There are three parts of this interview, original, epilogue, and few lines by Gabriele Baldazzi (Tom's drummer in 80's). Click the one that you wanna read.
Tom Hooker was one of the leading Italo Disco performer and producer. His work for Baby Records is sealed with the work for himself and for Eddy Huntington and Den Harrow, just to mention a few. His greatest hits are "Looking For Love", "Feeling Okay", "Atlantis", "Real Man" etc.
In the following interview you will have chance to see very interesting answers and I am sure all of you, who will read this interview, will ask yourself some further questions and try to analyze the content of this interview. This interview, in my opinion, brings new point of view to Italo Disco music. Thus, my suggestion is to read this interview through fan's eyes.
Here is what Eddy Huntington says about Tom:
I recently received an email from Tom, which was really exciting, as I had lost touch with an old friend. After one exchange though, I felt as though I had lost an old friend. Tom was a dedicated artist, who loved the music and the scene. He lived life to the full and a bit more. I only hope that he is going through a phase of reaction in order to get a sense of perspective in his life.
I was unable to read the interview as I feared the worst, but I live in hope that he will one day return to music and rediscover his talents as an artist and lyricist. In whatever he choses though I wish hime well and request that he doesn't write it all off as a waste of time!
Zeljko: Dear Tom, thank you very much for this opportunity you gave me. Can you tell me who is Tom Hooker?
Tom Hooker: I was born in the U.S. was brought to Europe when I was 6 months old. I lived in Milan, Dusseldorf and for the most part Geneva and Santa Barbara. I speak fluent French, Italian and English.
Zeljko: Where and when you had your first music experience?
Tom Hooker: I started playing the drums at 10. My first band was at 13. My first concert as a drummer/singer was at 15.
Zeljko: Please Tom tell me in more details your start in Italo music? Who helped you to start your great career? Tell me the names?
Tom Hooker: The first guy was Gianni Naso. He was president of the Association Italiana of Disc Jockeys. He liked "Flip over" and I got signed in 1980 because of him, but I didn't even know him. A cassette was sent to him through a publisher in Milan. I was in recording studios a lot as a drummer and produced my own record as a singer/songwiter.
Zeljko: Your first song was "Looking For Love", released for Baby Records. Your impressions please?
Tom Hooker: "Looking for Love" was my first song as Tom Hooker with the Turatti/ Chieregato team. I had previously done "Future Brain" and a whole album for Den Harrow the previous year. "Looking for love" was huge in Italy because Claudio Cecchetto liked it. He had a very important TV show at that time.
Zeljko: You had great songs, Looking For Love, Feeling Okay., Atlantis, Help Me, ... to mention a few. Also you were not only a singer but also a songwriter and producer. Tell me about this side of your work? Which song is your favorite?
Tom Hooker: I always liked USSR for Eddie Huntington. We wrote it, Miki and I in one afternoon. Most of the songwriting was with MIKI Chieregato. Turatti was more of a public relations guy. He would then "sell" the song to Freddy, the Head of the company. No matter how good a song was, if Freddy didn't like it, it would never be released. Therefore, Turatti was very important for the team, even though he didn't know how to play any instrument.
I wrote so many songs with so many people under different names. I also wrote with Novecento. Dora Carofiglio/Nicolosi has a beautiful voice. I've written over a 100 songs that came out. My favorite songs are songs you probably wouldn't know. I liked "Talk with your body". I released it with FullTime in 1981. I liked "Love is Life" with "Elastic Band" in 1995.
Zeljko: As I know you have one album behind you, it's Bad Reputation, tell me a little bit about that album?
Tom Hooker: I've done quite a few albums you don't know of. Plus two albums under the name Den Harrow. "Bad Reputation" was an album that came out too late. Nearly a year after "Looking for love". This was ridiculous! The album had some good songs. "No more Heaven" was a ballad. I don't remember all the songs. I don't even have a copy! I did another rock album in L.A. in 95 with a band called Chameleon. Two, with Elastic Band. And two other pop albums under the name Tom Hooker.
