Diana Grasselli

Diana Grasselli, alongside her colleagues Desmond Child, Maria Vidal and Myriam Vaille, formed one of the most amazing, yet seriously underrated vocal groups of all-time in the quartet known as Desmond Child And Rouge.

Desmond Child And Rouge: Left to right - Diana Grasselli, Desmond Child, Maria Vidal, Myriam VailleThe New York based act formed in 1975 and cut two albums for Capitol Records in 1978 and 1979 that pretty well defied categorisation. And there lay the problem. Were they a rock act or a disco group? Capitol Records certainly couldn't decide. Thus, despite scoring a sizeable hit with 'Our Love Is Insane' (one of the perhaps more dance oriented numbers on the band's eponymous debut), the group effectively broke up after the disappointing sales of the more rock based, second album 'Runners In The Night'.

Desmond Child And Rouge's two album legacy, not to mention strong links with Kiss (Desmond, of course, went on to co-write 'I was Made For Loving You' after Paul Stanley had co-written a track called 'The Fight' that had appeared on the first DC&R album), has led me to follow the career of the man and the Rouge girls as closely as possible over the years since I first heard 'Westside Pow Wow', the astonishing opening track on that highly original, maybe even seminal, debut.

These days of course, Desmond Child is better known as one of the world's leading songwriters and producers. After the break up of DC&R, Desmond would later return to co-write with Paul Stanley for Kiss' 'Animalize' album before hooking up with the likes of Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Cher, Alice Cooper, Ratt and a whole host of other hard rock bands. And if Desmond was producing, it was a sure thing that at least one of the girls from Rouge would be found in the credits singing back-up vocals.

However, while everyone knows about Child's career since his success with the aforementioned rock heavyweights and even the likes of Latino pop star Ricky Martin (yes, Child was responsible for 'Livin' La Vida Loca' and 'She Bangs' et al), little has been written about the early days with Rouge. Or indeed, about the girls themselves with, perhaps, the exception of Maria Vidal, who scored a huge solo hit in the mid 80s with 'Body Rock' and went on to release a solo album.

Desmond Child And Rouge: The '76 androgynous look.But a few months ago, I stumbled across an interview with Diana Grasselli on a website run by one Claudia Channing. It proved absolutely fascinating (click here for link). Ironically, not long after I finally secured a copy of the first DC&R album on CD - bizarrely only released in Canada three years ago - I managed to track Diana down myself and finally got to ask all the questions I'd had running around in my head for the last two decades....

You met Desmond and Maria at University in Miami. How did that occur and what did you find so interesting about working with them?
"Desmond and I were in an acting class together and he asked me to do some Ionesco scenes with him. I thought he was kind of odd, like me.. and wonderfully creative and definitely visionary. Maria and I auditioned for the same part in a period play and I fell in love with her fire, her amazing personality, her quick wit and her committed energy. I often felt that if she had been a man (or if she and I had been decidedly gay), I would have married her, I loved her that much!! So one of us got the part and the other got another in the play and we became inseparable friends during the rehearsal and performance periods and.. for the rest of our lives...

"It wasn't long before Desmond fell in love with her for real (although he eventually became decidedly gay) and the three of us became a trio of hilarity and unending possibility. There was magic between us from the beginning."

Prior to Miami, I believe Myriam and Desmond had met in New York. You mentioned in the interview with Claudia that this may have been at Bearsville Studio in Woodstock. Was Desmond active musically (in terms of recording) prior to his time at Miami-Dade College?

"Yes Desmond was making music pretty seriously at a young age. His mother (Elena Casals) was a noted song-writer for South American artists and he grew up at the piano on her knee and so was soon to follow her."

(Indeed, Desmond formed an acoustic/folk duo called Night Child with his friend Debra Wells. They recorded demos at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York before he met Diana and Maria at Miami-Dade in 1973- Ed).

Desmond and girls at The ParadiseWhen Desmond and Maria both moved to New York, you felt so strongly about the friendship and chemistry that you moved north to join them. That was a pretty major move. Clearly one you haven't regretted for a second, but how did your friends and family in Florida take it at the time?

"If you ask my Mother, to this day she refers to the time I "ran away from home to NY". I never really cared much about what anyone thought of my decisions such as that. If I wanted to do something with all my heart, I did it, especially then!"

It must've been pretty exciting being in New York at that period in time?

"Oh my God! We all had a non-stop love affair with NYC! I felt at last that I was born into my self. I could reinvent her everyday there, and I did."
 
Once in New York, you joined Myriam and Maria in a musical comedy team. Could you go into greater detail as to this group and the type of material you performed?

