Destination: In Depth Interview with Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons
Missing Persons To Headline Gallagher’s On March 31st
The legendary Dale Bozzio has had – and continues to maintain – a vast and brilliant career in music. Founder of the iconic new wave band Missing Persons – whose catalog of tunes includes Walking In L.A., Destination Unknown, Mental Hopscotch, Words and more – Dale Bozzio has also collaborated with industry giants such as Frank Zappa and Prince. Life is indeed a strange and wonderful experience, as Highwire Daze recently found out within this all encompassing interview we conducted with the one and only Dale Bozzio. Read on, and don’t forget that Missing Persons will be headlining Gallagher’s Pub in Huntington Beach in March 31st!
First of all, what are you looking forward to the most about your upcoming show at Gallagher’s, and what was it like to play at such an intimate place?
It’s one of my favorite places actually. And it is an intimate place. It’s where my friends come – and my friend is the owner and I can also play there with my friends in Diane & The Deductibles. It’s a super gathering and it warms my heart. It’s kind of a social thing for me. I love to play concerts where I can hug everybody – and they talk to me and tell me their stories – and when they saw me – whether it was 30 years ago or if it was last week. It really makes the world come around for me because I hear some incredible stories. People come with their albums from 1982. It’s remarkable that they still have the memories and desire to seek me out.
In 2019, what could one expect from a live Missing Persons show?
Well surprisingly enough in this new age and era, I am still playing everything by scratch – which means the authentic players which each and every part is played solely by that particular musician with no tapes or extra electronics. Meaning, I could play at the top of the Eiffel Tower without a plug. I feel I am bringing that to the table, which is a unique stature of Missing Persons when we played live. Each person knew their parts – the bass, the keyboards, what have you – and they were laid down like a train track. We went around in a gear – and that’s the way the albums were recorded and produced and everyone knew their part. And when we all got together, and we played all of our parts perfectly, the train would run.
Your current lineup has Prescott Niles of The Knack in it. How did Prescott Niles become involved with Missing Persons?
Prescott and I have been personal friends for a very time – about 30 years now. We are old friends from another guitar player Chancesky that introduced us. And we’ve just stayed friends through his career with The Knack and mine with Missing Persons with the Terry Bozzio timing. And we just came together – once I moved to Los Angeles – about six years ago I came back from Boston to LA– that’s where I’m from – I’m from Medford, Massachusetts. I called him and said “I’m going to come back to LA. Let’s put Missing Persons back together.” And since I’ve acquired ownership of the trademark, I was hence not feeling so shy about playing the concerts and being Missing Persons, instead of being Dale Bozzio of or blah blah blah. People know me as Missing Persons and so that’s the way I show up.
What was it like working with Prince on your solo album and what was your reaction when you found out that he had passed?
Prince was a real interesting situation for me. I did an album on his label Paisley Park. He gave me his studio and his engineer and all of his guitars and drums – all of his instruments and let me make my album. He had a very open mind. We really connected musically. He could see the direction that I was going in and trying to get away from the pop era of Missing Persons. Which I still haven’t been able to get away from that… (Laughter) and I probably never will. It’s so funny. And I was like “Okay cool. We’ll brand out a little into this soul kind of vibe.” I am a white girl and I guess I sound that way. I just don’t have the soul that it takes. I wanted to be funky – and I got it across in this one song called Simon Simon.
It went to 10 on the Billboard Dance Charts in Europe – and Prince wanted me to go to Europe and promote the record and it was in 1988. So I was all geared up and ready to go – album was made, video was made – I was going to do press and then come back and do concerts in America. But then all of a sudden my father had a heart attack and he was in Boston and I had to leave immediately Christmas Eve and go back to Boston. And when I arrived, I had to call Prince and you didn’t have cell phones or anything back then. There was not that kind of technology for everybody. I actually called him from the hospital and told him that I was there – that my dad had a heart attack and I had to be by his side. He was 85 years old – my dad wasn’t a spring chicken. He said, “Oh no, you get back here right away! You gotta go to Europe and promote this record! What are you doing?” And I said, “What do you mean what am I doing? I’m here with my father.” And he said “Oh, yeah? Well you obviously love your father more than me.” And I said “Well you said that. I didn’t.” And he said “Well, you’re fired.” Well I was a little bit astonished – taken aback by what he said. I said “Excuse me? Look here babe, you’re supposed to put 50 grand in my bank account tomorrow. We got a three year record deal here and that was only one. I’m not letting you off the hook easily.” So he was very disturbed with me.
