Dina Regine: Musician, Photographer and DJ on her album Right On, Alright, her Guitars and Influences

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Dina Regine can strum a guitar, click a camera, and spin a record. This multi-talented woman from New York has been involved in music since a very early age being heavily influenced by legendary artists from the blues, rock and roll, and soul music of the ‘60s and ‘70s which can be heard on last album Right On, Alright.

Regine’s musical acts included three bands, (Dina Regine Band, Naked Grape and Swamp Honey) where she was associated with Warner Brothers in the ‘80s and Sony Music in the ‘90s. After that time, Regine decided to go solo releasing two homespun CD’s, Be As It Will (1999) with the single ‘Beautiful’ winning best folk song by ‘Song Of The Year.’ She went on to release a five song EP in 2005 called Blame It On The Moon, and a holiday single in 2008 called ‘Forever Christmas Eve.’

In November 2014, Regine and co-producer Nik Chinboukas, released Right On, Alright. Steven Van Zandt picked the opening track ‘Gotta Tell You’ for his TV series Lilyhammer, and in January 2015, he welcomed ’Gotta Tell You’ to the Underground Garage on SiriusXM as ‘The Coolest Song In The World.’ Her video for the first single ‘Dial My Number’ was also Video Of The Day on the Underground Garage. ‘Broken’ was in the top 100 pick in New York Music Daily for 2014, and ‘Fences’ was in the top six pick for December 2014.

Her talents don’t stop at just being a great guitarist, Regine also has a love of photography.  Influenced by Photographer Richard Avedon, she joined a camera club, studied photography, and her work can been seen in numerous publications/books, record covers, galleries, as well as being included two museum collections. Her own background of being a performing musician contributes to her keen ability to capture special moments of performers which can be seen in her Musicians Collection, which include Led Zeppelin, KISS, the Rolling Stones, Lucinda Williams, Suzanne Vega, and many, many more.

Now if that isn’t enough, Regine also, by chance, became a DJ. Her DJ work has included the Guggenheim Museum’s ‘First Fridays series, Richard Gere’s ‘Healing the Divide’ benefit Concert at Lincoln Center with Phillip Glass, Tom Waits, and His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, as well as Keith Richards’ surprise 50th birthday bash.

Dina Regine filled us in on her exciting career and talked about some of the people that inspire her music, musicians that contributed to Right On, Alright and the gear she used on the album. She also talks about how she started in music, photography and on becoming a DJ.

Let’s start at the beginning as you’ve had a long career in music. How did you get involved in music?

My dad had a massive record collection, and there was always music playing around the house. So I had a pretty good education, listening to all his old great jazz recordings and standards. This was long before I picked up a guitar. But when I heard the opening guitar line to ‘Satisfaction’ by the Stones, that was the beginning of my six-string romance.  Even though it was an electric guitar that won me over, I played acoustic for many years. I had to fight hard to convince my parents to buy me my first acoustic because they thought I would play it for a few weeks then discard it. They had no idea I would lock myself in the bathroom, playing for hours on end till my fingers bled. I had fallen in love, and there was no turning back. But they never would have agreed to buy me an amp and an electric guitar. They were not keen on the music I was listening to, and I’m sure they didn’t want to hear me wailing all day with an amp turned up to eleven. I would not get to own an electric guitar till I was almost 21 years old.  But, by the time I was 15, I was sneaking into the city with my acoustic doing open mic gigs, and learning the ropes. During that time I was lucky to be sharing the night with artists like Richie Havens and Bill Withers, long before I was old enough to be in a bar. Perhaps, being determined makes a kid look older? On the weekends, I spent a lot of time in Central Park where musicians would gather and jam. That is where I learned how to Travis pick, and mess with open tunings. I would just sit and watch whoever was doing what I wanted to learn… and learn. The best kind of training, on the spot, real life.

Who did you grow up listening to that inspired you musically?

I have to say that most everything I listened to inspired me in some way, but it was Blues, Rock, and Soul music that shaped me as a musician. I love music that just reaches out and takes you prisoner. It was through the British bands that I learned about American music history, artists like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, Furry Lewis, and of course, Robert Johnson.  Something about blues based music touches me in a way I can’t put into words, it’s pretty powerful stuff!

I like to ask if there was any one person or band that changed your world, but I read in your bio that when you auditioned as a back-up singer for Bruce Springsteen, that he suggested you front your own band – and you took his advice. I would assume that he would be your answer, but you’ve worked with some really great musicians. Who would that person or band be?