Zeljko: Tom could you describe for me and for others fans of Italo disco music that time, the gold era of Italo disco in the mid 80's through your eyes?
Tom Hooker: It was a lot of fun, I made money, I had cars and girls. I knew all the famous people in Italy at the time. I am so much happier now, though. I am married and incognito in California. I finally understand the value of "true" things in life. I really love my wife today. Then, like many people who don't even admit it, I was in love with myself. Like many famous people, I had a huge ego.
Zeljko: Your publishing label was Baby Records. For the same label worked Eddy Huntington, Den Harrow, Albert One and Gazebo. Are you were happy with the work for that label?
Tom Hooker: Freddy Naggiar the head of Baby Records, was a clever millionaire who always respected me as a good lyricist. He was a business man. Albert One was a nice Italian guy who understood good dance songs because he was a DJ but unfortunately had a heavy accent when he sang in English. It didn't bother any Europeans but it bothered me because I am American. He was limited to the European and Japanese markets because of this. Gazebo spoke good English and Giombini wrote beautiful melodies.
Zeljko: Did you have wish to work with someone else and you didn't have chance?
Tom Hooker: Yes. Trevor Horn maybe.
Zeljko: Tom, I have one information, which came from one famous Italian female singer. I don't know is it true or just a rumor but I heard that Den Harrow actually doesn't exist as singer. Den Harrow is you! Please can you tell me what is the truth?
Tom Hooker: Saying that Den Harrow doesn't exist as a singer is incorrect. He was very popular amongst the very young girls. From 12 to 15. Den Harrow became a brand name like Coca Cola. This is was the music business.
There was a small problem. He couldn't sing. So the solution was to never let him sing, or to put his voice so low in the mix that it was non existant. He started as an image. He would work on his costumes and clothes and someone else would sing on the records. The truth is, vision is a more developed sense in humans than hearing. People tend to buy and listen what they like to see.
I have never officially told this to anyone but this is the exact truth in chronological order:
"To meet me" and a "Taste of love" was Chuck Rolando's voice. He had a contract with Durium and had to stop. Then came Silvio Pozzuoli from "Dream". He sang "Mad Desire" the single's version. Although a very talented singer, his English wasn't very good. I remember in "Mad Desire". He sang "Ear I Ham" instead of "Here I am". Freddy bought my contract from Merak at the time and bought the whole Den Harrow project with his money, and I sang "Future Brain". I don't think Den (his real name is Stefano Zandri) ever came to the studio. "Future Brain" was a huge hit in 1985. We had to do the album. I re-sang Mad Desire for the album. It wasn't any better than Silvio's but we wanted some continuity. It couldn't go from fluent English to an Italian accent. Too many people in Germany and Scandinavia can speak English. Then came"Bad Boy" and all the rest of the hits.
After two Albums of good hits, and making money, I wanted "Don't break my heart" to be a Tom Hooker song because I felt close to it. I also felt, Freddy was not pushing me because of the money machine of Den Harrow in Germany and France. We got another singer from England who had a much higher voice than mine. I can't remember his name. I still co-wrote the songs. The Album was "Lies". I think, this was the end of Den Harrow's run. It was not at all what it used to be. Maybe it was the songs, maybe it was the different voice. Who really knows...
After Den Harrow left Baby Records, the records sales were small numbers. I think he sang on "Ocean".
He continues to make records that don't really sell to do his live shows because it's easy money. Basically, he still has a name. It's human, he wants a nice car and all that stuff. It's a shame he can't really sing, because he makes a good star.
Everybody wants to make money. When I had the success of "Looking for Love", my old record company called "Full Time", released an unauthorised album with demos and tried to pass it as the new Tom Hooker album. This album was called "Only One".
This really ruined my career at that time. The distributors who bought it after the success of "Looking for love" were taken aback with this crappy album that came out way before "Bad Reputation". It sold crap but was easy money and ruined it for the real one, of course.
