Dan Fornero — from Kiltie Kadets to successful studio musician

by Steve Vickers, DCW Publisher

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Dan Fornero is someone who started his musical career marching with the Kilties’ feeder corps, the Kiltie Kadets, and is now performing and recording with some of the biggest names in the music world.

Originally from Kenosha, WI, he attended North Texas State University from 1977 to 1981 where he played first trumpet in the famed One O’clock Lab Band in 1980 and 1981. Moving to Los Angeles in 1982, he left for a year on the road playing lead trumpet with Woody Herman. In 1988 he began a three-year tour with Tom Jones followed by becoming a founding member of the Vine Street Horns. He began recording and touring with many great artists including the Brian Setzer Orchestra, again on first trumpet.

In 1993, he started another tour with Tom Jones in addition to a Vine Street Horns tour with Al McKay and the LA All-stars, performing the incredible music of Earth Wind & Fire. World tours soon followed with Phil Collins and the great French rocker Johnny Hallyday.

In 2001, Neil Diamond was added to the touring list and from 1993 to 2005 Dan found himself touring the world several times over between the different artists. He became a member of the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band in 2003, sharing the lead trumpet responsibilities with Wayne Bergeron.

Some of his film and television credits include: “Batman Returns,” “The Player,” “The Mask,” “Hancock,” “Head of State,” “Bad Santa,” “Race to Witch Mountain,” “The Whole Ten Yards,” “Polar Express,” “Robots,” “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown,” “Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” “Happy Feet,” “The Simpsons Movie,” “Meet the Robinsons,” “Horton Hears A Who,” “Semi-Pro,” “G-Force,” “What Happens in Vegas,” “Hairspray,” “The Brothers Warner,” “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins,” “Bah Humduck,” “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” “Evolution,” “Bolt,” “Pink Panther Deux,” “Tooth Fairy,” “The Princess & the Frog,” “Toy Story 3” and television work on “American Idol,” “America’s Got Talent,” “Celebrity Duets,” “Boston Legal,” “Brothers and Sisters,” “Day Break,” “Home Improvement,” “The Simpsons,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “The Grammy Awards,” “The Emmy Awards” and many others.

He has also performed with various artists on: “Tonight with Jay Leno,” The David Letterman Show,” Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen, Rosie O’Donnell, Larry King, Dennis Miller, Arsenio Hall, Jon Stewart and others.

Dan is currently home in Los Angeles, enjoying life as a freelance musician. In his spare time he has also become quite an accomplished photographer.

Visit his Web site for more information — www.danfornero.com.

I’ve actually known his father, Bob, for many years. He’s a subscriber to Drum Corps World and used to run one of the most anticipated drum and bugle corps competitions on the schedule . . . the Memorial Day Midwest season opener at Lakefront Stadium in Kenosha, WI . . . literally a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan (concert side faced the water).   I remember one specific evening when the First Federal Blue Stars were on the starting line and light snowflakes began to fall (that was the era when the guard wore hotpants!).

I attended that show a number of times during the late 1960s and early 1970s, including 1974 when I drove from my home in Golden, CO, straight through to Kenosha, got in line at 4:00 PM to buy a ticket, enjoyed the show and then drove back to Denver. That’s probably the craziest thing I’ve ever done related to my involvement in the activity!

Recently, Dan’s mother called to renew Bob’s subscription and during the very enjoyable conversation I learned that their son has had quite a successful and interesting music career since marching in his first drum corps.

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Steve Vickers: Let’s get started with a little background. When did you join the Kiltie Kadets, how long did you march and when did you move on to the Kilties?

Dan Fornero: I started with the Kiltie Kadets in the fall of 1969, marched for four years and joined the Kilties for one year in 1974. I chose to leave drum corps to attend a jazz clinic held in August by Jamie Aebersold. I wanted to get more serious about studying music and the week-long Aebersold jazz camp would conflict with the Kilties’ summer competition schedule.

SV: I’ve read through your Web site and see that you moved into performing shortly after   college. Did your time in drum corps plant the idea of becoming a professional musician?

