Dina Regine Damn Right!

By Jeb Wright

Just because one does not commercially ‘make it’ does not mean they don’t deserve to make it.  It does not diminish their talent and it does not mean they still may not! For every cookie-cutter, just-like-every-one-else, wanna-win-on-Idol hopeful there is a real artist in the background making it real and doing it right.  Wanna meet one?  Then read on!

Classic Rock Revisited, meet Dina Regine.  This lady can freaking sing, oh and she writes songs too.  And plays guitar and is a professional DJ and a professional photographer.  A lady of many talents she is.  Currently, she has released a boat load of artistic talent on her latest album titled Right On, Alright

This one drips with her soul, her unique vocal abilities, her energies and her love of all things Rolling Stones…make that a dude known as ‘Keef’!  Yep, none other than Keith Richards inspired Dina this go-round.  A man she has met, and even DJ-ed his 50th Birthday party, the wild one’s autobiography inspired Dina to go the extra mile on her new album.  The result is a great batch of tunes that will have you hooked from the first note.

Now, she’s been around the musical block.  She knew Mike Bloomfield, even knows what he likes to order at the Golden Arches.  She auditioned for Bruce Springsteen and was told to front her own band by The Boss, himself and she had Steve Marriott dancing in the isles at one of her gigs.  Trust me, this is one interesting musician.  I was temped to say ‘one interesting lady’ but I don’t know if her gender would make her more interesting…trust me, she’s a cool cat.

Read on to discover more about her world and click on the videos as they will let you hear what you need to her, which is her music, of course.  This lady (oops, I couldn’t help myself) is a true artist.  I am glad I took the time to check her out and I think you will too.  Hey, anyone this groovy that hangs out with Ricky Byrd—the former Blackheart guitarist…yeah, the “I Love Rock n Roll” Guy—is okay in my book!

Jeb: Right On, Alright is a great album.  Congratulations on this gem! 

Dina: Thanks Jeb, it was a long time in the making.

Jeb: The album came to life during what you call the LIC Sessions.  Is that short for Long Island City? 

Dina: Yep.

Jeb:  You thought this album was done in 2010, but you ended up changing your mind? What was missing? 

Dina: For some reason, I couldn’t commit to the original 12 songs. One day I was totally sure, next day I’d change my mind. I was making myself nuts. I just had this nagging feeling I was on the edge of a creative burst, and as it turned out, I was. It was like I was on some sort of creative crack, and I couldn’t keep up with myself! 

Between reading Keith Richards’ book Life, a new guitar, and a little ‘not quite love’ gone wrong to fill out the stew … it was like magic dust had been sprinkled about my apartment. I believe I came up with some of my best work during those months, and those songs wound up being most of the record.

Jeb: Before we go deeper into the creative process tell me about the guys from the LIC sessions.  Who are they and how do you know them and what did each bring to the session?  This is gunna be a LONG answer!

Dina: It all began with Nik Chinboukas, who I met through my good friend Yael who he worked with on the Love Project, which is an awesome DVD.  He co-produced the record with me, and it was at his studio in Long Island City this all came to fruition. Spin Studios is a pretty awesome place to make a record. Working with Nik was fun, and for the first time in my life, I found someone who really understood me, and brought the best out in me. Plus, he’s probably one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met. There was so much laughing I actually had to ice my face one-night cause it hurt so much. 

As for the musicians, Michelle Casillas, from the band Ursa Minor is like a sister to me. She has been singing with me on and off for about 15 years. Her voice is just gorgeous. Michelle also is a sound engineer and she recorded most of Tony Scherr’s overdubbed guitars at his studio in Bklyn.  She was also my main ‘ear’ while this record was taking shape, mixes, overdubs, etc.

I saw Tony Scherr play about 15 years ago, and it was like a wind hit me. Hard. I was inspired.  His solo project as a singer/songwriter is gorgeous. His slide playing, man, it’s fierce. Actually, I photographed the cover of his live CD, recorded at The Living Room, where he did a residency on Mondays.  He’s been a huge influence on me as a friend, advisor, musician, and artist. When it came time to do this record, there was no other guitar player I wanted to work with. He’s got that thing you can’t put into words, and I wanted that ‘thing’ stamped into my music.