Needless to say, we had this crazy love affair for a couple of years. Between all of the other girls he was dancing around with – he’d show up at my doorstep and I would think “Oh boy! Alright! I don’t know what to say or do.” To make a long story short, I went over to his house in Beverly Hills and he said “I want you to listen to this music.” And he put on Missing Persons music – it was my songs! It was one particular song Windows – and he said “that’s my favorite song and that’s my favorite band, Missing Persons.” And I said “I’m right here. I’m sitting right here. Talk to me!” And he just played the songs over and over again and he was seriously a big fan of Missing Persons. So I thought to myself Wow, this is really impressive and I wanted to be honest with him. And he got down on his knees and asked me to marry him. And I had to say no many times. I refused and it sort of hurt my feelings because he was so wonderful. He was just a charming, charming fella. I just knew that I wasn’t the girl for him. So I said “no, we’re just going to do the music.” And that’s why he ultimately ended up being mad with me – because I couldn’t be in love with him the way he wanted me to.
Everybody was in love with him – and still are, just like people are still in love with Michael Jackson. People are in love with their music. Once you have a heart for something, you can’t go back – you’ve tasted that. You’ve admitted it to yourself – the truth and the honesty. And we are all tempted by temptation. We are all curious. That’s human nature. All that we really have is self-control. And I had to emit that throughout my whole career. I am now 64 years old. I’m still living by my own self with my beautiful, beautiful sons. I’ve been married for 28 years – and I’ve not been with my husband for 20 of those years. But I stayed married to him because I am a believer and I’m very loyal and I love my sons – and I never wanted to break their hearts by replacing someone in front of them.
And when I met Prince, I was as honest with him as I would be with my sons and told him the truth. And he said, “Well, what do you want?” And I said, “You know what I really want? You asked me that question and you’re a musician and you love Missing Persons. I want to be Number One! That’s what I want to be – on the radio – just to tell myself ‘you did that Dale.’” And that was really my whole idea of everything in life – to create Missing Persons – to work with Frank Zappa – to work with Prince – to do all the things that I’ve done to make myself Number One in the music business. If I wasn’t going to be the shining star movie star ever, then I was going to be Number One on the radio. I made a commitment to myself. It had nothing to do with anybody else. And initially life in general – it doesn’t have to do with anybody else. It’s all what your dreams and desires are, depending on who you meet and where you go and what your journey is.
The Prince thing is really involved. And of course he’s not here now. No one would talk about him when he was alive. No one would say, “Oh, I had wine with him” or “I smoked a joint with him” or “I kissed him.” No one would say that because they were petrified – and they had to sign contracts with him that would say you would not divulge the presence or the time or the words that you spent with Prince. It was a part of his whole entourage. And of course the protection level was high. He was a high risk fella.
And now onto your time working with Frank Zappa…
And the Prince thing, before we flip on to Frank (Zappa). My son came and woke me up and said “Wake up. Wake up. I have to be the first one to tell you. Prince died. He died!” And I stood up and I just couldn’t believe it! And I went into like a metamorphosis immediately, hit my desk, jumped up and just starting writing. I wrote this incredible piece all about him and it was a great relief. I wrote a book recently – it’s not published or anything of course. I’m hoping to get someone to publish my book. I wrote about him and realized what a genius and an incredible person he was – and how sad that he had to collapse. That’s all I could call it as – I don’t know – dead, died dying anymore – I don’t know what it means. It’s beyond me at this point.
