Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Skyliners' "Since I Don't Have You" Capitol Records Session

There are quite a few sidebars to this Pittsburgh favorite. The story is that the lyrics came to manager Joe Rock in his car at a stoplight shortly after his girl had dumped him, and Jimmy Beaumont wrote the music the next night.

The group did a rough a cappello cut on a reel-to-reel as a demo, and Janet Vogel, thinking the tape was off, ad libbed her soaring high C crescendo at the end. The group wisely kept it in. But singing a song is only half the battle; getting it on wax is an entirely different animal.

Rock shopped the song around, and thirteen national labels passed on it. One said it was too negative and should be “Since I Have You” while another mocked the 13 “you” finale. So it was off to local label Calico, owned by Lenny Martin and Lou Guarino.

They were this close to blowing that audition. On the way to the studio, they had a head on collision while jammed into a ‘52 Dodge. Fortunately, cars were a lot tougher back then, and they got to Calico shaken but in one piece. They were signed on the spot.

Martin took the group to New York’s Capitol Studios for a recording session. He backed them with 18 musicians, the first time a full orchestra had been used with a “rock” group. Other performers like the Drifters and Duprees quickly picked up on the strings for their arrangements.

Also listening in on the recording session was a member of the Teddy Bears named Phil Spector, who later cited “Since I Don’t Have You” as an influence on his “wall of sound” productions during the sixties.

The record was so soulful that the Skyliners were thought by many to be black artists. They became the first white group to top the Cashbox R&B charts, played the Apollo eight times and performed on the “chitlin’ circuit.”

They also found a name after the recording session when the master came back without an artist credit. The singers were a mixture of the South Hills Crescents and El Rios groups, and Rock, with their input, christened them “The Skyliners” after the 1945 Charlie Barnet hit song (although Jackie Taylor told Ed Salamon it was for the Ford Skyliner popular during that car-crazy era. Rolls the dice and take yer chances.)

Lotta action for one studio session. It was worth it, though. Art Pallan of KDKA broke "Since I Don't Have You," followed quickly by a Dick Clark "American Bandstand" appearance. The song hovered just outside the top ten nationally while the Skyliners went on to become one of Pittsburgh's iconic vocal groups.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Name The Band...

Hey, did you ever wonder how some of the local groups picked up their names? In the course of researching the blog and some other projects, Google has given us some answers:

The Del Vikings: There are several stories behind their name. One claims that the group members were fans of the tales of the old-time marauding Vikings; another says that they were fond of the paperback books published by the Viking press that so many servicemen read to pass the off-duty time, and another believes the name was taken from a Brooklyn club/basketball team called the Vikings that Clarence Quick belonged to, and that’s the more likely tale of the three.

The Mellows - Four Dots - Four Troys: The late Fletcher Williams & The Four Dots started out as the Mellows in 1950, about as generic a group name as one could imagine. They were eventually represented by Don DeCarlo, who suggested that they change their name to the Four Dots, piggybacking on the hot-selling and eminently bookable Ink Spots.The Four Dots played the area hops & club circuit while releasing a couple of singles on the Bullseye label

In 1959, just about at the end of their career, the group inked a deal with Freedom Records, who already had a California-based Four Dots as part of their roster. Because of that, the Four Dots released their last wax as the Four Troys (no one remembers how that name was chosen). Did that end the confusion? Nah. The West Coast Four Dots released “Pleading For Your Love,” a ‘Burgh favorite. The local Four Dots hit the oldies circuit, and guess what their top request was? “Pleading” became part of their play list.

The Houserockers: Many remember Joe Grushecky’s Brick Alley Band, named after a McKeesport red light district, taking off as the Iron City Houserockers, a name given to them by Pittsburgh native and Cleveland International Records head Steve Popovich. Cleveland International was of course based in Ohio and Popovich had the band tour the midwest to support their records. But the Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry extended beyond football. Their name caused some problems when touring outside their hometown, and when they played Cleveland their van tires were slashed. So they switched in the early eighties to the region-neutral Houserockers brand.

Lugee Becomes Lou: Born Lugee Alfredo Giovanni Sacco, the stage name of Lou Christie wasn’t Sacco’s choice; it was more or less foisted on him. When “The Gypsy Cried” was released in 1962 on the local Co&Ce label, the record was credited to “Lou Christie” without Sacco's knowledge or permission. Sacco had been working on his own list of stage names, and said "I was pissed off about it for 20 years. I wanted to keep my name and be a one-named performer, just 'Lugee'." We’re glad he’s finally over it.