It was Tony that turned the song “Broken” into the amazing groove that it is now. It truly was a little bit broken before he fixed it. He took the line that I was playing as a secondary riff, and made it the hook, and slowed the baby down. He’s got killer ears.  He’s also a pretty well-known bass player in the jazz world. His main gigs are with Sex Mob and Bill Frisell, and I might add, he played with Keith Richards on Aaron Neville’s last album.

Tim Luntzel has been playing bass with me since my second album and the way he plays fits like a second skin. He just always knows what I want or need, and I rarely have to say a thing. It’s just the way it is. Actually, everyone I know that plays with him has said the same thing. On my last album, he did all the songs in one take, on upright bass. He’s got an amazing feel and he plays sexy. If a bass player doesn’t play sexy… hit the road jack.

I met the drummer, Dan Rieser, through Tim and saw him play many times before making my decision. He’s feel was perfect and he’s a sweetheart. Tim brought in Jon Cowherd to play B3, and I met Jon for the first time at the one rehearsal we had before basic tracks. He left me with my jaw dropped open, and the record went from being a guitar record to a guitar/organ fueled one.

At the time, Tim, Jon, and Dan were touring with Rosanne Cash, and Tony was on the road with Frisell. So finding time to get them all in New York at once was a challenge. It took months. The one very cool thing about these guys is that they all are good friends with each other, so it never felt like hired hands. I felt like I was in a band that had been together for years.

The basic tracks were a joy to do, and they added so much more than I could have possibly imagined, musically and emotionally.  They also all come from a jazz background, and that was also something I did differently with this album. I have always played with rock guys who pretty much did rock music only, & did it great. This time around I wanted more of the thinking of a jazz player. Less parts, a more ‘in the moment’ approach, and see what happens kind of thing. It worked. I recorded all the songs in Garageband at home, arranging the songs, playing all the instruments. I gave the demos to the guys and said, “Ok, this is how it goes, this is the vibe, now do your thing.” I watched these guys elevate my demos to a level far beyond my wildest dreams.

Shaky Dave is one of the best harp players in town, and he’s been sitting in with me on live shows for a couple of years now, and he really killed it on “Nothing Here.” As for the horns, my friend Erik Lawrence , who makes killer egg creams, was Levon Helm’s main sax player at The Ramble up in Woodstock for years. He has credits a mile long with other artists as well. I asked him to put together a horn section for me, and he brought in Briggan Krauss & Frank London. Jon Cowherd took my horn arrangements and made proper charts, as well as taking my ideas and kicking them up a few notches. Bless him. The awesome background vocals on the record are all friends, Michelle, Ricky Byrd, Michael Wildwood, from D Generation, Toni Ridley and Nina Tolins.

You were right ... this is a really L O N G answer!

Jeb: Okay, I read the story how you were looking for a tenor guitar.  First off, why a tenor guitar?  Why not just play a regular guitar?

Dina: Many years ago, my dear friend Chris Whitley, got me into making up open tunings, which you can hear all over my first record Be As It Will. His bass player, Alan Gevaert, and Chris’ brother in law at the time, is one of my best friends and Chris gave him an old Tenor Triolian resonator guitar from the 1930s. It’s gorgeous. Alan and I wrote a little one-minute song on it that we named “Quatre Cordes”, which means 4 Strings, and it’s on my first album. 

I fell in love with this resonator, so much, so I cried when Alan had to move back to Belgium back in 1999 to play with dEUS. So, he decided to leave it with me on a kind of semi-permanent loan. It’s a very delicate instrument, so I never took it out to a gig, it doesn’t stay in tune well. But, this is what pulled me toward the 4-string approach.  I didn’t trade in playing 6-string guitars for tenor guitars, I do both. But right now, with these songs, the set is mostly played on the tenor.