Bruce’s words gave me a confidence I didn’t have back then, and I’m so happy I got to finally thank him a couple of years ago. Robert Plant giving me a Robert Johnson album was huge. My ex boyfriend Don McGrory was my guitar player around the time I was turning 18. We did a ton of gigs as a duo, and he schooled me well. He had just come up from Memphis, had played with artists like Furry Lewis, and was just fierce. He was and still is dangerous with a Coricidin bottle on his finger! The real deal. Don was a major influence on my musical growth.

I’ve been very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time, a whole lotta times in my life.  I have a small collection of words of wisdom from some of the greatest players in the world. That wisdom still serves me well today. If I had to pick only one band that changed my world, it would hands down be The Rolling Stones. They incorporated everything I loved about Rock, Blues, Country, & Soul music and made it their own. Lesson learned… never pigeonhole yourself into one thing just because someone says ‘So what do you do’? If my music were on a menu, it would probably be Paella, cause its a little bit of a bunch of things all thrown in the pot. That’s the magic I learned from the Rolling Stones.

Tell us about your latest album Right On, Alright and the musicians that contributed to the music.

My co-producer Nik Chinboukas really helped me pull this all together, and made it fun. He is a genius! The musicians on this record are all good friends of mine, and, good friends with each other. Tony Scherr, Tim Luntzel, Jon Cowherd and Dan Rieser have all toured together with various projects/artists over the years, and have credits a mile long.  They really know each other’s groove. For me, it was like having a band that had been together for years. Tony, (who’s main gig is with Bill Frisell & Sex Mob), hands down is one of my favorite guitar players, and was very supportive in helping me with shaping some of my own guitar parts.  My best friend Michelle Casillas from Ursa Minor was a big part of this project,  singing backup vocals, engineering the guitar overdubs for Tony, and being my extra ‘ear’ with the mixes. Erik Lawrence, who was Levon Helm’s main sax player at the famous Ramble in Woodstock, put together the horn section for me and brought in Frank London and Briggan Krauss. My buddy Shaky Dave played the killer harp on ‘Nothing Here’. The fabulous backing vocals were Toni Ridley, Michael Wildwood (from D Generation), Nina Tolins, and my childhood buddy Ricky Byrd, who I’m thrilled to say just got inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall Of Fame this month with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. That’s his guitar on ‘I Love Rock And Roll’.

I’m really proud of this record, and I’m so happy at how it’s being received.  Steven Van Zandt ’s supporting my songs on his radio station The Underground Garage has been pretty awesome. ‘Gotta Tell You’ was picked as the Coolest Song In The World back in January/February (and he also put that song in his TV series Lilyhammer), and they now are spinning ‘Dial My Number’. I’ve been getting radio play on various stations, and it’s been so great hearing from fans all over the world. One gal wrote me that she’s playing my songs in her band. I think that was my favorite email. Ever.

What was the inspiration behind the songs on the album?

I laugh as I say this, but I suppose a little misery never hurt when you need to write a good song.  But I was having a little duel with writer’s block, and I guess taking a break, and reading Keith Richard’s book ‘Life’ was just what the doctor ordered.  It was a good kick of inspiration at just the right time. Going on a little journey back in time, and listening to all the old recordings Keith talked about in the book had a huge effect on how the album wound up sounding. I landed somewhere between 1969-1971 and stayed there, hence the vibe of Right On, Alright.

What kind of gear did you use on this recording?

The album was recorded at Spin Studios in LIC Queens, the neighborhood where I grew up. We used Pro Tools, and the board was an SSL (used to be Dr. Dre’s board, it’s huge). Nik used some vintage outboard gear to get a lot of the warm, organic sounds that are on the record. I had a huge collection of Tambourines to choose from for each song. I strongly believe a Tambourine can bring any song to life. If you don’t believe me, just put on any old Motown record, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I play a one of a kind homemade tenor guitar that I bought for a hundred bucks in Brooklyn. It’s my baby and I adore this guitar. I have it in an open tuning, GDGB. Most of the songs on the record were written on the tenor. My six-string electric is a 1971 Hagstrom Viking, beautiful guitar. The guitar amp I used is a 1971 Princeton Reverb. My acoustic six-string guitar is a Blueridge, and I also used a Martin tenor acoustic. I have an old Flatiron mandolin that I used as well. I didn’t use any pedals, but I did use a POD for a few of my solo lines and hooks.

Not only a musician, you’re also a photographer and DJ. First, I must say you have a great collection of photographs of some iconic musicians. Which came first – music or photography?

Music came first. I found this book, and saw some photographs by Richard Avedon, and I was blown away by his work, I mean, I was breathless. So I got a Nikon F camera, and joined a camera club in the neighborhood that had a full darkroom available 24/7 to members. No one ever went to the club, so I had the place all to myself most of the time, and I literally lived in there. Sometimes I’d bring my guitar with me and practice there too. It wasn’t long before I started taking my camera to concerts, one thing led to another, and now I have a collection of music photographs that I’m putting together for a book.

