"In the early days when I was in high school, I couldn't afford my own drum set, so the other kids who had drum sets had me come over and play." Dean "Dino" Zavolta, drummer for China Blue, speaks with the self-assured modesty and quiet confidence -- rare characteristics among professional musicians and rock stars -- of a man who rose from humble beginnings to make his living, a very good one, out of his passion.
The nation's "King of rock" Wu Bai (伍佰) and his band are revered by legions of fans across generations and countries in the Chinese-speaking world. Their
latest album Two Faced Man (雙面人) was nominated in this year's Golden Melody Award's Best Album category and their album The End of Love (愛情的盡頭) (1996) sold over 600,000 copies. That's just a snippet from a 15-year-old rock resume that would exhaust even the most avid reader.
Genes may have played a role in Zavolta's rise through the ranks of musicians; his father played drums, his mother sang and his uncle played guitar.
"My first band was ... a trio. I sang. We split up because I wanted to go out and do some professional work and earn some money. So I joined an oldies but goodies band, a 1950s and 1960s-style band playing The Drifters, The Temptations," Zavolta said.
On the side he made extra money working as a carpenter. He auditioned for a rock band that played covers, a gig that was to become professional. But originality beckoned and the third-generation Italian-American who was born in 1962 and grew up in California found a band to play showcases.
"We had to pay to play, and then the [venue] owner would give us a cut of the profits, off the door or whatever, and we would split it four or five ways. We were doing Orange County and I met No Doubt and Sublime," Zavolta said. "After I went to Taiwan these guys got big, they got into the mainstream. I had second thoughts: Maybe if I hadn't gone to Taiwan things would have been different."
Zavolta first came to Taiwan with a band called Motif on a six-month contract between 1988 and 1989. After his contract finished he returned to the US.
"Those six months were tough," Zavolta said. "I had a son, who was maybe one, two years old. The chick I was seeing got hooked up with drugs, and
totally disappeared. My Mom was faxing me telling me she didn't know where my son was. And I'm tripping out. I was in Taiwan on a contract and if I broke it all the guys in the band would have been out."
He won custody of his son, who moved to live with his grandmother so he could attend school.
All this happened "as I was getting off on the right foot, you know? Doing my drums," Zavolta said.
Taiwan had made a lasting impression, and Zavolta returned.
"It was quite hot; foreigners were coming here, joining and forming bands, there were a lot of clubs. You would go to the clubs around town and they'd all have good bands," Zavolta said.
The police turned up the heat, and began raiding clubs, searching for foreign artists performing without permits. It was then Zavolta decided to join a local band and "blend in."
Zavolta recounts his story matter-of-factly; there is no grand philosophical narrative, no dice with death, no tale of life pushed to the brink through drug abuse or drink binges, but it is neither hagiography nor squeaky-clean.
He looks the part, in the manner of American drummers, wearing bug-eyed shades and a cut-sleeve T-shirt on his well-built frame.