The Front started out in the mid-eighties in Kansas City, Missouri. After signing to Columbia, The Front released one eponymous album in 1989. Fire was The Front’s first single, which reached #29 on the Billboard charts and was one of the first crossover hits on MTV’s 120 Minutes and Headbanger’s Ball. The Front toured the U.S. and Europe, including the 1990 Monsters of Rock Tour with Aerosmith and Whitesnake. Much of the band’s early history is in the Columbia Records bio below.
In a June 2010 interview, Michael Anthony Franano discusses The Front’s history, the transition into Bakers Pink, his solo album and other projects. More information about these projects and the band members is available at the following websites and on the links page.
BAND MEMBER WEBSITES
- Michael Anthony Franano – An overview of all of Michael’s music projects.
- Bobby Franano – The art of “Pop Surrealist” Bobby Franano.
- The Shanks – Mike Greene & Shane Miller’s popular Kansas City cover band.
- Rock On Randy – A tribute site for bassist Randy Jordan who sadly passed away in 1998.
COLUMBIA RECORDS – THE FRONT’S OFFICIAL BIOGRAPHY
Heed this warning: Rock’s front line is Kansas City-bound. Instigating the coup is The Front, a five-man band fronted by the powerfully charismatic Michael Anthony Franano. Both he and the members of the band have lived and seen a lot in their short time on Earth, and they’ve poured it all into a self-titled album that may turn into one of the most listened-to and talked-about debuts of the new decade.
The Front’s self-titled debut claims more than a piece of young turk turf. Shockingly real and rich in detail, The Front’s assured musical style and lyrical truths – the latter entirely penned by Michael – are quite a start for this young band. The songs play a rocking tug-of-war between pleasure and pain, from the passionate torment of “Fire” to the brutally poignant observations in “Violent World” (with actor Walter Matthau making a guest appearance). The setting for “Sweet Addiction,” “Ritual,” “Sin,” and others – is Alice Cooper meeting The Doors with CNN on the tube and little sister ducking out the back with Eddie Haskell, with someone or something worse.
Although these five rock rogues first started playing as a unit less than two years ago, they’ve been playing individually for a good many years. As a teenager Michael was known around the Kansas City area jazz and blues clubs, absorbing classic styles while admiring the older musicians’ expressive depth.
Front men such as Jim Morrison, Robert Plant, Bon Scott, and Ian Astbury of The Cult were Michael’s spark, “Basically any honest musician I’ve seen, and that includes guys in clubs who had a move I liked.” Mark Lindsay (Of Paul Revere and the Raiders and solo fame) was also “a big, big influence,” according to Michael. “I copied a lot of his licks. He’s one of the best, most underrated writer/producers ever.” (Check “Sweet Addiction” for the connections.)
In 1984, following a stint leading a hard rock/metal band called Fallen Angel – which featured Shane and younger brother Bobby Franano running lights on one gig – Michael formed The Front. He played bass and sang; a now-departed guitarist [Chris Doolittle] played lead; and Shane, whom he had met while working in the music store, was recruited to play drums.
His brother Bobby was almost ready to join by then. “I had a choice,” he says, “the kazoo or learn the keys. I taught myself the keyboard.” Musically, Ray Manzarek (of The Doors) and Jon Lord (Deep Purple) stand out for him. “In our home environment we were allowed to do pretty much whatever we wanted to do. I wanted to be in this band.”
The Front became a Kansas City sensation through sheer guts and determination. “It’s essential to create your own thing in this city,” Michael says. “We were never into doing cover material and there’s no way to showcase original stuff in Kansas City, even in the general vicinity. So we got this burned-out loft right near the Missouri River, on Second Street, a place to hang and write and talk and have these shows, so the kids could come. That led to promoters saying, ‘Well, who are these guys who can put 500-600 kids into this little space?’ From that we got opening slots for the national shows, like John Waite, the Romantics, Squeeze, Richard Marx, Modern English.”
A record deal was foremost on all their minds, except for the guitar player, who quit while Michael was scaring up studio time for a demo tape to pitch to the major labels. Michael sang, played guitar and bass, and eventually put together a 4-song EP.
In the fall of 1987, “Shane and I hopped in his Mom’s Monte Carlo,” says Michael, picking up the story. “We drove through the Appalachians into New York and started knocking on doors. I knew one name, a girl at Chrysalis Records, and she said, ‘There’s nothing I can do for you.’ I said, ‘You gotta help me out.’ So she gave me a legal pad with a bunch of names on it and I just went knocking on more doors. I’d sit in some of those guys’ offices five, six hours. You know, the receptionist going, ‘You sure you don’t want to come back later?’ I’d look at her and go, ‘No, I think I’ll stay right here.’ We’d camp out.”
They had a bite from one label to record another demo, and went back to KC to look for a fill-in guitarist. “I thought as long as we were going to replace him – I was playing bass and singing at the time – we ought to go ahead and get a bass player too, and I would just sing.” Mike Greene, on guitar showed up first. “I actually knew Franano through a music store I worked in,” Mike says. “He used to come in and act cool all the time.” Mike had played in a number of cover bands, “but I wasn’t into it at all. The Front was something different.”
Randy Jordan was a bass player who the Franano brothers knew from another band in the region. He was living in a small town in the Ozarks “when I got a phone call from Bobby,” Randy says. “I hadn’t seen or heard from them in like two years. I said as long as I had a place to live, some cigarettes and some food, no problems… When we first met they thought I looked good, ‘right for the band’, and my attitude in general had changed a bit. But when I went up to Kansas City to play with them it was like we were all exactly the same.”
So the line-up was set. “The first day we were together, it was that magic thing that happens when you play that first song,” says Michael, as amazed by what went down as the others. “Something… just… happened. We knew that this was the group.”
By this time – the first few months of 1988 – top-level management in the form of Scott McGhee, of New York-based McGhee Entertainment, signed The Front. They negotiated a contract for the band with Columbia Records and put all recording on hold. Michael’s homegrown tapes, even the occasional gig, were history. The Front knew they had to go for something better. “We spent six months getting ourselves together,” Michael admits. “We stayed in that loft, hammering out the set, writing, keeping it among ourselves rather than play in front of a club audience night after night.”
Their efforts were rewarded when Michael, in a creative burst from December 1988 to March, 1989, wrote nine of the ten songs on THE FRONT album. (Only “Fire,” the LP’s lead-off track, survived and that, according to Franano, was extensively reworked.) The Front recorded and mixed quickly with producer Andy Wallace, who had worked with The Godfathers and The Cult.
The record is an extraordinary document of a fiery young man who sat up, took a look around him, and spoke his mind and heart. “I’m just observing what’s going on in the world,” Michael says. “I realize that some people may consider my songs ‘dark.’ But it’s not about having a bad attitude or any type of horrible childhood, it’s just that I’m a realist, a journalist.”
“I am not one of those people who say ‘let’s all hold hands’,” he goes on. “But I do think there has been some irreversible damage in the world; there’s a lot of contradiction and emptiness. I’m not going to let it screw my life up, but still, it’s there and unfortunately it surrounds us. And I want to tell you about it.”
The spotlight has indisputably turned toward the Missouri mid-point, where this up-front young man is holding a microphone and pointing fingers – and his band is kickin’ ass. Heed the warning. The Front is marching on.