Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bobby Porter

Photobucket
Bobby Porter

Rupert Cleo "Bobby" Porter, 59, died of stomach cancer at the age of 59 in the VA hospital. The mighty mite of a singer fronted garage punkers Young Lust, Thin White Line, and his current band Short Dark Strangers.

A memorial for Porter will be held Sunday, November 21st at 9 PM at Kopecs in Lawrenceville. Friends are invited to speak, and are asked to keep their comments to three minutes.

Born in the Hill in 1951, he learned his craft in a church choir. After high school, Porter joined the Marines and went to Vietnam as a tunnel rat, scurrying through dark warrens under the jungle floor chasing after Charlie. The punk scene was a holiday after that tour of duty.

He got his discharge in the early '70s, and Porter led a southwest band called Otis and the Red Z (southwest as in New Mexico, not Pennsylvania) that played rock & soul. Porter returned to Pittsburgh a few years later to get in on the emerging Three Rivers punk scene and formed Young Lust.

They played clubs like the Electric Banana (Porter lived in Oakland then, and held court at Chief's Cafe when he wasn't singing or clubbing), the Lion's Walk, Cedar Lounge and Phase III. Like most punk bands, they didn't get much mainstream love, but their tapes were played on the college stations.

His shows were legendary. The music may have been from the garage, but Porter's vocals were straight from Memphis. And though slight of stature, he was a physical dynamo.

He would go through a variety of stage antics and back-flipping acrobatics, jump on tables, walk on the bar...it was always a good idea to hang on to your drink when Porter took the stage. And when the band took a break, Porter would do a powerful acapella "Dock of the Bay" to remind the punk crowd of his R&B roots.

In fact, his second band, Thin White Line, made up their own version of the tune, “Dock of the Bus Stop.” TWL was a fixture on the Youngstown and Pittsburgh punk scenes starting in 1983 through the mid-90′s.

That's when Thin White Line became Short Dark Strangers, which described their sound as "Otis Redding or Wilson Picket (with) a punk band backing them."

The band did two tours of Europe and had a healthy performance schedule, hitting towns like Buffalo, Erie, Baltimore and Cleveland. Their home base in Pittsburgh was Howler's, though they performed in several area bars and clubs.

Music was a way of life for Porter, but not a way to earn a living. He took whatever day jobs fit his schedule, from bouncing to pushing a broom. Porter was single, and the life suited him.

Now he and Otis can join in a duet - and hang on to those glasses!

(Bobby's friends have set up a Facebook remembrance page; some great tales, pix and vids on the site.)


Bobby Porter and Thin White Line - Strange Glances

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dethlehem

Photobucket
Dethlehem

As Halloween, the autumnal time of dark fantasy, approached, Old Mon heard some music that would make the dead dance, being played by men in outfits that Prince Valiant would kill for. OM had just wandered into a Dethlehem set.

The group calls itself an "Epic Melodic Death Metal" band. Yah, "melodic" and "death metal" aren't phrases you often use in the same sentence; we kinda like the term "adventure metal" for their genre.

They're similar to the bands Swashbuckle and 3 Inches of Blood, with thrashing guitars and alternately growled/yelped vocals. (For those who can't quite translate Bonecrush's words, the lyrics are posted on MySpace).

The fantasy metal musical sphere is a subset, but one that's growing. Not only are American performers thrashing medieval metal licks, but the form is pretty big across the pond, in Russia, and Australia where the bands and their fans take the gamer-based music scene to a quite serious level of role-playing metal.

The Pittsburgh group was formed in 2008, and its founding cast went by the names of Lord Bonecrush (Vocals/War Cry), Gallagore (Bass/Bass Staff), Overlord Brom (Drums/War Drums), Hildor Anduv (Guitar/Axe) and Bovice (Guitar/Axe).

Dethlehem is a RPG music machine. They stay in character, and perform wearing tunics, robes, chain mail, helmets, and war paint like medieval warriors, while blasting out metal in a sort of LARP (live action role playing) synthesis. And we mean they stay in character.