"Maria. Myriam and Melanie London, a designer and comedy writer, wrote a lot of outrageous, irreverent, socially commentary comedy with a lot of silly sexiness that was very unique and perfect for what was happening in the scene in NY at the time. I came to a rehearsal with Maria and met the other girls and it wasn't long (perhaps after that first rehearsal) that I joined them. It was sooo much fun, although Myriam and I had a real rocky time together throughout most of our years as a group. We love each other undyingly now of course - a long-earned kinship, fighting like the siblings that we would eventually become."

You teamed up with Desmond again after he requested you back him for a singer/songwriter gig he was doing and soon - with Melanie London - became Desmond Child And Lips. Is it true that you first devised such intricate vocal arrangements in order to cover up for the lack of substantial instrumentation (i.e. having a band backing you)?

"Yep that's right, and it soon became our trademark sound."
 
With the name change to Rouge - and trimming down to a trio - what are your memories of the early gigs and material? Were any of the songs on the first album taken from the very roots of the band? Or were they written specifically for the record?

"There was a strong underground rock scene fuelled by singer/songwriters like Laura Nyro, Todd Rundgren, Paul Simon and Melissa Manchester as well as a burgeoning gay club scene, which I believe gave way to a vibrant cabaret world with Bette Midler, and Peter Allen and Ellen Green and the likes which offered a lot of energy to a young, hungry and ambitious group such as we were.

" There were a couple of hot spots in the newly developing Soho and in the West Village called The Ballroom and Reno Sweeney which were the first little nests in which we hatched our careers. Our audiences loved us and we loved them. We were very disciplined and goal oriented in those early years of our career together. Desmond was a powerfully driving and inspirational force as he was tenacious, relentless, full of vision and conceptual ideas, not to mention gorgeous song and arrangement ideas, and so certain about what hard work and focus could do.

"We were also very interested in the visual effects of our live shows, spending a great deal of time and energy on that aspect. Our shows were high-energy and there was magical communication between us and the audience most often. Whenever we did a gig, we would design the show as if we were playing a bigger house and soon we were playing the bigger ones and getting serious attention. We did everything.. wrote, directed, advertised, managed, promoted, dressed ourselves.. everything. We even got arrested for postering and stencilling "Desmond Child and Rouge" on all the curb sides of NYC. People would often say "Oh, I've heard of them!" even before they knew who or what we were!. The world was our oyster and we were having it for breakfast, lunch and dinner!!

"And yes all of our songs were inspired by our early days in NY. Oh my God, those songs were so beautiful. In the centre all the raucous hilarity and inexhaustible energy that we shared as a band, were these unbelievably sweet and beautiful songs that Desmond wrote. He knew how to capture the soul of a person or place or experience, and in a few verses and chord changes reduce the toughest of us to tears. Maria was a spitfire of intelligent, raw sexuality and mirth with a sultry, smokey voice. Myriam was a kick-ass R & B/Blues singer with a voice like a steely banshee and a personality to match it. I had a very high, lighter and more poppy sound with a classical background that lent itself to singing our one pop/dance hit, "Our Love Is Insane" and which sort of set the bar for the altitudes of some of our harmonies together. Those were some magical days that would bind these four souls for a lifetime.. and beyond.

"The songs of the group evolved quite organically over time and is difficult to delineate when they were written within the continuum but safe to say that we always had the first DC&R record in mind."

Were any songs originally written for DC&R albums that were not recorded end up anywhere else?

"There may have been, but I don't recall which ones exactly. I will be recording a couple of those eventually."
 
I understand it took three years to gain a record deal. Did any of you ever feel a little frustrated by that? Or were you looking at it from the point of view that you were having a great deal of fun as performers anyway? A record deal would just be a bonus?

"Oh, well we were very ambitious and frustrated indeed. But we knew what we had was good, so we kept on going. I remember bailing, or trying to at one point to go off on my own, but I was duly persuaded to stay and we soon got signed. Then Desmond split a year and a half after that... the bastard! I'm kidding.. mostly. It was time, we had had a tough run with many disparate forces pulling at us. We were always way ahead of the business in many ways and so it could be rather painful to get what we needed. We were so young and so naive as well. We really were the original "Culture Club", as Desmond said to me recently, that the record company and management could just not see coming."

What do you think interested Capitol so much to sign you? Were any other labels trying to sign you at that time as well?

"I'm sure it was Desmond's songs and Rouge's voices and stage presence.  I think there were a couple of other labels interested, but none as big as Capitol."
 
You opted to go with the best session players money could buy - serious names like Elliott Randall, David Landau, Neil Jason, John Siegler, Allan Schwartzberg and the now legendary Paul Shaffer - did you know any of these guys at the time? I actually bought Elliott Randall's 'New York' album simply because he'd played on your first album!!!