The Marcels: When the Oliver High gang first formed and was rehearsing, the group was coined "The Marcels" by Fred Johnson's little sister Priscilla. She was inspired by a popular hair style of the day, the marcel wave, sported by lead singer Cornelius Harp.  

The Skyliners: They collectively came up with their name after the 1958 Capitol Studios "Since I Don't Have You" recording session when the master came back without an artist credit. The singers were a mixture of the South Hills Crescents and El Rios groups, and manager Joe Rock, with their input, christened them “The Skyliners” after the 1945 Charlie Barnet hit song according to their official history, although we're told by Ed Salamon that they were named for the car per Jackie Taylor.

The Vogues: Originally known as The Val-Aires (a combination, we’ve been told, of the names of the two high school groups the members had first sang with), the Vogues got their name from manager Elmer Willett’s nightspot and studio, East McKeesport’s Vogue Terrace. The group didn't have a vote; when "You're The One" was released, it was credited to the Vogues by the Co&Ce label. At least one member, Hugh Geyer, didn't find out about the name until he heard the song on the radio.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Four Seasons...From Route 51

The Four Seasons from Doo Wop Biography

No, Route 51 doesn't run through New Jersey. But then again, we're not talkin' about Frankie Valli, but a band of harmonizers from the South Hills.

Four grads of Baldwin High hung together in the summer of 1959. Not satisfied with loafing in the parking lot of the Big Boy and watching the waitresses skate by (one of Old Mon's fav pastimes in his Highlander days), they formed a group.

The singers were Bill Stammer (first tenor), Ched Mertz (second tenor), Dan McGinnis (lead tenor) and Don Fanzo (bass). They didn't have a name, but they did have a song they wrote - "Don't Sweat It, Baby."

Mertz had an in with local music impressario Bill Lawrence, and he agreed to let the guys audition for him at Lenny Martin's Carlton House studio in town. They sang "Don't Sweat It, Baby." Lawrence and Martin weren't keen on the arrangement, but liked the lyrics and the singing. They had the group rework the music, and they did. The second audition was a success.

Lawrence offered them a contract, and a deal was struck. In October, they traveled to New York City with Martin and Lawrence to record the song at Capitol Recording Studios. They backed it with "That's The Way The Ball Bounces." And they also picked up their name during the process.

That same week, the Four Seasons Restaurant opened in New York and Lawrence proclaimed, "That will be the name of the new group." The guys dug it too, and The Four Seasons were born, a year ahead of those falsettos from Jersey.

They did more with that slab of wax than launch a song; they launched a label. "Don't Sweat It" was the first release of Lawrence's new Alanna impress. Both got off to a flying start. The Billboard "Review of New Pop Records" of November 23rd, 1959 posted "The Four Seasons bow on the new label with a cute rhythmic reading of a rocker that moves. It has a chance." And it did take off, albeit in Pittsburgh.

It entered the KQV charts in mid-November and stuck in the Top 40 until mid-January of 1960. It reached #4 locally, and was in the Groovy QV's Top Ten for five weeks. They toured in support of the song, traveling through the midwest with Bob Kobert (aka Bobby Shawn of the Donnybrooks, who had the 1958 hit "Everytime We Kiss") taking the lead.

Alanna's second pressing of the record was retitled "I'm Still In Love With You Baby," which as we understand was "Don't Sweat It Baby" with a different name. Whatever the reason for the old switcheroo, the Four Seasons moved on and followed with "Love Knows No Season" b/w "Hot Water Bottle"," but the ballad didn't catch on.

In July of 1960, Mertz married and left the group; Chuck Isler replaced him. The Four Seasons signed with Lennie Martin's new Robbee Records label and as one of his first handful of acts recorded "Mirage" b/w "Nancy's Trampoline." The doo-wop/novelty combo didn't move, and the disc was the final platter the Four Seasons cut.

After that last record, Stammer left the group to answer Uncle Sam's call, and the rest of the gang called it a day shortly thereafter.

Baldwin's Four Seasons left behind this discography:
  • "Don't Sweat It Baby" b/w "That's the Way the Ball Bounces" (Alanna 555 - 1959)
  • "I'm Still In Love With You Baby" b/w "That's The Way The Ball Bounces" (Alanna 555 - 1959 second pressing)
  • "'Love Knows No Season" b/w "Hot Water Bottle" (Alanna 558 - 1960)
  • "'Mirage" b/w "Nancy's Trampoline" (Robbee 106 - 1960)

Old Mon shamelessly stole most of the band bio from Juan Marce Frontera of White Doo-Wop Collector and Dan McGinnis' comments to the post, along with a little legwork. Thanks, guys.

