News Segment


May 13, 2005

Frank LaRocca, a drummer behind some of rock’s most popular bands of the 1970s and ’80s, who also signed the fabulously successful Spin Doctors to their record label, died of pneumonia yesterday, at the age of 51, in St. Vincent’s Hospital, West Brighton.

A self-taught drummer, Mr. LaRocca — who also was known as Frankie LaRocka during his career — got his first big break came in the early 1970s, when he met native Staten Islander David Johansen, also known as Buster Poindexter.

From there, his career took off, as he joined the bands of Jon Bon Jovi, John Waite, Patty Smythe, Scandal and Bryan Adams. His tours with Bryan Adams in the early 1980s took him throughout Europe, North America and Japan.

A 1983 Advance article about Mr. LaRocca’s tour with Bryan Adams featured a photo of him showing his family his gold and platinum albums.

His former wife, Nina Timpone LaRocca, described her husband’s music as “something you would want to dive into. It was something you could tap your foot to, and really listen to and understand.”

“He was a pro,” said photographer Mick Rock, his friend. “He wasn’t particularly into being a drumming virtuoso and being flashy.”

“Frankie was a pro before he was a pro,” said Peter Baron, a bandmate from Fantasy, one of Mr. LaRocca’s first groups. Baron remembered the band drawing crowds of thousands of Island high school students in the mid-1970s.

“He will always be loved by his adoring fans,” said his daughter, Adrianna LaRocca.


Mr. LaRocca was born in South Beach and reared in Manhattan. As a young man, he moved to Arrochar. He graduated from St. Peter’s Boys High School, and earned an associate’s degree from the former Staten Island Community College, Sunnyside.

Mr. LaRocca met his wife of 16 years, Nina, on a blind date at Jade Island restaurant in New Springville. After five years of dating, they married and settled in Randall Manor, where Mr. LaRocca lived until his death. The marriage ended five years ago — though the pair continued to have a close relationship.

In the late 1980s, Mr. LaRocca decided to focus on his marriage and rearing his only child, his daughter Adrianna. He gave up the lifestyle of touring with bands for a while and switched to the business side of the music industry, signing artists to record labels including Epic, Polygram, Sony and Chrysalis.

In 1990, Mr. LaRocca was highlighted in an Advance article about his new band, Company of Wolves.

At the time, he said: “I think when I was young, I would just go with the flow and say, ‘Wow, man, I’m playing drums behind this one, and that one,’ but now I think of it as more of a business. But, also, I feel lucky to be making a living out of something that I really appreciate and really love. How many people do you know that say, ‘I’m really happy at my gig?’ I feel honored and content that I stuck with it. I honestly love what I do.”

“On Staten Island, he was a superstar,” said his friend Larry Leidy. No matter how famous and successful Mr. LaRocca became, Leidy said, he was never far from his Island roots.

The 1983 article described Mr. LaRocca being scolded by his grandmother on his way out of the house for wearing his pants too tight.


In the early 1990s, he was credited with signing the Spin Doctors, a group that went on to sell millions of records, along with Mr. Big and Finger 11.

Dean Holtermann, a friend, said Mr. LaRocca had grown discouraged with the business in the 1990s, when he discovered the artist Marilyn Manson, and his boss at the time didn’t share Mr. LaRocca’s high opinion of the shock-rocker. Marilyn Manson has become a widely popular musician.

Mr. LaRocca developed his own label, StraightLine Productions, which lasted for several years before he went back to signing artists independently. He continued to perform with local bands.

In recent years, Mr. LaRocca’s health had been failing, and he suffered from congestive heart failure. His friends said that his poor health, coupled with worries about his future, had left him feeling down.

“Instead of becoming reclusive, he fell in love with his first love — music — which gave him solace,” Steve Cottone said.

Two years ago, Mr. LaRocca returned to playing music with a blues band — Hot Monkey Love. The band played gigs at Leidy’s Shore Inn in New Brighton, in New Jersey, and as far away as Baltimore.


With the success of his blues band and his recent luck signing up-and-coming artists to record labels, “He was feeling so good about his career again,” Holtermann said.

Several of Mr. LaRocca’s friends spent the day with him on Sunday.

“He was starting to talk about the future,” Rock said. “He’s had his ups and downs, like all of us, but he had been firing with all guns.”

“He was a very special talent, and a very sweet man,” Rock continued. “He will be missed incredibly.”

Rock said he will remember his friend’s “dark sense of humor,” and “the fact that he could give you a good strong hug.”

While Mr. LaRocca wasn’t known as an athlete, before he became ill he enjoyed swimming, riding his bike and taking walks in Silver Lake and Clove Lakes parks.

Holtermann said Mr. LaRocca told his friends on Sunday, “If I could just get up every day and play my drums, I’d love that more than anything.”

“He was the best man I’ve ever known,” said his daughter, Adrianna. “I’m proud of him. He has accomplished so much in his life. He’ll be in my heart forever.”

In addition to his former wife, Nina, and his daughter, Adrianna, Mr. LaRocca is survived by his brother, Paul, and his sister, JoAnne Scalisi.

The funeral will be tomorrow from the A. Azzara Funeral Home, with a mass at 9 a.m. in Holy Rosary Church R.C. Church, both South Beach. Burial will follow in Moravian Cemetery, New Dorp.

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