The Hallmarks came from the towns of Oceanport and Long Branch, New Jersey. An article from the Ashbury Park Press of September 26, 1967 gives the full membership of the group:
The Hallmarks are Russ Scalzo, the composer who plays rhythm guitar; his brother, Joseph, drums, and cousin, Anthony Scalzo, rhythm guitar; Ricky Gager, lead guitar, and Jim Bova, bass guitar.
At the time of the article, Russ was the oldest, at 19, Tony Scalzo was 18, Joe Scalzo was 16, and Ricky and Jim were 15.
The article continues, “The record was produced by Thomas Falcone, who was instrumental in bringing the group together through a contest and for promoting the record with Mercury.”
The band cut Russ Scalzo’s original “I Know Why” as early as 1966. With a new title and lyric changes, plus layers of echo and effects to the recording, the Hallmarks released the song as “Soul Shakin’ Psychedelic Sally” on Smash in the summer of 1967. Many listeners prefer the original version without all the echo and effects, but the single does have a zany power that’s made it a classic.
The flip, “Girl of My Dreams” is more conventional. A demo acetate from Bedminster Sound Corp. in West Orange has one unreleased song produced by Tommy Falcone, “Baby We Can Make It Together”, the band trading off with a girl group chorus.
Unfortunately this was the only release the band had. I’m not sure how or why the group broke up.
A few years ago Russ Scalzo produced a musical based on his experiences with the group, “Running Through the Fire” written with daughter Rachel, and is now an author of Christian books. His website is www.russscalzo.com.
Producer Tommy Falcone has an interesting history. In 1963 he and Gino Viscione started the Cleopatra label, famous for labels featuring a reclining woman, often mistaken for Elizabeth Taylor but actually Tommy’s wife in costume. Cleopatra had at least eight releases, ranging from the Tabbys’ bizarre “Hong Kong Baby” to the Centuries great instrumentals “The Outer Limits” and “Jack 23”.
After Cleopatra folded, Falcone had his hand in producing, including the Inmates’ excellent “You Tell Lies” on Columbia and the Shoestring’s “Candy Andy”. Unfortunately Tommy Falcone passed away around the age of 40 in the late ’60s, supposedly from a heart attack after playing an accordion concert.
Here’s a group that went through several name changes over a few years, but kept the same lineup throughout:
Roger Sayre (guitar and vocals) Ray Bushbaum (keyboards and vocals) Jerry “Moon” Ditmer (or Jerry Dittmer) (bass) Jerry Thomas (drums and vocals – replaced by Bill “Fuzz” Weicht)
Prior to starting this band, Roger Sayre had been in 50’s rockabilly Chuck Sims’ group (Chuck also recorded as Charles Vanell). Ray Bushbaum had played with Sonny Flaharty’s Young Americans.
Based in Dayton, Ohio, they started as the Original Playboys in 1962 and cut a disc “I’ll Always Be On Your Side” / “Hey Little Willie in 1965 on Leisure Time records. “Hey Little Willie” has their sound down – grooving r&b with shouts, jokes and frat calls. “hold it – let’s do ‘Go Little Willie’, ‘DOTW'” (see comments below for explanation!). It was picked up for release on Smash Records with their name changed to the X-Cellents.
Another name change to the E-Cellents for their next 45 on Sure Play, the ballad “And I’m Cryin'” backed with one I haven’t heard yet, “The Slide”.
Reverting to the X-Cellents, they cut a cool double-sider 45 for Sure Play in 1966. “Hang It Up” treads similar ground to “Hey Little Willie” though a little less convincing, maybe ’cause it lacks that great bass drum beat. More insider jokes and calls here – “DFTW”, “77” – that I don’t know the meaning of.
“Little Wooden House” is a repetitive vamp lamenting settling down, just the same two chords over and over. “Little Wooden House” is a Roger Sayre composition, “Hang It Up” was written by Sayre-Bushbaum-Weicht-Dittmer.
Still the band progressed with the times, and contributed one of their best songs, Roger Sayre’s original Walk Slowly Away” to a sampler LP on Prism Records called “The Dayton Scene”. Acts were from the 1966 battle of the bands promoted by Dayton radio station WONE and the band is listed as the Xcellents. To my ears “Walk Slowly Away” bears a resemblance to the Beatles’ “I Need You” from the Help! soundtrack, though that may be a superficial comparison, as the lyrics and chorus are distinct.
They changed their name again for their last 45, as the Vacant Lot, or perhaps R. Sayre and the Vacant Lot, the LTD label gives both as artists. “This Little Feelin'” is one of their best numbers, soulful and rocking, as Ray’s keyboards again drive the sound behind Roger’s vocals. It was backed with their version of Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s “Don’t You Just Know It”, a song that had probably been in their repertoire for years with the same sound and arrangement. Production by Bill Leasure.
The band seems to have gone separate ways after this last 45. Sayre had another group with John Spitler at some point, but I don’t know if that was before or after the X-Cellents
The Upper Class included bass player John Broberg, Randy Shelton and drummer Neal St. John. Major Bill Smith’s Charay label signed them to record their two originals, “Help Me Find a Way” and “Can’t Wait.” David Norfleet of the Chants told me he went into the studio with them to help them record these songs.
