You can see Al Dotoli’s life in the music business on the walls of his home office, where there are framed photos of the veteran concert production manager with jazz singer Tony Bennett, Aerosmith vocalist Steven Tyler, heavy metal legend Ozzy Osbourne, Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia and dozens of other iconic figures. 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, Massachusetts, native has been producing and coordinating concerts in New England, across the US and overseas since 1968, first as All Sound Audio, then as ASA Production Services and now as Uncle Al Production Services. At this point, it’s easier to list the bands and singers he hasn’t worked with than all the ones he has. He remains active today, more than fifty years after founding his first company, supervising production for shows at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, home of the New England Patriots, and seating charts for the world-renowned venue are always handy at his corner desk.
Dotoli has endless stories about all the acts he’s worked with, including 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 diva Dionne Warwick. Outside the musical realm, in 2003 he was the production director for an appearance by the Dalai Lama at the Fleet Center (formerly Boston Garden and now the TD Garden). And it all started with a five-dollar guitar.
Born in 1947, Dotoli says was “bitten by Elvis and Chuck Berry” and bought his first guitar, a Silvertone acoustic, at around age nine from a local teenager. He started teaching himself the basics with dreams of forming a band, which he and did with some of his friends when they were in the eighth grade, calling themselves The Internationals. Soon he was playing a Harmony six-string electric, which he bought from another teenager he knew, and the band was rehearsing at St. Agatha’s Catholic Church in Milton, playing Ventures-style instrumentals.
At age 16, Dotoli co-founded The Druids, who covered the hits of the day while also performing their original instrumentals. The group occasionally played with up-and-coming rock ’n’ roll singer Myles Connor and Dotoli often played bass in 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.”) As the Druids played Boston-area colleges and fraternity houses, Dotoli became more familiar with the equipment all the bands used – the “gear” – from microphones to amplifiers to speakers.
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 and by the time he graduated from Milton High, word had gotten around that he had a top-line system. In 1967, when he was a student at Curry College, the owner of the Roseland Ballroom in Taunton called to offer 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.”
ALL SOUND STUDIOS
Dotoli formed All Sound Audio with his buddy Tommy Walsh, who’d played with him 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 had even settled on the name; other early clients included Quicksilver Messenger Service from San Francisco and the popular The Boston Tea Party rock club. “Things started happening quickly,” he says, 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” – a pair of powerful, 15-inch JBL speakers in a custom-designed, baffled enclosure combined with a pair of high-end Altec horns – for the Stones’ 1969 Gimme Shelter tour. The Stones used 16 of them and 22-year-old Dotoli’s reputation was on the rise.
In 1971, Mississippi blues harmonicist and singer James Cotton asked Dotoli to be his manager after Dotoli provided sound for one of his shows, thinking he could draw a much wider audience with Dotoli’s help. While Dotoli managed him, Cotton made TV appearances and recorded three albums, all of 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 ‘50s-style show band Sha Na Na and the Boston-based Fat City Band.
MUSIC INN, DIONNE WARWICK
Also in 1975, he teamed up with Providence promoter Frank Russo to build a new, 10,000-seat facility at Music Inn, a wildly popular concert spot for jazz, folk and rock in Lenox, Massachusetts, for which Dotoli supervised the stage, roof and parking-lot construction. He was the production coordinator for The Kinks, Delaney & Bonnie, The Charlie Daniels Band, Joan Baez and dozens of other major acts appearing there until August 1979, when a near riot erupted between fans and security at an Allman Brothers Band show, resulting in Lenox selectmen canceling the next scheduled concert (The Beach Boys) and Music Inn owner David Rothstein shuttering the venue.
As if Dotoli wasn’t already busy enough, Dionne Warwick, for whom he’d been doing consulting since the early ‘70s, asked him to make sure all her tour dates had top-line equipment. He wound up going on tour with her and her band to Japan, Europe and South America, using the same system he’d put together for her US shows.
ASA PRODUCTION SERVICES, FRANK SINATRA
In 1978, Dotoli’s career changed course again. He bought out his partner, sold off most of his equipment and turned All Sound Audio into ASA Production Services, concentrating on his work with Cotton, Montgomery and Warwick. Then Russo and Sinatra’s producers called to tell him that Sinatra would be making his first arena tour, asking Dotoli to join his production staff, first in New England and then nationally.
In late 1980 Sinatra Productions called him again, to supervise backline sound for newly-elected President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inaugural events. Sinatra was the executive producer. His third and last round of work for Sinatra was doing two whirlwind tours between 1988 and 1990, the “Together Again” one (which featured Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.) and the “Ultimate Event” one (featuring Sinatra, Davis and Liza Minnelli). Those ventures took Dotoli to Japan, Australia, Europe and South America.
Also in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Dotoli was the production manager for summer concerts by The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead and the Monsters of Rock tour at Foxboro Stadium. He also began working as a stage consultant for Grammy Awards events in Los Angeles and New York City and teamed up with Frank Russo again between 1989 and 1992 as the production manager at the 15,000-seat Seashore Performing Arts Centre (SeaPAC) in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. During that time, among the many chart-topping acts that appeared were Aerosmith and ZZ Top.
UNCLE AL PRODUCTION SERVICES, GILLETTE STADIUM
In 1992 ASA Production Services became Uncle Al Production Services. In 1995, Dotoli began a decade-long run as production director for JAMN 94.5’s Monster Jam shows at the Fleet Center and in 1996 he was at the 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 but wasn’t injured.)
Dotoli managed a number of country and pop concerts at Foxboro Stadium, the New England Patriots’ home field, which led to his affiliation with the team’s owner, Robert Kraft. “Everybody knew me,” he says of the promoters and producers, so he was Kraft’s choice to be the production supervisor at Gillette Stadium, which replaced Foxboro Stadium in 2002. Since then, he’s being the man behind the sound for more than 80 concerts there by artists from across the musical spectrum, from country stars like Toby Keith and Kenny Chesney to U2, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce and Taylor Swift.
OTHER PROJECTS, CURRENT ACTIVITY
Dololi’s had a couple of side ventures along the way. From 2003 to 2007, he was production manager and coordinator at the Meadowbrook Pavilion, a 9,000-seat summer concert venue at Lake Winnipesaukee in Gilford, New Hampshire, and in 2007 he began a five-year association with comedian Dane Coo as his production coordinator and tour manager (starting with Cook’s T.D. Garden special for HBO). That was his last road trip. These days, he mostly works from home as a consultant for Gillette Stadium and other productions. But he still knows everybody, and everybody knows him. And he still knows all about the “gear,” that’s for sure.
(by Lane Lambert)