Wednesday, June 6, 2012

LAST KISS: The Controversy Continues Today in Forgotten Hits

It's the "history" that won't go away.  

Since we first published our in-depth article on the story behind "Last Kiss" and the group The Cavaliers who recorded it, we've received numerous emails from folks claiming to have been involved with the band and the song and knowing special details and circumstances surrounding one or the other.
Yesterday we ran a copy of a correspondence we received out of the blue (I say out of the blue because our original  article has been circulating for about ten years now!) from Leo Lucas, the man who reportedly owns the rights to the name "The Cavaliers" at this time.  
In it, he blasts us for listening to one of Leo's former "support players", Arnie Karr, who he accuses of falsely spreading "facts" about Leo's involvement with the original band as part of our fact-finding mission when originally putting the article together.  (Clearly there is some bad blood between these two!)  He then goes on to restate his claim that he WAS involved on the original recording of the hit song ... although NOTHING we have EVER come across in the past ten years has ever indicated this to be the case.  Short of stating that it's so, Leo offered nothing in the way of proof in his letter that would make me rethink or alter my original findings.  In typical Forgotten Hits fashion, we stated AGAIN that we will continue to present "The Most Accurate Truth" possible ... and that if he can prove otherwise, we will gladly acknowledge and amend our findings.
We have since heard from both Arnie Karr and Leo Lucas again on this matter.  Forgiving the obvious sour grapes, both state their cases with what I believe to be true conviction in their hearts.  However, reading through these again as I do the final edit for today's column, I feel that I must point out that nothing offered by Leo causes me to deviate from my original position.  (You'll find my comments below his.)
If you haven't read the original article yet, here is the link again.  It's lengthy ... and VERY detailed ... in fact, we have since renamed it "The Convoluted Story Behind The History of the Song 'Last Kiss'" because that's exactly what it is ... you'll literally need a score card just to follow along ... but it may help you better understand my feelings surrounding this latest, new controversy over its origins and those involved with it.