Jeb: The one you found was described by your friend as a ‘Frankenstein’?  Why?

Dina: Tony Scherr found the guitar for me at this great venue in Brooklyn called Jalopy Theater. At the front of the space is an espresso bar on the right, and the coolest little vintage stringed instrument store on the left. The tenor was just waiting on me. At first we thought it was a Gibson, but the more we investigated, we realized that the whole guitar was built from spare parts from other guitars. Tony said “This is like a beautiful Frankenstein” and he said it with such love, I knew exactly what he meant. He wasn’t saying that it was a monster; he was saying that it was beautiful. He knew this was going to be ‘the one’. 

Jeb: How did that guitar inspire you to finish writing the album?

Dina: It found me just in time, and the rest just happened.

Jeb: Keith Richards is my favorite Stone…I think he is yours.  Tell me how his book jazzed you into writing songs. 

Dina: That book was the gasoline that fueled my engine. It brought me back to a time when I first fell in love with music. First, I pulled out all my old records. Then, I took all my guitars out, and started playing with no other purpose than having fun.  I think because of that, my mind was clear to let in the songs that were waiting to be born. The minute I gave up battling my writer’s block, the doors flung open, and the songs started inviting themselves in. Good ‘vowel movements’ and all! Thank you Keef!

Jeb: Why Keith?  What’s he bring to the table that makes you such a fan? 

Dina: Keith is the real deal, and the Stones are my favorite band. His relentless passion for music is something to be admired, and I love his rebel spirit. And then there’s Keith the guitar player… one of a kind, a true original.

On a personal note, some say it’s best never to meet your heroes, but I’m glad I didn’t subscribe to that thinking. The few times I got to spend with the man were lovely. His eyes sparkle like a teenager still, and that says a lot about how a person chooses to live their life.  I want my eyes to sparkle like that until its time for them to close. Of all the rock stars I can think of, he’s the youngest of them all, spiritually speaking. He’s also married to the most awesome, and beautiful, woman.

One night, Steve Jordan brought Patti, Keith, and Jane Rose, Keith’s manager, who I just adore, to Heartbreak, a club I was DJ-ing back in the ‘80s. The club was an old ‘50s diner, and I was spinning mostly old rock, and soul music, all vinyl, mostly 45s. Keith hung in the DJ booth with me telling me stories about each 45 he pulled out of my crate. The man has stories! He also was a damn good DJ, he pulled out some gems to pop on, and they all were on point, no groove lost.  

Years later, Patti hired me to DJ Keith’s surprise 50th birthday party, which is also their wedding anniversary.  It’s so funny, I remember Keith saying to me “Let’s not focus on it being my 50th, lets just focus on my wedding anniversary”.  Man, time flies, doesn’t it!

Jeb: Oh, you said that tenor guitar you tuned to the key of G…like open G… a tuning made famous by none other than…Keith Richards?

Dina: That was an unconscious doing to be honest; I usually go for tunings in some sort of D or E.  Oddly, this was my first venture into G, and I find it works best for the keys I sing in. I also use a capo a lot. But, as I said before, I was doing that creative crack … so I don’t know for sure how that ‘G’ slipped in.  By the way, my G tuning at the moment is G/D/G/B.

Jeb: Here is the one question where I mention that you’re a woman.  Have you found you’ve had to work hard as a woman composer and musician because you’re a woman or have you been treated fairly by the industry?  Music has been accused of being a misogynistic kinda place…

Dina: When I was younger, teenage years-early 20s, it was an uphill battle. Fine to play the acoustic guitar and do folk songs, or be a pop singer, but sling an electric guitar hung low playing Rock and Roll … good luck finding any guy who would be caught dead backing a girl. Obviously a lot has changed, but back then, it’s just the way it was.

This was before Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett or Heart paved the way. It was a time when record companies said things like “We’ve already got one” referring to signing acts with a woman fronting a band, even though they would have a few dozen male bands.

