Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Chapel Boys/Chapelaires/Softwinds

The Chapelaires (photo from White Doo-Wop Collector)

In 1955, a small posse of eighth graders from Troy Hill were members of Saint Anthony's Chapel choir. It wasn't a far leap for teens of the era to segue from hymns to street corner doo wop once mass was done and four of the guys - Tony Rausch, Paul Young, Ross Melodia and Fred Ferketic - became the Chapel Boys.

The quartet worked the local hops circuit, with one change: in 1957, Young was replaced by Bob Bubarth. The Chapel Boys cut some demos of tunes they had written: "A Tear," "Scarlet Scarf," "Swing Loose" and "Walla Walla Bong Bong" (none ever made vinyl, but are on the "Cross My Heart" compilation). They picked up a manager and a new name in 1958 when Bob Ross, a local promoter, took the group's reins and they became The Chapelaires.

DJ Mark Flanagan (Bob Pappas) of WEEP, then a top-40 station, took over the business end for the group from Ross and landed a contract for them with start-up HAC Records. Good timing; Flanagan left the station in late 1960, and presumably the group also, but left behind studio time.

Ferketic went off to college and was replaced by Bill Schmidt. The Chapelaires lineup that recorded for HAC in 1961 was Schmidt (first tenor), Tony Rausch (second tenor), Ross Melodia (baritone) and Bob Bubarth (bass). They produced two records, "Not Good Enough" b/w "I'm Still In Love With You" (HAC 101) and "Gloria" b/w "Under Hawaiian Skies (HAC 102), with "Gloria" in particular becoming a popular tune locally.

Schmidt had his stay cut short by Uncle Sam when he was drafted, and the Chapelaires added John Lajzo and Wayne Goldie from acappella group The Suburbans to bring the group up to five voices strong.

The Chapelaires became the Softwinds, and recorded one more slab for HAC, "Cross My Heart" b/w "Oh Baby" (HAC 105). It would be the last song recorded by the label; it went belly-up after releasing five 45s in 1961. Goldie left, and the Softwinds reclaimed The Chapelaires brand once again, performing on the local dance club circuit.

Music impresario Elmer Willett (he managed acts, had a label and ran a club) eventually got the group back in the studio with some backing gigs for Gateway Records. 1965 was the last recording date we could find, so we suppose they went their separate ways about then.

But doo-woppers never go gently into the night, and the Softwinds are back in action. They're now a bigger ensemble, with four vocalists and a four man band: Craig Bodenlos, James Satterwhite, Bob Gally, and John Lajzo (original Softwind member) provide the harmony with Tony Zottola (bass, keyboards, and vocals), John Voegtly (sax, flute, and vocals), John Clark (guitar) and John "Boom Boom" Kuhn (drums) backing them.

Their biggest gig to date was as the opening act at the Consol Energy Center for the 2012 Holiday Reunion Show in December, along with Johnny Angel and the Halos. The Softwinds perform around tri-state area, and worked with the Skyliners, Marvelettes, & DelVikings, at the Meadows & Mountaineer casinos, resorts, community days, and car cruises, nary missing a stop on the local oldies circuit.

While known for tight harmonies befitting their background, they don't limit the playlist except by era, easily slipping from "In the Still of the Night" into "Run Around Sue." They even released a CD in 2008, "Let Us Turn Back the Years," with three original songs along with nine covers from the day.

From a Troy Hill street corner in 1957 to Consol's stage in 2012, the Softwinds nee Chapelaires are still singin' and swingin' sweet.

Discography :

The Chapelaires
1961 - Not Good Enough b/w I'm Still In Love With You (HAC 101)
1961 - Gloria b/w Under Hawaiian Skies (HAC 102)

The Softwinds (Original)
1961 - Cross My Heart b/w Oh Baby (HAC 105)

John Ivey backed by the Chapelaires
1963-64? - Own A Real Live Clown b/w Far Far Far Away (Scotty 615)

Marie LaDonna & the Chapelaires
1964 - How Can I Let You Know b/w Georgie Porgie (Gateway 730; backed A Side only)

Chuck Johnston and the Jaycees
1964 - Forever Is A Long Long Time b/w Goodnight Irene (Gateway 738 - this is iffy, but it's likely the Jaycees were the Chapelaires)

Joni Kay & The Chapelaires
1964 - Lonely Star b/w Happy Memories (Gateway 744)
1965 - It's Impossible, Why Try b/w Vacation Time (Gateway 746)

1978 - Cross My Heart; The Best of 1956-66 (Crystal Ball CD 1087 - the disk includes 17 unreleased titles)

The Softwinds (Current)
2008 - Let Us Turn Back the Years (Victory CD)

The group also has tracks on "They Sang In Pittsburgh Volume 1" and various "Pittsburgh's Greatest Hits" issues.

Thanks to Ed Engel of Crystal Ball Records for providing much of the early information on the act.