"No, we didn't know them before the record sessions. What amazing musicians!"
 
Any anecdotes from recording the album?

"Oh there were so many incredible experiences for a young, healthy group such as ours to partake of in that unbelievably beautiful state of the art, converted church of a studio called Media Sound on West 57th Street in the middle of the most powerful music scene in the world at the time. Media Sound was the house of all recording houses and we had Charlie Callelo arranging and really producing as our Capitol staff producer, RDesmond Child And Rouge: Live At Eric'sichard Landis, bless his heart, was so under qualified and rife with personality issues that he didn't stand a chance in this room full of wilful brilliance. He had a few good ideas but was mostly a hindrance. However, he finally got his chance to wield the only real power he had when he secretly took the finished masters that we had so painstakingly insisted on creating with maximum hormonal surge to be mastered in the dead of night I believe, and completely castrated them with oral exciter and limiters and shit. And you know that was analogue time. What was gone was gone! We were all so furious and heartbroken over it. The next time I saw Allan Schwarzberg, he told me that he happened to see Landis at the Russian Tea Room or something at a fancy black-tie affair, during which, Allan stormed him mid-bite, grabbed his shirt, and in front of everyone demanded, "Why did you fuck up that record?". It's always the drummers that pop the top off things! Jerry Marotta did something similar on the second record sessions, but I won't go into that right now."

Who decided which song each of you would sing?

"Desmond had a lot to do with that as he was the writer. He often wrote songs which were inspired by who we were and what we were going through at the time. I was having a crazy on and off again relationship so Desmond wrote 'Our Love Is Insane' for me, then I had a long time of being alone and lonely after which I met and married a tall gorgeous Asian man just before he wrote 'My Heart's On Fire'. We always thought it was sort of prophetic and in fact, Desmond was often. 'Lazy Love' for Maria was inspired by their relationship and a warm NY summer day. He wrote 'Lovin' Your Love' for Myriam as it rocked just right for that Latin blooded woman of the NY streets."
Runners In The Night
 
Did you record the album before appearing on Paul Stanley's solo album? How did that come about? Invited by Paul or Desmond?

"We had already finished the first record I think. Paul had been a pretty avid fan of the band for a while. I know he loved Desmond's songwriting, as they were both Rundgren and Nyro devotees. I think he had a crush on Maria (as everyone did) And in general, we were theatrical and rockin like his band in some ways. And it was Paul who invited us, I believe, but probably for all the above reasons and perhaps others as well."
 
The second album was a more rock based affair, but still very 'New York' in sound. Any thoughts as to why that direction was taken?

"Oh yes, we had one trauma after another with the label not having a clue how to pigeonhole us as we were doing things like melding rock and r & b and that wasn't to be common in the biz for another 5 years or so. We kept getting the shaft because we weren't 'decidedly rock' so we said, "oh yeah?, watch this!""
 
I didn't realise, until reading your interview with Claudia, that DC&R actually toured. I found the stories - particularly the Tulsa gig - extremely interesting and funny. Did you tour in support of both records or just for the first one?Diana with Desmond Child. Note England hat sported by Des!
"Unfortunately, just the first. By the second, Capitol was on to other flings, like The Knack and their one-hit that they abandoned us for. So without Capitol's support and a management company that was dealing in illicit contraband within the business without our knowledge, as well as the internal differences we had, we disbanded after our less-than-illustrious appearance on Saturday Night Live, Christmas of '79."
 
Who was out on the road with you in addition to G.E. Smith (who would later join Hall & Oates and who played on the album alongside bassist John Siegler and drummer Jerry Marotta, all three also appearing with Rouge on Ellen Shipley's first album)? Were these headlining gigs or did you do support slots as well?

"I'm embarrassed to say that after all these years, I cannot remember all of their names, as I haven't been in touch with any of them for a long time. I recall that all the gigs were headlining showcase club gigs like the Bottom Line and such like that throughout the country."
 
Were musical differences within the group to blame for the break up? Were they compounded by the fact that Capitol failed to exploit your potential because you were hard to categorise?

"Yes, musical and personality differences, tritely so I suppose. We were so young and inexperienced and of course we just thought all this momentum was going to keep going no matter what we did. Boy was that dumb."
 
You also contributed to one of the best movies ever made - 'The Warriors' - not only with DC&R's own 'Last Of The Ancient Breed', but singing back-ups to the best track on the album - Genya Ravan's 'Love Is A Fire'. That still sounds to me like a DC&R song, despite the fact the writing credits read otherwise!

