Wednesday, February 9, 2011

More On The "Back To The '60's" Concert Event ... and The Story Behind "Rock And Roll Heaven"

Kent ...
I forgot to mention how great Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods were at the BB King's show as well. They played their hits and backed up each performer ... doing a great job. Bo plays great keyboards and his bass player was outstanding. Mitch Schecter / The Rip Chords
I had a Bo Donaldson track planned for next week's "Today's Forgotten Hit" feature ... hmmm, guess I'll have to push this back a little bit!!! But a GREAT excuse to mention our new Monday - Friday web feature again ... and that Bo Donaldson twin-spin ALSO qualifies for our Twin Spin Weekend idea: One you know ... one you didn't even know you forgot!!! Stay tuned! (kk)

Let me echo what some other readers shared with you about the "Back to the 60s" concert that Ron Dante brought to NYC's BB King's last weekend and I've included some pictures as well.
DENNIS TUFANO -- He told the audience he hadn't played NYC since the 70s and that the Buckinghams recorded some of their hits here. Dennis sang all the chart toppers he sang lead for during his Buckingham days and then delivered a show stopping tribute to Bobby Darin. Many male vocalists seem to lose a little of their range as they get older, but Dennis displayed a vocal ability that surpassed what you heard on his early recordings. Simply amazing.
RON DANTE -- New York's own singer, producer, musician served as host of this amazing compilation show as he was being rooted on by his mom, who was sitting at the table next to me. Ron mentioned he once produced an album for the Brigati brothers of Rascals fame and that he had invited Eddie to come to the show. Moments later Eddie was on stage exchanging lead vocals with Ron on the 1966 Rascals chestnut, "You Better Run." Eddie was asked by my radio colleague Mike McCann about the rumored Rascals reunion later this year. Eddie said he's getting ready in case plans come together, "I'm working out on my bike, I stopped smoking, I'm watching my diet. I'm doing vocalese. So if it happens, I want to be there." When pressed further about the all the Rascals getting together, he said "Call Steven Van Zandt (laughs). Steven is the doctor, He's the man." It should be noted that a week earlier Rascal Gene Cornish popped up on the BB Kings stage at the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp show (Roger Daltrey performed), and he teased the crowd by saying . . . "get set for a Rascals reunion!" After igniting the concert-goers with a bunch of Archies hits and a stellar version of the Cufflinks, "Tracy," Ron offered shortened versions of some of the more famous commercials jingles that he sang on and the crowed loved. They included: Coca-Cola "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing", Dr. Pepper, Almond Joy, and McDonalds "You Deserve a Break Today."
SONNY GERACI -- Here's a singer / performer who still displays a huge amount of enthusiasm and charisma on stage and his voice is still fully intact and can deliver his hits like you remember them on the radio, as lead singer for the Outsiders "Time Won't Let Me," and for Climax's 1972 smash, "Precious and Few." Sonny opened with a rousing rendition of Spiral Starecase's "More Today Than Yesterday."
A highlight of his set was when explained a member of his band (the late Johnny Stevenson) wrote "Rock and Roll Heaven" with the terrific Alan O'Day. He kidded that his version flopped and then years later the Righteous Brothers "stole" his song and scored big with it. As he sang it, he would weave in portions of songs made famous by the departed singers the lyrics mention.
Sonny invited Dennis back on stage for a delightful duet of the Buckinghams classic, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." After the show, Sonny and I reminisced about the last time he played NYC as part of a 70s revue I produced for WPLJ-FM at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, March 24, 1995. That night Sonny shared the stage with Three Dog Night, Rupert Holmes, Andrew Gold, Elliot Lurie / Looking Glass, Ian Lloyd / The Stories, Robert John, Alan O'Day and David Naughton. I have photos from that rare night, but I only wish we had video!
Sonny mentioned that his three grown children are following in his footsteps. His daughter and two sons are now recording in London with Red One, the producer best known for his work with Lady GaGa.
BO DONALDSON & THE HEYWOODS -- Bo and his band did a tremendous job supporting all the acts throughout the night and then did a set that was topped off with "Billy Don't Be A Hero" and "Who Do You Think You Are." It was interesting to listen to other concert goers around me during this set. Many of them did not realize that Bo was not the lead singer of the Heywoods on their hits, Mike Gibbons was. Mike is no longer with the group.
Tom Cuddy

Dennis Tufano

Ron Dante
Sonny Geraci

Sounds like a FANTASTIC show. (Wonder if they'll be taking it out on the road???) Sonny and Dennis have been doing dates together for a couple of years now ... ALWAYS a great double bill (and they really seem to enjoy singing together.) I've been waiting to see Ron Dante in concert for YEARS now ... and I've heard nothing but good things about the back-up support that Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods extend to these other fine singers. Come on to Chicago, guys!!! (kk)

>>>I didn't know that Sonny Geraci wrote "Rock & Roll Heaven"!
(Mitch Schecter / The Rip Chords )