Kent --  
First of all, I wasn't "hiding" when Leo was in Vietnam -- I was in high school!  My draft number was 246 and by the time my year, 1953, came up, we weren't sending "fresh" troops to Nam so there was never any reason to hide.  On this Memorial Day weekend, I salute Leo Lucas for his service!
Now that I've defended my patriotism and praised him for his service, let me quickly address the rest of what Leo had to say.  First of all, Leo doesn't write this well and I'm sure someone else wrote the letter for him. Secondly, my understanding is that he did have the legal right to the name starting in 1990 and I was never aware of him using it illegally or without authorization.  Nor did I ever accuse him of doing so. Fourthly, if I wasn't his "music director" or "music arranger," he never should have introduced me that way while on stage. But he always did.
I've had no contact with Leo in more than two years -- I've often described them as some of the best years of my life and Jamie Holman, who was Leo's drummer for longer than I was the keyboardist, feels the same.  Leo's reputation is as a liar and a sneak and I wouldn't trust him as far as I can throw him.  To be fair, however, I played a lot of gigs with him starting in about 1995 and he was responsible for me getting a good reputation on the oldies circuit where he resided.  From what I've heard, he's been working with another keyboard player and also with tracks, although I haven't heard of him doing any gigs lately.  That might be because he's doing them privately or elsewhere. To use one of my favorite expressions, I just don't know, but at least I admit it!  By the way, before seeing what Leo wrote to you, I had NO idea he bore me any ill will at all. It read like it was written by a lawyer who happened to have no knowledge of punctuation!
But let me be clear about the essence of Leo's "counter-charges." In more than a decade of playing behind this guy -- who, by the way, is pretty much tone deaf and, outside of being a friendly, even charming front man, has no discernible musical talent -- I never saw a single piece of evidence to support the idea that he was involved in the writing, producing or recording of Last Kiss in any way, shape or form.  I heard him tell people he was, but never saw any proof of it.  The stories I read all had the song being written and recorded in Texas in 1960 and making it as a hit in 1964. There are no pictures of the hit-era Cavaliers with Leo in them.  His name doesn't appear in any of the articles about the song, its composition or recording. It also seems strange to me that the name "Cavaliers" pretty much vanished from the tri-state area oldies world around the time that New York's Truth In Music law kicked in. I don't believe now and didn't believe then that Leo was an original member of the Cavaliers.  Again, I don't dispute that he owns the name. It's possible that everything he says about his involvement with the group in his note to you may be true. I remember his saying that he talked to J. Frank Wilson's brother in the process of "clearing" the name.
But in all the years I dealt with him, Leo was never able to produce a single shred of evidence to suggest that he was involved in the recording of the song or with Josie Music in any capacity whatsoever.  And because I write for a living, I often talked to Leo about putting together material for a web site that would show the usual stuff you see on web sites plus some material about the "early days" when Leo and J. Frank had their loose "connection." This was early in my relationship with him and Leo assured me that material would be forthcoming. It never was. So Leo never produced anything to document his claims, outside of his ownership, and I just took it for what I believed it was -- he was pretending to have a connection to the original song although none existed.  I asked everyone in a position to know, including Vito Balsamo (who I'm working with tonight, as a matter of fact), and no one believes that Leo had this connection.  If he's able to document some kind of a connection, please let me know!  I've been looking for it for 15 years!
The words used in Leo's response to you remind me a lot of a fight that's gone on with another group I'm involved in, The Chaperones, where original members have battled with subsequent members over ownership.  The putdown about "bar bands" appeared in that nasty exchange, too. Just for the record, I did play a bar gig in a suburb last summer but generally do concerts, fairs and private gigs.  But if that's the best putdown available, OK, I'll take it. If I was such a fake, as characterized, Leo tolerated me in my pretense for more than a decade. And I tolerated his inability to hit his notes because, after all, he was the one getting the gigs. Along with his military service, I salute him for that, too.
One other thing that struck me is that Leo is claiming to have been in on the RE-RECORDING of Last Kiss, so he's not even claiming to have been on the original record.
And speaking of the original record, I believe it was recorded in 1960, when I was 7. It was a hit in 1964 when Leo says he was in Vietnam but, for the record, I wasn't dodging the draft but was actually in Mr. Voigt's sixth-grade class.
Based on your response, it seems that you've got Leo's number and that the record stands as is, as it should. I've been a journalist my entire adult life and practically clapped when you said to Leo, as I would say to a source or John Lennon would sing, "all I want is some proof ... just give me some proof."
Lastly, he totally misstates my involvement with the group. I wasn't a fill-in; I was a regular member for a very long time.  I didn't arrange all the Cavs songs, but I arranged a lot of them.  I was flattered when Leo introduced me as the music arranger or director and thought it might have been a bit of an overstatement, but that's what he said.  Repeatedly. And over the course of more than 10 years. And I've got a long list of people who can support what I've said on my role in the group as well as the lack of evidence anyone ever received about any real connection between Leo, the original group and the original (as opposed to re-recorded) song: guitarists Ed Merin and Dom DiPaolo; bassists Bruce Natali and Frank Tamburello; drummer Jamie Holman and sub Phil Sala; and just about all the singers Leo worked with: not just the aforementioned Vito Balsamo (who sang great tonight, by the way) but also Randy Silver, Tom Powers, Al Diaz, Joey Vespe and Warren Tesoro, as well as the Chaperones with whom the Cavs briefly merged: Tony Ferrari, Frank Alfino and Cathy Santiniello.
But that's really neither here nor there.  I was never out to defame Leo but had a very hard time sitting there silent when he'd tell an audience that "one day we walked into a studio and came out with what would be the #1 hit in the nation, the last of the car-crash songs."  I'm like you -- I don't know that you're wrong, but give me something to prove that you're right.  Leo never did that.  And to this very day, he still hasn't.  Hard to believe he reacted to the FH article ten years later -- maybe he thought his version of the truth would prevail by default.  There may be mysteries about the derivation and history of the Cavaliers, but none of these genesis stories involve Mr. Leo Lucas, of Brooklyn and Suffolk County, N.Y.  Let the record speak for itself!

