The Tempos - Jim Drake top right, and clockwise are Tom Miniti, Mike Lazo, and Gene Schachter. (photo from Ann Lazo Shapiro)
The Tempos were the epitome of a one-hit wonder. But boy, what a hit it was: "See You In September."
They started in 1954 as a quartet called The Hi-Lites, consisting of Clairton's Mike Lazo, Gene Schachter, Canonsburg guy Bobby Vinton, and Jim Drake from Leetsdale, a graduate of Leetsdale (now Quaker Valley) High School, who arranged their songs (he also wrote for the CLO). .
They never recorded, content to play the hop and club circuit. Lazo and Schachter had served together in the Army, stationed in Korea, where they sang in U.S.O. shows together. The pair started the group after their 1953 discharge.
In 1957, they became The Tempos. The band featured Four Freshman style harmonies, the hot genre of the era. And they sang those harmonies pretty well.
Beside playing local club gigs, they attracted the ear of David Kapp of New York City's Kapp Records. The connection was likely through the good graces of record producer Jack Gold, who gave the group their name. (Jack Gold Records had another local artist under personal contract by the name of Lou Christie). At the time, Kapp was a MOR operation, with artists like Jane Morgan and Roger Miller, and were looking for a more youthful sound.
The label released three singles from the Tempos: "Kingdom Of Love" b/w "That's What You Do To Me" (1957 - Kapp 178), "Prettiest Girl In School" b/w "Never You Mind" (1957- Kapp 199) and "Strollin' With My Baby" b/w "I Got A Job" (1958 - Kapp 213), a response record to 1957's "Get A Job" by the Silhouettes.
The band made one change after the Kapp sessions, bringing in saxman Tom Minito to replace Bobby Vinton, who was now in the service. Minito was a buddy of Drake's from their college days at Duquesne.
The Kapp records never took off, but it did get the band's foot in the Big Apple door. That connection would come in handy after a session between Brill Building writers Sid Wayne and Sherman Edwards. On a June Friday in 1959, Wayne and Edwards hooked up. Wayne had a working title of "See You In September," and before the end of the work day, the tune was a finished product.
They made the rounds to pitch the song that same afternoon. After one rejection, the tune was snapped up by the Tempos' angel, Jack Gold. Things happened that quickly back in the day, before lawyers and label suits held sway.
Gold called the Tempos that night, and the next day they were in NYC. By Monday, the record was cut, backed by the Billy Mure orchestra. It was released by Climax Records (which issued a grand total of ten records between 1959-60 before closing), and on the following Friday, the song was on the turntables of WNEW.
Wayne and Edwards were happy; they got $500 to split for their day's work. Gold got credit for producing the song and held its rights. And the Tempos were back on wax.
Surprisingly, the Tempos "See You In September" failed to become a hit in the New York City area. But it grew on the public. The record broke big in San Francisco, and the single reached the national charts in July, peaking at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of August.
One reason the record took awhile to make its mark was that "See You In September" was originally the flip of the uptempo "Bless You My Love" (Climax 102). It took the DJs a few spins to correct that little marketing error, not a particularly big deal back in an era when B Sides commonly became the hits.
They followed it with "The Crossroads of Love" b/w "Whatever Happens" (1959 - Climax 105). Billboard's October Spotlight column said it could have "hit sequels with either side." They were wrong; both songs flopped. Many thought that the flip was the side that should have been pushed by the label, much like "September."
And with that, the Tempos had their 15 minutes. The group appeared on American Bandstand on October 12, 1959, and made local TV and club appearances afterward.
They released the much covered "Look Homeward Angel" b/w "Under 10 Flags" (1959 - Paris 550) without Lazo. The originals reunited to record "My Barbara Ann" b/w "When You Loved Me" (1965 - Ascot 2167) and "My Barbara Ann (re-release) b/w "I Wish It Were Summer" (1965 - Ascot 2173).
"My Barbara Ann" was not the Regent/Beach Boys "Barbara Ann," but a song Lazo wrote for his wife, Barbara. Ann Lazo Shapiro, their daughter, wrote in and added that "my mother's maiden name (she passed away in 1990) was Rechichar. Her cousin was Belle Vernon's Bert Rechichar, the famous All-Pro Colts player of the fifties who held the NFL field goal record many moons ago." Music and football - how more Steel City can a family get?
After that, the Tempos faded away. Mike Lazo, Jim Drake and Tom Minito are still alive and kicking, while Gene Schachter just passed away. Gene co-wrote Bobby Vinton's "Mr Lonely" under his professional name of Gene Allan: Allan was his middle name.
But their song, "See You In September," may outlast them all.
It was covered by the Quotations and Shelley Fabares in 1962, The Chiffons and Frankie Valli in 1966, and Debby Boone in 1979, among many others over the decades. You might remember a 1966 upbeat version by New Jersey's Happenings that reached #3 on the charts.
It made a revival in 1973, when the Tempos version was featured in the movie and soundtrack of "American Graffiti." It revived their legacy, but didn't fatten their pocketbooks. The "Godfather of Music," Morris Levy of Roulette Records, ended up with the rights, and that pretty much took care of the royalties. The song still gets dusted off to this day and spun to greet the fall.
So for the Tempos, it was a one-hit career. But for their song, it was pop immortality.
(The picture above is an original promo shot by Climax Records, from Ann Lazo. Watch carefully for any look-alike shots - there's a widespread photoshop fraud of the original. The man at the top of the fake is NOT Jim Drake, but features an impostor who replaced Drake's image with another.)
"See You In September" - The Tempos