I wrote a song about it myself – Destination Unknown. I nearly died myself. I fell 40 feet out of a window and landed on my head. I was 21 and I woke up when I was 22. I had just made a lot of records with Frank Zappa. That was in 1976 and I fell out of a window. I came to LA and I was the Playboy bunny of Boston for 1976. So I went to Hefner’s house on February 10th, 1976 and Hefner wouldn’t come down and talk with me. He refused to speak to me, and so I decided to leave. I grabbed my Playboy as I was walking out the door because I was in the magazine as Boston’s Bunny Of The Year for 1976. So I left and I was very disturbed. I drove cross country to meet Hefner 3000 miles and he avoided talking to me.
So I left and I went down to this Studio Instrumental Rentals lot. So I found a friend of mine there to go talk to and to see what I was going to do. I drove clear across the country and now I had no job, no money, and was kind of freaking out. And I go walking and I hear Frank Zappa’s music. I look and I see on this door where his music is coming from, and it says “If you value your life, do not open this door.” So I opened the door. And there was Frank standing there and he said (in a sweet voice), “What are you doing?” I said, “Well, I heard your music.” And he said “well come on in.” And I said “I just went to Hefner’s house. I was supposed to be the Valentine Playgirl and possibly move in. He didn’t want to talk to me, and so I decided to leave.” He said “Really?” And I said “I’m hungry and I don’t even have a job.” And he said “Really? Well I have a job for you…”
This happened in like 15 minutes. He said “I’ve got a job for you. You could be Mary on my album. I’m making Joe’s Garage tomorrow and I need a Mary. And with that accent, you’ll be a household word.” I said, “Frank, I don’t know how to sing. I came to Hollywood to be a movie star.” He started laughing and laughing. And he said “Okay, well…” like Frank would, and said “Why don’t you be a singer first and then a movie star second?” I said, “Okay! It sounds good!” He said “It’s $500 a week with insurance.” And I’m like “NO really?” And he said “Tomorrow you start. And you’ll be Mary.” And I said “Are you sure Frank?” And he said, “Yeah absolutely! And when I’m done, you’ll be a household word.” And I said “Okay Frank, see ya later.”
And he said “Now this is Terry Bozzio. You come back and Terry Bozzio will bring you to the studio and there you go. You’re on the payroll.” So I walked out of there and I was in seventh heaven. I couldn’t believe it and I thought “No, he’s joking.” So I go see my friend. I come back a little while later and Terry Bozzio is standing out front. He said, “Hey, how ya doing? Frank said we’re done and now I can take you out to eat and put some gas in your car.” And I was like “Really?” And he said “Yeah. And you’re going to come in and be Mary tomorrow.” And I said, “Really? This is true?” He goes “Yep, it sure is! Are you his old girlfriend or something?” And I said “(laughs) No! I don’t even know Frank!” Terry asked “Seriously?” And I said “Seriously.” He said, “Well alright, I’ve got my instructions. I’m to take you to put gas in your car, to feed you. You’re going to sleep over at my house and I’m to bring you to the studio tomorrow.” I said “Alright. Let’s do that then.” And that’s what happened. It was the craziest move I had ever made in my life and it was just like that.
And the next day I became Mary. I was February 11th, 1976 doing Joe’s Garage and I was Mary. And he didn’t put the album out until later – because then he was out on the road with this (other) record. He went on tour with Eddie Johnston, Terry Bozzio, and Patrick O’Hearn. And Patrick O’Hearn was ultimate the bass player for Missing Persons, Terry Bozzio I married for ten years, and then it was Warren Cuccurullo on guitar and Chuck Wilde on keyboards. So pretty much I stayed with Terry after that, but six months later I fell out of a window for 40 feet – landed on my head and ended up going back to Boston – had to be on life support and get rehabilitation. And then Zappa came back to town and took me to Europe. And I went all over Europe while he was playing music – not me – and then I came back with him and continued to record. And Frank said to us “Be a band. Use my studio. Call yourself The Cute Persons. And I’ll see you when I get back from Halloween.” So we changed our name to Missing Persons, and we recorded in his studio and used all his stuff – his brand new studio at 7885 Woodrow Wilson – which is what Gaga bought – his house. And that’s where we recorded the Spring Session M record. And so that record has gone on to sell millions of records all over the world.