“Help Me Find a Way” had hit potential from the strong vocal harmonies and upbeat production. The Charay 45 was picked up for national release by the Smash label, but didn’t chart in any market.
Beginning in 1969, John Broberg and Neal St. John played in the group “Quest” along with Chants vocalist Darrel Howard and guitarist Michael St. Romain.
From the Ensley Highlands section of Birmingham, Robert Alexander (bass), Ned Bibb (vocals and guitar), and Bobby Marlin (drums) started playing in high school in 1962, rehearsing in Robert Alexander’s basement.
In 1965-66 they backed Travis Wammack, then took the name The Distortions from his record “Distortion pt. 1”. They added Zack Zackery on keyboards, and recorded their first three 45s on Sea Records. These included an interesting Ned Bibb original, “Can You Tell”, which was backed by a slow, loopy take on “Hound Dog”; and a raging version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”.
The band added Eddie Rice on guitar in 1966 and switched to the Malcolm Z. Dirge label for their next release, “Thank You John”, which reached the charts on WSGN in town. On the flip they recorded a fine version of the Rascals’ oft-covered “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore”.
When their next 45, “Behind My Wall” was picked up for national distribution by Smash, they had their biggest hit, selling 10-15,000 copies according to their producer Ed Boutwell. Their penultimate 45 was a good Bill Haney original, “I Found a Girl”, with a version of “I Don’t Really Like You”, originally done by Baton-Rouge’s Canebreak Singers on Montel and written by Mike Crespo. It was produced by Haney and Richie Becker and released on Casino, a subsidiary of the Dover Records company of New Orleans.
In ’67 the Distortions added Roy Alexander on saxophone.
Dale Aston of the Torquays sent in the photo above and writes about his time with the band:
I played guitar with the band. Steve Salord and I had just left The Torquays and joined with The Distortions for a brief period. We recorded “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” at Boutwell Studios in Mountain Brook, AL.
As I recall Ed Boutwell had a hand in getting Capital Records to pick up “Let’s Spend Some Time Together”. The other labels were homegrown and produced by the band for local distribution only.
Their last release was a cleaned-up version of the Stone’s “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, retitled “Let’s Spend Some Time Together”. This was picked up by Capitol but didn’t sell particularly well.
Henry Lavoy took over on drums during the late 1960’s.
The band split up in 1969, but Zack Zachery and Roy Alexander played college and club shows as the Distortions into the ’70s, with Clif Payne on drums and Ed Finn.
Clif Payne sent in the photo of the group from the 1970’s as well as four unreleased songs from 1975 in a polished, commercial sound the band developed later on, something akin to the Average White Band. See Clif’s comment below for more information about that band at this time.
Roy Alexander and Bobby Marlin are now deceased.
Hound Dog / Can You Tell – Sea 100 Take This Ring / You Know I’m On My Way – Sea 101 Smokestack Lightning / Hot Cha – Sea 102 I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore / Thank You John – Malcolm Z. Dirge 45000 Smokestack Lightning / Behind My Wall – Malcolm Z. Dirge 45002 A Love That Loves You / Behind My Wall – Smash S-2068 I Don’t Really Like You / I Found A Girl – Casino 501 Let’s Spend Some Time Together / Gimme Some Lovin’ – Malcolm Z. Dirge 45008 and Capitol 2223
Sources: Reunion of the Sons and Daughters of the Sixties program, May 8th, 1987; Birmingham News. April 30, 1987, Birmingham Weekly, vol. 10.
Thank you to Mike Pair for loaning me the Birmingham News article, “Hair” Rally notice and Reunion program.
Inspired by the Beatles’ performances on Ed Sullivan in 1964, four friends in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn decided to form a band they would call the Creations. George Napolitano, Jerry Scotti, Dominic Coppola and Fred DeRubeis began lessons with Pete Frias, guitarist for the Peppermint Lounge act Jimmy & the Jesters. Two other friends, Joey Sirico and Joe Liotta soon joined. Pete not only taught them music, but assigned each of them the instrument they should play for the band.
The Creations performed at local churches and halls including the Teenage Cabaret and the “No Name” club on 60th St and 14th Ave in Brooklyn. They attracted notice with their spot-on renditions of songs by the Animals and the Dave Clark 5. Joe Liotta’s increasing ability on the Vox Continental organ gave them a professional sound that other bands lacked.
Their two big breaks, though, came one Saturday in March 1965, when their new manager Bob Herin booked the band on Murray the K matinee show at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre with the Chambers Brothers. The Creations played a longer set than usual to fill in for the Rascals, who couldn’t get their equipment off of the Barge in Long Island. The audience response was tremendous, reaching Beatlemania type proportions. Charged by this reaction, they then went and auditioned for Jack Spector, AM radio WMCA’s star DJ who was looking for a house band for the stations “Good Guys” shows.