Forsooth, when bassist Gallagore decided to move on to more twenty-first century pastures, the group announced his departure by folding the event into its own self-mythos with this announcement:

"After having helped defeat Yagolith in the kingdom of Dethlehem, Gallagore has decided to retire back to the Elven forests of Unnastyruh." As far as the search for his replacement was concerned...

"We stopped in the field where the War of Wizards had taken place. We were shocked to find a lone survivor, a powerful wizard, Davidicus the Black. Davidicus convinced us of his usefulness by commanding thunderous tones with his Bass Staff. We decided a 5th member suited the band of warriors well."

The mythology of the Dethlehem fantasy is set up in the CD "Ghorusalem Codex, Vol I, Enthroned Upon A Spire," released in August of 2009. It's about a quest to destroy an evil goblin king named Yagolith who can handily morph into a dragon.

The saga begins in the village of Dethlehem, the happening place in the land of Ghorusalem, modeled on the centuries old story of the Three-Wise-Demons.

It’s a self-produced album, natch. There is some label love for fantasy bands, but Dethlehem is an unsigned act. It's clear, too, that the guys in Dethlehem made the album in the spirit of fun as well as fantasy. All you have to do is listen to the last cut, "Bonus Track of Absurdity," to figure that out.

Overlord Brom told interviewer Dan Rodriguez of Metal Insider that "we stand out a little bit because we have a somewhat original concept with the whole 'medieval/fantasy/goofy' theme. Yes, we aren’t the first band to dress up in goofy costumes, but instead of taking it really seriously, I think we are trying to laugh together..."

But because they don't take the band to the extremes of, oh, the furries, for example, don't think they're without a dedicated, loyal cadre of Deth metal followers. Their stages are a bit limited because so many Pittsburgh venues are 21+ rather than all-age, but they've still played the Hard Rock Cafe, the Altar Bar, Club Diesel, the Roundhouse, The Rex, Mr. Small's and the Smiling Moose.

Which brings us back to Halloween. On Friday night at 8:30, Dethlehem will appear at Mr. Small's for a special Halloween performance ("Hallo-Wizard"). Joining the thrasher warriors will be SIKES, Tobacco Road, Verbs, and the Motorpsychos, along with assorted trolls and critters.

Dethlehem's resume reads "Basically, we slay dragons, drink lots of ale, and turn maidens into wenches. Oh... and shred some epic metal." We say good work if you can get it.

(Thanks to shop bud Mike Hyjurick for pointing Old Mon in Dethlehem's direction.)


Dethlehem - "War of Wizards" from The Ghorusalem Codex Vol I (2009)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Kathy & Jimmy Zee

Photobucket
Kathy & Jim Zee from the Rockabilly Hall of Fame

Kathy Zee was born Kathleen Ann Zaleski in Lawrenceville on June 12, 1946. By the age of four, she was already playing the mandolin (it was probably the only instrument that she could wrap her little hands around) and was primed to hit the stage like her big brother Jimmy.

He was all of twelve and singing at various shows. Jimmy was performing at a benefit concert for the Leukemia Foundation at a local high school gym, and let his lil' sis join him. She sang the Sophie Tucker chestnut "Some Of These Days," and as a result the "Harmony Wildcats," consisting of Kathy and Jimmy, were born.

The act played record hops, shows, and talent contests. Kathy sang and Jimmy played guitar and did back-up vocals; he was a veteran trouper who had won several talent shows, including the Wilkens Amateur Hour.

They regularly appeared on Pittsburgh-area radio and television broadcasts like the Eva Jackson and Virginia O'Donnell shows before graduating to the national Ted Mack Amateur Hour.

In 1958, manager Elmer Willett signed Kathy to a solo contract, and sent her to a voice coach. That must have turned the trick; he wrangled a deal with New York's Laurie records, a Dot subsidiary, which released her first record "Buzzin" in the US.

