Michael Fredo is one of those rare trusting souls, almost to a fault, to the point of naively giving out his home phone number to young fans who want to speak with him.
He likes to listen, and he likes to help.
“They write me and tell me about their abusive fathers or if they’re in trouble,” the pop singer-songwriter said recently. “They tell me things like, ‘My dad wants me to drink with him all the time’ or ‘My mom wants me to smoke with her.’ It’s weird because I never had to deal with that as a kid. I just tell them, ‘You’re your own person. Just say no.’
“A lot of them have my home phone number. It’s all over the Internet now. Kids from all over the world call me. When I get back home, I’m actually going to get another line and keep my fan number for one of my assistants so she can answer them. So many people had the number that the phone was ringing in the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep. It’s my own fault because I gave it out; fans would say, ‘Can I have your number?’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, sure, here.’ “
Fredo, whose debut Qwest/Warner album “Introducing” was released last October, didn’t hesitate when approached about touring junior high schools in the eastern United States for SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions. The tour began Feb. 22 in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and ended March 24 in Albany, N.Y.
“It is an organization that’s close to me, close to my heart,” Fredo said, “because my dad died due to a drinking and driving accident three years ago. Ever since that happened, I’ve been looking for an outlet where I could just express myself about that situation. I jumped at the opportunity when they presented it to me. It has such a great, positive message, and the kids are responding to it.”
What hurts most, Fredo said, is that he wasn’t there for his father, Christopher B. Fredo, who died on a highway near Sarasota, Fla., en route to his home in Tampa.
“He was drinking at a party,” Fredo said. “He had like no fear. He got in his car and he had a long drive and fell asleep at the wheel and crashed the car on a highway. I got so mad because I told him not to drink and drive.
“The thing is, I could have saved his life by calling his car phone. Every day at 11:30 at night, I would call him, and I didn’t call him that night, and 11:30 was when the accident happened, so it really pissed me off.”
Fredo said he was in such a state of shock after learning of the accident that the only way he knew how to cope was by writing a song about his father.
“My brother (Joe) was sitting on the piano bench with me, and we had been cleaning out my dad’s house in Tampa because my uncle wanted us to fly back with the body,” he said. “We went to his house and cleaned out all his stuff that night. In the morning, I wrote it on a dusty old piano; it was all out of tune. I just wrote it on a scrap of paper, and I sang it at my dad’s funeral two days after that.
“Everybody goes through this, losing people. This was just my way of reacting to it and dealing with it.”
Three years later, the poignant song – “Now You’re Gone” – became the closing track on “Introducing,” a collection of catchy ‘N Sync-like melodies and ballads.
Christopher Fredo wasn’t around to see his son, now 20, capture the attention of legendary producer Quincy Jones, who signed him to his Qwest label and enlisted the production help of Veit Renn (‘N Sync), Rory Bennett (K-Ci & JoJo) and Voe & Pop.
He also didn’t see his son become a pinup idol last year after being featured in a nationwide print and TV promotion for Tommy Jeans, owned by Fredo’s uncle, Tommy Hilfiger.
Christopher Fredo wasn’t there, but Fredo said his presence was felt.
“He’s one of the main reasons why I’m so far so soon because right after he died I decided I wasn’t going to college and I wanted to put a CD out,” he said. “I pounded on all these record labels’ doors; my uncle helped me a lot by introducing me to different record labels but even though my uncle is Tommy Hilfiger, the fashion designer, it still didn’t help. It was one rejection after another, then finally I met Quincy Jones and I actually got to play for him in a room just him and me. I played a song for him on my guitar and sang for him, a bossa nova kind of folk song. He asked me to do a demo. After we did the demo, he signed me.”
It was a bit daunting to work with Jones, who produced two of Fredo’s favorite albums, Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” and “Thriller.” But it was a priceless experience.
“The words ‘Quincy Jones’ have been flying around my house since I was little,” Fredo said. “Michael Jackson’s albums were big in my house. But I was also into Marvin Gaye and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, old R&B stuff.
“I was going to be like a male Jewel, but the album turned into more of a buzzy pop record, with upbeat pop songs and love ballads. Quincy organized all the producers for the songs. He really helped me a lot.”
“Introducing” has had a slow but steady build since its October release. A second single, “Love All Over Again,” goes to pop radio on March 21, and he will soon shoot an accompanying video; a non-album track, “Free,” will be heard in the closing credits of the film “Black and White” (in theaters April 5); his SADD tour may be extended to high schools this spring, and he may surface again in a Tommy Jeans ad campaign.
“Things are going great,” Fredo said. “I’m having the time of my life. This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and I hope I get to do it for a long time.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “The ‘Beaches’ soundtrack, by Bette Midler. I loved ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings.’ “
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Dan Fogelberg in Elmira, N.Y., where I’m from. One song I remember in particular was ‘Run For the Roses.’ I loved his voice, and he played a real good guitar.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “The soundtrack to ‘The Bodyguard’ – again. I’ve lost it about eight times, but I have to have it because it has Aaron Neville and Whitney Houston on it.”
ON THE WEB: www.michaelfredo.com.
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