Hi Kent - 
Thank you for getting back to me. As far as original Cavaliers LAST KISS, the group from Texas with Wilson is legit down there. As you must know, there were only three of them on the Josie track.  We re-did the song in the studio in New York with Wilson showing up late with his so-called manager, Sonny.  He was a great guy for all his problems. As far as Arnie knowing any group business, WHY???  We never give out info to people like him. In our business you can see what happens to the info ... someone always takes it to make themselves feel important.  Please don’t take this the wrong way ... Arnie Karr is a real nice guy, but he always looks for attention. If you check, you will see that I have had the trademark for some time ... but I don’t need to show it to every fill in musician.  I'm sure that you can understand that.  I was employed by JOSIE RECORDS in 1964 and then our group went into the service. When we came out we found out the song we worked on was a big hit.  At that time we really didn’t care ... we just got back from Viet Nam and two of us who were lucky enough to make it home were all shot up and hated the world. It took us some time to recover. In the early 80’s we performed for Gus Gossett in New York and we started at that time.  You know it really don’t make a difference who was there or not.  I spoke to Sid Holmes a lot of times about this and he agrees with me. As long as we keep Frank’s name alive and the Cavaliers going, that’s all that matters. 
You do a good job, but we just have to be careful not to blow what all of us worked so hard to get.

A few things strike me in Leo's latest response ... and I'll even go so far as to take the position of saying that I really WANT to believe him ... we just need to be convinced in order to do so.

#1 - If The Cavaliers re-recorded the song in New York that became the hit single version in 1964 and used Josie Records' on-staff studio musicians, that is not at all uncommon for the way records were being made at the time.  Leo's letter would indicate that "there were only three of them on that track" ... again, a believable claim if the rest of music was filled in by seasoned session players.  As we've learned in Forgotten Hits over the years, this sort of thing happened all of the time.  However, if this part of the story is true ... and you were, in fact, one of those session musicians playing on the track ... that DOESN'T make you a Cavalier (or imply any right to the name, short of purchasing it outright) any more than it makes Carol Kaye a Beach Boy!  (Nor do I think that she'd have much success trying to get hired to perform as one! ... although by comparison, Carol played on at least a DOZEN Beach Boys hits ... and has earned a fair amount of recognition since then as a bonafide member of The Wrecking Crew ... despite her complete disassociation with that name.)  If you played on The Cavaliers' hit recording of "Last Kiss" as a session musician then I'd agree, you had some association with the Cavaliers ... but that doesn't mean that you WERE one.  Hal Blaine wasn't a Monkee ... or a Byrd ... or a member of The Partridge Family ... or a Mama or a Papa ... he was simply a hired hand paid to do those sessions.  And, if you were a session, on-staff musician for Josie Records, surely you must have SOME documentation of this ... the problem is, you offer NO facts to back up this statement ... in fact, you don't even tell us WHAT you played on the record.  Nothing in your correspondence indicates anything about the instrument(s) you played ... or who you filled in for for The Cavaliers (if only three of them were there for the session.)  Surely as a Josie Records staff session musician you must have played on countless OTHER tracks for the label, right?  What are they?  And do you claim to be a participating member of those bands, too???
#2 - Regarding the rights to currently use the name, you are again stating that you legally purchased these (and again, this is a believable claim ... rights like these are bought and sold all the time) ... but again you're offering no proof supporting this statement ... no documentation of any kind.  While I understand that you have no obligation to show these to "any fill-in musician" that happens to come along, I would think that since you approached me about setting the record straight once and for all ... and establishing your credibility in the annals of rock history such as they may be ... you would want to show SOMETHING here in our forum as an effort to help support this claim ... to put this to bed once and for all and establish his credibility ... but you didn't ... just words stating that these rights belong to you.  And, quite honestly, owning the rights to the name TODAY means precious little as to who performed on the hit record.  And while you angrily refer to Arnie Karr as a "fill-in musician", this seems to be a bit inaccurate as well ... Arnie played with The Cavaliers for ten years!  That's hardly a "fill-in" role.  Misrepresenting this association makes any other "facts" somewhat suspect, too.  If you want to clear your conscious and let the world know that you own these rights, this was the perfect opportunity for you to do so ... don't forget, it was YOU who approached ME, not the other way around ... yet you still chose NOT to do so ... again making these rights somewhat suspect.  As previously stated, however, that's really not the issue here ... we don't care about who's been in The Cavaliers since the early '80's ... YOUR claim has been that you were involved on the original hit recording of "Last Kiss" that topped the charts in 1964.  Let's face it ... there have probably been literally HUNDREDS of Cavaliers since then!  Technically, any one of them willing to come up with the money could have purchased the rights to the name had they chosen to do so ... and my guess is that each and every one of them would have come under the same scrutiny if making connections to the 1964 recording today.  (To this day, Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman, the two most recognizable names ever associated with The Guess Who, legally can't perform as The Guess Who because drummer Garry Peterson bought the rights to the name ... and, of course, whenever anybody thinks of The Guess Who, it's Garry's name that first comes to mind, right?)
But most importantly, #3 is the fact that Leo writes "You know it really don’t make a difference who was there or not.  I spoke to Sid Holmes a lot of times about this and he agrees with me."  This to me is the telling tale.  In the broad scheme of things, Leo's right ... it really doesn't matter to 99.5% of society who played on "Last Kiss" ... odds are anybody wading through our long-winded article will have already forgotten the players' names by the time they reach the end of it anyway ... because these aren't "name" players who have come up very often over the course of rock and roll history.  What matters here is falsely claiming to have been part of something when you weren't ... that's the REAL issue here.  Over the past thirteen years of doing Forgotten Hits, we've run across numerous pretenders ... some of whom I truly believe have convinced themselves over time that they really DID do this or that, simply because they had told the story so many time it became imbedded in their own reality.  We've squashed several of these myths during that time.  It's a shame that some folks out there feel the need to fabricate their own history ... ironic, too, that it's Leo who is accusing Arnie of wanting to make himself "feel important" ... because quite honestly, there seems to be a little bit of that going on here, too.
I go back to my previous bottom line ... show me some proof and I'll print it.  I'll go to bat for you and address all the naysayers out there and let them know that Leo Lucas is EXACTLY who he says he is.  But quite honestly, the very fact that you would say "it really doesn't matter who played on it or not" pretty much seals my opinion as to your claim.  Sorry, Leo ... I need more.  And while I believe you're sincere when you say that all that really matters is the music ... that it's all good "as long as we keep Frank's name alive", let's face it ... your livelihood depends on that ... and we all need to make a buck.  (kk)

