Father’s Day in the USA falls in June 17 this year and father-and-son musical bonanza, Frank Gallo (of Brooklyn’s award-winning titans of kindie music, Rolie Polie Guacamole) and his dad, veteran children’s musician Lou Gallo of Lou Gallo & The Very Hungry Band, have teamed up to create an all-new kindie band, called Like Father Like Son. To celebrate the release of their debut album, “Sun Is a Star,” Like Father Like Son has performed concerts all around NYC in June, many of which have been free.
After years of talking about the possibility of working together on an album, in 2017 Frank Gallo persuaded his dad that the time was right, proposing that each of them contribute five or six songs. Together they decided to take Grammy-winner Dean Jones up on his invitation to record at his storied No Parking Studio in Rosendale, NY. Having worked with Dean quite a bit through the years, Frank knew this was an offer he could not refuse, for Dean’s production artistry came with the added bonus of his superb performing skills. Indeed, all indications were that the stars were in the right confluence for a solid record.
“Sun Is a Star” includes several tracks that feature songs with a father-and-son theme. Some are of a general nature (“Like My Dad,” “Like Father Like Son”) while others explore the Gallo family musical scrapbook, like “She’s a Dog,” which was father Lou’s very first collaboration with two-year-old Frank. The calypso-style “Day-O,” always popular at Rolie Polie Guacamole sing-alongs, is perfect for kids-and-family line dancing. The whimsical dance number “Shake Shake Shake” contrasts hilariously with the ultra-frenetic “Shake Your Shaker.” Other highlights include the action song, “Sharks and Dinosaurs,” with its ear-catching percussion sounds (a video can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kX8LMOfWmd4) , and a splendid cover of “Handle with Care,” written by George Harrison for the legendary Traveling Wilburys, in which Frank Gallo faithfully recreates Harrison’s signature solo guitar style.
The son of actress Kate Vereau and musician Lou Gallo, Frank Gallo earned his SAG credentials at the ripe age of two by appearing in commercials. During childhood, Frank was seen in Nickelodeon’s “Pete and Pete,” “Prince of Tides,” “Scenes from a Mall,” “Mighty Aphrodite,” “House of Buggin,” and “Six Degrees of Separation.” By the time he reached middle school, Frank had phased out of acting to start his own band. (However, as a high school senior, Frank played one of the leads in the musical Company, which won every possible honor at that year’s Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards.) He recorded his first full-length album when he was 15 and has continued to produce records ever since. In the kindie world, in 2006 Frank co-founded the award-winning band Rolie Polie Guacamole, which has continued to be the consummate showcase for his writing, recording, and performing abilities. Rolie Polie Guacamole tours nationwide, has released six critically acclaimed, award-winning albums, and was praised by The New York Times.
The birth of Frank Gallo in many ways precipitated the re-birth of his father, while the birth of his second son cemented Lou Gallo as a vital force in the world of children’s music. Fast Folk Music included on their monthly nationwide CD release the song “She’s a Dog,” a father-son collaboration that dates from the year Frank turned two. In 1995, after the birth of his second son, Lou began teaching a Songwriting for Children workshop at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in NYC. As part of the museum’s summer outreach program, musicians Suzi Shelton, Albert Elias, Shlomo Pestcoe, and Lou Gallo toured all five NYC boroughs, entertaining children with comedy skits and original music. As The Imagination Workshop Band, the ensemble produced two albums: “Subway Train” and “It’s a Kids’ Life.” Lou went on to record four more children’s albums, including collaborations with Grammy nominee Brady Rymer. He now performs for families throughout the NYC tri-state area with Lou Gallo & The Very Hungry Band (so called because when rehearsing or recording, band members consume copious quantities of food).
Lou and Frank recently discussed their making of music and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): So, Lou, how did you initially get interested in music and did you initiate your son Frank into it at an early age?