DF: Absolutely. In the 1950s, my dad and some of his friends in Kenosha, WI, formed the Kingsmen Senior Drum & Bugle Corps. I ended up going to their rehearsals a lot as a small boy. The incredible sound of all those horns really got my attention at a very young age. I loved it and couldn’t wait to be old enough to join my own drum corps. The Kenosha Kingsmen sadly ended in 1969, but our family drum corps torch continued through the Kiltie Kadets/Kilties organization. My father remained involved and became the business manager for Kiltie Kadets, while I learned how to march and play a bugle.

SV: The experiences you’ve had over the years are quite varied. Which ones have you found to be the most fulfilling?

DF: I’ve been very fortunate, but touring the world with Phil Collins is probably the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. The organization itself is wonderful and there is nothing quite like performing in a stadium packed with hysterical fans. I just had to pinch myself sometimes. It’s something I’m really grateful to have been a part of.

SV: Have you followed the drum corps activity through the years or been to the occasional show?

DF: Actually, no. I haven’t attended a drum corps show since I left in 1974. However, I did catch the Blue Devils on television a few years ago and was amazed. I almost didn’t recognize it. Apparently there have been a few changes . . .

Whose idea was it to add a third valve? Back in the day we had a piston and a rotor — and we liked it that way. Seriously, though, the Blue Devils were fantastic. The M&M was spectacular, while the horns, drums and color guard were    spot-on. I was blown away by it.

SV: What did you take away from your participation in the activity that has been useful to you in your music career?

DF: Drum corps causes kids to rehearse a lot while they are very young. The amount of hours we put in from the time I was 10 to 15 years old established a strong musical foundation. The teachers/staff we had were also very good (Al Sabo and Ken Norman in particular). The quality instruction of brass playing, the great musical arrangements along with the discipline of the M&M really helped instill good skills at a young age. Rehearsing and performing so much outside taught me how to project my sound out of necessity and I am grateful for all that experience.

Additionally, the exposure to other great players really influenced and inspired me. I was surrounded by amazing musicians in the Kilties and Kiltie Kadets.

SV: What do you think of all the changes that have taken place in drum corps like changing from G to B-flat instruments, adding the pit filled with keyboards, timpani and accessories,amplifying the grounded equipment and, most recently, allowing the use of synthesizers?

DF: They changed the key? WHAT? Actually, the pit idea seems a bit odd to me. Keyboards, amps, electricity? We used to schlep all our gear on and off the field without the use of anything but ourselves . . . but as I mentioned, I really haven’t given it a fair chance as I haven’t followed drum corps all these years and, admittedly, it all comes to me as quite a shock.

SV: Anything else you would like to share with the readers of Drum Corps World about    your life as a musician or your time in the drum corps activity?

DF: In 1974, DCI was just in its infancy and we (the Kilties) were a seriously strong contender. The horns were killer, our drum line had just gotten [Rick] Kirby on staff and we had really turned into something special. We had new uniforms and went back to incorporating some musical elements of the late 1960s Kilties repertoire — their classic intro, Chattanooga Choo Choo and Auld Lang Syne, of course, McDuffy’s March, Brain Salad Surgery and Eli’s Comin’ were all expertly arranged by Ken Norman and we were gonna win, baby. We really were.

We competed hard all summer and in August traveled on the then huge tour to Ithaca, NY, for the big DCI Championship. We took third place in the prelims and were poised to take it all in the finals.

While the stories are conflicting as to what actually went wrong, we ended up going “overtime” in the finals.

As we stood in the finale listening to the scores, our dreams were shattered as we were announced in sixth place. I was devastated. We all were. Five years of hard work had just come to an unexpected end.

While I am grateful for the experience of it   all, it was really hard to get that close, but not have placed better. It was an incredible time in my life!

SV: Thanks very much for taking time to do this interview. You’ve led a very interesting life. Best wishes for an eventful and successful future.

DF: Thank you, I owe a lot to those years in drum corps!