For John Morelli, our director of entertainment, a day at the office once meant performing with Cyndi Lauper.
It’s hard to imagine that John Morelli, the BBC’s director of entertainment and promotions, has much left on his bucket list.
Hanging at CBGB with Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall? Check.
Performing across the world with Cyndi Lauper and their band, Blue Angel? Yup.
Opening for Peter Frampton? Been there, done that.
Born and raised in Chappaqua, in New York’s Westchester County, Morelli hit the New York music scene in the late 1970s as punk rock began finding its footing at such clubs as the famed CBGB.
A fortuitous meeting with Ian Hunter, of the Brit glam band Mott and the Hoople, led to Morelli auditioning with Tuff Darts. It was as the drummer in Tuff Darts, one of the earliest bands to establish a devoted following at CBGB, where Morelli first emerged. (And where he hung with Mick and Jerry).
Soon after recording Tuff Darts’ self-titled album in 1978, which was produced by Tony Bongiovi (more on that later), the band split up and Morelli joined Blue Angel.
“Blue Angel approached me in 1979,” he says. “They were more of a cover band then, and they were being managed by Steve Massarsky, who was also managing the Allman Brothers.”
Blue Angel had a female lead singer, Cyndi Lauper, who Morelli sensed “was something special” as soon as he heard her voice. He was right. Lauper went on to record She’s So Unusual, her debut solo album, which would become the first female solo debut with four Top 5 hits.
Blue Angel quickly transitioned into writing their own music and making a name for themselves.
They toured across Europe and Puerto Rico – “in 1980-ish,” as Morelli puts it – where they opened for Frampton. Before one show in Puerto Rico, Frampton entered the large, communal dressing room, spotted Morelli and much to the surprise of his bandmates said, “I know you!”
What his bandmates didn’t know was that, at the request of a friend, Morelli had auditioned for Frampton a month earlier. At the time, Morelli was preparing to head out on tour with Blue Angel, but he couldn’t pass on the opportunity to play for Frampton.
“I walked into the audition and Frampton just said ‘Let’s play some music,’” he recalled. “He was interested, but I was under contract [with Blue Angel] which made it impossible for me to join him. A month later, I ended up opening for Frampton at a baseball stadium in Puerto Rico for the very tour he’d auditioned me for.”
Today, Morelli admits it was one of two “questionable decisions” he made in his music career. The other came when he was still with Tuff Darts.
“We were recording at the new Power Station studio in New York City. The owner, Tony Bongiovi, liked my drumming. His nephew, Jonny Bongiovi, was a studio gopher,” Morelli said. “Tony asked me if I would mind recording a demo with his nephew, but I was already booked at Asbury Park and had to pass.”
Bongiovi would later become known as Jon Bon Jovi and one of the songs recorded on that demo – Runaway – became his first hit.
Morelli continued to play with Blue Angel until the band broke up in 1982. It was then that Lennie Petze, a senior vice president at Portrait Records, saw the band perform.
“Petze wanted Lauper, but the not the band, so the band let her go and we broke up,” said Morelli.
The rest, as they say, is history. She’s So Unusual was released in October, 1983 and was an immediate worldwide hit.
Morelli was then in mid-30s. After a stint as the manager for the now-defunct Tramps music club in New York City, he moved to Stockholm, Sweden, for a complete change in lifestyle. A year later, he was back in the States, this time in Massachusetts.
“I was working in Plymouth, booking music for this Irish place,” said Morelli.
Harry Gnong, one of the owners of the BBC, “…had heard there was this hyper New York guy who used to play with Cyndi Lauper and we had a meeting,” said Morelli.
He’s now been with us for 17 years, where he puts his vast experience to work by booking the best local bands for gigs at the BBC.
“I can go online and in five seconds know if a band is for real,” he said.
And for that we thank him.
He also continues to perform with Walrus Gumboot, a regionally-known Beatles cover band, and with Cheap Voova.
Cheap Voova? What’s up with that name, John?