THIS JUST IN:  A little extended research just found this quote from Sid Holmes, registered on a website discussing bogus rock and roll groups cashing in on the fans' love of this music.  It dates back to April 21st of 2008 ... and the crux of the discussion that day was the new "Truth In Music" laws that Jon "Bowzer" Bauman has been pushing from state to state to try and eliminate these phonies once and for all.
Whereas Leo states in his letter to me "You know it really don’t make a difference who was there or not.  I spoke to Sid Holmes a lot of times about this and he agrees with me. As long as we keep Frank’s name alive and the Cavaliers going, that’s all that matters.", Holmes voiced a decidedly DIFFERENT opinion in his post to this site:

Leo Lucas is an imposter having absolutely nothing to do with J. Frank Wilson, Last Kiss or The Cavaliers. He does not own any Cav trademark. Go to then the Honor Roll then J. Frank then click on The Cavaliers (it's underlined) for the complete history of The Cav's. Since NY passed the Truth in Music law this guy is going to go down.  
-- Sid Holmes

And one more word from Arnie Karr after I questioned what musical instrument it is that Leo Lucas may have played on his J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers recording session ... I mean if he was on staff in the recording studio for Josie Records at the time ... and making records for the label ... he must be pretty damn proficient on at least ONE instrument, right???  In order to hold down that gig???

Perhaps he's kept a secret from me all these years, but I am not aware of Leo Lucas ever playing any musical instrument. As far as I can tell, this is all fiction that he's trying to put over on you, like he used to with the audiences for whom we performed.  He sang some leads and did background vocals (mostly baritone and none very good). And I'm not aware of him ever having a relationship with Josie Records.  Maybe he and the group did -- as a group that was signed and being kept on hold if the right project or song came along -- but I'm not aware of it and, like so many of the inflated claims Leo makes, I've never seen anything to substantiate it.  Remember -- I'm a journalist and, like you, I take the burden of reporting the truth, to the best of our ability to find it, very seriously ... and so far, in regards to proof of any involvement with J. Frank Wilson ... with Josie Records ... with the original recording of Last Kiss ... I've found nothing.  Nada.  Zero. Zilch.