Although Jimmy wasn't on the record credits (He did have his own record in 1957, under the credit of Mike and Jim called "Dungaree Cutie" b/w "Baby Don't Knock", released on Josie #825 as both a 45 and 78), he played guitar and sang the backing vocals for "Buzzin'" (Laurie 3020), which cracked the U.S. Top 40 and was a huge local hit.

A few months before the USA release of "Buzzin'," it was issued in Germany on the Polydor label (66901), and was #1 in Hamburg (OK, Nummer Eins for Teutonic sticklers) for three straight weeks, and Kathy Zee is still popular overseas.

"I know my records are being played in the Netherlands and in Germany," she wrote. "There is a DJ over there named Giel Aarts who I do some liners for every now and then. And I have a fan club over in the Netherlands headed by Nol Voorst."

The wax was backed with an up tempo B side called "Crackerjack," which got some play, too. It was pretty heady stuff for a thirteen year old from Lawrenceville.

Kathy and Jimmy toured all over the east coast, and locally they did the hop circuit (they were particular favorites of those hosted by DJ Stan Wall). Willett decided to release the next song on his own label.

"Santa Claus Rock and Roll" b/w the ballad "Your Name, Your Name" (Willett 45-121) was credited to Kathy and Jimmy Zee, with Dick Glaser and the Glaser Brothers doing the back up vocals.

But the disk didn't have the legs of its predecessor. It again did well regionally, but the strictly local Willett label couldn't promote the vinyl outside the area. Their brief fling with rock fame came crashing to a halt.

The duo continued performing in the Pittsburgh area and remained a part of the Ted Mack Amateur Hour tour. But when Kathy graduated from Divine Providence Academy in 1964 at the age of 17, she and Jimmy were ready for greener pastures. They took Horace Greeley's old advice to heart and went west.

Kathy and Jimmy headed to Hollywood and were signed by the Johnny Robinson agency, big time talent reps, and started working right away.

The pair were booked at places like the Sands Hotel in San Diego, and spent several years performing in the southwest. They later become part of a club act in Reno named the Al Bello Revue. The show played at the Primadonna Club for over a year then moved to the Mapes Hotel, where the revue performed for another year.

Kathy was getting offers to join other groups, and when the Bello gig came to an end, the siblings split. Jimmy remained part of the Reno lounge scene while Kathy joined Abby Neal and the Ranch Girls as a rhythm guitar player and singer. They toured across the country until Neal had a heart attack and the group broke up.

She worked for a short time with a local group, the Tony Austin Trio that gigged in the Reno/Tahoe area and then moved on to a group called the Diplomats.

Zee became the featured singer and played bass. The Diplomats were actually the Sunshine Boys, a noted gospel group made up of Ace Richman, Jerry Wallace, Eddie Wallace and Woody Woodruff.

When they came to California, they changed their name to the Diplomats to play the clubs in Vegas, Reno and Tahoe. They also toured heavily, and after a couple of years, Kathy finally had her fill of buses and suitcases. She retired at age 27 to raise her family.

Now Kathy (Zaleski) Davis lives in Amador county, on seven acres about an hour from Sacramento, and sings in the choir at her local church. She has two children, five grandchildren, and makes and sells her hand crafted jewelry under the Kathy Davis line. She plans to start a Kathy Zee line in 2011. She also plans to offer autographed pictures, with the proceeds going to local charities like the womens' shelter and animal rescue society.

Jimmy, married with one son, is retired and has a home in Carson City.

They do periodically get together for a living room reunion gig, as Kathy wrote "When I do see him, which is about once a year, we get our guitars out and have a little jam session, and it sure does bring back the good ole times. We can still harmonize."

And no doubt reminiscence about the long strange trip from Lawrenceville to the left coast.


Kathy Zee - "Buzzin'" 1958

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

David Parr

Photobucket
David L. Parr

Old Mon is sad to announce that another of Pittsburgh's music men, David Parr of the LaRells, died this week at the age of 68.

