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

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