The Portraits in New York, 1968, from left: Gary Myers, Jerry Tawney, Stan Ray and Phil Alagna
|The Portraits, by Gary E. Myers
The Capitol, Liz, Nike, RCA, Sidewalk and Tri-Disc record labels all released singles by groups called the Portraits between 1959 and 1968; I was a member of the Portraits on Sidewalk.
The roots of the band began in January 1964 in Milwaukee, when rhythm guitarist Duane Smith put together a new lineup for his band, the Cashmeres: singer/guitarist Doug Weiss, bassist Tom Hahn, and myself on drums. The new Cashmeres landed their first gig backing Tommy Roe in the Skyroom at Monreal’s on 16th & National, and soon moved into the regular six-night-a-week gig there. Hahn and I had recorded for Tide Records in Los Angeles the previous summer (’63) while working with Milwaukee’s Darnells in Orange County. Around April 1964 Tide contacted Hahn about cutting two more sides for them. The Kingsmen had placed Tide’s copyright, “Mojo Workout” on their “Louie Louie” album, and Tide wanted to put out a single with one of their signed artists. We cut the song and a B-side at Dave Kennedy Studios (augmenting our session with three members of the Skunks) and changed our name to the Mojo Men to help promote the record.
Nothing happened with the record, but the Mojo Men worked steadily in and around Milwaukee, along with gigs in Grand Rapids and Detroit. We backed Johnny Tillotson and Chuck Berry, and worked opposite Jerry Lee Lewis. In summer 1965 Doug Weiss was hit with a 30-day jail term (driving with a suspended license, I believe), so the Mojo Men had to make a move. Guitarist John Rondell (Beilfuss) and bassist Phil Alagna were looking for work, having returned from a Southern California trip along with singer Billy Joe Burnette. (Rondell and Burnette had also worked with Milwaukee’s Legends on their 1964 Florida trip). Duane Smith and Tom Hahn had begun to be at odds, so the Mojo Men let Hahn go and added Rondell and Alagna, expanding to five pieces when Weiss was released,
Move to Los Angeles
In August 1965 the Mojo Men relocated to the L.A. area. On the drive out we heard “Off The Hook” by another Mojo Men, but it didn’t chart nationally so we paid little attention to it. By October, however, that same San Francisco band did chart with “Dance With Me”. We were not happy about that, but the record only reached #61, so we took no action – except that an agent booked us on a few of their gigs. (We later learned that the record got airplay in Milwaukee on our reputation). Doug Weiss adopted the stage name of Doug Masters and left to join a Las Vegas style review. The Mojo Men briefly replaced him with Billy Joe Burnette and then Tim Welch, but Paul Stefan (Stefaniak), an excellent singer and another old friend from Milwaukee (where he had regional hits with the Royal Lancers and the Apollos), was also in the area. He joined around March 1966.
During a steady gig at the Tip Top in Inglewood we backed the Coasters, Penguins, Rivingtons, Dick & Dee Dee, and Jerry Wallace. The schedule included Friday and Saturday after-hours sessions where many musicians and music-biz people hung out, and we were getting a good local reputation. One of the frequent sit-in’s (possibly Bobby Mason) was a Mike Curb protégé and he convinced Curb to come and see us. Curb liked what he heard and we signed a record deal with him and a management contract with Clancy Grass, who had an office in Curb’s suite and some sort of connection with him.
This was not the most opportune time for the band to head back to the Midwest, but Smith’s wife was pregnant and wanted to be near her family back home, so off we went. By the end of the summer everyone but Smith was itching to be back in California; the four of us decided to make the move while Smith stayed. Phil Alagna became the new leader mostly by default, being the only one interested in handling the business aspect.