Parr was more than a musician and promoter/historian for the Homewood group, which did "Everybody Knew" in 1960. He was also a recording engineer, and a good one, who helped other singers on the way up with his expertise both as a performer and with the mixing board.

David was a relentless campaigner for the rights of the old bands that birthed R&B, pushing for legal protection of group names, a contentious issue on the oldies circuit. He also fought for the recovery of rights and royalties for their music, which was often covered or reissued without the artist's knowledge and almost always without any financial remuneration.

Our condolences and sympathies to his wife, Charlesetta (Charlie), daughter Monique and his family. Part of an era has died with David.


"Tomorrow Will Only Bring Sorrow" - La Rells

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Photobucket

The Tammys

Photobucket
The Tammys

The Tammys were an early sixties Oil City group (one reviewer said "Think Shangri-Las, but even more twisted and way sillier") consisting of sisters Gretchen and Cathy Owens and their friend Linda Jones.

They're best known for their song "Egyptian Shumba" with its vaguely Mid-Eastern instrumentals and girl group vocals that quickly change to primal yelps. To this day, it's still considered a cult classic because of its energy.

In high school, the Owens girls first sang in a group called The Impressions. As The Charnelles, the trio first publicly performed on 1962 at a school talent show, losing to the Gyantwachia Indian Dance team.

The girls were later thrown out of Famores' Restaurant in Oil City for singing along with the jukebox. They told the owners that "We’ll be on that jukebox someday." The vow came true with 1963's "Take Back Your Ring."

The girls first met Lou Christie in 1961 at a Marcy Jo/Lugee And The Lions show on a Saturday night at the Moose Lodge in Franklin, PA.

He later took them for a ride in his black Cadillac, with, of course, their mom's permission. Christie sang while they did back-up back-seat harmony and he told them "If I ever get discovered, I'll call you," and they promised the same to him.

A year later, he hit it big with "The Gypsy Cried" and took them to New York City, where they sang backup for him on several record tracks. Christie's older sister, Amy Sacco, managed and chaperoned the group.

They got their own contract with United Artists Records through Jack Gold, who nurtured quite a few local careers (including Christie's), and The Tammys recorded four songs. He signed them as The Twy-Lous though they never recorded under that nom d' music.

Despite fairly strong local airplay, ballads "Take Back Your Ring" and "Gypsy," along with the wild "Egyptian Shumba," all failed to chart nationally, although "Ring" sold moderately well in the region and "Egyptian Shumba" was a Top 15 hit in Pittsburgh and a Top 30 tune in Cleveland.

KDKA jock Clark Race hosted The Tammys several times on his weekly TV "Dance Party" show, and they performed with Christie at Pittsburgh clubs. They also made regular appearances in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York, often backed by the Johnny Jack Quintet.

By 1965, after returning from the Army, Christie found another girl group to back him, The Angels of "My Boyfriend's Back" fame. The Tammys continued to play local gigs and sing background tracks, but by 1966, they joined the real world. Though their work wasn't particularly Billboard chart material, it wouldn't fade away, either.

As the Northern Soul craze engulfed Britain in the early 1970s, collectors began looking for songs with a funky dance groove. "Egyptian Shumba," written by Christie and Twyla Herbert, was rediscovered and became a Euro hit.

In 2002 all of The Tammys' singles plus two previously unreleased tracks were released on a CD called "Egyptian Shumba - The Singles and Rare Recordings: 1962-1964," (RPM - 330) including several Christie songs backed by The Tammys.

"Egyptian Shumba" is part of the Grammy-nominated box set "One Kiss Can Lead To Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost and Found" after some lobbying by Christie for his old running mates. The wacky...um, make that catchy, dance tune is also included in a handful of compilation albums.

In 2006, Pitchfork Media included "Egyptian Shumba" in their list of top 200 songs of the 1960s at #177. Nitsuh Abebe wrote "It's not just that this girl group's gone wilder than any garage band on the list; it's that they're possessed. The Tammys bop hard and bratty, but by the chorus they're literally growling, barking, and squealing like sexed-up hyenas..."

