The following tribute was written by one of the many people who admired and were influenced by Dino over the years. Our sincere thanks to Derek for his tribute.
Dino Valenti was the single most influential person in my musical world. And I’ve been a musician all my life. I’ve played guitar since I was a kid, entertained in coffee houses in the ‘60s, toured with my own bands in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and written my own material the whole time. I’ve studied the “greats” from Elvis to Dylan, from Janis to Jimmi. But I’ve never seen anyone like Dino Valenti.
The first time I saw him was in the mid ‘60s and I was just a kid – eighteen or nineteen maybe. I walked into a coffee house I attended regularly, and he was playing that night. I was learning guitar myself and would gather techniques and material from watching the entertainers making the folk circuit.
I had come in the rear entryway through the kitchen area where they had the espresso machines, and stood in the back opposite the stage. He was playing a Guild 12-string and had a voice unlike anything I’d ever heard. It was this cowboy, hillbilly whine that, at first, I didn’t like. It wasn’t what I was used to hearing. And I didn’t like his attitude either. Most entertainers waited for the audience’s response to tell them if they were good. This guy was telling the audience. Not verbally. He just emanated command. I almost walked out. Almost. Something held me. What did he have that made him think he was so good? I decided to look more closely.
He was using a strum I’d never heard before; an unimaginably fast staccato hammering – so fast it was beyond my ability to assess. But it was smooth and clean and definite. I wanted to study it, break it down so I could learn it, but his hand was a blur. The whine of his voice was still unappealing to me on the surface, but I had to admit he had control. And projection. And range. And through his showmanship of arrogant self-importance poured an incredible intensity of pure dynamic energy. The stage thumped with the pounding of his boot to the rhythm of his strumming. And within less than a minute he had me. This guy was good. I found a chair and sat down.
I began to like him in spite of myself. Yes, he oozed arrogance, but he was taking us all with him. I realized I wasn’t offended anymore by his air of self-importance because I was carried by his charisma. I could see from his altitude. His tempo would speed up, then slow down within the same song as he imposed his own inflections on the mood he wished to create. And as he changed the tempo, he would change his strum completely, sometimes instantaneously, sometimes gradually, but always with perfect continuity. He would ease up, gather us all together in a moment of relaxation, then take off in another flight of intensity. He paid no attention to the standard interpretation of the material, but molded it completely to himself. And we went with him, because we wanted to see where he would go with it.
I had seen others modify material and play their own versions of songs. Sometimes it was good, but I had never seen it done with such authority. It was as though his version was the best possible way to do it.
I wasn’t able to see as much of him that night as I would have liked; he was sharing the billing with a female performer and only did two sets all evening. In the days that followed I told my friends about Dino and began studying and copying (as best I could!) his style. I would find out where he was playing next and go to see him every chance I got.
The friends I recommended Dino to reacted the same as I had when I first heard him. They didn’t like his whine. As with Dylan, you had to overcome something to get into Dino, and not everybody wished to do that overcoming. I would insist they listen to him further. Many would, and without exception, those that listened more carefully would tell me Dino had become their favorite musical artist too.
You still hear performers these days who try to copy Dino. They fail as dismally in their attempts as did I. He once said that he knew what he wanted to do and there was no one else doing it. In my opinion no one else could do it.
To be fair I should note that there are vocalists who have as great a range as Dino. There are singers who have the control and can project as well. There are guitar players who can match his musicianship, his smoothness, touch and fluidity. There are performers who can fill the room as totally and command an audience with the same authority. There are songwriters who can compose with the same meaning and insight that he had. But in all my life I’ve never seen the one who had it all.
Not like Dino Valenti.
Written by Derek Crawford