PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in September 2000, contributed by then Senior Editor Bill Park. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!
BP: Now, Diamond Reo goes through some serious changes, and morphs from being a pop-rock band through that hard rock period, into being one of the first punk bands in Pittsburgh. I had lost touch with you guys, since I was pretty tied up with the production gig. But I went to see you at the new club, Phase III. I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it, but I knew that it was way too loud for me. The energy was undeniable and infectuous… you could almost cut it with a knife and the whole room was pulsing with it. Tell us about being into punk and promoting punk before the national labels had grasped the concept and started making money from it. You had packed houses and people were loving it, but at that time it wasn’t just an unrecognised music, it was an invisible music.
NN: It was a fantastic time, and to this day I feel incredibly lucky to have been involved with Warren King and Frankie Zuri. We were out on the road with all these guitar heros, and we knew that our guitarist was better than all the rest. All the ones that had the names, all the ones that had the girls, our guitar player was better. And not just a little bit better. A whole lot better.
BP: I remember one night at the Decade. Jon Bon Jovi came in looking for you, and he had Ritchie Sambora with him and the dummer from Cinderella. They got up and jammed with Warren. Warren had kinda been sleeping through the gig, and when Ritchie hit his first solo I saw Warren glance over at Ritchie and sort of say to himself, “hmmm, I’d better pay attention.” Ritchie and Warren played the kind of jam that legends are made of. They played together, they played against each other, they took it up, down, and all over the place. Finally, Warren let loose with a long solo, lasted quite a while, and when he stopped, the whole room erupted in a roar, everyone was screaming and applauding. Ritchie, being intelligent, recognised a good place to stop. And being the gentleman that he is, he bowed to Warren, which took the crowd even higher. It was a magic night. There is no doubt in my mind that Warren King is one of the most under-rated living guitarists in the world.
NN: I feel grateful that in my youth I teamed with those guys. I looked to them for musical leadership. I might have been the business leader and the inspirational leader, but musically, Frank and Warren were the talent. To this day if my singing has gotten better or if my guitar playing has gotten better to the point where I may be a factor, it’s only because I studied with the best.
Once we stopped being that pop band and moved into the heavy phase we developed the attitude of natural punk rockers. We were hanging out in the city a lot, and getting into the underground scene of decadence and ‘do your own damned thing’ and ‘don’t make it pretty’… we were the anti-establishment. Warren and Frank were so unbelievably talented that I was along for the ride, to a certain extent. And we just naturally went into this bare boned, ‘it don’t have to be pretty, it has to be music and it has to be powerful and naked and beautiful’ thing. That’s what we were doing at the Phase III. We were as good a band as there was in the world at the time. And what happened was, we took a lot of people along with us.
We had build a large fan base. When we put the Phase III together and decided to get involved with the punk community we realised that the punk community wanted nothing to do with us and hated us and everything that we stood for. I ran the Phase III, I booked it. I brought in their music. We thought that we would be embraced by those people. But we found an unbelieveable amount of negativity to us. We gave them the band that could blow away any band that we could bring in…. and they fucking hated us for it. The inner-city-supposedly-hip-oakland-musician-artist-In Pittsburgh Magazine has rejected us. Everything that I have stood for and every victory that I have won should have been a victory for that crowd…. and they never saw it.
All Alone In The End Zone… More or Less…
BP: Now the BIG CHANGE…. Norman Nardini goes it alone. You still had some big guns backing you up… notably Warren King. But the first incarnation of “Norm Nardini and the East Side Tigers” was a big success. The old Oriental Lounge had become “Fat City”, and it became a home to “The Tigers”.
NN: I had no idea that I had as much talent as has come out in my later years. I was so impressed and such a fan and such a brother to Warren and Frank. Such a disciple in a way, though I was the leader of the band. I was really in awe of my team. And what happened was a negative attitude and, I hate to say it, drugs started to be a part of the daily life of ‘Diamond Reo’. We were such a powerful band, but I could see that things weren’t moving forward, and I was having trouble arranging rehersals and I was having trouble getting sessions together… ‘Diamond Reo’ cut songs constantly, and I have whole albums that were never released that are killer… and I couldn’t get them into the studio anymore. So I could see that things were starting to fall apart and I went to the guys and I said, “I think this drug thing is fucked up and I want to stop being a part of that.” And they laughed, because I was taking drugs myself at that time. And that’s when I decided to quit ‘Diamond Reo’ and become a producer.