Where do you draw your inspiration from for your photography?

Avedon, Saul Leiter, Lillian Bassman, Robert Frank, Cindy Sherman, Diane Arbus, these are some of the photographers that have inspired me in a powerful way. I love street photography. Something is always happening somewhere, and if you’re lucky to click the button at that precise second, it’s magical. With music photography, I love shooting live music the most, but the odd thing is I approach that more like a musician than a photographer. I involve myself in the moment, almost like a band member. I can feel when something is about to happen. An expression, a leap across the stage, whatever it may be. I wait for those moments, and they always happen. That’s when I take the picture.

Now, on to your work as a DJ? What inspired you to become a DJ and tell us about some of your gigs as you’ve hosted some pretty major events?

My DJ career was a total accident. I went to London for some meetings with record companies, but nothing panned out quite as planned.  I was dreading the thought of coming back to the states, and going back to being a waitress. I had reached my limit feeding people. A friend introduced me to a guy in London who told me he needed someone to fill in as a DJ at this private club called Joanna’s in New York for two weeks every month. I wasn’t from club culture, and had no idea what the hell a club DJ did. But, I had a massive record collection, and that was a start. So I said yes. Within 4 months, I was filling in shifts at this club called Heartbreak. Not long after that, I was DJ-ing 4 nights there, including the legendary Monday nights. I was spinning vintage 45 rpm records, and breaking new tracks from 10pm-4am, keeping vampire hours, that I’m happy to say … I still keep. The place was beyond packed, and was a who’s who of celebrities from musicians to movie stars to politicians. It was surreal. But it was there I made a name for myself, developed my style of spinning, doubled my record collection, and made friends with many of the people I still work with now. If a gal has to work a 9-5 job to pay the rent…this is the job to have! I got to DJ with Keith Richards at Heartbreak, (and years later DJ a birthday party for him), DJ a gala for Cher, Spin for Bruce Willis (several times), & bust a gut laughing every time Bill Murray or Eddie Murphy would come in and get silly by the DJ booth. It was there that I got discovered, and hired to spin the closing party at the Olympics for Nike in LA, sharing the bill with the Neville Brothers. All that, and more, in the first couple of years of my career as a club DJ. After Heartbreak, I got to spin most of the major clubs in Manhattan, and have long-term residencies at them too.  DJ-ing in general was a male dominated career, however, there were quite a few women spinning the major clubs back then, and they were all fantastic.  Since I started doing  private events, I got to launch the first night of the wildly successful First Fridays at the Guggenheim Museum, and I’ve also worked many events for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Frick, The New Museum, and the Museum of Natural History. Sharing the bill at Lincoln Center with Tom Waits and The Dalai Lama was an amazing evening for me.  I’ve got to travel all over the world, meet some really cool people, and I’m forever learning more and more about music from all cultures.  I rarely feel like I’m going to work when I go to work.

What decisions in your life have made the greatest contributions to your success?

Overcoming fears. I think fear is the biggest enemy for anyone with a dream. It can paralyze. If you can learn to co-exist with fear, and not worry about rejections, you can clear the air to create. Ignore trends.  When I started to learn to trust my instincts, things started to happen for me. I’ve also learned, when you really want something in life, you have to be creative in trying to achieve your goals. Sometimes you have to break the rules, all the rules. I went to a photography lecture once, and the teacher said something that really resonated with me. He said for every opportunity in life, there is a front door and everyone is trying to get in that door. So it’s pretty crowded there. He said to look for the side door where no one is hanging, slip in there and figure a way to get noticed with less competition. I think that metaphor has really served me well.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far in your career?

That there is no such thing as job security, nothing is permanent, and at the end of the day, it’s up to you to take care of yourself. If you really want something bad, then figure a way to make it happen. Don’t be a negative whiner. I’m a big believer in Creative Visualization.

What do you know now that you wish you had known 20 years ago?

So many things, it’s comical.

If you were personally coaching a new artist, what advice would you give her?

Be the best musician you can be, and learn the business side as well.  These days, an artist has to wear more than one hat if you’re doing things DIY. Information is just a click away on any computer; there is no excuse saying ‘I didn’t know’. Even if you have a label and a manager… make sure you know every nook and cranny of your contracts. This way you will never get taken for a ride (or it will be a lot harder to take you for a ride). In many areas, it’s still a boys club, but never let that scare you, hold you back, or make you back down. You don’t have to be a warrior, just be yourself. And last, take the time to discover all kinds of music, past and present.  You will thank me for that last tip one day.

For more on Dina Regine and her work, visit her site HERE.

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