The Portraits, 1967
The Mojo Men went back into Curb’s studio, and returned to a five-piece lineup with the addition of another old Milwaukee friend, B3 player Pat Short (Cibarrich). John Rondell had written “Runaround Girl” and we cut it with Paul Stefan’s lead vocal. We also recorded the vocal for “Hiding From Myself”, a filler song for the Dr. Goldfoot & the Girl Bombs soundtrack LP. By this time (fall 1967) the San Francisco Mojo Men had hit Billboard’s top 40 with “Sit Down I Think I Love You”; now we needed to change our name. Stefan wanted it to be “Paul & the (something)”, so at a meeting in Mike Curb’s office, we began tossing out names. We thought it would be good to have another “P” word, and it got down to Paul & the Pack. I didn’t like it, but I was the lone dissenting voice so it won.
I had been a subscriber to Billboard Magazine for several years and, within a day or two of the Curb meeting, I discovered that “I (Who Have Nothing)” by Terry Knight and the Pack was edging its way up the Hot 100. This was no good! After our gig that night I began looking in the dictionary under “P” for another name. When I got to “picture” I noticed the synonym “portrait” and thought, “That’s it!” I called a couple of the guys at 3 AM (having just gotten off the gig at 1:45) and they agreed that Paul & the Portraits would be a good name. The next day I called Curb’s office and he understood, but said he had already ordered 20,000 record labels showing Paul & the Pack. So, the Dr. Goldfoot LP bills the Portraits as Paul & the Pack, while the photo on the back cover shows us holding a picture frame to go with the name Portraits. Members depicted (L-R) are Phil Alagna, Gary Myers, Paul Stefan, John Rondell and Pat Short.
Then came another typical 60’s setback – Paul got drafted. We did a few gigs, and even another recording session, as a four-piece band, but we were lacking a strong lead singer, and then Pat Short also left. Clancy Grass had previously managed singer Jerry Tawney, who had come to L.A. from West Virginia and released a 1966 single on Liberty. Tawney had since gone back to WV, but Clancy convinced him to return to the coast to join our band. We re-recorded “Runaround Girl” with Jerry and we did the vocal for “Devil’s Angels” (as “Jerry & the Portraits”) over the same track used for Davie Allan’s instrumental version. We also cut a remake of “A Million To One” along with one of Jerry’s songs, “Let’s Tell The World”.
The Portraits always used much vocal harmony, influenced by the Four Seasons, the Happenings, the Buckinghams, Jay & the Americans, and others. Most of the band’s sessions began with a basic track of bass, guitar and drums (Phil, John and me), and then instrumental overdubs: Phil on piano or organ, John with a second guitar part, and I sometimes added acoustic rhythm guitar. On one or two sessions I added vibes, and we used studio horn men on a few songs. The four of us would lay down our background vocal parts and then double them before putting Jerry’s lead on top. Once, when John was gone, we used our friend Larry Carlton, who went on to become one of the top studio guitarists in the business. Phil Alagna and I also played on two sessions for the Mystic Astrologic Crystal Band, another group managed by Clancy Grass. The Portraits recorded several unreleased songs and we sang on a Curb-produced commercial that was never used.
The Four Seasons had hit with their update of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in 1966, and Jerry came up with the idea of re-doing “Over The Rainbow” in a similar fashion. We incorporated a bit of the arrangement from the Demensions’ 1961 hit, but added much of our own, along with the switch to the up-tempo rock beat. I did the group arrangement and studio guitarist/arranger Don Peake wrote the charts for the “sweetening” – French horn, chimes and strings.
The record was released December 1967 and everyone involved was excited about it. However, we were not happy about coupling it with “Runaround Girl”; we felt that both songs were A-sides. This turned out to be a valid belief, as each side got airplay in different areas. One or the other charted in several cities, but neither charted nationally. There was also some talk that December was not a good time to release it. Airplay was more limited that month because of Christmas music, and perhaps by January some stations would have already put it aside. The Portraits did a Beverly Hills show with Mike Clifford, Ian Whitcomb, Boyce & Hart, and Don & Goodtimes, and appeared on TV8 Dancetime in San Diego, but little else developed. The band probably should have toured, especially to the cities where the record was played.
