Interview with Tony Testa of The Duprees
Posted on 07/24/2019
Relive the 1960s in the Rock and Roll Spectacular on November 2 with four incredible acts including The Duprees! Tony Testa joins us again on All Access to discuss how he found his way to The Duprees and the work he put in to try to re-create the original sound of the group!
Read the Transcribed Interview Below
with Bert and Kelly from All Access and special guest Tony Testa.
Bert: We’re back on All Access with State Theatre New Jersey! Coming up, we’ll be talking about some just added and upcoming events. Hopefully you are gonna be joining us on Saturday, November 2 for, when it’s called “The Rock and Roll Spectacular,” Kel, you know it’s going to be a great night. Just with the name alone, it’s going to be a spectacular evening.
Kelly: Of course, it’s going to be a spectacular evening! It always is at The State Theatre, right Bert?
Bert: That’s right!
Bert: Every night is spectacular, you’re right.
Kelly: And this line up is fantastic spectacular! If that’s a thing.
Kelly: I don’t know. Uh, so we’re very excited, great line up! And we have with us today is one of the members of The Duprees, who’s going to be in the lineup, Tony Testa! Welcome, Tony!
Tony: Pleasure to be with you guys again!
Kelly: Awesome, Tony! So, we are so looking forward to having you back at The State Theatre. And we have, we have chatted before with you and we were so happy to be talking to you again. So, Tony, coming back again to The State Theatre! Are you looking forward to coming to New Brunswick?
Tony: This is one of the favorite venues for The Duprees! Anybody in this business because they just do a spectacular job! And every time we’re associated with Will Jam Productions, they’re just over the top wonderful! They know how to treat the, the acts, and it really makes it special for everyone.
Bert: They always put together a first-class lineup. And anytime you include The Duprees, you know it’s gonna be a memorable evening. And, Tony, you and I have been friends and collaborators for such a long time, and I so associate The Duprees with Tony Testa. But I never really got the story as to how you got there! Have you done some other work with other bands along the way on the journey of yours?
Tony: Oh, my goodness! If I had to go into my history...haha.
Tony: We’d be here for a couple of hours. You know, I started out, obviously, in the mid-60s as I was going through college. I had my own cover group. And I used to back up the, the original members of the Duprees many times. So, I, I got to know them intimately. Um, and we, we shared the stage many, many times, and then kind of parted company. And then early 80s, Michael Arnone, one of the original members, asked me to return to—God rest his soul—he said, “Can you fix it?” Because he was in a little bit of disarray. And ever since then, um, I’ve kind of like, I spinned it to being in charge of the entire group. The three original members have passed away many years ago, and the fourth is still alive and well, but he left the business. But running the group and being in charge of The Duprees has been a labor of love for me for almost 40 years now.
Kelly: Yeah! I mean, so, you were basically like you said, you were kind of guitar player, um, playing with the Duprees.
Kelly: Um, of course you’re referring to, your cover group was The Little Giants? Did I get that right?
Tony: Wow! Where did you dig that up?!
Kelly: Hahahaha! I have my ways, Tony!
Tony: Yeah, Yeah.
Kelly: But you know, going from-
Tony: Yeah. I’m sorry, go ahead!
Kelly: Going from guitarist to uh, kind of, you know, being out there...front man, and leading the group, that had to be a crazy transition for you!
Tony: Well you, you know what? I mean, I always loved playing the guitar. And, I was never, admittedly, I was never a GREAT guitarist. I was kind of, kind of a practitioner. I, I would be able to play, and I was very good at it- what was necessary. Um, I...it may be a little hard to understand, but it helped me a lot on the way because I have my first love was really harmony! And playing the guitar allowed me to arrange a lot of the harmonies—most of the harmony for the group, especially coming back with The Duprees. Because those harmonies that you know are so special. They’re, they’re intricate. They’re not the usual run-of-the-mill harmonies. And, that’s what helped me along the way. As far as presentation, I mean, ever since I’ve, I’ve been a kid—8, 9, 10 years old, I’ve loved show business. I love watching TV and comedy and presentation. And it was kind of inherent in me how people presented things, and how people would act on stage. And I learned many years ago that you don’t, you don’t do that, you don’t replicate that. You don’t try to what somebody else does. You do what YOU do, because the honesty of YOUR performance or personality will win! And, and I think that’s a good message for anybody in this business.
Bert: Yeah, you’re 1000% right. And I’ve had the privilege over the years, Tony—thanks to you—of seeing The Duprees in venues of so many different sizes! But, when I think about the music of The Duprees performed live on the stage of the State Theatre, I can’t think of a much better pairing than that. When you take the timeless sound of what you guys have enabled to do, and in a classic venue like State Theatre with the state-of-the-art sound—and just the incredible room that that is—this is a special place for you to bring the guys to, right?
Tony: Without a doubt! And as I said, especially with this lineup, we’ve...we’ve worked on the same stage with Chubby Checker quite a few times. And he is just a consummate performer. You’d never know how old he was, he just rips it up every single time. And Jay Siegel, one of my dear, dear friends, he’s...he’s like the energizer bunny too! I mean, still sounds exactly as he did on the original record of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” And The Capris, I mean, they elevated their act in recent years. And with Michael D'Amore as the lead singer now, they have come back 100% to where they should be. So, it’s gonna be a really exciting show!
Kelly: Yeah, and you sound like you have an exciting life, Tony! Tell us, tell us, give us a rundown on The Day in the Life of Tony Testa! I mean, sounds like you’ve got lots going on with The Duprees, and other things going on with you know, tour and with everyone.
