Al Dotoli Knows The Gear – And The Stars
You can see Al Dotoli’s life in the music business on the walls of his home office -– framed photos of the veteran concert production manager with jazz singer Tony Bennett, Aerosmith vocalist Steven Tyler, rock singer Ozzy Osbourne, Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia, and dozens more. In the far corner there’s a framed poster of Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis Jr., for whom Dotoli provided production and road management coordination on their “Ultimate Event” tour in the late 1980s.
The Milton native has been producing and coordinating concerts in New England, across the U.S. and overseas since 1968 – first as All Sound Audio, then ASA Production Services, and now as Uncle Al Production Services. It’s easier to list the bands and singers he hasn’t worked with, than all the ones he has worked with. Fifty years later he’s still active, supervising production for shows at the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium. Seating charts are always handy at his corner desk.
He has endless stories about all the acts he’s worked with – the first time he provided a sound system for The Kingsmen when he was just 20, how he came to manage, tour with and produce three albums for the late blues harpist James Cotton, and what it was like traveling overseas with Sinatra and pop singer Dionne Warwick. He was production director for a Dalai Lama appearance, too, at the Fleet Center. (Now the TD Garden.) And it all started with a five-dollar guitar.
Born in 1947, Dotoli says he was “bit by Elvis and Chuck Berry,” so he bought a Silvertone acoustic guitar from a local teenager, and started learning chords, with dreams of forming his own band. He and some friends did start a band, in the eighth grade. He bought a Harmony six-string electric guitar from a teenager he knew, and The Internationals rehearsed at St. Agatha’s Catholic Church in Milton. They played instrumentals, Ventures-style.
When he was 16 he co-founded The Druids, who sang current hits along with instrumentals. The Druids sometimes played with up and coming rock’n’roll singer Myles Connor, and Dotoli often played bass for Connor’s band The Wild Ones. (He managed Connor in the 1970s and ‘80s, when the future convicted art thief performed at eastern Massachusetts beach clubs as “The President Of Rock’ N’ Roll.”) While the Druids played Boston-area colleges and fraternity houses, Dotoli got more familiar with “the gear” – the microphones, amplifiers and speakers all bands used.
His first equipment was a Vox T-60 bass amplifier and several Fender amps. He added Altec speakers, Jensen treble horns, and a sound mixer. By the time he graduated from Milton High, word had gotten around that he had a top-line system. In 1967 he was a student at Curry College when the owner of the Roseland Ballroom in Taunton called. He offered Dotoli $500 to set up and take down his system for The Kingsmen.
“I was sitting there watching the band,” he recalls. “I made five times what I would have if I was onstage, and I thought, I like this. And that’s how it started.”
He formed All Sound Audio with his buddy Tommy Walsh, who’d played with Dotoli in The Druids. They leased a storefront in Quincy, borrowed money to buy more equipment, and started renting it to bands that came to Boston. He rented guitars and amps to Aerosmith before the band settled on the name. His earliest customers also included Quicksilver Messenger Service from San Francisco, and the popular Boston Tea Party rock club. “Things started happening quickly,” he said, because no one else in Boston was providing sound systems or “backline” production like his.
Within a year he was providing sound for Sly And The Family Stone and Ten Years After, among others. He provided sound and backline production for the city’s Summerthing neighborhood concerts for four years, and built what Rolling Stones production manager Chip Monck nicknamed “Dotoli Doubles” for the Stones’ 1969 Gimme Shelter tour. The “Dotoli Doubles” were a pair of powerful, 15-inch JBL speakers in a custom-designed, baffled enclosure, combined with a pair of high-end Altec horns. The Stones used 16 of them. Dotoli was 22, with a rising national reputation.
In 1971, Mississippi blues harmonica player and singer James Cotton asked Dotoli to be his manager. Dotoli had provided sound for Cotton, and thought he could draw a much wider audience. While Dotoli managed him, Cotton made TV appearances and recorded three albums, which Dotoli produced. In 1975, Dotoli began managing the James Montgomery Band, for whom he’d also produced concerts. He also worked closely with the Fifties-style show band Sha Na Na and Boston’s Fat City Band.
Also in 1975, he teamed up with Providence promoter Frank Russo to build a new, 10,000-seat facility at the Music Inn in Lenox, a beloved concert site for jazz, folk and rock since the late 1950s. Dotoli supervised the stage, roof and parking-lot construction. Then he was production coordinator for the Kinks, Delaney and Bonnie, the Charlie Daniels Band, Joan Baez and dozens more, until the venture ended in 1979. A rowdy disturbance erupted between fans and the security team at an Allman Brothers Band show. Lenox selectmen shut down the next scheduled concert with the Beach Boys, and Music Inn owner David Rothstein closed the business.
As if Dotoli wasn’t already busy enough, he had been consulting for Dionne Warwick since the early 1970s. She liked his sound systems and asked Dotoli to make sure all her tour dates had top-line equipment. He later went on tour with Warwick to Japan, Europe and South America with the same system he made sure she had in the U.S.
In 1978 his career changed course again. He bought out his partner, sold off most of his equipment, and turned All Sound Audio into ASA Production Services. He concentrated his work with Cotton, Montgomery and Warwick. Then Russo and Sinatra’s producers called. Sinatra would be making his first arena tour, and Dotoli was asked to join his production staff, first in New England and then nationally. In late 1980 Sinatra Productions called him again, to supervise “backline” sound work for newly-elected president Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inaugural events. Sinatra was the executive producer.
His third and last round of work for Sinatra – actually two tours – came from 1988-1990, on the “Together Again” tour that featured Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., and the “Ultimate Event” tour with Sinatra, Davis and Liza Minnelli. Those ventures took Dotoli to Japan, Australia, Europe and South America. During those same years he was production manager for summer concerts by the Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and Monsters Of Rock at Foxboro Stadium. He also began work at stage consultant for Grammy Awards shows in Los Angeles and New York City – and he teamed up with Frank Russo one last time. From 1989-1992 he was Russo’s production manager at the 15,000-seat Seashore Performing Arts Centre (SeaPAC) in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Aerosmith and ZZ Top performed there, among other hit artists. (SeaPAC is now a restored baseball park.)
In 1992 ASA Production Services became Uncle Al Production Services. In 1995 he began a decade-long run as production director for JAMN 94.5’s Monster Jam shows at the Fleet Center. A year later he was at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, as production manager for the Global Village’s main stage. (He was there when terrorist Eric Rudolph’s bombs detonated just 150 feet from the stage. He wasn’t injured.) He managed other country and pop shows at Foxboro, and that led to his affiliation with Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
“Everybody knew me,” he said of the promoters and producers, so he was Kraft’s choice to oversee future shows at the new Gillette Stadium.
He’s been the production supervisor for the Krafts at Gillette Stadium and the old Foxboro Stadium for more than 80 concerts since 2000, from country stars Toby Keith and Kenny Chesney to U2, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce and Taylor Swift. He’s had a couple of side ventures along the way. From 2003-2007 he was production manager and coordinator at the Meadowbrook Pavilion, a 9,000-seat summer concert venue at Lake Winnipesaukee in Gilford, N.H. Then in 2007 he started a five-year association with comedian Dane Cook. He was Cook’s production coordinator and tour manager, starting with Cook’s T.D. Garden special for HBO.
That was his last road trip. He mostly works from home these days, mainly as a consultant for Gillette Stadium and other productions. But he still knows everybody, and everybody knows him. And he still knows the gear.
(by Lane Lambert)