In early 1968 John Rondell left to join a San Diego band and Stan Ray (Hartford) replaced him. Around March I saw a trade ad for the Schaefer Talent Hunt, a large advertising promotion seeking new talent to record the Schaefer Beer jingle in New York. Without even mentioning it to the other members, I filled out the entry blank and sent it along with our two Sidewalk singles. To my great surprise, a few weeks later I received a telegram stating that we were one of the 10 winners. We were flown to New York and, because our selection was based on our “Over The Rainbow” vocals (they didn’t know that we were a self-contained band), studio musicians (including noted drummer Mel Lewis) cut the tracks, which were arranged by Peter Matz in the style of our “Over The Rainbow” version.
At A&R Studios in New York, from left: unidentified, arranger Peter Matz, Stan Ray, Jerry Tawney, Gary Myers and Phil Alagna.
|Beyond the 60’s
For the remainder of 1968 into 1969 the Portraits had a six-nighter at the Water Wheel in West Covina with little or no involvement from Clancy. However, we were still under contract to him and, when he learned of our beer commercial, he wanted a cut. We disagreed, but at some point, Jerry went back to him for more recording sessions without telling the rest of the band; the esprit de corps was fading. John Rondell had rejoined the band, but in August 1969 he and I left to join Duane Smith (original Cashmere’s leader from 1964), who now had a Nevada-based show group, the Cee & Dee Review.
The Portraits continued with more changes under Phil Alagna (now going as Phil Anthony). In December 1972, after I had left Duane Smith and worked many other gigs back in SoCal, I rejoined. The band had just joined forces with Sanetti & Rueda, a Stockton-based music/comedy team. Over the next few years we worked Reno and Lake Tahoe several times, along with Las Vegas and many other showrooms in California, Oregon and Arizona. I was replaced in March 1975 when a drummer who had previously worked with two of the other members was looking for work.
I continued playing full time in and around the greater L.A./Orange County areas until March 1982, and then joined a “casual” band led by Stan Ray, the guitarist from the Portraits’ beer commercial period. Phil Alagna kept the Portraits going through many more personnel shifts until that summer, when he disbanded the group and joined Stan and me on the casuals. By summer 1983 I was also doing occasional gigs as a leader, for which I exhumed the Portraits name. One day that summer, as a surprise to Phil and Stan, I called Jerry Tawney to see if he could come to our gig. He made it down and the four of us got together for the first time in 15 years.
Duane Smith, always a hard-working businessman, quit performing in the 80’s and opened a studio rental business in Portland, OR. That venture grew into West Coast Event Productions with major clients and a second office in Las Vegas.
Doug Weiss (Masters) gigged for many years in the Twin Cities and then returned to Las Vegas, where he was the Bobby Hatfield part of a Righteous Brothers tribute act. He died October 2007 (b: 8/3/42; Milwaukee).
Tom Hahn (b: 1939; Tipton, IN) had left the music business by 1970 and settled in Michigan.
Phil Alagna (b: 1943; Milwaukee) worked in piano sales and later as a piano tuner, while continuing to gig part-time. He was still playing in 2009 as the Phil Anthony Band, mostly for senior dances and functions.
John Beilfuss (Rondell) (b: 1945; Milwaukee) returned to Wisconsin in the 70’s and continued playing until 1996. He subsequently began a wedding photography business in the Eau Claire area.
Billy Joe Burnette had releases on many labels from at least 1965-79. He scored a big success in 1976 as the co-writer of Red Sovine’s “Teddy Bear” during the CB radio boom.
Tim Welch (b. 7/41; Wichita, KS and was shot & killed in W. Hollywood in 2/72) had previous releases on Edit and Reprise and a later release on Attarack.
Paul Stefaniak (Stefan) (b: 1941; Milwaukee) had rejoined the Portraits after his military duty, but left the music business by the mid-70’s. He was last known to be living in the Yuma, AZ area.
Pat Cibarrich (Short) had relocated to Louisville, KY in the late 60’s and subsequently returned to Milwaukee, continuing to play music. He died January 1998.