But hey, you see it as music Zeljko. As a professional, I saw it as a business.
Zeljko: Did you have a good time in the studios while you were recording your great songs?
Tom Hooker: We would sometimes work until 5 in the morning. Finally, we would say, OK, let's go home now. Going into the studio was like walking into an office for me.
Zeljko: Tom I guess you had concerts? Describe me please atmosphere on it.
Tom Hooker: This was a very easy thing for me. After years and years of performing, I really perfected my craft. I became an entertainer. Sometimes people would go crazy. Italy doesn't have enough live concerts for dance music. I was one of the rare exceptions with a handful of people who could sing live at the time. Dora of Novecento, Ivana Spagna, the voice of "the Creatures (Bruno Kassar)" "Maybe one day". There was an Irish guy called Malcolm who could sing. Also Linda Westley and Glenn White of Kano. We would always meet in the studio for backing vocals in English. We were the "respected" singers. Most of the rest were images or phonies.
I always did shows and the agents liked me because they would always get paid because I was real. I sang live. Many other artists were in playback.
Zeljko: Tom which italo disco song is your favorite and which artist?
Tom Hooker: I always liked Gazebo for the melody and the piano. I also liked the earlier Kano but it sounded more American than Italo. To be honest, I never really was a great fan of Italian Dance Music. I was working and living in Italy and I liked all the music that wasn't Italian. I liked Pino Daniele because he sounded American. I really don't like the 90's house made in Italy. I always liked to sing ballads in my shows. You have to know how to sing to sing a slow song.
Zeljko: Italo disco fans have not chance so often to see their favorite artists in the newspaper, magazines because italo was never so successful in Europe except in the mid of the 80's. I remember that I saw your photo in German magazine Bravo. This was really great. In your opinion why italo never made huge success as today house music doing?
Tom Hooker: I did another album called Elastic Band in the 90's it was covers made dance style. A song is important. The house stuff is a bit hard to listen to. It's for the energy and to dance to. I don't go dancing anymore. I listen to different music. I think as long as people are enjoying it, it has it's purpose. I don't listen to Heavy Metal or Rap, but I'm sure there is some good stuff out there.
Zeljko: Many italo fans and I personal thinks about italo music and about they creators as one community. Did you, creators of Italo music, have chance to meet each other?
Tom Hooker: Yes. I met most of them at shows. We came from different teams from all over the country. I think there was a bit of a rivalry more than a community. The plan was to get in the charts and sell records. There was only one number one spot and we would fight for it. It was like a sport.
Zeljko: On the beginning of listening Italo music I thought that Italo is popular only in a few countries in Europe but today I know that italo was and still is very popular in whole world - South America, Australia, Asia, USA, Europe of course. What do you think about it?
Tom Hooker: That's great. I don't listen to it. My whole life I've been listening to different music at different times. If there was a radio station in L.A. that played Italo Dance, I would listen to it for memories and enjoy it more now than I did then. I would probably get nostalgic.
Zeljko: As I know your last song was Runaway from year 1994. Am I right? How you made this song?
Tom Hooker: I'm not proud of that song. I don't like it at all. It was done very quickly with no record company. I did a song that I liked very much. It's called "Love is life" and it was called "Elastic Band". It was a good song with not much push. It's very melodic and catchy. Try and check it out.
Zeljko: What was going on after that song and that year?
Tom Hooker: Elastic Band. I released an album with baby records.
Zeljko: Do you wish to contact and to see someone who was working with you in the 80's? You told me in your first mail that you disappeared from music scene. Why? Is any special reason for that?
Tom Hooker: I'm retired and I'm rich. I know it may sound strange to you but I was also doing it for the money. It was just a job. A very fun one at times. I don't need to sing or release albums for a personal gratification. I play tennis and golf and sell my art.
However I would like to contact Turatti and Chieregato to know how they are doing.
Zeljko: Do you surfing today on the web and watching other italo people work?