The "sexed-up hyenas" are all domesticated tabbies now. Cathy (Owens) Friederich put down roots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and has 10 grandkids. Gretchen (Owens) Wagner lives in the Erie area and is the music and liturgy coordinator for the Notre Dame Catholic Church of Hermitage. Linda (Jones) Honey makes her home in Texas.

Discography as the Tammys:

-- "Take Back Your Ring' b/w "Part Of Growing Up" (1963 - United Artists 632)
-- "Egyptian Shumba' b/w "What's So Sweet About Sweet Sixteen?" (1963 - United Artists 678)
-- "Gypsy" b/w "Hold Back The Light Of Dawn" (1965 - Veep 1210)
-- "Blue Sixteen" b/w "His Actions Speak Louder Than Words" (1965 - Veep 1220; unreleased until 2002)

As Ritchie & The Runarounds (Kripp Johnson of The Del Vikings, Lou Christie and The Tammys):
-- "Lost In the Crowd" b/w "Don'tcha Backtrack" (1963 - Ascot 2136)


"Egyptian Shumba" - Tammys 1963

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Some Special Shows On Tap...

-- E Street Band legend Max Weinberg will join the roster of touring acts to play a BurghSTOCK gig when he performs with his Big Band this Sunday, 7 PM at Altar.

The BurghSTOCK gang will be raffling off a cymbal signed by Max, with the proceeds benefiting the Shepherd's Heart Veterans Home.

-- The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, will join Joe Grushecky and the Iron City Houserockers for two concerts at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Oakland on November 4th and 5th. The opening act on the fourth will be Jill West & Blues Attack, and the I Drive will open the second show. Tickets are $45-$75, with a limited number of Gold Circle seats at $100, and will go on sale Wednesday through Ticketmaster.

-- Stage AE, the new North Shore venue, will host Girl Talk (Greg Gillis) on December 3rd & 4th; George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic on December 10th; and Wiz Khalifa on December 16th. Tickets for the three shows go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday: Girl Talk ($22 advance; $25 day of show; $40 for both); George Clinton ($28; $30 day of show); Wiz Khalifa ($23; $25). Log onto or call (1-800-745-3000) Ticketmaster.

-- U2 will play Heinz Field on July 26th with Interpol as the last stop on the U2 360° tour. Tickets ($30, $55, $95 & $250) go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday, October 18th via Livenation, Ticketmaster or charge by phone at 1-800-745-3000.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

See You In September

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
 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bon Ton Roulet


Photobucket

Hey, the hard-working Tim Roolf of Bonedog Records was digging through the archives, and came up with an old MTV "Basement Tapes" segment, hosted by MJ Martha Quinn and Frank Zappa back on December 7th, 1985.

The band was Pittsburgh's own Bon Ton Roulet, put together by McKeesport's Bone Daddy Jeff Ingersol in the early eighties. It was a brass-driven ensemble that played Funk, R&B, Soul, and 30’s and 40’s music. In fact, some of their playlist was lifted from Ingersol's collection of old 78 records.

The BTR roster was Sharon Garland - Vocals, Gil Snyder - Keyboards, Don Hollowood - Guitar, Ken Crisafalo - Drums, Stefan Lovasik - Drums (studio), Xayne Berlinski - Bass, Chris Patarini - Sax, and Mark McCollum - Sax.

The group played regularly at Dom DiSilvio's club, The Decade on Atwood Street in Oakland. One memorable night, an up-and-coming rocker named Bruce Springsteen jumped on stage and joined them for a set.Three years later, Jon Bon Jovi did the same.

They performed "Love and War" for MTV, showcased in an artsy little B&W vid. (The bombed out areas were actually from a North Side redevelopment project; the tank is parked in McKeesport's Renzie Park.) Here's how they sounded 25 years ago:


Friday, October 1, 2010

The Donnybrooks

Photobucket
The Donnybrooks in 1958 and 2010

Hey, everyone knows Washington County's Canonsburg produced Perry Como, Bobby Vinton, and the Four Coins. But there was another pretty strong quartet that came from that town in the late fifties, the Donnybrooks.