I was always a tomboy, but trying to carve my way in boys-town wasn’t easy. But like anything in life, once you finally get in a situation to prove yourself …you’re golden.  At least I was golden with my peers. Of course that meant diddlysquat with the industry, but, then again, I never was very focused on the art of self- promotion. Also, back then, it wasn’t like I could Google how to get it right, and I definitely got quite a few things wrong.

My first record deal in Europe was a mess. I wish I knew then what I know now, famous last words. I guess I was always more concerned with just doing the best I could at the time. I never wasted my energy dwelling on the male/female thing; most of my friends are guys, and they’ve always been very supportive. There were bumps in the road, but I’m driven by something bigger than a bump or two.  I’m definitely a late bloomer, especially with my songwriting, but I’m totally fine with that. The one thing I’m happy to say is that no one has said to me in the past 25 years or so, “You’re pretty good for a girl” as a musician or a DJ, so I guess things have evolved a lot.

Jeb: Okay, the tunes…. Let’s talk about a handful of them.  We gotta start with “Gotta Tell You.”  Any good stories on the inspiration of the song or recording it? 

Dina: Well, I will say this. I don’t often make up songs, as in fiction; most all the songs on the record are like a diary of sorts. A couple of the songs are about a couple of people combined, and “Gotta Tell You” is one of them. It’s about finding the courage to speak up before it’s too late.

Jeb: How about “Broken”?  Oh that is one of the best of the bunch in my book. 

Dina: I wrote that song about a good friend of mine, who I watched go through a rough patch, and he did it like a warrior. But in life, no fight goes without a bruise or two. There was something about his stiff upper lip that I admired, but also something that I recognized and discovered in myself.  I guess we all are a little bit broken at some point in our lives, and for some of us, more than once.

Jeb: “Dial My Number” has the groove that is old.

Dina: I think I was channeling Otis Redding.

Jeb: “Right On, Alright” has the cool hook and the cool wording…how’d you come up with that?

Dina: I literally wrote that song in minutes, and fancied up some of the lyrics after the fact. But the frame of the house was built in a flash. Good fun.

Jeb: “Cant Find You Anywhere” is another one that touched me deeply.  That has some emotion lady!

Dina:  I was pissed off. Really pissed off. It’s hard to write an angry song and come out a winner, and this song was a challenge. I listen to a lot of Lucinda Williams, I’m a huge fan of her poetry, and she’s a master with words. What I learned from listening to her was to come from a place of strength, and you’ll never sound whiney; nothing worse than a whiney singer. 

Lucinda is always powerful, no matter how vulnerable she allows herself to be, and her songs are a class act. So she has inspired me big time in how to just approach being really honest and open …but always coming from a place of strength, even when you’re really down.  I also sang that song unlike I’ve ever sung before. It had a mind of it’s own, and I just went with it.

Jeb: Last few are going to be about you.  For starters do you have a record deal or are you doing this all yourself? 

Dina: I’m flying solo…with a little help from my friends.

Jeb: You are also a photographer and you are a live deejay.  Good lord.  How much coffee do you drink!

Dina: Ha-ha, two cups max. Italian roast always

Jeb: Your bio talks about being good friends with Mike Bloomfield.  Tell me how this came to be.  I want to know all the dirt!

Dina: I met Michael and Paul Butterfield together and they both were hilarious. I forget how Michael knew about me, or who introduced us, but I do know he was aware that I was a big Bonnie Bramlett fan. That was the glue that brought us together. He got it in his head to write with me and put together a band that would be along the lines of Delaney, Bonnie and Friends. We literally had two days playing together, and wrote half a song. Then, we spent a year on the phone talking about this potential band.