Tom Hooker: No. Sorry.
Zeljko: Tom, italo concerts still exists and recently was one big concert in The Hague, Netherlands (with Eddy, Albert One, P. Lion, and Fred Ventura). Are you ready and have wished to have concert after so many years here in Europe? I am 100% sure many people would like to ask you to be their guest on concert?
Tom Hooker: I live kind of far away and I don't really need the money. Why are they doing it?
Zeljko: What are you doing today? You have very interesting job as I could see on your web site. Tell me more about it please?
Tom Hooker: I'm retired. I do my baby art. I am going to do a Calendar and I'm selling posters and showing in art galleries.
Zeljko: What kind of music you are listening today?
Tom Hooker: I listen to New Age, Classical, Oldies , Jazz, pretty much everything except, Italo, Metal and Rap.
Zeljko: Do you watch new Italian disco production? For example work of Mauro Farina (Orlando, Morgana, Radiorama...)?
Tom Hooker: Nope.
Zeljko: Italo disco music making me so ‘sunny' and I have feeling that every time and that is non-stop, when I am listening italo is summer. What is the feeling listening italo in sunny and warm Santa Monica in California?
Tom Hooker: Santa Monica is warm and sunny and I listen to Sarah Brightman and Emma Shapplin. Life is interesting because there are so many different things. Some people like green, others like blue. I listen to Classical music, too.
Zeljko: Do you have any message for italo fans all around the world that admire and respect and love your work with the same passion then and today?
Tom Hooker: The best thing in life is love and the secret to happiness is wanting what you already have.
Zeljko: At the end I want to thank you so much Tom you contacted me and you gave me chance to speak with you on this way. I wish you all the best further. Your fan Zeljko.
Tom Hooker: Thanks for being a fan.
© September 2001 Zeljko Vujkovic - All rights reserved
There were some comments at Iventi Chatboard about this interview and here is what Tom wrote back:
When I responded to Zeljko's request to do an interview, I was really honest and told the truth. I realize this is difficult to do for most people who have an interest in show business. When I hear Jennifer Lopez say on T.V.: "I love you, all my fans". I think to myself yeah, right, you suckers. She loves you, but she doesn't even know you all! I am not that kind of guy, sorry. A guy like Sting, would never say "bull" like that.
I didn't mean to offend anybody by saying that I don't listen to Italo Disco in Los Angeles but music comes in different colors and people are allowed to have different tastes. I listen to other stuff. I started as a drummer and would listen to Jazz Rock. Every musician I met was anti-commercial music and did the commercial stuff for the moula. James Last is a guy in Germany who became a millionaire doing musak and came to L.A. to record with Stanley Clarke and Chick Corea to make some tapes for his own personal satisfaction.
Eddy Huntington posted a message that I happened to read only because Marcello D'Azzurro told me about the message boards. When I read the post from Eddy Huntington, he sounded a bit tragic by saying "I felt as though I had lost a friend". First of all, to be honest, I haven't seen Eddie in 15 years! Although a very nice chap, I make a distinction between friends and people I meet through work. I've met a lot of people obviously with the work I did for over 15 years but only managed to keep a few real friends.
I honestly don't listen to Italo dance songs. I read another posting by a fellow called Raff who is surprised I don't even have a copy of one of my albums. The reality is, try and put yourself in my shoes. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BE A FAN OF YOURSELF. Sting for example again, does not listen to his own music when he relaxes at home, I am sure of this. Think about it. Does Frank Sinatra listen to "Strangers in the night" when he has to sing it at every show? To me, singing is very easy to do. It's like driving a car for a Taxi Cab driver. I can't be impressed by anything I can do. I can only be impressed by what I cannot do. Therefore, I will be a fan of Youssoun'Dour or Sarah Brightman or Lance Armstrong who can win the Tour de France. That, to me, is amazing. Singing, or writing songs is very easy to me.
