Sunday, September 7, 2008

Missing Persons Found On The Charts

For Los Angeles new wave quintet Missing Persons, image played almost as big a role as music in their rise to popularity during the early 80s. Their zany musical craftsmanship in melding old style rock ‘n’ roll song structures with cutting edge synth-laced dance rhythms put them at the vanguard of the U.S. new wave movement.

Veteran sticks man Terry Bozzio was playing drums with Frank Zappa’s band during the late 70s when he met a former Playboy bunny from Boston named Dale Consalvi (who Zappa had invited to sing on the concept album ‘Joe’s Garage’). Originally Consalvi had done what so many ex-Playboy bunnies do, and come to Los Angeles looking to pursue a career in acting, but following a whirlwind romance and subsequent marriage, the newly dubbed Mrs. Bozzio was persuaded by her beau to give singing a go as a career.

After Terry Bozzio completed short tenures with Thin Lizzy and prog rock band U.K., he put together Missing Persons (originally called U.S. Drag). Joining Mr. & Mrs. Bozzio were fellow Zappa band alumni Warren Cuccurullo (guitar) and Patrick O’Hearn (bass/synthesizer), along with classically trained keyboardist Chuck Wild.

Dale Bozzio became the obvious focal point for Missing Persons, her Playboy bunny looks were augmented by a futuristic sci-fi wardrobe that bordered on the camp, including such attire as peekaboo plastic outfits featuring plexiglass bowl bras, all topped off by a rainbow spectrum of hair colours ranging from hot pink to bright blue. But perhaps what set Bozzio apart from her new wave contemporaries was her halting, high-octave vocal style, that wasn’t a million miles away from the sound of one Lene Lovich (see previous post) and may well have influenced Cyndi Lauper, not to mention Gwen Stefani (in image and vocal style). In fact had Bozzio gone down with a bout of laryngitis Lovich could have substituted with seamless ease, though perhaps minus the plexiglass bowl bra.

Missing Persons were tailor made for the new wave MTV generation, alongside the likes of Berlin (see previous post). Having built up a strong live following on the L.A. club circuit, they recorded their eponymous debut EP in 1981, originally released independently by producer Ken Scott. The EP shifted sufficient numbers initially to impress the suits at Capitol, who proceeded to sign Missing Persons to their roster. They reissued the EP, backed by a substantially bigger marketing budget, and the first single ‘Words’ was soon speaking volumes on the charts. It peaked at #42 in the U.S., but proved much louder in Australia, climbing to #10 in September ‘82. I recall the song from that time through its inclusion on the compilation album ‘1982 Up In Lights’. The follow up single ‘Destination Unknown’ mimicked ‘Words’ on the U.S. charts, reaching #42 (OZ#89), helping push the ‘Missing Persons’ EP to #46. Both songs benefited greatly from the high rotation promotional videos that accompanied.

Missing Persons’ debut full length album ‘Spring Session M’ (an anagram of Missing Persons) followed soon after, and included the first two singles. The fourteen tracks therein showcased the synth driven pop-rock sound of the band, never veering too far from a formula that suited both players and vocalist Dale Bozzio. The album also yielded two minor hits on the U.S. Hot 100 during 1983, ‘Windows’ (#63), and my favourite Missing Persons’ track ‘Walking In L.A.’ (#70). ‘Spring Session M’ sprung to #17 on the U.S. album charts (OZ#73), and the future looked bright for Missing Persons (almost as bright as Dale Bozzio’s hair).

Their sophomore album ‘Rhyme And Reason’ (#43) was a relative disappointment and produced only one minor hit in ‘Give’ (US#67) in early ‘84. Like so many other acts before, Missing Persons, missed their chance to capitalise on the foundation laid by their debut album ‘Spring Session M’. Soon after Wild left the band to pursue a solo career.

During 1986 Missing Persons (now a quartet) assembled for one last time in an effort to be identified as hit makers with their third album ‘Color In Your Life’ (US#88). They recruited the production services of ex-Chic bassist Bernard Edwards (see previous post). Edwards gave the band’s sound a studio overhaul, infusing elements of funk/dance into the musical mix, but if anything the new style exposed the limitations in Dale Bozzio’s vocals, despite being compensated somewhat by her husband’s ever solid drumming. To exacerbate the obvious downturn in the group’s fortunes, the Bozzio marriage was in freefall during this period, resulting in the couple divorcing soon after. The album was a flop and failed to yield any hit singles, rendering Missing Persons as missing in action on the charts. The band called it quits before the end of 1986.

Singer Dale Bozzio recorded a solitary solo album via Prince’s Paisley Park label (‘Riot In English’ in 1988), before all but retiring from the music business and returning to her home town of Boston to raise a family. In the late 90s Bozzio put together a revamped line-up of Missing Persons (in which she was the only original member) and began touring on the revival circuit.

Drummer Terry Bozzio returned to his former career as a drumming journeyman, touring and recording with the likes of Robbie Robertson, Herbie Hancock, Richard Marx, Steve Vai and Duran Duran. He spent three years drumming with Jeff Beck, including playing on Beck’s 1989 Grammy Award winning album ‘Guitar Shop’. During the 90s he conducted regular drum clinics and released an instructional home video. In the late 90s he was one third of the all-star trio Bozzio Levins Stevens (with bassist Tony Levin and guitarist Steve Stevens), who released two albums. In addition Bozzio has collaborated with jazz drummer Chad Wackerman on several albums, and released a number of solo albums.

Guitarist Warren Cuccurullo was hired by Duran Duran as a session guitarist in September 1986, before going on to be admitted as a fulltime member during 1988. He went on to become a key member of the new wave legends for more than a decade. In 2001 Cuccurullo was uncere- -moniously dumped from Duran Duran, when the band’s other members decided to reunite the classic Duran Duran line-up.

Bassist Patrick O’Hearn recorded a series of well received instrumental new age albums, whilst keyboardist Chuck Wild wrote scores for films and television, including scoring the final season of the Max Headroom show.

In May 2001 Dale Bozzio, Warren Cuccurullo and Terry Bozzio set aside past differences and played a series of reunion shows. Dale Bozzio and Cuccurullo carried the Missing Persons’ name through 2002 and 2003, but it was a stop start affair that never gained any real momentum. In the ensuing years Dale Bozzio has continued to perform as ‘Missing Persons featuring Dale Bozzio’.

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