Dino, Desi and Billy – I’m a Fool (1965)

In 1964 Frank Sinatra signed Dino, Desi and Billy to Reprise Records. Was it luck, nepotism or something in between? The myth behind Dino, Desi and Billy’s rise to fame has changed wjth each retelling of the story.

It’s one of my favorite stories from the history of pop music.

As the story goes, in 1964 Frank Sinatra was frustrated. Having formed his own label, Reprise Records, he realized that rock n’ roll was the sound of the day, and he felt pressure to sign a pop act. However, the Chairman of the Board, never being a fan of rock music, didn’t know anything about it. Heading over to Dean Martin’s place for a drink, he heard the sound of rock n’ roll being played in an upstairs bedroom (some sources site a garage) and going to investigate he found Martin’s son Dino Martin, his best friend Billy Hinsche and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s son, Desi Arnaz Jr. had formed their own group. Without knowing anything about the music, he offered them a record deal on the spot and the trio of Dino, Desi and Billy were born. Teaming them up with some of the best producers and musicians in Los Angeles, the boys – still barely teenagers – were appearing on national TV shows, playing at venues across America, on the covers of teen publication “16 Magazine” and had a hit, “I’m a Fool”, on the Billboard charts. Dino, Desi and Billy were pop idols…. or so the story goes.

From the moment that Dino, Desi and Billy hit the scene, the details seemed to change to the point that it became sort of a Paul Bunyan tale. But no matter how hard working and ambitious as the youngsters were there was one thing that they proved – nepotism worked. Instantly they had the best of everything. They were being produced by Lee Hazelwood, their songs were arranged by Billy Strange, the Wrecking Crew were being used on their albums, Gloria Stavers was promoting them, and they had immediate access to the top music shows in America such as “American Bandstand,” “Hollywood Palace” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” But despite all of these massive talents behind them, were they actually good?

Unfortunately, the answer was no, they were not. They were a garage band made up of high schoolers and man, did they sound like it. Their voices were wobbly, their cover versions of hit songs unoriginal. They weren’t any better than any band in middle America performing at a high school dance.

School chums Dino Martin, Desi Arnaz Jr and Billy Hinsche were like any garage band in America. The only difference is that they were practicing in Lucille Ball’s garage.

But what they had was a certain charisma which went a long way with the public. They were cute boys, and the teenage girls loved them. They were good natured, didn’t get in any trouble and seemed like nice young men. Honestly, I may recognize that Dino, Desi and Billy weren’t polished, but they are a guilty pleasure of mine and I do own all of their albums. I really dig them a lot.

And as the years went by, they got better, especially when Dino, Desi and Billy became associated with the Beach Boys. In 1965 D,D and B (as the teen mags called them) met the Beach Boys in a massive rock concert event at the Hollywood Bowl, and Dino, Desi and Billy became their opening band for a few years. They would officially join the Wilson family when Carl Wilson married Billy Hinsche’s older sister, and the bands spent a lot of time together. By 1968, Billy and Brian Wilson were writing songs together, which led to D,D & B’s final single, “Lady Love.” Check out the YouTube video of them singing it on “The Dean Martin Show” and there is no doubt that they had improved greatly. But it was too late to see what could have been next for them. They boys had grown up, and they were moving on. Dino wanted to join the Air Force, Desi was moving into acting and Billy was off to film school, and eventually joined the Beach Boys touring group in which he remained for the next thirty years.

Childhood friends long before their rock n’ roll days, Dino Martin and Billy Hinsche would stay close after Dino joined the air force and Billy joined the Beach Boys. Dino died in a plane crash in 1987 and Billy passed away in 2022.

Although they went on thier separate ways, the three boys stayed life long friends, staying in touch with each other throughout their lives. However, tragedy struck when Dino was tragically killed in 1987 when a jet he was test flying crashed into the side of San Bermasrdino Mountain during a freak snowstorm. Ironically, Frank Sinatra’s mother died when an airplane she was flying in crashed in the same mountain range due to complications with a snowstorm ten years earlier.

In the 1990’s, Billy and Desi reunited again with Dino’s younger brother Ricci taking up where his brother left off for a few nostalgia concerts, but despite the life long friendship of the boys, the magic of Dino, Desi and Billy wass really a moment in time that couldn’t be recreated.

But what about that origin story? Is that really how it happened?

In the autumn of 2021, I had the chance to interview Billy Hinche and that was the first thing I asked him. Well, he remembered it a bit differently.

In a 2021 interview, for samtweedle.com Billy Hinsche revealed some additional details of how Sinatra signed them, revealing a new version of the story, setting the story straight for once and for all.

According to Billy, Dean Martin’s wife, Jeanne, had phoned up Sinatra and told him to come to the house and listen to the group play. Dino, Desi and Billy hauled all their gear from a rehearsal space that was in an upstairs bedroom (because they got kicked out of Lucille Ball’s garage) and set up in Dean Martin’s bar and had an actual audition for Sinatra. Of course, Sinatra offered them a full contract after four songs. But Dino, Desi and Billy were not the first rock/pop band signed to Reprise. They were the second, after The Kinks. But according to Billy Hinsche, he believed that they owed their career to Jeanne Martin for having faith in them, and had enough pull to pull to get Sinatra to come and listen to them.

Sadly, only a few months after I interviewed him, Billy Hinsche died from a short battle with cancer. I had conducted the second final interview he had done (his final was for the Cowsill’s podcast a few weeks after our interview). I was shocked and devastated, and it really hit me hard as when we spoke he was so giving with his stories, so energetic and so alive. I really loved talking with Billy, and he was so great. But I was touched at how many people on-line, ranging from Brian Wilson to Mark Lindsay to Coven’s Jinx Dawson, paid homage to Billy Hinsche. He was very well respected as a musician and loved as a man.

You know, their album might not be the best album of all time, but I gotta admit that I’m a fool for Dino, Desi and Billy

For my 2021 interview with Billy Hinsche check out “Going to Billy’s Place: A Conversation with Billy Hinsche” at samtweedle.com.

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