When did you discover your love for your craft and what made you realize you wanted to pursue a career in it?
When I was 12 I fell in love with the music of the 50s and 60s, as a result of my grandfather’s passion for it. He grew up singing on the street corners in the Bronx and even had a singing group that made a demo. He turned me on to the vocal groups from the early days of rock and roll and that led to my discovery of so much great vintage music. At 17, I started singing with a little choir in high school that was supposed to perform on stage at a local show. When the show rolled around, no one showed up but I and the teacher kind of pushed me on stage to sing. When I saw people’s faces in the audience – how they lit up, that twinkle in their eye, those smiles – that’s how I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. That really started it all.
To what or whom do you accredit your sense of style?
Well, early on, I’d have to say that Paul Anka, Bobby Rydell, and Frankie Valli were tremendous influences. The tone of Paul Anka’s voice, especially in the upper register, to me was magic. Frankie Valli had that marvelous falsetto. So many people have tried to copy it – on records, on Broadway – and of course, no one succeeded, but I definitely loved his sound up there. Bobby Rydell’s style – the way he swings, and how big and round his voice is – he put a very special touch on everything he sang and I don’t know that I’ll ever capture that, but it certainly was a big inspiration. I’ve since worked with Bobby Rydell a few times, and I’m very proud to say that he is a supporter of mine and I’m so very fortunate that I can rely on him, for encouragement, for advice and I still stand in the wings and watch his entire show, beginning to end, no matter how many times I see it. To me, he is a master, carrying the torch of an entire era of guys like Darin and Sinatra who set the bar extremely high. The quality of the show was paramount, there was a touch of class that they brought to the stage, that Bobby brings, and I try to carry a bit of that as well.
On your current project, how did you come up with the concept?
After having spent a lot of time trying to sound like the original recordings, I had the experience of finally finding my own voice. The concept was, “What would it sound like if we took a song like ‘Put Your Head on My Shoulder’ and took away the tempo and the structure of the original song?” We had the piano player just lay down a chord and when I opened my mouth to sing, what came out was nothing like what was on the original recording. It was something unique and I immediately started to find the phrasing that was uniquely mine. Five minutes later, the song now sounded like maybe it had been written for me. Then we did the same thing with “This Magic Moment” and “One” and “My Cherie Amour.” All of sudden, I realized that, in addition to the ability to sing the songs in a way that was authentic to the time period and the original records, I also had the ability to make the songs my own. I felt people who had never heard these songs before would relate, but I had to make sure that the people who grew up with the originals would accept them also. So, I recruited Charlie Calello – who was the arranger on more hit records than anyone in history – and with his sensibility for 60s rock & roll, we created the arrangements for the album. I performed a handful of them in concert and, thankfully, they all went over well and a few even got standing ovations. We took “One” by Three Dog Night and we did the chorus as a waltz! We turned “California Dreamin'” into a big, brassy, punchy rock record. My manager Joe wanted to do the song with piano triplets and a driving beat. Clint Holmes contributed the idea of putting a bass line underneath that sounded something like Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out” and Charlie wrote an orchestration that included saxophones, trumpets, and trombones. That’s what we wanted to do – keep the melody and the lyric intact but completely re-imagine these songs. We took “Anyone Who Had a Heart” and made it a lot more brooding and dark. We took the Bee Gees’ “Run to Me” and amped it up a bit – we added some key changes and a couple of high notes that weren’t there before. Then we took “And I Love Her” – the Lennon-McCartney song – and we changed the vibe entirely and married it up with “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” in a way that is totally different from the way the Police recorded it. So the concept was – my hope was – that when people hear my interpretations of these songs, they would say “You know, I heard that song 100 times but now I GET it.”
Are you the best at what you do in your opinion?