LOU: My best friend had gotten his sister’s folk guitar, which she didn’t play, and started teaching himself. He ripped off the back cover, which had the chords, and gave it to me. I didn’t have a guitar, so I borrowed the leg of my brother’s bed that kept falling off and drew six lines for the strings and three lines for the frets. And that’s how I started learning the chords. I watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show on TV and knew it was what I wanted to do. My dad always sang around the house and sometimes got us together at night to sing into a large Sears tape recorder. So, music was all around me.
I really started working with music and children when my son Frankie was born. He was two years old, and I thought it would be fun making up something with Frankie, so we collaborated on our first song, “She’s a Dog,” which was chosen by Fast Folk Music, who were at that time looking for up-an- coming artists, to include on their monthly CD releases nationwide. I started working with more children when I volunteered at The Children’s Museum of the Arts in SoHo just before my second son was born 23 years ago. I was taking music therapy classes at the New School for Social Research and taught a “Songwriting for Children” workshop at the Museum. (Frankie followed me on the children’s music path. My second son loves cars and is always thinking about inventing something new. See his website: poollanegate.com
MM: Aside from you two, is anyone else in your family musical?
LOU: My dad always loved to sing, and to hear his voice in the morning getting us up you could just tell how much it meant to him. Frankie’s mother was an actress and jingle singer who exposed him from an early age to the performing arts.
FRANK: My mother, Kate Vereau, is also an artist, actor, and musician. You can see her here.
MM: Your latest album, “Sun is a Star,” was just released and is serving as an ode to Father’s Day so what are some of the songs on it and what inspired them?
LOU: I believe Frankie knows how important running is to me. We just ran the Brooklyn Half together (I was much slower than he was; I actually pulled my hamstring and walked twelve miles to the finish) and hope to run in the New York Marathon together next year, a longtime dream of mine. I have run nine New York Marathons through my life. The song, “Like Father Like Son” is a tribute to me! I hope Frankie will say that! Our video of the song is on YouTube at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ezIbhu9YsM&feature=youtu.be
In 2004, when I was 50 years old, I ran in the NYC Marathon; many of my students came out to cheer me on. When I returned to Rockefeller University where I was working at the time, my students asked if I had won! The “Marathon Song” was born here. I teach at pre-schools throughout the city and especially enjoy teaching music and performing for children with special needs. In 2011 I played with my band, Lou Gallo & The Very Hungry Band, at the NY Marathon. Please check out my “Marathon Song,” videotaped during the 2011 NYC Marathon, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOGjBHG7DXg&feature=youtu.be
FRANK: My dad wrote “Like My Dad” a while back, and we knew we wanted to include that one. He had “Little Bit of Time” half-finished, which he had recorded with Brady Rymer, and so we had planned on trying to finish that one as well. “Sun is a Star” was the first song I knew I wanted to include. Although it’s about the “sun” not a “son,” we like the play on words and double meaning. My dad would always say, “My son is a star” after I first played it for him. As we were trying to wrap up the album, I wrote “Like Father Like Son” one Friday evening. It kind of ties the whole record together as it makes references to “Tennis Racket Song.” “Now we have our own guitars so we can play.” It’s also a pleasure to sing about our mutual love of running. We plan to run the 2019 New York Marathon together.
The last piece of the puzzle was covering “Handle with Care.” It felt fitting because it’s from our favorite supergroup, and being a kindie supergroup, it felt right. Not to mention that with all the craziness in the world these days, the message of being gentle and handling with care seemed to resonate with us.
MM: Do you typically write lyrics or melodies first and what is it like to collaborate as a father and son team?
LOU: An idea comes to me with something I’m feeling strong about … or something funny. It might come from what a child would say to me, and then I just try to make it work. Usually I work with the music a little later, though the music in turn helps drive the lyrics. The song will change because as I work with it, it needs other things.
