DINO, DESI & BILLY: HOLLYWOOD POP NEPOTISM by Records B. Goode (copyright 2001)
Imagine the lives of Dino Martin, Desi Arnaz, Jr. and Billy Hinsche in 1965: living in Hollywood, famous parents (Dean Martin, Desi Arnaz & Lucilly Ball), you’re a pre-teen, you’re on the cover of 16 Magazine, and … and you’re on the radio! Hell, they probably even got to glimpse Nancy Sinatra lounging around poolside in her bikini and…um…boots. How does THAT grab ya? With the best back-up musicians in the business, Frank Sinatra signing them to his Reprise label, their mini-Beatle haircuts, their ‘60s clothes, Beatle boots, guitars, drums and most importantly, their songs, they couldn’t miss.
Talking with Billy Hinsche recently he shared the birth of DD&B:
The first time I met Mr. Sinatra was sometime in ’64, I believe, when we auditioned for him. We played a few songs for him (Dean was there too) that we had learned. We were set up in Dean’s bar area next to the living room. Frank was very enthusiastic after we played, walked over and said, “How would you boys like to have a contract with my label?” That was the beginning of our recording career. I saw him one more time at a Martin party at their home I Beverly Hills. He was ebullient and very nice to me. He was all smiles, probably because by this time we were a success.
Dino, Desi & Billy’s success prefigures bubblegum in several important respects: stellar studio musicians, professional songwriters, danceable pop, and aggressive, savvy teen marketing. Curiously, what smacks of Rat Pack vanity project at first glance contained genuine musical talent. The boys’ behind-the-scenes support included L.A.’s best sessionmen, arrangers and songwriters: Lee Hazelwood, Billy Strange, Al Capps, Bill Justis, Shorty Rogers, Al Casey, James Burton, Jim Gordon, Jim Troxel, Hal Blaine, Jimmy Bowen, and Bones Howe. Not only were they the youngest group to have hit records in that era, they were also the only group to feature a Filipino-American boy (Billy) as a teen heartthrob.
DD&B weren’t the only band spawned ot of Hollywood Pop Nepotism: Gary Lewis and the Playboys (Jerry Lewis’ kid); Tony & the Tigers (Soupy’s boys, Hunt and Tony Sales, later famously backing Iggy and Bowie (Tinman); Bruce & Terry (with Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son; Terry later produced Paul Revere and the Raiders and just missed a Manson Family house call); Peter Lewis (of Moby Grape, son of Loretta Young.
Never met Gary, I can’t say whether Dino or Desi had. I suppose everyone who was on the radio/charts was considered competition of sorts like in any business, right? I thought his forming a group immediately after us was a direct result of our success. I envisioned him going to his father and making the case that he too should have his own band/record deal because, after all, Dino had one. That’s pure speculation on my part bit it is plausible, is it not? - Billy Hinsche
Their early hits fused the best of the British Invasion and the California sound into a potent pop concoction of their own. Listening to the opening bass line of their first hit, “I’m A Fool” can still give you chills. Dino and Billy harmonize beautifully. The mesmerizing tune floats along, stops for that killer bass and then rolls back into the beat. It reached number 3 in BILLBOARD. Their second hit, “Not The Lovin’ Kind,” written by Lee Hazelwood, opened with the jingle jangle guitar reminiscent of the Byrds. Not bad for a trio of Catholic schoolboys.
DD&B’s last charted hit, “Tell Someone You Love Them,” was written by Billy, who patterned the song after the Beach Boys’ “Darlin’.” Billy had a special affinity for the Beach Boys. His sister married Carl Wilson. (Carl later married Dino’s sister, Gina, but that’s another story.) Toward the end of the reign of DD&B, Billy was asked to become a member of the Beach Boys. The entire group, Brian, Carl, Dennis, Mike, Al and their manager, Nick Grillo, went over to Billy’s parents’ house in 1969 to offer Billy a full membership in the group. Billy had no idea that this was in the works, and he was completely surprised. He was dying to join the Beach Boys, but his father convinced Billy that his education was more important. Billy cried himself to sleep that night. After receiving his college degree, he became a permanent member of the Beach Boys’ touring band.
Dino was killed in a plane crash in 1987. Desi went on to act in many movies, including THE MAMBO KINGS, in which he portrayed his father. It was Desi’s burgeoning acting career that pulled him away from the group. Their later compositions were entirely the work of Dino and Billy. Billy is about to join Brian Wilson and Al Jardine this summer (2007) in a concert tour. He also performs in Las Vegas along with Dino’s younger brother, and Desi, Jr. in the group Ricci, Desi & Billy. They have several CDs out.
If you want to get your feet wet in the surf, pick up the Sundazed CD THE BEST OF DINO, DESI AND BILLY. Listen carefully to their later works: “Two In The Afternoon” is kinda Kinkish ala “Waterloo Sunset.” Dino’s “My What A Shame” is an amazing song that could have rivaled “Eloise” by Paul and Barry Ryan. “Lady Love,” written by Brian Wilson with Billy, is one of DD&B’s most sophisticated songs.