His deep and broad musical grounding has also informed his other varied musical ventures: producing four acclaimed albums for blues neo-traditionalist Guy Davis (one of which, Legacy, was named one of the year's best by National Public Radio); writing and producing the score for the Emmy-winning musical revue None For The Road, a 1983 public service production sponsored by Reader's Digest to educate teens about the perils of drinking, drugs and driving; scoring theatrical works for the theater company Sail Productions, including The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman, which has won rave reviews in its national touring; and producing and arranging the music for Whoopi Goldberg's children's television show Whoopi's Littleburg.
His entry into the music business came in 1967, when he joined the band The Silver Bike, who were courted by and recorded unreleased material for Bang Records, whose acts included Morrison and his band Them as well as The McCoys, Neil Diamond and The Strangeloves. At the same time, Platania also started making his mark on the New York City studio scene, playing on sessions for John Cale to songwriting legend Mort Schuman.
When The Silver Bike project failed to come to fruition, Platania returned to fronting his own bands. "Though I liked studio work, I really wanted to be on stage, singing and playing my own material," he recalls. His gigs in the Hudson River Valley caught the ear of Morrison, who was living at the time in Woodstock. After auditioning for Morrison in the spring of 1969, Platania began his long association with the rock legend, capturing ears with his signature guitar work on Morrison's commercial breakthrough with the album Moondance and hit single of the same name.
As Platania tells it, Morrison helped refine and refocus his musical approach to serving the song as a player from the perspective of a songwriter. "He was the one who taught me that." Platania's guitar work can be heard on four other Morrison studio albums and the live release It's Too Late To Stop Now. He also co-wrote two songs on Philosopher's Stone and in 2006 rejoined Morrison's band for the Pay The Devil world tour.
Platania also started working soon after with another master songwriter, Chip Taylor - best known for the classic hits "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning" - playing on such Taylor albums as his 1971 debut, Gasoline, and his landmark 1973 Last Chance record. From the mid-'70s into the 1980s, he also toured and recorded with Newman, Raitt, Collins and McLean, and made another stab at launching his own act with The Giants, a Los Angeles-based band that released an album on 1976 on Casablanca Records. "For a myriad list of stupid reasons, the band didn't happen," Platania says. But the satisfactions of being a creative force at the edge of the spotlight proved to be a fulfilling career.
In 1997, he began collaborating on a project with cartoonist and songwriter Elwood Smith, reworking and singing Smith's songs for what became the debut Platania solo album, Lucky Dog, which evoked a number of critical comparisons to the work of Richard Thompson. He also toured that year with Natalie Merchant and got a call from Taylor, who was returning to performing and recording music after a two-decade hiatus. Platania has since served as Taylor's right-hand man on his solo releases and duet albums with Carrie Rodriguez as well as his international tours.
Blues Waltzes and The Badland Borders was actually born on the road, as Taylor tells it. "I wrote an instrumental, 'In Memory Of Zapata,' that I thought would be a very good thing for John. I played it for him and he agreed. Shortly after, we were driving to a gig and had some time to spare on the way. I drove while John played guitar through a practice amp. We kept a tape recorder resting between us, and for three hours, I hummed and John alternated between jotting down notes and playing guitar. By the time we arrived at the gig we had written six edgy instrumentals. Not a bad day's work!"
At Taylor's urging, the two began recording the material they wrote together as well as on their own for a Platania solo album. "Once Chip gets a concept in his mind, he'll keep working it until it comes to fruition," Platania explains. "To tell the truth, I'm happy just to stay in the background and be a collaborator. The whole solo artist thing is something I set aside a long time ago. My ego doesn't need that. I'm a musician whose whole approach is to serve the song, and I'm happy doing that. But I did need to get some of these things out of myself, and Chip was very good at encouraging me to do so."
The end result on Blues Waltzes and The Badland Borders is a full-fledged work of songwriting and musical artistry where the artist happens to be Platania and his guitars. "First of all, they're songs. I do what I usually do and the songs dictate where I have to go," Platania explains. "It's not a guitar-slinger album, and even though it is guitar city, on a lot of songs they're orchestrated. But there is also one song where I just play a single track of acoustic blues guitar.
"What I did was capture the emotions of the songs with my guitar playing," concludes Platania. "The music is eclectic and all over the map, but then again, my influences are all over the map. I serve the songs like I would serve Chip's or Van's songs or those of any songwriter. Once that hit me, it all fell into place."
Bio written & edited by Rob Patterson