To be honest I wasn’t ready to pack up and move to Mill Valley, I think that’s where he was living then, and be a fish out of water. I was so young, and Michael was going through a rough time in his life. It wouldn’t have been smooth sailing trying to put this band together. Sometimes being a homebody like myself is a curse and a blessing. I’m not sure in this case what it was. Mike was a super sweet guy, and I was heartbroken when he passed. I don’t have regrets, but, with Michael, I still wonder if I indeed made the right decision. There was so much I could have learned from him, he truly was all about the music. I remember taking him to McDonalds, ‘cause that’s all we could afford…don’t ask, and a bunch of guys were staring at him across the room. I know they were thinking, “Is that Mike Bloomfield? Nah, we’re in McDonalds for Christ’s sake!”

Jeb: You also got advice from Bruce Springsteen so I want that story.

Dina: I answered an ad in the Village voice for backup singers, and it was for Bruce, who I wasn’t familiar with at the time. Part one of the audition was singing a few girl group songs on acoustic guitar for Bruce’s manager Mike Appel. I made the cut.  Part two of the audition was in Asbury Park with the whole E Street Band, and I was a nervous wreck.

This was my first ‘professional’ audition. Bruce was so warm when I walked in the room, my jitters faded almost immediately. The band was so cool, just good vibes all round. I sang a few songs with the band, and Bruce and I did a duet on a song. Then Bruce told me to just take the band and cut loose with a song and jam a bit.  I remember thinking to myself, take note Dina, this is what a great band sounds like, and don’t ever settle for less.  Anyway, after that, Bruce and I talked for a little bit about music, and he said to me that he thought I should be fronting my own band.

Maybe he saw in me, what I didn’t see in myself at the time. For whatever reason, I trusted in what he said.  The funny thing is that one of the first bands I tried to put together after that audition was with Charles Giordano on piano, who is now the E Street Band. We never managed to get that band to materialize, but, we finally got round to doing a gig together last year, and it was so much fun.

I didn’t see Bruce again until a couple of years ago on his birthday at a show in Jersey. I was with Jesse Malin, Bob Gruen and Michelle Casillas, and we all went backstage to wish Bruce a Happy Birthday after the show. Jesse re-introduced me to Bruce again, but I made no mention about meeting him before. Then, out of the blue, Jesse said, “Hey Bruce, Dina auditioned for you back in the ‘70s.”  Bruce turned to me and smiled and said “The Born To Run auditions! I met my wife that day.”  I had no idea that my audition was probably the only time they ever auditioned singers. Anyway, Bruce asked me “What did I tell you?” so I told him he said I should be fronting my own band, to which he replied “So, what did you do?” and I said, “Well, I’ve been doing my own thing, fronting my own projects since that audition.”  He lit up, and gave me a huge bear hug. Here I was, decades later, getting a chance to thank the Boss for his wise advice. Pretty cool.

On another note, there’s one more pretty cool thing. I recently reconnected with Steven Van Zandt, who I didn’t know at the time of my audition, through his wife Maureen, an old friend of mine. The day my CD was released I gave her sister Maria a few copies of the album for the family. A few days later Maureen emailed me and said, “Stevie wants to talk to you about your record. Best email ever!  Anyway, Van Zandt chose my song “Gotta Tell You” as The Coolest Song In The World’ on The Underground Garage and he also put the same song in his TV Series Lilyhammer. Like I said, pretty cool!  I think I have a little guardian angel thing going on with the E Street Band!

Jeb: How do you stay focused and positive and not let depression or sadness get you down?  Most artists I know have issues with their feelings and create as a way to deal with things in life…you know what I mean?

Dina: Songwriting is very therapeutic, better than a doctor, and you don’t need health insurance. I tend to work out all my rough stuff somewhere between the first verse and the last chorus of a song. I have thicker skin these days, earned over the years. But I still have to crawl out from under myself from time to time. We all have our demons; I’m just getting better with age at kicking their ass.  I wake up, and roll with what ever cards the day is dealing, and hope for the best. If it’s a crap day…I’ll give it another chance tomorrow.

Jeb: You came close to hitting the big time as you were in three bands, but it never got as huge as I would imagine you hoped.  Any regrets?

Dina: Oddly, no.  I’ve pretty much done what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, and I’m happy about where I am right now. I’m sure there are a few that might disagree, but at the end of the day, it’s my life.