The Softwinds - "Cross My Heart" 1961

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Joey Covington

Image from Vintage Vinyl News

Joseph Edward Michno, later to be known as Joey Covington, was born in East Conemaugh, near Johnstown, on June 27th, 1945, the third of six children of teamster Lou and aspiring country singer Betty. He began teaching himself to play the drums when he was 10 by listening to Joe Morello, Cozy Cole, Sandy Nelson, Candido and Preston Epps. Learned pretty quick, too.

13 year old Joey played with polka bands at local halls like the VFW with mom and dad chaperoning. When he was 14, he played the drums at a strip joint in Johnstown, The Airway Club. Mom and dad didn't drive him there; that gig was his little secret.

Then it was off to East Conemaugh High (he was class of '63) and the marching band, later followed by his first real rock group. He joined what he called a "hot rod band," The Vibra Sonics. They were pretty popular locally - they won a few battles of the bands, played dance clubs around Western and Central PA, and opened for a Simon and Garfunkel show. The Vibra Sonics even released a 45, Drag Race b/w Thunderstorm, in 1964 on full time florist and part time music producer Augie Bernardo's Ideal label.

The band had a run of wretched luck. At the Cowsill in Conneaut Lake, a fire destroyed their instruments. Later, a wreck while touring laid up Covington up for six months with a broken pelvis and some other snapped bones.

He recovered and got the itch to go to every East Coast musician's Mecca, New York City. He introduced himself out of the blue to Joey Dee, who sent him to a manager for possible work. The guy was ready to buy Joey a ticket back home when fate intervened. On short notice, a drummer was needed for the Danny Apollinar Trio, and the very available Covington landed some show tune dates in Florida.

Afterward, Covington went back home and scored some gigs from the union hall. He played for shows like the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars and backed the Shangri Las, Billy Stewart, the Supremes, Donald Jenkins & the Delighters and the Shirelles as a hired gun.

Then in 1966, he got a call from Sonny DiNunzio of the Fenways, who told him he knew of him from the Vibra Sonics and wondered if he was interested in coming to Pittsburgh to play with his band. He was; the Fenways had been turning out hot local singles since 1964 and were the big fish in the Steel City pond.

He cut a couple of 45s with the Fenways, played seven nights a week at clubs like Mancini's Lounge, and opened shows for the Rolling Stones, Dave Clark 5, Shangri Las, Lee Dorsey, Lou Christie, Chad & Jeremy, and Jimmy Beaumont & the Skyliners.

Covington hung around until 1967 as the Fenways, rolling with the rock tide, transitioned themselves from a pop group into the psychedelic Racket Squad. He doesn't mention playing for the Squad in his Pittsburgh years, but is credited on the album notes as being part of the band for awhile, so he likely stayed long enough to record a track or three.

It was the summer of love, and at age 22 he headed west with a bud for San Francisco in 1967. He would never look back. Right around this time is when he became Joey Covington; it's said that he thought Michno sounded negative, and that era, if you recall it, was all about the vibes.

He got some work from the hall (union cards are a good thing for a traveling minstrel) and played in several early Bay Area bands, including Pacific Gas and Electric. Joey ran across an electric violinist born in Beaver Falls, Papa John Creach, who he would later introduce to the San Francisco scene and played with Covington in several of his bands.

Covington hit it big when he helped form Hot Tuna in 1969, with Jefferson Airplane players Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen. While the tracks he cut were never released, the association with the Airplane members would prove big time.

Later that year, he joined Casady and Kaukonen in the studio with the Airplane, replacing drummer Spencer Dryden midway through the recording of Volunteers, and became a full time member in 1970 when the Airplane voted the erratic Dryden off the island.

He recorded with the band on the 1971 album Bark. Covington sang and wrote their last big track “Pretty as You Feel.” After the Long John Silver album in 1972, he left for a solo career as the band spun apart, with only one disappointment. He wasn't inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the other Jefferson Airplane members in 1996, because the Hall would only recognize the original members; Dryden got that honor.

During the Airplane era, he also appeared on Paul Kantner's 1970 concept album Blows Against The Empire and Grace Slick's 1971 Sunfighter LP.

Covington released his own LP Fat Fandango in 1973. He wrote all the songs, and though it was received well by the critics, it never sold. He also performed on 1976's Spitfire by Jefferson Starship and co-wrote the hit single "With Your Love." In 1978, he founded the San Francisco All Stars with Steve Love of New Riders of the Purple Sage and Quicksilver Messenger Service's John Cipollina, and they toured nationally during the eighties and nineties; one of his band mates was old bud Papa John Creach.

After that gig, he went into semi-retirement in Palm Springs, not a bad way to chill after decades in the hectic Bay Area music scene. Covington would gig as the spirit moved him, performing for free during community events, and he continued writing songs for local artists. His last show was gratis at a Marilyn Monroe memorial on June 1st, ending with him telling war stories and signing autographs.

On June 4th, 2013, the car he was driving slammed into a retaining wall at a curve in the road and he was pronounced dead at the scene. Joey Covington was 67.

Drag Race by the Vibra Sonics - 1964