Frank Dean has been at the forefront of Indiana music scene
for over three decades. He's recorded over a dozen projects either solo
or with Hard Times, Blue DeVille, Hillbilly Central, Sindacato,
and The Snakehandlers. He's received two "Album Of The Year" awards from The Indianapolis Star and NUVO magazine for the CD's "Sindacato" and "Logan County" plus three "Band Of The Year" awards for Sindacato, and Hillbilly Central. Besides his own perfomances he also plays guitar in the R&B group Cadillac Scott & The Snakehandlers, and performs in an acoustic trio with Scott Parkhurst & LuAnn Lietz.
My family moved to Indiana from Coal Country. Logan County, West Virginia. One of the most beautiful places you've ever seen. Until you take your eyes off the landscape to see the immense poverty. I don't know where John Denver visited, but the area I'm from is far from being "Almost Heaven." But my early days there were filled with music. My Aunt Christine had lots of 78s & 45s, so I grew up along with this new Rock & Roll thing.
A daily diet of Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Roy Acuff, and my personal favorites the Everly Brothers.
We later moved to one of the few poor areas
of the north side of Indianapolis, a place called White Owl Park. Back then it still had the wooden owl signs at the top of the hill.
It was comprised of seven "cottages" that
the original owners had used for weekends
on the river until the Depression came. Folks like our family eventually moved into them and installed heat, plumbing, and lighting.
The Fashion Mall and nearby shops sit where I used to take my dog Billy for lion, tiger, and big game hunts.
That is... when we weren't in full Western regalia pursuing bank robbers and rusters.
And I never stopped wearing the boots!
In the 60's, my Mom (Edna) & Dad (Frank) were basically "Kids with Kids" and so our house was the Saturday night spot for the neighborhood teens to visit. We'd push the furniture up against the wall and have our own version of American Bandstand. And I loved it! I woke up to the radio every morning and fell asleep to it every night. I wanted to be Dion. It was a great way to grow up. Living on a riverbank, dogs & cats, turtles, ducks, and constant music in the air.
The Beatles performed on Ed Sullivan's show
and the next day every kid in school was wearing bangs. And we all wanted guitars. Christmas came and we all had the same brand. Thank God for the Sears & Roebuck catalog! We'd moved about a half mile south to another river area called Ravenswood. A lot more kids, things to do, and now.... put garage bands together!
But I had trouble finding kids to play with.
I loved the Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc. but I
also wanted to play Everly Bros., Elvis, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Bobby Bare, Peter Paul & Mary, and this new guy that used to be in Buddy Holly's band. His name was Waylon Jennings. How cool of a name was that? So it really wasn't until the late 60s "Country Rock" took hold that I started to find my place in this music thing. I thought the Buffalo Springfield was the coolest band I'd ever heard. I still do.
Name me one other group of guys that were that good at that age. Can't be done.
I was one of the first "Longhairs" in Indy to perform in C&W bands. That wasn't always easy, but I soon became friends with most of the folks on the circuit. And it wasn't a scene for the timid or easily tired. We played 9pm to 2:45 am every night. Six 45 minute sets. It was like a prison sentence. But I learned a million songs, how to transpose keys for different vocalists, and how to "read" an audience. Sometimes the hard way. I remember getting to play Indy's biggest nightspot "The Hollyoke." I thought I was on my way to the big time. Here's photo of that night.
Notice the "Tonight Show" style curtain.
I'd been writing songs since I was eleven or twelve and constantly listening to great songwriters and trying to learn the craft. Writing something original is a tough process. Not that it's easy to play cover tunes well, it isn't. But with covers you have a map. Something to study. It's all laid out for you if you have the patience to be a good copier. But writing is an empty sheet of paper. Try it sometime. You're likely to discover why there are so many bad songs floating around. So I near drowned myself with the greats. Lieber & Stoller, Hank Williams, Stephen Foster, Rogers & Hammerstein, Goffin & King, Lennon & McCartney, Willie Nelson, Harlan Howard, Tom T Hall, Bill Monroe,
Ian Tyson, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot,
and later Stephen Stills, Van Morrison, Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Neil Young, Ricklie Lee Jones, Robbie Robertson, Willie Dixon, Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, etc. I'd study their songs line by line to see how a good song came together. They were great teachers. Hopefully I picked up a few pointers along the way.