I can’t say that I’m the best, but I know that I’m forever going to be trying to be. I know that I’ll always be trying to be better than I was yesterday. And I feel like there are very few people doing what I’m doing. For 40s music, for swing music or for the old standards – the Great American Songbook – there is Michael Buble and there are a hundred others playing smaller rooms. I have not seen too many people – my age or otherwise – doing what I call “the Great American Pop-Rock Songbook.” These are songs, predominantly from late 50s, the 60s and the early 70s, that were written by Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson, the Gibb Brothers, Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman, Carole King & Gerry Goffin and people like that. To me, these are the Gershwins and the Cole Porters of pop-rock. For teenagers of that era, those composers are their heroes and those are the writers who created the soundtrack to that time period. The artists who originally created the hit recordings of their songs, in most cases, created records that can’t be outdone. How would I ever sing “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” better than the Beach Boys? Who could sing the Three Dog Night version of “One” better than Chuck Negron? But yet, those songs have such strong lyrics and melodies, so to me, they were ideal for a reboot. They have great bones and all of the songs on the new album have great bones. They are masterpieces regardless of tempo, orchestration or phrasing. They stand alone, in a way. So, it was a great honor for me, and to circle back to your original question, if one day someone said I was the best at re-imagining these songs, that would be a crowning achievement for me. That would be a wonderful validation.
What are your plans for the near future?
I loved making every recording I made, but the real reason I’m in this business is seeing people smile and that means I need to be on stage. If I never set foot in the studio again, I’d be OK, but I NEED to be on stage for this to mean anything at all to me. So, starting in the fall, I’m going to be doing concert appearances on some shows with the original recording artists of the 60s and 70s, I’m going to do some concerts on my own where people can spend an evening with me and a full rock and roll band, and I’m also going to do some cabaret-type performances with a trio. Whatever the venue, whatever the crowd size, I can’t wait to see all of the faces smiling back at me and to meet people after the shows and hear their stories. That’s always the best part for me.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank, any shout outs?
Wow. I feel like “it takes a village” is a good expression to use here. My parents have always been so supportive of me taking chances and I think having that kind of unconditional love has given me the freedom to follow my heart. My manager, Joe Mirrione, who is a concert producer by trade, agreed to work with me even though he was in no way looking to manage an artist at the time. He saw something in me that told him I had potential and he agreed to take on the task of producing my live show as well as the 2 albums that we just put out. A lot of what you hear on “I Am Chris Ruggiero” came from Joe and came from Clint Holmes, who has mentored me in a very personal way over the last year. In my opinion, Clint is one of the best stage entertainers on the planet and one of the best interpreters of the song – ever. For some reason, he took a liking to me and has felt very invested in my development in a way that transcends music. He’s been a tremendous asset to me and he’s also responsible for some of the innovative ideas on the album, in terms of the arrangements. Bucky Heard from the Righteous Brothers has helped me tremendously to expand my vocal range and Bill Medley has been cheering me on for the last year as well. They both showed up to my Las Vegas debut and it just touched me deeply to know I have people like them in my corner. Last but not least, I have to thank Charlie Calello who co-produced the album with Joe and who is responsible for fleshing out all of our ideas and turning them into full-blown arrangements. Charlie wrote every note of every orchestration and had the vision of what each of the 21 or so instruments would sound like – every clarinet, every flute, every violin, trumpets, french horns – that’s all Charlie. The idea that he agreed to come on board for this project was mind-blowing to me to begin with, but then to see how passionate he was about me, my voice and my delivery of these songs… it was surreal for me. He arranged an entire album for Sinatra, he arranged all of my favorite Frankie Valli songs and some of the greatest records ever made and then here he is, in the booth, applauding my singing and giving me his input on how to make it even better. I can’t thank him enough, because he really took this whole project across the finish line in a way that no one else could have, in my opinion.
How can fans find you?
My website is www.ChrisRuggieroSings.com. Every day I post on Facebook and I try to answer every single comment. It’s the least I can do. Also, every day I post a positive video message on my Patreon page and people that really enjoy connecting with the singer they’re listening to seem to love that. I know for some people it’s just about the music and it’s kind of one-dimensional and that’s perfectly fine. As long as they enjoy the music. But for people who really want access and really want a 3-D kind of experience or an interactive experience, Patreon gives them that for a few dollars a month, and that provides the funding to make more great music.
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What suggestions do you have for other artist like yourself?
Find someone who believes in you who can guide you and encourage you. Work at your craft daily. Sing every day. Never give up.