Jeb: What’s next?  Whatcha going to do with the future?

Dina: I’m teaching myself video editing, and I’m working on a couple of video ideas for this record, and I’ve started writing songs for the next record as well. I’m also getting back to working on my book, which will be pretty exciting when it’s done. It’s a photography book of musicians from the ‘70s with a few stories to accompany the photographs. David Dalton, who is one of my favorite writers, is helping me with this project.

Jeb: For new artists out there how important is it to be yourself and to actually create, define and stick to a musical vision?

Dina: I believe you have to ‘be yourself’ if you are to be an ‘artist’. We all start by emulating those that inspired us, but then we find our own voice and path and move on. It’s important to trust your gut ‘cause everyone has an opinion as to what you should or shouldn’t do. Advice is great, but if it feels wrong, it usually is.  

You have to do what you do for love, and not for the bucks, or getting laid, or whatever fantasies you may have about success.  There are many pop stars that aren’t the kind of artist you’re talking about. Talented yes, but they are great at delivering a vision that often isn’t theirs. I’m far from rich, but I’m happy with my creative choices. I did venture to go against the grain at one point in my life and I was miserable. Sometimes it takes making a massive mistake to learn who you really are.

Times are changing now, and I think for a lot of young people, they think if you win a contest, you can be a star. Everything is ass backwards at the moment. I see many not wanting to do the work, or even take the time to learn the history of music, or listen to anything other than what they do.

Curiosity is becoming passé’ and that to me is a mortal sin. You shortchange yourself when you don’t experience the great work that came before your time. To have a frame of reference that spans only a few years is just wrong, and it’s pretty lame.  History is important. I look at a young band like The Strypes, and I think to myself, they got it right. They know what time it is, they learned from the best, and they’re fantastic live. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can only enrich a musician. Do the work. Instant success is like instant mashed potatoes… it’s never quite right.

Jeb: Someone told me you were obsessed with hats.  Did they mean literally like you love hats or was it figuratively because you wear so many hats in your busy life?

Dina: Well, now that you mention it, I suppose both literally and figuratively!

Jeb: Last one:  Ricky Byrd.  I heard you took the cover photo of his latest solo album.  How do you know Mr. I Love Rock and Roll?

Dina: Ricky is like family; I’ve known him since I was fourteen. We met at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, which was the best hang in town on any given Sunday when we were growing up. I think sometimes, he and I were the youngest two people sneaking into Max’s Kansas City, and I’m still in awe about those days. But, unlike Ricky, I had a strict curfew and had to make it back to Astoria, or I’d turn into a pumpkin. So he got to hang a whole lot more than I did.  

We both were, and still are huge Steve Marriott fans, and oddly, Steve wound up taking us both under his wing, not even knowing we knew each other. Steve came to see me play once, and I remember watching him from the stage, and he was dancing in the audience; the ultimate seal of approval.

Ricky has a trunk-load of Steve stories, Steve is always a big topic of conversation with us. We both adored him, crazy stuff and all. When Ricky and I got older, we somehow managed to live around the corner from each other for decades in Manhattan, and we have been through some wonderful times, and some challenging times. We got through September 11th together, and ten years after the fact I helped him with a benefit he put together for our local fire department that lost six men. Then there was Hurricane Sandy, and he and his family had to rebuild from scratch. But now there’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I’m so proud of him. He worked hard in the Blackhearts, and this is well deserved.  

I’m also stoked Joan Jett is finally in the mix! I have more history with Ricky than anyone I can think of to be honest. In fact, when I had a little recording studio set up in my apartment, I engineered his first demos that were the beginnings of his album Lifer ages ago. I’ve been photographing Ricky forevah [said with my Queens accent] so it was a no-brainer when it came to doing his album cover, which we shot in my living room. But then he called me and said, “Can you sing like a girl from Queens on the chorus of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Boys?’”  Once again, a no-brainer.  I let my inner Long Island City/Astoria girl roar!