Diane Gentile’s musical journey from growing up in Queens to rocking out in the East Village

Diane Gentile sitting at piano
Diane Gentile at home in her Queens sanctuary
Photo by Bob Krasner

Diane Gentile wrote her first song when she was 10 years old, and she’s still at it.  Seemingly, not much is going to stop her, either (more about that later).

Born and raised in Queens with the benefit of older siblings who embraced the music of the late 60s, Gentile got a “very good musical education.”

“They played those records all day long,” she recalls. “They turned me on to The Rolling Stones, the Doors, Beatles, the Velvet Underground. My sister Elda formed the Stilettos with Debbie Harry.”

Gentile begged her mother to buy her a guitar and fondly remembers playing onstage at her Junior High School auditorium with two other girls. Flash forward to college graduation and she’s in a cover band in Long Island, to her mother’s displeasure. “She wanted me to be a teacher, but I didn’t want to go that route. I got a job as a teacher, but it was playing in the band that filled my soul – it kept me from being depressed.”

The repertoire consisted of Pat Benatar, Heart, Joan Jett and the like (with some Carly Simon thrown in) but it wasn’t long before she was in a band that played originals, although their name left something to be desired.

“We were called ‘Look Left!'” she laughs. “Ok, it was a terrible name, but our first gig was at The Bitter End.”

Marrying a drummer led to the founding of a new group with him with a “hard rock British sound” called “Chain of Command,” in which she was not the lead singer. They recorded an album which was not released and Gentile just wanted to play, so she “went solo and played places like CBGB’s and the Scrap Bar.” 

She actually went through a period of 10-15 years when she didn’t play live, but she never left her music.

“Every time I hit a wall, something brought me back to music,” she notes. “I recorded a very lo-fi album at home that’s not been released. And I’m always writing down ideas — there are over 2,000 notes to myself on my phone!”

Diane Gentile recording a new song at Flux Studio in the East VillagePhoto by Bob Krasner
The band in Flux ( Studio ) : L-R , Rob Clores, Colin Brooks, Diane Gentile, Jason Victor, James CruzPhoto by Bob Krasner

Looking back at her career, she mentions that she “started a management company, worked at A+M Records, at Artemis Records, and finally at Bowery Electric. I started there as the music booker and quickly became the manager as well. When I joined there was no live music!”

It’s hard to imagine Bowery Electric without live music, as it is not only a great rock and roll venue, it’s something of a community center for East Village music lovers. Gentile is hard pressed to name some of her favorite shows there, as there have been multiple high points. 

“Billy Joe Armstrong, Norah Jones, Wolfmother, the Replacements tribute … just so many ”, she says.

She’s played there a few times herself, most recently in support of her new album “The Bad and the Beautiful.”

“I am much more relaxed about performing these days, but I still get nervous,” she admits. “I always try to do something a little different —vary the tempo, the melody, sometimes I’ll change the chord structure. I keep pushing myself.”

Gentile never had to push herself harder than she did in 2018, when she experienced the epitome of a life-changing experience.

“I was on tour in Italy when a large rock flew off the highway through the car windshield. My life was seriously interrupted for about 18 months  —  I missed death by an 1/8th of an inch,” she relates.

Months of surgery and recovery left her with “seven titanium plates in my face holding the crushed bones together” and a new attitude about life.

“This is when you learn that angels do exist,” she muses. “Immense gratitude for life fills your heart and you become a kinder, more gentle person”. 

While Gentile has had critical success and has built up a devoted following, she’s fine with the fact that she’s not Madonna, because, she says “I never wanted to be.”

“My focus is always on the creating because that is my job,”  she says. “And if I never play the Garden, it’s neither here nor there because it was never in my plan to begin with.”

Diane Gentile , having a great time at the Bowery ElectricPhoto by Bob Krasner
Diane Gentile onstage with the Gentle MenPhoto by Bob Krasner

She checks off some of the high points of her career – writing and duetting with Alejandro Escovedo, opening for  Tommy Stinson (“a rock’n roll God!”), having her Steve Wynn produced song ‘Motorcycle’ pronounced the “Coolest Song in the World” on Little Steven’s The Underground Garage and touring the UK and the US with Jesse Malin.  

Not that she doesn’t have further goals, as she’d love to headline the Beacon and wishes that other artists would cover her songs, among other things. In the meantime, she continues to work for Bowery Electric as a consultant while looking forward to the next gig (you can see her soon at the 11th St. Bar on April 9). 

“Facing forward is what it’s about,” she muses. “I want to do what makes my soul happy. Maybe that is why fame is so unimportant to me — recognition for my work is important to me but really doing better work is what matters. And of course love, sex, laughter and freedom.”

More info at dianegentile.com; you can hear Diane and the Gentle Men on Spotify, Bandcamp and other streaming services. Instagram is @diane.gentile.