Sunday, February 14, 2010

Walt Maddox

walt maddox
Walt Maddox

Walt Maddox started singing as a teenager on the street corners of Manchester with a group called The Blenders. The group was a staple of the City's then-bustling lounge circuit, and by 1960, Maddox had cut his first single, released on the local Calico label, "Pinch Me" b/w "Would I?" (CSM 118).

He made his claim to fame when he joined The Marcels in May of 1961, after original members Richard Knauss and Gene Bricker jumped ship.

The group recorded “Heartaches” (Colpix 612), their second big hit, in September of 1961, with Maddox singing as second tenor.

And it's turned into a heck of a long-term relationship. Maddox sang with the group, through its many permutations, for four decades before becoming its manager and producer in 1999. And what a history.

In the early 1990s the group included Maddox, Fred Johnson, Richard Harris, Jules Hopson, and Richie Merritt, a pretty fair collection of Pittsburgh doo-wop All-Stars.

The Marcels split in 1995, when Fred Johnson formed his own group with a new cast. The rest of the gang replaced him with bass man Ted "Reno" Smith. And hey, you know it had to end up in court; how many Marcels can the oldies circuit stand?

Maddox won a lawsuit against now-departed Sunny James Svetnic, the manager of Johnson's group, for trademark infringement in 1996. In February of 2004, after a waging yet another court battle, Maddox was awarded all legal rights to the Marcels.

The Marcels are probably hotter now than in their heyday. The group was elected to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002, and they gigged nationally for 20 weeks last year, hitting clubs from Atlantic City to Las Vegas while touring.

Last year, they performed at the Arena for the annual Christmas-time doo-wop blowout. They cut a track on 2004's "Pittsburgh Music Legends," a disk made to benefit the local Boys and Girls Clubs. But Maddox is much more than the Marcels.

He's gone on stage as a solo act, and his “Tribute to Nat King Cole” show was a huge success. Maddox performed it with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Wheeling Symphony, and the Westmoreland Symphony. Maddox took the hit show overseas to St. Thomas, Aruba, Tokyo and Okinawa.

You can catch his act in local clubs, too. When he has the time, the Walt Maddox Revue plays the region's venues.

He's active in the production end of the business. His Super M label churns out local acts - in fact, his last CD, “Walt Maddox Sings Favorites and More,” was released on the impress.

Maddox still bird-dogs local talent. He pushed the career of Beaver Fall's child prodigy Vanessa Campagna, a country songbird who's opened for Wynona Judd, Clint Black, Vince Gill and Reba McIntire. His label also records up-and comers like Alexa Magnotto, Kelsey Wilson, B. Elle, and Brittany Ulrich.

Maddox, like so many other Pittsburgh musicians, is a home boy who gives back to the community. He produces and performs an anti-drug school assembly program, “Wake Up Your Dreams.” That show may be his greatest achievement; thousands of students in Pittsburgh, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Nevada, Arizona, California and as far away as Okinawa have been exposed to his upbeat message.

In fact, he had a hand in the superstar Christina Aguilera's rise during the early stages of her career, when she opened regularly for his “Wake Up Your Dreams” concerts with The Marcels.

Singer for a Hall of Fame band, Northside Old Timers Lifetime Achievement awardee (even though he lives in Ross now), producer, operator of his own label - Walt Maddox is Pittsburgh's one-man music majordomo - literally, The Mayor of the Palace. And that is who he is.


Anonymous said...

was richie merrit a member of these gents on maddox??

Ron Ieraci said...

Richie Merritt sang for the Marcels. But he is credited with writing 1973's "Yesterday Standing By" recorded by These Gents; I don't know if he was part of the studio session or not.