Huh? Alan O'Day wrote it.
David Lewis
The impression Mitch got from the concert was that Sonny had the original idea for the song and co-wrote at least some of the lyrics. Tom Cuddy then explains that a member of Sonny's band started the song ... but then Sonny turned it over to his friend Alan O'Day to finish. I can only tell you that when I saw Sonny last July, he ABSOLUTELY gave the impression that he had a hand in writing the song. (I believe that he was also the first artist to record it when he was fronting the group Climax, who had the huge hit with "Precious And Few" back in 1972 ... but it went absolutely NOWHERE until it landed in the hands of The Righteous Brothers a few years later.) I've been searching for a copy of the Climax version ever since I heard Sonny tell the story but have only been able to turn up some recent "live" versions, and not the original recording. (I'd STILL love to hear Sonny's original version if anyone out there happens to have a copy.)
I asked Alan O'Day about this last year when I first heard Sonny's story but never got a response. I'm hoping that this time he can shed a little light on this for our readers ... if only to help us once again present "The Most Accurate Truth". The publishing papers that I've seen do NOT list Geraci's name on this song ... but what I heard with my own two ears certainly implied that he not only had a hand in writing it but that it was his original inspiration that kicked the whole thing off in the first place. (Also, a quick check of Joel Whitburn's book doesn't list John Stevenson as a member of Climax so, again, I'm confused as to his connection to Sonny and / or Alan.) Help us out, Alan!!! (kk)
Hi Kent,

Thanks for asking!
"Rock 'n' Roll Heaven" as a title was being performed live by Johnny Stevenson in a Los Angeles club when Warner Brothers Music Professional Manager Artie Wayne heard it, took Johnny aside, and told him that the chorus and the title was a hit concept, but the verses needed to be written better. I was a staff writer with WB Music at the time. Artie put Johnny with me and we wrote it together, with verses referring to rockers who had passed on. Sonny Geraci was not present at that point and I don't believe I even met him until sometime later. I demoed the song on my analog 4 track recorder, with Johnny and me singing ... then WB "showed" the song and got it cut by "Climax, featuring Sonny Geraci".
I have never heard Sonny claim that it was his idea, although I know he sings it in his show; and I don't remember Johnny ever saying anything to that effect. But as often happens, memories get cloudy over time (including mine) and everyone has their own perspective. Whatever dialogue or inspiration might have ocurred between Johnny and Sonny, I was not aware.
I can't put my hands on the O'Day / Stevenson demo, but attached is Sonny's version from the vinyl single. You may notice that the people mentioned in the verse are different than those on the Righteous Brothers' later version (also attached). For that story, I'll quote (with permission) from Artie Wayne's book "I Did It For A Song":
Dennis Lambert remembers, “I had signed the Righteous Brothers to my label, Haven, in 1974. Brian Potter and I were gathering songs and writing for them when Al Coury (President of Capitol) sent me a demo of “Rock And Roll Heaven”. After listening to it and recognizing its potential for the Righteous Brothers, Brian and I realized that it could really benefit from an “updating” in light of who had passed away in recent years (Jim Croce, Bobby Darin, etc.) I asked Alan if he and Johnny would consider doing a rewrite. Alan suggested WE do it and run it by him and John when we were done. That’s what we did … they were happy (we didn’t ask for anything) … we were happy (an already good song was made timelier) … the Righteous Brothers were happy (they really liked the production) and we had a smash hit in the weeks and months that followed.”
© 2011 by Artie Wayne
I was always impressed that Dennis and Brian didn't ask for a piece of the song for doing such a great rewrite. But this turned into a win - win situation with the Righteous Brothers' "comeback" hit.
Fast forward to 2007. Still friends with Artie Wayne, who reminded me (repeatedly) that R&RH needed another update. Finally, with his help, I crafted new lyrics to celebrate more recent "icons", and we produced a demo in Nashville with talented artist and session singer, Ronnie Kimball.
I hope your readers will visit my site and click on the updated tribute: (We're certainly open to suggestions for current artists to record the song!) There's also a cool YouTube video, produced by Sebastian Prooth:
Belated Happy New Year to you & your subscribers!

VERY cool ... thanks, Alan! (We ran a link for the new, updated video a few months back ... but it's certainly worth revisiting now in light of all of this new discussion.) Cool, too, to finally hear the Sonny Geraci and Climax original recording ... alongside the "hit" version by The Righteous Brothers (#3, 1974) kk

THE MOST ACCURATE TRUTH: Once again, we're presenting "The Most Accurate Truth" regarding "Rock And Roll Heaven", as told to us by one of its principle songwriters. Our intention here is only to set the record straight (and nothing more) and if Sonny Geraci would like to offer an opposing point of view, additional facts and insight or share a few more memories in this regard, we're certainly welcome to hear it. (Johnny Stevenson passed away a while back so his "back story", unfortunately, is not an option.) My feeling is, simply put, that Geraci is not (nor has he ever been) regarded as a songwriter ... a great singer, to be sure, but a successful track record in songwriting really isn't part of his resume. However, Sonny very well may have been instrumental in the original concept of this tune ... but if he was, Alan was not aware of it, nor did Stevenson ever convey this to him. In that two very well known and successful songwriters (Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter) did, in fact, contribute to the writing of this hit ... without even taking any credit for doing so ... it just doesn't seem right to have someone who quite likely had NOTHING to do with the actual writing of the song imply that they did. Makes for a great story on stage, I'm sure ... not unlike Micky Dolenz recently telling fans how he partied with The Beatles and then went into the studio to watch them record "Oh! Darling" ... but the simple fact is, it NEVER really happened. (kk)


Kent -

What a terrific audience we had last weekend at BB Kings Times Square.

So many of our friends showed up to cheer us on.

The Ripchords were there, Paul Shaffer and Eddie Brigatti joined us ... Could not have wished for a better crowd.

Thanks to Forgotten Hits for getting the word out.

You rock.

All the best, my friend.


Here's Mark Pont, Paul Shaffer, Me and Eddie Brigatti backstage with Tommy and Susan Brigatti.

Here's a picture of Sonny Geraci, Dennis Turano me and Bo Donaldson doing the finale "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy".