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Saturday, April 23, 2011


Brill Building genius Roger Atkins was nice enough to chat with the Rare Rockin' Records blog - I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did asking the questions!

(above:Roger Atkins in 1970 with his new-born son)

Kyler:How did you get started in song writing at the Brill Building?

ROGER:When I was thirteen or fourteen my mother bought me a ticket to a Saturday matinee of The Music Man on Broadway. I'd never seen a Broadway show before and I was so blown away by what I saw that by the time I left the theater I'd decided that I was going to write Broadway musicals. I saved up my money and bought tickets to as many musicals as I could. Then, after seeing My Fair Lady, and reading about how Alan Jay Lerner adapted the play Pygmalion, I wrote the book, music and lyrics to Like Father, Like Son which was my adaptation of one of my favorite plays (I'd only seen the movie but bought a copy of the play), Life With Father. I sent my work to BMI and to my amazement they invited me to join their theatrical workshop.

One day I met a guy named Richard Costiera. We hit it off and began writing together. He wrote music and I wrote lyrics. We started writing what was then contemporary Doo Whop, street corner songs. His father was also a musician and had some contacts at Hill & Range Music Songs in the Brill Building. We played them what we had written and they gave us publishing contracts for some of them. Then we went door to door playing songs for whoever would listen. Of course we could say that we had songs published by Hill & Range and Regent Music, which was also a Hill & Range company. But I must say we spent most of our time writing at 1650 Broadway, not the Brill Building. One of the doors we knocked on at 1650 was Unbelievable Music, which was owned by Teddy Vann. He liked what we played him and he asked us to work with him. We went up there to write almost everyday for months. Then Richard decided he didn't like what Teddy wanted us to write so he left, but I stayed. The first records I ever had released, "My Top Ten Chart" by Roberta Meshell and, "My Mamma Said (originally titled, "Be Tough" but changed by Diamond records) by the Bobbettes, were with Teddy.

Kyler:Who were some of the collaborators you worked with in the 60s?

ROGER:Richard Costiera; Teddy Vann. Then at Screen-Gems Columbia Music: Ronnie Dante; Jerry Robinson; Big Dee Irwin; Helen Miller; Carl D'Errico; and Neil Sedaka. At the very tail end of the 60's and early 70's, Helen again; Peter Allen; and one song with the great arranger Peter Matz.

Kyler:When writing, would you strictly do lyrics, music, or a bit of both?

ROGER: I mostly write lyrics. However, I have on occasion written both music and lyrics. I do try to convey musical ideas to whomever I'm working with, though. Sometimes they're used and sometimes they're not.

Kyler:You wrote a number of wonderful songs with Neil Sedaka. Can you tell our readers the incident involving "Kissin' My Life Away"?

ROGER:This was the first song we wrote together. Don Kirshner asked me one day if I'd be interested in writing with Neil and of course I jumped at the chance. The company was looking for songs for their new TV show, The Monkees, which had yet to be made. All they had was the audition footage of each of the cast which they had shown to all the staff writers. I told Neil my title, "Kissin' My Life Away" and he loved it so I came up with the lyrics, "I got nothin' but trouble, girls don't leave me alone. Goin' twenty-four hours, I've got no time of my own. Oooo, oooo, oooo, I feel I'm kissin' my life away. Kiss-a-kissin' my life away. Kiss-a-kissin' my life away" Well, Neil got very excited and before long played me his melody which I thought it was very catchy. But I said the beginning sounded exactly like George Gershwin's, "I Got Plenty O Nothin'" from Porgy and Bess. He thought about it a while. I could see him going over it in his head as he played. Then he said he didn't think it would matter because it was only two bars and two bars was acceptable. He sat and tried several different openings but didn't like any of them and always came back to his original. Truthfully, I should have thrown a tantrum and insisted that he change it but I was insecure and, after all, it was Neil Sedaka who'd written a gazillion hits! Who was I to tell him how to write? If he said it was OK, then it was OK!

We played the song for Kirshner and the professional staff all of whom had the same reaction as I did but no one insisted upon a change, either. I'll let you in on a little secret, in those days there was a general attitude among publishers and record companies that went like this: If we get sued, we get sued! Go for the hit and deal with being sued later! For example, do really think that no one at Capital records realized that "Surfin' USA" wasn't really "Sweet Little Sixteen" on a surf board? They just went along with it until the law suit came and then they changed the credits and split the publishing.

Unfortunately for us, when our song was finally recorded by The Hondells and the record hit the charts with a bullet, The Gershwin Organization sent a letter to Screen-Gems saying, regardless of the fact that only two bars of their copyright was used, they were going to sue on the basis of, "familiarity." In other words, those two bars were so ingrained in the public consciousness that their use alone was the equivalent of using the entire copyright. Screen-Gems, not wanting to battle The Gershwin Organization, immediately caved and had the record pulled, never to be heard from again. All it would have taken was for Neil to change one note and we would have had a hit, but there's no use now in crying over spilled music!

(above:Neil Sedaka in the 60s, who was a frequent collaborator with Roger Atkins)

Kyler:Did you write your songs for specific artists in mind?

ROGER:Sometimes we did. Every week we'd be told who'd be coming up for recording and we'd try to write for them. Carl and I wrote, "It's My Life" because we were told that Mickie Most was coming to town looking for songs for The Animals. But many times we'd write because I had an idea I wanted to explore or someone had a melody they liked. Some of my favorite songs from back then were written just because we wanted to write them. With Carl I could write about unusual topics like, "Flea Circus", "I'm Whatever You Think I AM", "Born Ahead Of My Time", "Community". These were songs that we really needed our own group for but never had, so all but, "Community", which Tiny Tim did, have never, to my knowledge, been recorded. With Helen I did mostly R&B flavored songs, many of which were recorded. (My first top 40 hit was, "I Can't Let You Out Of My Sight" that Helen and I wrote and was recorded by Chuck Jackson and Maxine Brown. A bit of a distorted record but it did pretty well on the pop charts and much bigger on the R&B charts.) And Neil and I wrote some wonderful pop songs that to this day I don't understand why they're still sitting unrecorded.

Kyler:You co-wrote "The Kind Of Girl I Could Love" with Mike Nesmith for the Monkees 2nd album. What was that like?

ROGER:Well, when I wrote that with Michael it was before the show had gone on the air. There were no Monkees songs, yet. At that time Michael wanted to write all the songs, sing lead, and produce all the records but Don Kirshner had different plans. He sent me to California to work with Michael, I think, to keep Michael occupied while he maneuvered behind the scenes. Michael didn't really want to write with me, or with anyone for that matter. He was polite, brought me to his house in the Hollywood Hills to meet his wife and new born son, and on the set introduced me Micky, Peter and Davy, who I had already met several times in New York before The Monkees came along when he recorded one of my songs, "Face Up To It" on his first Colpix album. But he never really did any writing with me. He would drop off cassette tapes with snippets of music on them, really more like musical doodling. From these I pieced together two or three usable songs and wrote lyrics, one of which was, "The Kind Of Girl I Could Love." The others I really don't remember at all.

Kyler:The Vogues cut a song of yours called "Come And Get Me" that is amazing. It was unreleased until about a decade ago. Can you remember anything about this great track?

ROGER: I'm very glad to hear that you like the record. That's my demo track their singing on. Helen and I wrote that with them in mind and we styled the demo for them and offered our track for them to put their voices on, but we were told that they passed. It wasn't until a few years ago that I found out they did record it. Why it was never released as a single back then I'll never know. I think it would have been a smash!

Kyler: Is it true that Eric Burdon never sang the correct lyrics to "It's My Life" as you had written them?

ROGER:That's true. I wrote,

"It's my life and I'll do what I want!
It's my mind and I'll think what I want!
Sure, I'll do wrong,
Hurt you sometime
But someday I'll treat you so fine ..."

but Eric sings, "..... Show me I'm wrong, hurt me sometime....." which never made any sense to me. Everyone who's recorded it sings the wrong chorus, and sometimes even the wrong lyrics in the verses, too.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest!

Kyler:"Make Me Your Baby" and "It's My Life" are probably your most well-known hits. They are almost polar opposites! How did you write in such different styles in the same time period?

ROGER:Well, I'd say that, "Workin' On A Groovy Thing" that I wrote with Neil is pretty well know, also, and is probably my most recorded song, even if it is my least favorite title. As for writing in different styles, I just wrote what came to me whether it was thin pop or multi-layered sub-text. I just love to write songs!

Kyler:Finally, Roger, please tell our readers what you're up to today.

ROGER: I'm still writing. Ideas, words, new ways of saying things still come to me. As a matter of fact I recently sent Carl a lyric that he's putting to music, now. Something very sophisticated and different than anything we've done before. It's just a shame that we have no contacts left, no outlet for what we do now. No one wants songs from the dinosaurs. But we still keep writing because that's who we are!

Special thanks to Mr. Atkins for the great interview. Stay tuned to the RRR blog, there are many new surprises in the future! Until next time, rock on....

Saturday, April 9, 2011

How The Five Delights created Mood Making music and made the world Watusi with them for Eternity

In the world of vocal groups it’s easy for a group to get lost; this is not the case of The Five Delights, though the records are rare the popularity of group is better now like fine wine. This is the story of recollections of stories that I remember from my father’s best friend and former member of The Five Delights Ray Figueroa and interviews Waldo Champen had with Marv Goldberg.

The Five Delights story begins with Waldo Champen!

In 1950, Waldo formed the original Wrens with Frenchie Concepcion, Raoul McLeod and a guy just known as Archie. The group did perform at the Apollo and apparently recorded but no one quite remembers for whom (the recording doesn’t seem to have been released). Though the Wrens break up around 1952, Frenchie continued on with a new version of the Wrens featuring Bobby Mansfield and cut the original “Come Back My Love”.

By 1953, Waldo finds himself joining The Chimes (My Dearest Darling) with Arthur Crier, Gary Morrison & Gene Redd. Waldo replaced lead singer John Murray. This group breaks up in 1955.

Waldo meets Sonny!

In late 1955, Waldo forms The Supremes with former lead singer of the Twilighters Larry “Lonnie” Gales. Besides Waldo & Larry the group consisted of Donald Redd, Billy Baines and future “Five Delight” Ed “Sonny” Jordan. The Supremes signed on with Hy Weiss’s “Old Town Records” and recorded and released in 1955 as back up to Ruth McFadden the original version of “Darling Listen to the Words of this Song”.

In 1956, the group was back in the studio and recorded the beautiful “Tonight” & “She Don’t Want Me No More” with Larry singing lead on both sides. On a third session, Waldo sings lead on “Come Back and Give Me Your Hand” which at the time went unreleased.

Somehow at this time The Supremes without Larry Gales become The Wrens for one record that was never issued called “Reckless” and the flip “House of Cards” with both Bobby Mansfield singing lead.

By mid 1956 Donn Redd and Bobby Mansfield left The Supremes/Wrens; Waldo, Sonny & Billy joined Dean Barlow in a group called The Bachelors (due to contractual reasons they couldn’t use The Crickets). The signed to Sammy Lowe’s Earl Label and they cut “I Want to Know About Love” with Dean singing lead and the original and calypso version of “Dolores” with Waldo singing lead. Their second release featured Dean on lead on both sides “Baby” and “Tell Me Now”. With two releases and no promotion and no appearances they leave Earl records.

In 1957, The Bachelors change their name to The Montereys and signed to Jerry Winston’s label “Onyx”; they record “Through the Years” with Sonny singing lead and Waldo singing the top falsetto background part. The flip was the great and immortal “Dearest One” with Dean and Billy singing a duet. The records were reviewed on Billboard magazine on September 9th, 1957 but not as a Montereys record but as Dean Barlow record. The Montereys did cut “Angel” & “Tell Me Why” but were not released. The group breaks up.

Billy Baines joins Bobby Spencer & J.R. Bailey to record as The Cadillacs; all they were missing was a bass, somehow Waldo who is usually a 2nd tenor and at his lowest a baritone becomes The Cadillacs Bass. This version of The Cadillacs cut the beloved and revered “My Girlfriend” led by J.R. and Champ gives a great performance on Bass and the flip “Broken Heart” with Bobby Spencer on lead. The single was released in 1957 and reviewed on Billboard Magazine.
This version of the Cadillacs also photographed one of the most famous
pictures on the Cover of the Cadillacs lp that featured a third song from this version of the group called “Don’t Be Mad with my Heart”. Waldo leaves the Cadillacs and J.R. & Bobby joins whatever is left from the The Original Cadillacs to cut “Jay Walker” & “Please Mr. Johnson” among other great Cadillacs recordings.

Champ & Sonny reunite!

In 1958 Champ joined Sonny in the already formed Five Delights with Douglas Ferrer, George Rosa & Danny Levy on Bass. They signed on with Jerry Winston again on his Newport label to cut the classic “There’ll be No Goodbyes” with Sonny and Champ in duet leads and “Okey Dokey Mama” with Doug on lead. Both songs along with The Montereys and The Bachelors singles were arranged and conducted by the great Sammy Lowe. The song began to pick up steam and United Artist re-released the song on their UNART division. The record really goes nowhere on the new label and afterwards Doug and George leave the group.

Danny at this time recruit two classmates from James Monroe High School in the Bronx; Eddie Stokes and Raymond Figueroa join the group in 1959 at this time they went in the studio around February or March to record “Wachibamba” & “Kalahari” on the Prince label but the credis was to The Watusi Warriors Arranged and Conducted by the mysterious “Rocky Gibraltar”. The record was reviewed, everybody thought they were listening to an actual South African group, not realizing the group was really a Bronx group made up of two blacks, one Jewish, one Puerto Rican and one Polish member. Nevertheless the record was reviewed by Billboard in 1959.

By July they had reverted back to the Five Delights name and recorded “The Thought of Losing You” with Sonny on lead and “That Love Affair” with Champ on leadand with the great Teacho Wiltshire Arranging and Conducting the session. This time the record were released on Abel records which was distributed by George Goldner’s Gone records; though the records fantastic the label did not promote the singles.

Around 1960 the group recorded a couple of Acapella rehearsal tapes recording songs like “You’ll Send Me”, “Goodnight Sweetheart”, “Gloria”, “The Thought of Losing You”, “Over the Rainbow”, “Begin the Beguine”, “I Believe”, “That love Affair”, “Man on the Moon”, “There’ll Be no Goodbyes”, “Dream a Dream”, “I Woke Up this Morning”, “Dearest Darling”, “Close Your Eyes” among other recordings. But listening to the tapes not only are hearing a great group singing, but five guys having fun and the respect they had for each other.

After a year of not recording the Five Delights were back in the studio but this time they changed their name to The Mood Makers and they cut a song from the rehearsal tapes “Dream a Dream” with Sonny and Champ on Duet leads a la The Dells. The flip is cover of The Bachelors “Dolores” with Sonny on lead and Danny giving one of the bass parts performances ever on record. The songs were released on Bambi Records and reviewed by Billboard Magazine; on a side note it seems they also cut a song called “Sweet Little Girl” but was never released.

The Mood Makers did have one more record backing Tommy Stagg on his record “Memories of Love” & “Four in Love”; this was released also on Bambi Records.

On a side note the story of Bambi records have always eluded me, it seems the owner was a guy named Vince Peters and the arranger and Conductor was a famous conductor who had to change his name due to contractual reasons so he went by “Rocky Gibraltar” but no one quite remember his real name. If anybody knows any history on Bambi or even want to add to these articles please feel free to do so. Any info will be appreciated!

In 1964, The Five Delights recorded 12 songs for their manager Jerome Tarter in a New Rochelle Studio to be produced for an album. This material was never released and the whereabouts of the tapes are unknown.

Jerome was the writer of most of The Five Delights and Mood Makers materials he also wrote an unreleased Solitaires record.

Around 1965, Waldo left The Five Delights and music as a whole to go work for the NY Transit Authority.

The Five Delights meets The Eternals

Years are a little shaky but around 1965 George Villanueva the former lead of the Eternals (“Today”) joins The Five Delights, besides a few rehearsal tapes nothing gets recorded for release. Sonny leaves the group either in late 1965 or 1966 and the remaining members of Ray, Eddie, Danny & George join Sammy Marrero to become The Eternals.

It was this version of The Eternals in 1966 that recorded a version of the Bob Lewis jingle based on the original Eternals “Babalu’s Wedding Day” song from 1959. The jingle was recorded live from a Freedom Land performance.

This version of the group also records in 1967 or 1968 “Decent Girl” with Sammy on lead and George on the bridge. “Mister Night” again with George on lead and a version of “Big Troubles”; sadly none were released.

After this Ray, Eddie & Danny decided to end their singing careers and concentrate on having careers and supporting their growing families. All five members of the Five Delights have had great careers outside of singing, but that’s for another article.

Around 1995, The Five Delights were inducted into UGHA, where four of the five original members (Champ, Ray, Eddie & Sonny) alongside George Villanueva performed together since the sixties. By this time Danny sadly had passed away in 1992.

In the late nineties, Sonny alongside the rest of The Five Delights released some of the songs from their 1960 rehearsal tapes on cd called "Best of Bronx Acapella". Pick up this CD if you find a copy.

I hope you enjoy reading this article as much as I had the pleasure of writing it. Hopefully most people will agree The Five Delights is a group worth searching out for. Just check out Youtube alone and you see great comments from not only fans but from Champs kids and Ray’s kids on not just how great singers they are now but how great human beings.

I had the pleasure of knowing Ray for all of my life or most of it at least and I thank my father Roberto Perez De Leon for introducing me to not just the Five Delights but to the whole Vocal Group Scene. Some of my memories as a kid was seeing my dad and Ray singing together at Christmas parties or just having fun. Just brilliant memories forever stored in my head.

This article is dedicated to Danny Levy,Eddie Stokes & my dad (I miss you).