Mirage - 1960:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tony "The Boss" Pasquarelli

 Tony Pasquarelli, photo from Carnegie-Mellon's Today magazine

Born in 1915 and raised in the East End, Anthony was one of four children and the only son of Guy and Maria Pasquarelli. Guy was a butcher by trade, and his boy Tony would go on to make a living off of chops - not the fried ones, but of the musical variety.

As a pre-teen, he played his horn at bar mitzvahs and private parties, getting back and forth in a cab.

By his teen years, Pasquarelli was gigging around town, another product of the City's primo music incubator, Westinghouse High. The trumpeter didn't have the means to go to college - the depression hit during his school years - but he got his education on the streets and stages of Pittsburgh. And he did eventually make it to Carnegie Tech/CMU, but as teacher rather than a student.

He was much in demand as a trumpet player, featuring a deeper tone than the usual high pitched, shrill blasts that most brass players produced. Pasquarelli preferred to free-lance rather than join a group and played for the CLO, Ice Capades, & Ice Follies, on the staff bands for the local radio and television stations, and for the orchestras of the Nixon, Penn, and Stanley Theaters.

Tony could go from showtime and pop to classical in a heartbeat. He played before the wand of conductors William Steinberg, André Kostelanetz, Karl Fritz and Richard Karp, and performed with the PSO, Pittsburgh Grand Opera Company, and the Pittsburgh Sinfonietta. He also blew for the Pittsburgh Pops.

But as well as he could make his trumpet sing and swing, Pasquarelli was best remembered as a teacher. He ran a private studio located downtown beginning in 1948 (he wouldn't quit giving lessons until 2009, at the age of 94) and was an instructor at Carnegie Mellon before it was Carnegie Mellon, with his tenure spanning from 1957 - 2004.

His students called him "The Boss." Pasquarelli was a demanding teacher, but he took an interest in his charges not only as musicians, but as people. He was a technician, and instilled discipline in his students, but with a helping of humor. His devotion to his art was second nature. Those who visited him during his last weeks of life said that he was still asking them if they were practicing.

And those students did pretty well under Pasquarelli's tutoring. His roster included Mark Schrello, Solo Trumpet of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Dennis Ferry, Solo Trumpet with L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; Klancy Martin, principal trumpet for the Caracas Symphony Orchestra and Charles Metzger, First Trumpet with the San Francisco Ballet.

He produced a number of players for the local brass ensembles. One of his charges was Paul Halliwell, who played for the Allegheny Brass Band and served on the board of the River City Brass Band.

Among his River City Brass Band mainstays were Bernard Black, soloist and principal cornetist; Drew Fennell, principal solo flugelhorn/resident composer and conductor Denis Colwell.

Needless to add, several of the brass players he tutored also went on to teach.  Others went on to successful careers in other fields, and are quick to credit Pasquarelli with providing the life lessons that helped them along the road.

His students and CMU thought the world of Pasquarelli. When he retired from CMU, the institution named him its first "artist-lecturer emeritus in trumpet." His charges honored him with not one, but three specially commissioned pieces.

The first was composed by Carnegie Mellon instructor Byron McCulloh, former bass trombonist with the Pittsburgh Symphony. The second, commissioned by Pasquarelli’s students and the River City Brass Band, was written by British composer Philip Sparke. The last was performed for his retirement and written by Fennell.

The City even got into the act, posthumously dedicating June 7th as Anthony “The Boss” Pasquarelli Day as proposed by Councilman Bruce Kraus and unanimously approved by Council's members.  And you all know how often it is that City Council agrees on anything.

Pasquarelli never had any desire to leave the City for greener pastures. Heck, he probably never had enough time to consider the thought. For decades, he would teach at Carnegie Mellon in the morning, then head Downtown in the afternoon to his private practice and spend his evening at a gig.

But even legends have their limit. In February, Anthony Pasquarelli died at the age of 95. His passing was marked in the spring by a special concert held at the Memorial Park Church in Allison Park by his students and the Carnegie Brass.

Anthony Pasquarelli has left behind a legacy of brass players that will last another generation or two. And you can probably bet that right now he's standing by the Golden Gates, listening to Gabriel blow his horn and telling him to keep on practicing. Once a teacher...