I like to try out the songs at my schools to see what the kids like and what interests them. When I have a strong song but I think it needs something more, I might ring up Brady Rymer, drive out to Long Island, and I’ll play it for him. He adds some of his ideas, and I’ll record what we put together, then sometimes take it home and listen back. We have always had a relationship of getting something better in just a short time. Now, working with my son, we are both finding ways we can move things around pretty easily and get a good sound together.
I worked with Frankie in the studio and we made suggestions for each other’s songs but basically, we both wrote our own songs. Collaborating with Frankie musically in the studio came pretty easily; it was great working together on a song and adding the vocals and harmonies. It was a little scary for me because Frankie and our producer Dean Jones work very fast. Dean is amazing! In an instant he’s behind the drum kit or on a bass or keyboard adding a whole new vibe to a song.
FRANK: Each song is different. Sometimes I’ll be jamming on something at school like “Shake Your Shaker” or “I Got A Beard,” and other times like with “Sun is a Star” or “Sharks and Dinosaurs” it’s more about the lyrics.
MM: What can people expect to experience at your concerts and/or live shows?
LOU: We have just started working together musically. It is exciting, and I believe our fans will enjoy some old songs and new ones we now have a chance to play together. The funny thing is, with my son I find it hard not to say what I’m thinking when we’re performing … so. for example, if a song sounds fast I might yell out, “It’s too fast,” and Frankie will say, “No, it’s not too fast,” and keep playing. I think that keeps it real and in the next show he’ll look over to me and say, “OK, is it too fast?” and we’ll start a little slower. Frankie was the driving force behind this project, and it never would have happened if it wasn’t for him. I’m so happy he got me out of my shell to thinking about the songs and recording again. Working on the video of one of the songs, “Like Father, Like Son,” felt very natural and easy coming up with the ideas as we went along … we had a lot of laughs putting it together. Here’s a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ezIbhu9YsM&feature=youtu.be
FRANK: It’s kind of like “Family Feud” or Laurel and Hardy.
MM: How important is it for you to have fan engagement through social media, live shows, etc., and what has the feedback to your performances been like?
LOU: I know it’s important but I don’t pay it much attention. Social media is something Frankie is very good at. I really enjoy live concerts because I love connecting with people during and after the show. People usually connect with me at my schools and through my website. The feedback on the live performances really helps me stay in touch with the parents who share stories of what goes on with their children back home. Many times, I hear the kids take certain songs and make them their own by changing the words, like “No Molly” is now “No Mommy” … or they just make up their own songs and pretend to be me. What a compliment!! Kids are watching me. I couldn’t have been happier to watch a video a parent showed me of her two-year-old playing harmonica. He did exactly what I do, note for note. I better make sure I give them something good.
MM: Overall, what are your biggest goals for the future, both as individual musicians and collaborators?
LOU: I would like to keep working on many of my songs, and I’ve started an idea for a book recently that I’d like to complete. I also would like to work with Frankie again, either through videos or more songs. He has always found ways of surprising me throughout my life. Now I can add this to the list of things he has given me. I’d like to think that I helped give Frankie a place to start, and he’s taken it to a whole new level with his music and band. Now with the album finished I find myself singing some of his songs in the classroom with the kids and teachers. It’s such a blast and it’s hard to believe it’s happening to me.
I have been asked by some of my students to make a book to go with some of my original songs. I use books as part of the school program and at libraries, so the kids are used to me singing a book with them. I studied art and drawing at the Art Students League (and remain a life member). Art is my first love. Coming next for me, I would like illustrate some of my songs as books. (Running and music have become competing passions in my life, and as time goes on I feel so fortunate that I can enjoy each of them now.
FRANK: We hope to work on another album together soon. I put out a few albums each year and try really hard to always be working toward the next one. I’m set to begin the seventh Rolie Polie Guacamole album next month.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
LOU: I just want to say I feel great that Frankie got me out of my shell and made this project happen. I’m really enjoying the time we are having together, both performing and producing the videos. I’ve learned that we can get our styles to take shape if we have a little time.
FRANK: We plan on running the 2019 New York Marathon together, like father, like son!
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