In the late 1980's vocalist Karen Harkins won TNN's "You Can Be A Star" perfoming two of my songs "If I Were You" and "I Came To Dance" The tunes also resulted in my first publishing deal. And my first experiences with the Nashville ins & outs of "The Biz."
Shortly after, I formed "Blue DeVille" with Andra Faye (later of "Saffire" fame) we recorded a self titled 10 song project that included Tim Harr, Greg Lindholm, Shawn Stewart, and Jason Schermerhorn that yielded the radio airplay of "White People On Alcohol" a tune I'd written as a parody of the local blues jams. Unfortunately it also became somewhat of a "Billy Bar" anthem and I refused to perform it for a decade.
Next up was "Hillbilly Central" a complete explosion of 50s & 60s Country Music that while together were the most talked about group in the city. The motto (and lifestyle)
of "Alcoholism & Adultry You Can Dance To" told the whole story. We backed up the legendary Albert Lee twice. Other bands stopped in just to hear us. Myself, Tim Harr, Greg Lindholm. Tim Fox, and Jimmy Venable recorded a four song EP with Studio Ace Alan Johnson that's now considered a collectors item.
My first solo project began as old friends Eric Klee Johnson, his brother Marc Johnson,
and Terry Monday were assembling what would become "The Pop Machine" recording studio. "Empty Thrones" received great notices and allowed me to stretch out on songwriting to include social stigmas and ills. Left to Right: Jay Petraits, Barry Eldridge, Frank Dean, Denise Senter, Gary Wasson.
In my spare time I'd been writing songs about growing up in West Virginia and the lives
of those people I'd grown up around.
I recruited Gary Wasson to help with vocal duties and Jason Roller (later of Wynonna, Kelly Picker, and Dave Mason) and recorded the first Sindacato CD "Appalacian Pipline."
It received glowing reviews and was
the beginning of the "Americana" movement in Indianapolis.
If "Appalacian Pipeline" opened the door,
the second CD "SINDACATO" blew it off the hinges. With the addition of Jon Martin and Carl LoSasso we received "Years Best" Awards from both the Indianapolis Star and NUVO. And it seemed like we were opening act for every major that came through Indiana. The addition of electric guitars
and drums had opened even more ears
and the song "Nothin' There" received extensive airplay on Americana stations.
The next time out we took a sharp turn
and recorded a Bluegrass CD entitled "Logan County." Kara Barnard came in to co produce and it brought us our second "Years Best" from The Indy Star and NUVO magazine.
It also received a great deal of aclaim from national publications like "Sing Out" and "Bluegrass Unlimited." Even Europe's "Buscadero" called it "wonderful."
While talking with columnist Mike Redmond about old local Gospel Radio shows of our childhood I came up with the idea of doing exactly that. And after inviting some friends into the studio to be our audience, "The Gospel Plow" was recorded live around one microphone in the period of an hour
and a half. It was one of the most pleasant recordings to be writing songs (and faux commercials) for. I think that it was sadly overlooked by the Gospel community.
My next project was a return to electric Country called "...and back again" It included the cut "You Walked Tall" that I'd written years before as a tribute to Johnny Cash. After his passing his band of over 5 decades "The Tennessee Three" cut the song also. An honor bestowed upon me.
I co-founded The Snakehandlers Blues Band with Carl LoSasso to basically have a lot
of fun playing great blues songs and to rebuild my guitar chops. Along with Cadillac Scott Parkhurst, Bob Schneider, Floyd Tucker, Clint Crabb, and Gary Woodworth, we recorded "Rock plus Roll" a CD of R&B originals that in the words of Indy Star critic Dave Lindquist "brings images of biker bars, fast cars, and faster women." The group contines to play exstensively as Cadillac Scott & The Snakehandlers featuring Scott Parkhurst, LuAnn Lietz, Floyd Tucker, Steve Kennedy, Gary Woodworth, Rex Stonesipher, and myself.
My latest project is the all acoustic "Antique Finish" a CD of ballads I'd written and saved from as far back as 1978. It was a blast finally getting to record these songs with musicians like Tim Harr, Floyd Tucker, Brent Bennett, Steve Kennedy, Jon Martin, LuAnn Lietz, Kayla Stinson, Paul Ware, and Cadillac Scott Parkhurst.
My first few "Promo Photos"
Onstage with the "Queen OF Country Music" Kitty Wells
Antique Finish Sessions
Logan County Sessions