I thought that the way for me to be a producer and to have it work was to use my name as the name of the band, so that people would know my name and recognise it so that I could parlay that into a producers carreer. That’s why I started being ‘Norman Nardini’…. because I wanted to get a producer’s gig. And when I did my first ‘Norman Nardini’ gig, I realised something that I never could have imagined. I realised that I was really good at something. I was really good at being the guy that everybody looked at. I was really good at being the guy who talked between songs. I was really good at being the guy that ran the show. And the ‘Norman Nardini and the East Side Tigers’ thing just went and went and went, and years went by, and I just kept learning more and more about myself and what a beautiful world it is when you have something going for yourself.
BP: After a time, Warren decided to strike out on his own with “the Silencers”. I saw an early Tigers gig one Sunday night at The Decade shortly after you replaced Warren. You were the guitarist, and you were obviously working very hard to keep a raw band on track. A lesser man might have given up, but you seemed to embrace the hardship and adopt it as your own. Within a couple of weeks, “The Tigers” were back on track, with a newer, rougher sound and a tough attitiude that has become a Tigers trademark ever since.
NN: And I hope my trademark, personally. Yeah, it definitely sucked, and it definitely was cool, and I was strong enough to continue to follow through. Even when Warren was playing with us, he was not in the band. We were playing as a three piece about three weeks after I left ‘Diamond Reo’. Warren never forgave me for quiting ‘Diamond Reo’. Warren was really hurt, and I can understand, because we were blood brothers. He was trying to get ‘the Silencers’ together with Frankie, and Cossi, and Ronnie Foster. It took about six or eight months, and he wasn’t working, so I paid him to play with ‘Norman Nardini’. He didn’t rehearse, he just played along with what we were doing. And there were nights when he was just unbelievable….. because we were all coming from the same place. But we were all struggling to find our own place and where we belonged in society.
BP: Not too much later you were auditioning lead guitar players. You picked up Paul Shook, not a very good player but a great guy with a lot of heart. He became quite a good guitarist, and went on to work with Joan Jett and others. But you didn’t just take Paul, you absorbed his whole band except for the singer… a band called ‘Resistance’. I still have that album.
NN: Yes, I produced that album. I had lost my drummer, Derick Edwards. I had Ray Gunn on bass. Warren wasn’t playing with me anymore, because ‘the Silencers’ had started taking dates. This was March, 1980. I had started being ‘Norman’ in June of 1979. So I decided to take the stand of pulling this young band in behind me. And Nason, the bass player from Resistance, I made him learn how to play keyboards because I already had a bass player. And he did it. It was really a fabricated band, almost like the record companies put together with a bunch of guys that look alike… it was almost like that. But by the time I did that I was on a roll, and I knew that I was magic. From the day that I did that first ‘Norman Nardini’ gig, my self esteem went up so high, and I realised how much self-esteem has to do with your ability to accomplish.
BP: You’ve had more drummers than ‘Spinal Tap’. Whitey came over with the other guys from ‘Resistance’. He’s been with you now for a very long time.
NN: Twenty years. I added “Harry Bottoms” (real name, Ed Brown) on bass twelve years ago after Ray Gunn left to start a country band.
BP: Ray was a boxer, and went on to become a maniac weight lifter/body builder. He
dragged the other boys into the gym with him, and pretty soon you had a very muscular possie playing for you.
NN: It was kind of a plan. We were an MTV band before MTV. Everybody in the band dressed the same way, the guitars and drums had tiger stripes painted on them… I realised that my guys didn’t play real good. I was not much of a guitarist at the time, and since Warren had just been my guitarist, the contrast was painfully obvious. I was a whole lot more of a musician, writer, arranger, and entertainer than I ever thought that I could be, but as a pure guitar player I hadn’t developed into much, and I was the best guy in the band. As a bass player, I could have played with anybody, but as a guitar player… well… But it was a concept band, and it worked for a long time.