But Frank was my dear friend until the day he died. And all the things I did with Frank were genius. And I’m so grateful that I was part of his life. He was a dear friend of mine, and I visit him now in the Westwood cemetery . He’s in an unmarked grave and I go there and I talk to him and I tell him of my accomplishments, because I know he would be so proud of me. His favorite song was Mental Hopscotch. I went to see him two weeks before he died and I held his hands and I cried. And I told him right then and there “What ever will I do with my life without you here to tell me what to do? I won’t know what to do.” He said “Sing my favorite song Mental Hopscotch until you don’t want to sing anymore.” And so I keep singing. That’s what I do. It breaks my heart to know that I’m at this age and he died so young and left us to wonder.
There’s lot to say about where we go from here, but I know it’s left an empty space in my life and it hurts my feelings deeply. I have his picture here on my desk. And that’s why I go and play my concerts – and the first song I sing is Mental Hopscotch. And I sing it for him and I kiss the sky every show. Because without him, I wouldn’t sing. I would have been a stupid I don’t know nothing girl that amounted to nothing. But Frank rose me above the rest, and I have him to be so grateful and thankful for. I spent so many days and nights at 7885 Woodrow Wilson Drive in his house at that studio sitting there talking with him. Him smoking his cigarettes and he’d drink his coffee – and then we’d drink cognac – and then we’d go upstairs and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was simple but so ironic now – and so iconic in my heart – in my head – and it makes me go on. It makes me go forward for all of the things that I’ve experienced in my life in the past and the present – and the opportunities that these great genius musicians have given me. Prince and Frank have given me the greatest opportunities in my existence. Both of them have granted me serenity for the rest of my life. It’s priceless.
Do you feel that at this point in your life, that life is still so strange – and why?
(Laughs) Life is so strange. Absolutely! Life just gets stranger. On that note, yeah, I am going to say life is very strange. It does get stranger. There’s no explanation to it. I can’t explain it. I’ve read Freud and Einstein and therapy and psychology and philosophy and religions – and I don’t have a clue. I can’t say. But I do know one thing. Music makes the world go round. Not money. Music. Music will always make the world go round. I think they should filter music on the streets and filter music through treetops – and things would change.
Would you like to record new music as Missing Persons or perhaps do another solo album?
Yeah absolutely, I have a lot of material stocked up. I wrote consistently. That’s what I do. I am a writer. I pride myself in my writing mostly.
What do you think has kept the music of Missing Persons so alive and vibrant after all this time? People are still so very passionate about your music.
I don’t know. I really don’t know. To tell you the truth, I don’t know. I go and play these concerts. I’m still here and alive and I’m willing. I sing a lot of shows every year. I don’t know. There is a lot of passion. I see it – I feel it – I live it. I understand their passion. As I said, I’m able to play these smaller places and hug people and listen to their stories. I understand their passion. How it all happened? I don’t know. Because they thank me, they kiss me, they tell me they love me. I hug hundreds of people on tour. I’ve hugged hundreds of people in my life in this music business. And I don’t know. I’m very grateful – I know that – and I’m a loving, caring, empathetic person – maybe that’s probably why. And the things that I have written are from my heart. I just try to be honest, and I think that maybe if they had the opportunity to speak with me, that I would give them my honest opinion. And maybe that’s the compassion they have for me – to know that I would always be honest and true to them.
Do have any messages for Missing Persons fans who are reading this now?
Yes I do. I would say try to be happy. Don’t worry. And my motto everything will be alright. That literally is the truth and I live by that every day. Sometimes things are falling short and I say “Yep. Everything will be alright…”
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photos by Joe Schaeffer)
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