An interesting little controversy popped up in hard rock/AOR fan circles at the end of last year when Gordon G.G. Gebert announced the release of a self-published book entitled On A Wing And A Prayer With Angel. He put it out there as a biography of the band: though it does fulfill that mandate on its own terms, there was a vocal contingent of fans who cried foul because Gebert was not in the band’s original glory days lineup. It didn’t help that founding Angel members Frank DiMino and Punky Meadows issued a press release rejecting both Gebert and his book, encouraging fans to ignore the publication.
That said, Gebert did play a role in oft-overlooked period of the band’s history: he played keyboards in a short-lived lineup between 1999 and 2002 that did a handful of concert dates in the U.S. and Europe. It’s easy to understand why DiMino, Meadows, et al might want to breeze past that era because it was a mismanaged venture that ended poorly, leaving some bad memories for fans and bandmates alike. However, participants in a historical moment are entitled to their own view of that time – and On A Wing And A Prayer With Angel represents Gebert’s take on his era in Angel, plus a little more.
Since his brief tenure in Angel wouldn’t be enough to justify a full-length book, Gebert has come up with an unorthodox three-part structure that nudges it into the territory of the participatory biography. The first part of the book tells the story of Angel from the Gebert’s vantage point as a young fan in the ’70s. He recounts his first listening experiences with each of the band’s albums, including his teenage thoughts on different songs (like a lot of Angel fans, he favored their heavy/prog side over their latter-day pop material). This section also includes an evocative tale of attending an Angel concert and an extended anecdote about him and a friend impersonating Angel to impress a couple of girls while on vacation.
The second part of the book moves into what you could consider a traditional if abridged biography of the group and its history. Since he didn’t have access to any of the band members, it’s pieced together from vintage press reports and interviews. It’s got some interesting information – a reproduction of the band’s fan club kit, a story about an infamous gear truck crash on a tour Angel played support act on – but feels incomplete and rushed.
The third section of the book is the lengthiest and most detailed part, covering Gebert’s time in the band. The only original members in this lineup of Angel were DiMino and drummer Barry Brandt, who put together a band largely on spec with management that was, in Gebert’s estimation, sketchy at best. He offers a warts-and-all take on everything, covering his audition and the limited number of tour dates in vivid detail. Along the way, he gives his take on both the charms and foibles of his famous bandmates, withering character sketches of the manager and bassist (he declines to name either one) and all the grisly details on why and how he fell out with the band.
Given its autobiographical nature, there’s a good deal of score-settling in the presentation of events during this section of the book, particularly when it comes to the unnamed manager and bassist. That said, Gebert is also capable of being sentimental and seeing the humor of events when it comes to DiMino and Brandt, like an amusing account of how Brandt transformed Gebert’s living room into a personal suite when staying there. He seems fond of both men despite the professional disappointments of the gig.
Better yet, you get an insight into what life is like for a low-budget touring act: the cheap hotels, the shaky booking arrangements and the rivalries and petty double-dealing that follow when disagreements arise. Gebert indulges his ego here and there, like devoting a few pages to a depiction of his baseball prowess, but his prose is mostly straightforward and enthusiastic in its telling of the various tales. He veers into overkill near the end with an exhaustive section reproducing various emails that followed his split with the band but he’s clearly throwing in everything he’s got.
In short, it’s easy to understand the controversy surrounding On A Wing And A Prayer With Angel: it’s not the full-fledged band bio that its back jacket copy promises and diehard devotees won’t be happy with the grim tales that dominate the “comeback tour” section. That said, the book remains useful because it offers a fly-on-the-wall account of a time that any future book on Angel will likely breeze by as quickly as possible. It thus acquits itself as an intriguing side-story for Angel completists.
Further Recommended Reading: the great biography of Angel has not yet been written but until then, there’s some good accounts of their early years out there if you hunt for them. Schlockmania directs any interested parties to the Dave Reynolds’ liner notes for the Rock Candy CD reissues of the group’s first three albums. All were written utilizing interviews with band members. Reynolds also contributed an essay to the recent Angel box set The Casablanca Years. Finally, the chapters on Helluva Band and On Earth As It Is In Heaven in Martin Popoff’s Ye Old Metal 1976 and Ye Olde Metal 1977 are both excellent reads and are noteworthy for including comments from bassist Mickie Jones.