Jerry Tawney connected with writer/producer Jerry Fuller in the 70’s and had several solo releases on Bell. One of his songs appeared on Al Wilson’s La La Peace Song LP, and he was also in Yellow Hand on Capitol. Tawney left the music business in 1982 and became a mortgage loan consultant for Countrywide.
Stan Ray became a successful attorney in Los Alamitos, CA, specializing in estate planning.
Gary Myers (b: 1942; Milwaukee): I worked for a large music store in Arcadia, CA from 1985-2006, while continuing to play a variety of gigs in the greater L.A./O.C. area, including occasional work with Phil Alagna. As of 2009 I had written and self-published four books (see here for more information); still playing, and as recently as January 2008, had used the name “The Portraits”.
|In early 1963 our Milwaukee band, the Damells, was appearing in Ishpeming, MI and we became good friends with the Blue Echoes from Sarnia, Ontario. There were two places with live music in Ishpeming, the Venice and the Roosevelt, and although both bands played the same nights, we managed to get over to hear a couple of songs on our breaks once or twice (the two clubs were very close together), and we got together a few times in the afternoons. In May the Darnells headed for Southern California and, on the referral of a former band mate, we connected with Tide Records in Los Angeles.
We eventually returned to Milwaukee and the band broke up. Denny King, guitarist and leader of the Darnells, went back out to L.A. in early 1964, and invited Vic Blunt (aka Vic Miller), guitarist and leader of the Blue Echoes, to join him as bassist. Blunt and King recorded for Tide as the Mojo Men. (This record has no connection with any other Mojo Men; it was just Tide’s way of trying to get more mileage out of that name, since Larry Bright’s “Mojo Workout” was their only national chart record). Both sides are instrumental, except for Blunt’s Jackie Gleason impression of “And away we go” to kick off the A-side. Blunt then left a tape of his Blue Echoes with Tide owner Ruth Christy (aka Ruth Stratchborneo) and returned to Sarnia. A few months later Christy sent for the group and they came to Los Angeles with Blunt on guitar and vocals, Paul Case on drums and vocals and Bruce Pollard on bass and vocals.
Blunt (b: 12/18/43; Vancouver, B.C.) credited the Ventures and Fireballs among his early influences, as well as his father, who was a CBC studio guitarist. Blunt had previously recorded with Edmonton DJ Barry Boyd for the Quality label. Drummer Case had a strong Roy Orbison flavor to his vocal style and the group’s entire LP (probably the only LP ever released on Tide) was recorded in only 10 hours of studio time, according to Blunt.
It was early 1965 and Tide booked the group into a show at the L.A. Coliseum titled KFWB’s Beatle Alley. Requirements were that the groups had to be from outside the U .S. and had to have some sort of Beatle tie-in, hence the name change to the Canadian Beadles. (Perhaps the spelling was in order to avoid any claim of name infringement). Christy and Rena Fulmer (a partner in the Tide label), acting as an agent/manager team, booked the band, and Blunt said that both of the group’s singles got airplay. I saw Blunt’s band (I don’t recall if they were still using the Canadian Beadles name) at a bowling alley lounge in the South Bay area of Los Angeles around 1966.
One of Blunt’s songs, “Questions I Can’t Answer”, was covered by Don Atello (Tide 2002), and by German singer Heinz, whose version had some success in his home country. Los Angeles country artist Tony Treece, who was a later member of the Canadian Beadles, cut another of Blunt’s tunes, “Before I Lose My Mind”. Blunt later formed a show group called Center Stage and did additional unreleased recordings. As late as 1985 he was still playing full-time and living in Sequim, WA.