Kelly: What is it like being you, man?
Tony: Uh, you know what? I think when I’m not on stage, when I’m not performing, I’m a, little bit of a completely different person. Um, I’ve always been kind of a bookworm, and a techno-nut, and I’m the one who takes care of the website—I created the website. I do all the merchandising, um, all the scheduling, and I love it! So, I mean, I’m in front of my computer sometimes a little too much because I’m trying to stay on top of everything. But I think that part of the parcel of what any entity. Whether you’re an act, or on stage, or anybody! You have to stay on top of your product, and not just sit by the phone and wait for somebody else to call you.
Bert: And you guys, you’ve always done a remarkable job with that, of just keeping The Duprees' name alive and keeping it out there and I see all the gigs that are always lining up for you guys. I was so excited to hear that you were going to be coming to State Theatre with this Rock n Roll Spectacular show! It’s gonna be happening on November 2. And, of course, get tickets at STNJ.org! But to take a classic group with a timeless sound and remain relevant in a modern-day digital world is not always an easy thing to do. But I’m telling you, when I mention Tony Testa, social media goes crazy! I get a great response! And it’s not an easy thing to do!
Tony: Hahah! Well, it’s been exciting. I, I never looked at myself as being anything special. I’ve always looked at myself as anything! As part of a group, as I’ve always liked group harmony, group everything, not any kind of individualistic thing, and, I think that...that kind of paid off.
Kelly: Yeah, I mean, that’s a, the group harmony is definitely something The Duprees, you know, when you think of The Duprees, you think group harmony. And, in general, you’ve got doo-wop vocals, big band arrangements, how do you guys, you know, what’s your rehearsal like? You know, your rehearsal process, or when you’re on the road? Like just keeping it, you know, keeping it fresh...
Tony: You know what? It’s funny...
Kelly: Keeping it—making sure, you guys are always on top of things.
Tony: Hahaha! We get asked that question all the time. Don’t even get, “Oh, you guys must really rehearse,” we don’t rehearse at all!
Kelly: Ah! Hahahahaha!
Tony: The only time I rehearse is when I’m getting a piece of new material, and I’ll have Mark Baron put the arrangement together and, we...we really, uh, fast-track everything to the point where everybody knows what they’re doing. And we’ll uh, we’ll have a legitimate rehearsal for something like that. The only thing we do outside of that on a regular basis—and this is all four of us—we kind of, uh, clean up our act once in a while. We’re talking about, you know, on stage, when this happens, “let’s all try and do this together,” or “let’s do this.” So, it’s been, um, a group effort. Not only for my part, but from the other guys as well.
Bert: The CD you guys put out that’s celebrated the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra, every once in a while, Tony, on a nice kind of lazy Sunday afternoon, and I’m just kind of hanging around the house, I’ll put that on. And it creates just a great environment to just kind of relax and to, uh, enjoy some great music there. Any stories you can share about, maybe uh, crossing paths with Mr. Sinatra? And why put this music together for him?
Tony: Oh! I wish I could’ve said I, I did have many opportunities to see his show. But, as what would happen, I never did take advantage of it. And I really, I’m sorry about that. But anyway, I’ve always loved Frank Sinatra, his stylings, I mean, you could say to someone who really doesn’t know much about music or singing, “Ahh Frank Sinatra, what was he? He was incredible!” I could listen to him sing the same recording 100 times, and I’ll hear something very different in it each time! But doing this CD, was something a little bit off the beaten track for us because, you know, we took a little bit of a, a challenge there. But the challenge was, as you know Bert, it was to, um, to do something different. There have been thousands of recordings of Sinatra arrangements because they’re incredible. But, as far as I know, and I’ve researched this, we’re the only ones who have done this CD, Sinatra Arrangements, in four-part harmony! So, it made it very unique. And, um, I remember Tim Hauser, he’s passed on now about three or four years, from the Manhattan Transfer, as we were recording this, he would say, “That’s a great idea! Can you send me some tracks?” And I’ll never forget what he said. He says, “Tony, this is Grammy® material.” I even put that on the website!
Tony: Um, I’m not—it never made it to Grammy® material but getting that acknowledgement and accolade from him was super special.
Kelly: That’s amazing! I mean, you may not have crossed paths with Frank Sinatra, but during your days at The Little Giants you definitely share the stage with some folks, right? I mean The Drifters, and who else?
Tony: Oh, everybody! Who’s who of the industry! And that’s, that’s what led to, I guess what I’m able to do today and throughout the years. I just love music! It’s funny when I go back to when I was going through college, I got a B.A in marketing management and all that. But to be very honest, I had no idea how I got that...haha!
Tony: Because my interest was music! And you can understand coming from an old-fashioned Italian family, and the only son to ever go to college, I, the dichotomy was “Oh boy, they’re gonna want me to work for IBM.”
Tony: And, they know, it’s like “No, you want to go play music.” But at the time, you know, the cover band. I was, I was doing very well, but it wasn’t a career. You could never have a career in music, you know. And as I’m looking back at it, 50-60 years ago, uh, that’s exactly what I’ve done!
Bert: Yeah, and done it remarkably, Tony! No doubt about it. So we’ll see you on November 2. Rock and Roll Spectacular at State Theatre New Jersey. The Capris, Jay Siegel’s Tokens, Chubby Checker, and The Wildcats, and the incredible Duprees, and our good friend, Tony Testa. Tony, always great to talk to you, my friend. And we’ll follow you guys online and I cannot wait to hear and see The Duprees at State Theatre November 2! Thanks, as always, my friend!
Tony: Great, great job, guys. Both of you!