It was nice to read the post that said I was a "no bullshit kind of guy". Honestly, there is so much bullshit in the music business that people are not aware of, because people are a bunch of phonies to their fans. They don't want to upset them to lose any record sales. I, on the other hand, don't care about it anymore, so I am telling you the truth as it is. It's all, over and done with, now. Baltimora was Maurizio Bassi singing and not the scottish image who died of AIDS a few years later.... Valerie Dore was Dora Carofiglio and later replaced with Simona. Milli Vanilli were not the real singers, the Village People, Boney M in the seventies were an image band etc etc... I didn't start it all. It's just adults, trying to do business. When you spend all that kind of money, you're doing it to get a return and believe me, if you weren't a professional, you were out!
We HAD to write songs to the dance beat of the moment. We were all catering to the D.Js! If the tempo was not right, the song would be a bomb. Is this how real art is done? I remember talking with Turatti, that Mad Desire did well because the DJs could mix it with "Big in Japan". Songs would do well if we had a good intro so the "inexperienced DJs could mix it. If they couldn't mix it, the song would be a bomb... etc.. If it had the right tempo at the right time, it would do well. If a song came out a month later, it would be too late, etc. The Italian producers were masters at this.
The best songs I ever wrote, were the songs that sold the most and my favorite songs were probably the ones that sold the least. That's how it goes. Every true artist knows that commercial stuff sells. But the true geniuses are guys like Bela Bartok whom you guys probably have never heard of. Did you guys know that Phil Collins played drums in a band called "Brand X" and did the commercial stuff with Genesis? When I was a drummer, I would play some really cool stuff in front of 15 people in a Jazz Club and on the week-end I would play some crap in front of 5000 people and get paid triple!
Marcello D'Azzuro, a very nice man I met personally about 10 years ago,e-mailed me and told me about the reactions to my Interview and asked if I would come to Holland to do a show. I could come to Holland, but would I sing Future Brain, Don't Break my Heart or Bad Boy and who wants to see that? Isn't it better if Den Harrow mimes it like he has been doing for years?
Recently (march 2004) I had chance to talk with Gabriele Baldazzi who was the drummer of Tom Hooker. He was very kind to me and agreed to tell me a bit about his work with Tom Hooker, how he met him and some other interesting stuff. What he told me you can read below:
»I met Tom in 1983. Our tour manager Bruno Gaggiotti, had a pretty good reputation at that time and he was in charge to put together couple of successful shows with well known names in the industry, to go around the Italian peninsula and islands. I saw Tom in Italian TV couple of time before but I had never paid attention to his songs honestly, especially because he used to arrive on TV stages and perform his song with his roller skates (that was his business card!).
In the band we had a good structure with: drums, keyboards, guitar, bass and sax. We had two background voices plus two more background voices/dancers for Tom's number. Beside the concerts we used to find each other on the road or for dinners after shows, Tom was always pretty noisy and full of energy even after the shows. We loved to work with Tom because he used to perform live, no playback what so ever. During the show he used to play guitar and percussion also. A part his most famous hits and part of the new coming album, he performed also some cover from other artists.
I remember we loved to perform a particular song that was "music" by Joe Walsh (Eagles). After that experience with Tom we moved with another manager, and we didn't have opportunity to work with other Italo Disco artists. However in the same show where Tom was part of, there was another big name at that time, actually he was the big star of the shows and his name is Sterling Saint Jacques, do you remember him? The black guy with "blue eyes". But at difference from Tom he couldn't sing so we faked playing while he was going in playback. His hit at that time was "MAMALOU".
I still like the Italo disco and as for Tom, if I listen to some of those tunes it brings me immediately back in time and I have to say «what a time!!!»
To these days in L.A. where I live now, I have the XM radio in my car that would be the satellite radio and I get most of the disco tunes from Europe every day, I recognize the Italian "touch" all the time and I love it. I can tell you that we had a lot of fun going around the beautiful Italian territory doing what we loved most and meet people and eat incredible food.»
© March 2004 Zeljko Vujkovic - All rights reserved