think this “knowing” there’s gotta be more was what God used to lead me to Himself through a relationship with Jesus. I’m a totally different person now….I love people…I want to give to people….I want to make their lives better….help lighten their load and bring a smile to their face! I was so selfish back then….God has completely changed me….miracles still happen today!

Below is a video that Minardi recently recorded that recounts his experience playing in General Public and the spiritual awakening that lead to his current job as a musical pastor:

You can hear Minardi's first band The Basics single 'Run By You' which was released in 1983. The band has a rock meets reggae sound very much like The Police.


Glen said...

A really interesting piece Marco. It's amazing the different types of people who a connection to ska and reggae.

Anonymous said...

You made my day writing about my husband. I learned some new things about him! I plucked him from obscurity 16 years ago and have never looked back. He really is an incredible man! Thanks for writing this piece.!
Cheryl Minardi

Anonymous said...

Great reading, Thanks!


Paul said...

I attend Mario's church in San Jose, and we're all very proud to have Mario as our worship pastor. His undying faith in God, his ability to reach out to people, and loving heart have changed many lives. He runs the best worship team around, and has truly been a gift to our church through thick and thin for over 10 years.


Quigs said...

I'm the same age as the Minardi brothers and also grew up in Laguna in the late 70's and early 80's; quite a lot of musical talent developed around town in that era. The interview brings back good memories of the local bands; The Rebble Rockers, The Basics, El Caminos, to name a few. Mark Taub went on to be an original member of the ska/raggae/rock band Common Sense, who have been very popular for the past 20 years. He's now, Dr. Taub and runs the ER at a local hospital! Thanks for a great interview.

Anonymous said...

Mario..this will surely throw you. How are your memories of 8th street in Laguna? You and your bro, Ben Card...and the incurable Mark Taub. Some of the best memories that I'll never remember. Musically, loved everything during that ska/police/English Beat era. Truthfully, I went to 8th street to meet the girls. Even worked sometimes. Nobody, and I mean nobody played English Beat more than I (maybe Zoid). It was all good!
Thanks for the look back and best wishes moving forward!

Maddi Minardi said...


You rock at being a music pastor, a drummer, a singer, a guitarist, a husband, and most importantly, my father! Knowing you back in your band days would have been a BIG privilege. Im so glad that you have this very unique testimony that you share with others...even all the way in New York! I love you and keep on keeping on!!!
Your Daughter,

Tom said...

Marco - Thanks for putting this up. It's great to have some insight into the BC Mod. I have attended attend Mod's (Mario's) church in San Jose for all 10 years of its existence. I attest to his musicianship, but also to his song writing. I'm surprised this didn't come out. He's an awesome song-writer. His CD from the early years of our church is my all-time favorite. More important than all of that is that he taught me so much about how to worship God. That's really priceless! And I'm eternally grateful (Sorry!) Thanks again.

Julie said...


How amazing to find this post and your story. Your band played a big role in my young life and it made my trip to Catalina and Camp Fox even more memorable. You guys were so kind and talented. My girlfriend and I were so honored that we knew the Minardi brothers at General Public's Universal appearance in the late 80's. I'm glad I know you and I'm glad you are in such a wonderful, happy place now.

Blast from the past--Julie (Simpson) Jennings

David Burt said...

I remember the party in Santa Barbara when Mark Taub was dating my sister Cindy,you guys played at their place and it was one of the greatest sounds ive heard.Then to go see you guys play at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach was one of my best memories growing up.You guys gave me 4 of the singles you passed out that night and signed 2 of them. I gave them to friends like i said i would and still have my signed copy!! Played it all the time when i became a D.J. it was a hit at the parties. Thanks for the memories.....Dave.

David Burt said...

I remember the first time meeting you guys in Santa Barbara when Mark Taub was dating my sister Cindy,the party at their place blew me away when you guys played in the front room. Then i saw you at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach and that was a great time, you guys gave me 4 copies of the single to pass out to friends and signed 2 of them for me, i still have my copy, and the the other made one girl very happy cause she loved the song after hearing it on the radio.(you guys made me a hero for a short time lol).Those were great days and you guys started some great memories for me. Thanks
Dave Burt