Classmates, The Donnybrooks began their career when they performed at an 8th grade graduation ceremony at the old Third Ward School, and continued on during their high school years.

Originally known as The Phaetons and later The Four Pals, they sang at dance halls and clubs around the Tri-State, from Pittsburgh to Wheeling, and from Steubenville to New Ken.

After some initial personnel shuffling, the core members consisted of John Alterio (bass), Ken Paige (tenor), Bob Kobert (stage name Bobby Shawn, lead vocals) and Frank Trebel (baritone). Their style took after other fifties groups like The Four Lads, The Four Aces, and The Mills Brothers.

They appeared a couple of times on the Wilkins Amateur Hour and Art Pallan's Talent Search, popular talent contests with call-in voting that were shown on KDKA TV. They never won a show (the band lost twice to tap dancers!), but the experience paid off; in early 1958 The Four Pals won a talent search contest that was sponsored by KDKA Radio and Westinghouse Broadcasting.

The station flew the group to New York for the final competition, and on the return flight, they got a glimpse of fame up close and personal when they met Cab Calloway and Roger Miller on the plane, introduced to them by KD jock Art Pallan.

More importantly for their future, the KDKA award led to a recording contract with the Pittsburgh's Calico Records. Bill Lawrence, a Calico owner and record distributor, became their manager and gave them a new name: The Donnybrooks. He thought it was catchy and would help them stand out from the pack.

They cut their first release, the ballad "Everytime We Kiss" b/w "Break The Glass," a hand-clappin' Calypso-type tune (Calico 108) in the spring of 1958. The songs were crafted by Canonsburg song writer and school music teacher, Lou Popiolkowski. The tune took off, and it nudged into Billboard Magazine's Top 100 in the summer.

Calico Records then launched the group on a promotional tour of the East Coast, where they appeared on TV dance programs in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC.

The Donnybrooks appeared locally on KDKA's Dance Party with Clark Race, WIIC's competing Dance Party with Bill Cardille, and Del Taylor's Bandstand on WTAE. They also performed for the first of the Dick Clark Cavalcade of Stars tours, and were booked in the night clubs along the Route 51 corridor as well as appearing at West View Park's Danceland and Kennywood Park's amphitheater.

The second 45, "Coming Home From School" (Calico 112), also written by Popiolkowski, was released later in 1958. The flip side, "Mandolins of Love," was inked by another Canonsburg song writer, Tony Ambrose. They kept their homeys in royalties.

As the doowop era wound down, Calico Records went through a reorganization and the band lost their label. They continued their live act until in 1960, when the group broke up to pursue college and other careers.

Bobby Shawn stuck with music, though, and started a solo career a few years later. His repertoire covered big band and jazz standards to pop and rock classics, with a healthy dose of some Italian melodies tossed in.

He appeared at Seven Springs Ski Resort regularly, the Meadows, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and in Atlantic City, along with gigs for the Hilton and Holiday House chains. Shawn has performed at the Miss USA Pageant, Miss Teen USA Pageant, and hosted and sang at the Great American Modeling Search.

He also has four CD's out - "Bobby Shawn Through The Years," "Bobby Shawn Sings," "Playing the Jukebox" and "Christmas With Bobby Shawn." Now he performs locally in various venues, and his current act, The Senior Show, is popular around the Tri-State region; he even has a long-time fan club called "The Shawnettes." Oh, he also takes the lead again for the Donnybrooks every so often, too.

They have reunited for occasional shows over the past decade or so, performing at reunions, special events, private gigs and clubs, and they've made several appearances at the Canonsburg 4th of July celebration. In fact, they're playing at St. Thomas More tonight. You can take the boy out of Canonsburg, but...

And they did C-Burg proud. In 2007 the group became part of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in Sharon, recognized with the other prominent local acts honored by the Hall.


The Donnybrooks - "Everytime We Kiss" (1959)