"I don't recall who wrote that (Vini Poncia and Johnny Vastano -Ed), but Desmond is a genius at hooking into the collective musical consciousness so who knows where and when the songs happen in the big picture. Desmond always said songs are already written before he starts and he just has to listen for them."

Diana (second from right) with Maria, Desmond and Curtis.After the split Desmond, Maria, Myriam and yourself did work with other artists for a period - Ellen Shipley springs to mind - and Desmond wrote for the likes of Teri De Sario, Cher (on her 'I Paralyze' album) and Novo Combo ('City Bound E Train' should've been a DC&R song!). But then it all went quiet, Desmond was reported to allegedly be living on a commune at that point. Were these tough times for you all?

"Yes, it was a real confusing time for most of us after being married to each other and the business that supported us and then to suddenly be on our own in the big bad NY world of big fashion and money, being out of both. Some hard lessons learned there after the charmed years together. Besides, either way, the music business has always been a treacherous place for women and homosexuals, perhaps until recently. We had some offers from some big names, but were so disillusioned by the realities of their characters that we turned them down. Major label world at that time was a very unsavoury pot of motley mobsters and kingpins, a perhaps subtler, more blue collar form of the rap world of today."
 
With Desmond's return to prominence through his work with Kiss, Bon Jovi, Cher and Aerosmith in the mid 80s, there was renewed interest in DC&R too. You worked on a number of records with him. Any of them stick out in particular?
Diana with Desmond and Maria Vidal.
"They were all fun and I appreciated Desmond including us on those projects. I do remember going to the mall once with Alice Cooper during some down time.. on a Saturday afternoon!!.. Of course Alice didn't realize it was Saturday cuz none of us knew what day it was by that point. We got out of the car and saw all the kids in line for the movie we were heading to and he suddenly ducked behind me and said, "Oh shit! Diana, keep walking!" And I partially successfully hid him for a time until a few saw him. He pleaded with them to hush it and they did, the sweethearts. That could have been a scene and a half."


What are your thoughts on Cher's version of 'Main Man'?

"I liked what she did. I thought the tracks were a little too generic sounding for my taste, but I guess that was the genre."
 
I have never heard Phoebe Snow's version of 'Our Love Is Insane'? Do you know which album it's on?

"I don't exactly but it is probably findable on line."
 
In terms of the sessions you have contributed to, which ones are your favourites?

"I loved all the work I did with Ralph Shuckett (erstwhile Utopia keyboardist).  I worked with Ralph on a half a dozen projects (including Ellen Shipley records) and he was one of our keyboardists in the early club days. We became good friends over the years. His biggest claim to fame, I believe, was the Sophie B Hawkins record 'Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover!'. He was such a generous and appreciative producer that everything that happened on those tracks was tinged with creative magic. I have very fond memories of them."

I understand that you were working on a solo project called Vaze? What's the latest news on that?

"I have some good ideas and will be working on getting funding and collaborators in the coming year."
 
You presently teach in Minnesota and have links with Paris as well. How rewarding is being a vocal tutor? Have you discovered anybody who you believe has the talent to go all the way?

"I have a few students that have what it takes to achieve that miracle called a singing career. Teaching has been amazing for me. I have learned so much and I get a great deal of joy from helping others to enjoy singing. I know there is nothing in the world more fun to do and I encourage everyone to do it!"Melanie London and Maria Vidal
 
Could there be another DC&R (or even a Rouge) reunion album in the future? Desmond's 'Discipline' solo album came pretty close!

"We have talked about it, but we are pretty set in our ways now and not awfully amenable to bending to each others' very unique approaches, but who knows? never say never."
 
Do you think Desmond will ever record another album?

"Maybe. But I think after working as he has in the biz, he knows what it takes to be an artist, and I'm not sure he wants to do that, so perhaps he would do it for his own reasons."
 
Were you surprised to learn the first DC&R album was released in Canada? I'm amazed that neither album has been widely reissued and would love 'Runners..' to be granted a CD release.

"Not really surprised but pleased. I wish they could have put some more hormones back in it though, somehow. The re-mastering did not accommodate that idea at all it seems."

Any final thoughts on the whole DC&R experience?

"It was fertile ground for who we each have become since and we will all be forever in love with the music we made, the incredible opportunities we had, the memories and the wisdom we earned which are forever ours to share and keep and most of all, each other."

Pictures courtesy of Diana Grasselli's personal collection. The earliest photos were originally all promo shots for DC&R's club performances that were used for ads and posters. The band's long-time photographer, Ciro Barbaro, used them for CD covers for compilations of early club recordings that he made at the time that were given to the quartet recently as gifts. More of these photos will be posted asap. Sadly, many of Diana's DC&R photos were lost in a fire a few years ago.