List of releases:
© Gary E. Myers & MusicGem, 2009
Click for larger image
The Darnells circa 1962, clockwise from top L: Tom Hahn, Mike Blattner, Bruce Wells, unknown (sax),
center: Denny King (photo courtesy Bruce Wells).
|These Darnells (unrelated to the ones on Gordy) began in Milwaukee as Denny & the Darnells circa 1959, with various musicians (including future Legends drummer Jim Sessody) passing through the band. The line-up that went into the Cuca studios to record the first single consisted of lead guitarist Denny King, tenor saxophonist Tom Fabre, singer Gary Lane, Bruce Wells on piano, Norm Sherian on rhythm guitar, and Jerry Sworske on drums. The A-side is their remake of Gene Vincent’s “Little Sheila”, while the instrumental flip is a Latin standard, featuring the jazz oriented sax-man Fabre.
Mike Blattner eventually replaced Sworske on drums, and singer Kim Marie was a member when they played off-night gigs at the Spa on 5th & Wisconsin in September 1962. Our Florida band, the Nightbeats, was touring through Milwaukee’s ACA agency, and they had booked us into the Spa for two weeks. We were looking for a different guitar man and King was looking for steady work, so he joined our band, putting a temporary end to the Darnells. However, five months later King and I left the Nightbeats to reform the Darnells as a trio, with bassist Tom Hahn. Hahn had already been out to Southern California with the Bonnevilles and he wanted to make another trip in order to obtain a Mexican divorce from his estranged wife. A SoCal trip sounded great to Denny and me, so in May 1963 we headed west and landed a gig for the summer at the Firehouse, a beer bar on 17th Street in Costa Mesa.
On the referral of the Nightbeats’ bass player, we connected with the Tide label in L.A. and recorded eight sides – two instrumentals and a pair of vocals by each of us. “Spooner”, the first instrumental, is an up-tempo, surfy, 12-bar blues guitar rocker. The flip is another 12-bar blues, this time a slightly jazzy mid-tempo swing. Denny King’s “She’s My Girlfriend” is teenish, while the flip has the flavor of Troy Shondell’s “This Time”. My own release is teen pop with added strings and voices. To my knowledge, Hahn’s vocals were the only cuts not released from those sessions.
We returned to Milwaukee that fall and, in January 1964, Hahn and I left to join the Cashmeres, bringing a final end to the Darnells. The Cashmeres metamorphosized into the Mojo Men (who later evolved into the Portraits with releases on Sidewalk). Hahn left the Mojo Men and did some work in Memphis with Ace Cannon (“Tuff,” 1962) before leaving the music business and settling in Michigan. After doing some club work with country singer Johnny Carver, Denny King returned to California and teamed up with the Canadian Beadles (sic), whom we had previously met in Ishpeming, Michigan. That combination recorded one single for Tide as the Mojo Men, but they had no connection with the Milwaukee Mojo Men. (It seems that Tide Records, having had their only national chart appearance with Larry Bright’s “Mojo Workout” in 1960, tried to capitalize on the “Mojo” name in every possible way).
After his solo recording for Specialty in 1972, King moved to the Sacramento area and formed a booking agency. He later imported medical supplies from Korea and had other business involvements before he died in 2000; Mike Blattner died in 2004. Gary Lane had gone on to work with the Mad Lads and the Saints Five, and later owned a club in Milwaukee. Besides the Darnells, Jerry Sworske had drummed with several other Milwaukee bands, including the Noblemen and Junior & the Classics. He later became a police officer. Tom Fabre moved to Los Angeles and continued in music until his death in 2007. Kim Marie has organized frequent oldies shows in Milwaukee since 2000. This writer has lived in the greater L.A. area since 1965, played full-time until 1982, and part-time since then.
Sara 1055: Little Sheila/Besame Mucho, 11/61
Tide 1091: She’s My Girlfriend/Long Lonely Night (Denny King), /63
Gary E. Myers is author of two histories of Wisconsin music of the 50′s & 60′s, “Do You Hear That Beat” and “On That Wisconsin Beat”, as well as two instructional books, “Understanding and Using Chords and Chord Progressions” and “Understanding and Using Scales and Modes”. Check Gary’s website for more information.
Darnells in Appleton: Tom Hahn, Gary Myers, Denny King
Darnells 1963: Tom Hahn, Gary Myers, Denny King