Landing the job, they began playing Good Guy shows regularly on Fridays, playing their own sets and backing touring acts. Bob Herin turned management of the Creations over to Billy and Steve Jerome, who managed the Left Banke among others. The band would soon change their name to the Ox-Bow Incident and record two fine 45s for Smash and a third, with a somewhat different lineup, for Avco.
Before the name change and these releases, they recorded a handful of demos that were never released, including “Get on My Train” and “I’ve Paid My Dues”. I asked guitarist George Napolitano about the band’s early days as the Creations:
Q: What were the circumstances behind the demo recordings?
George Napolitano: The demo “I’ve Paid My Dues” was recorded at the request of Billy and Steve Jerome. They asked us to put something down so that they could give a listen. We had recorded “I’ve Paid My Dues” about 6 months earlier and this version was our second recording of that song. We also did “Get on My Train” at the same session.
Q: Who wrote “Get On My Train” and “I’ve Paid My Dues”?
George Napolitano: I don’t remember who wrote “I’ve Paid My Dues”. It was given to us on sheet music and we were “told” to work on it. “Get on My Train” was written by a friend named Denver Ruggins. He gave us the song and we changed it a bit. The demo was recorded on a 4 track Ampeg Machine at Rossi Sound Studio in Brooklyn and transferred to acetate. I have the original acetate and from the acetate we made the CD copy.
Q: Where was Rossi Sound Studios?
George Napolitano: 2005 West 8th Street Brooklyn, 23 NY is the address on the record label. If I remember correctly that was between Avenues T and U on West 8th Street.
Q: Was the band still called the Creations at that point?
George Napolitano: We were still the Creations when we recorded the demos but changed the name shortly afterwards to the Ox-Bow Incident. The lineup for the original session was myself on guitar, Joe Sirico bass, Fred DeRubeis drums, Joe Liotta Vox organ and vocals, Dominic Coppola guitar. When we re-recorded the song Jerry replaced Dominic Coppola on guitar. After we recorded “I’ve Paid My Dues” and “Get On My Train” we were signed to a production contract with Billy and Steve Jerome. At the time they also managed the Fifth Estate and were part of the team behind the Left Banke who had a hit with “Walk Away Rene”. They gave us the song “Beg, Borrow or Steal” to record and we had it mastered and ready to be released. However the Ohio Express version was released before ours and it never came out. In fact that was 2 years before Reach Out was released.
Q: Were these songs part of your live set?
George Napolitano: Whenever we performed on a WMCA ”Good Guy” show we would play the songs as part of the “show” and then we would back up all of the other acts that needed musical accompaniment. Remember this was way before the days of singers singing over pre-recorded tracks. We provided the music for groups such as the Chiffons, Peaches and Herb, Chubby Checker, the Shangra-Las, Jimmy Jones, the Jive 5, Neil Sedaka and countless others. In fact just this past week I saw Neil Sedaka and I mentioned to him that my band use to back him up on the “Good Guy” shows. He smiled and said, “I remember those days fondly”. We never rehearsed with him. Whenever he arrived Jack Spector would immediately put him on stage and Sedaka would turn to us, snap his fingers and say “C- Am- F-G” and proceed to sing “Calendar Girl”, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”, “Oh Carol” and all the rest of his songs.
Q: How was the NY music ‘scene’ at the time? Did you get much chance to see other bands or only when you shared bills with other bands?
George Napolitano: We played a lot, practically every weekend so we really didn’t get much of a chance to see the other groups that were around at the time. When we weren’t playing our respective girlfriends expected us to spend time with them and not go listening to the other groups. We did go to see some of our friends groups such as Lurch & the Brats, The Intruders and others from time to time but when we were “off” we tried to stay away from the clubs and catch up on those things which we couldn’t do whenever we were playing. That being said whenever we could we did try to get to the Electric Circus or go to the Fillmore East to see The Jefferson Airplane, The Doors and whoever else was playing, but with our schedule that didn’t happen often.
Signed to the Smash label, the Ox-Bow Incident didn’t release a record until 1968. By this time were heading in a more soulful direction, using a leslie speaker on the organ and adding lead singer Billy Sheehan from another local band, the Intruders. Unfortunately, Sheehan was drafted immediately after the band recorded a fine, somewhat psychedelicized version of the Four Top’s “Reach Out”. They recruited Al Tessitore to sing on the b-side, the garage song “Harmonica Man”. “Reach Out” made local radio charts as far away as Kentucky (WKLO) and Wisconsin (the first Instant Pick on WSPT), but missed the national charts despite good commercial potential.
They followed up with the catchy “You Can’t Make Love By Yourself”, sung by Al and “Lurch” Luis Pagan and featuring session player Vinny Bell on electric sitar. The flipside is “She’s Gone”, a heavy soul number written by Fred DeRubeis and George. Neither side caught on with radio or the public and the band disbanded in 1969. George and Joe Sirico found other musicians to record a final 45 for Avco, then reunited with most of the original members for live shows into 1973.
The Ox-Bow Incident is still performing and recording music to this day. Those who want to hear more of their music should check out their myspace page, which has a history of the band and many more photos than I could reproduce here. There’s also a long interview with George Napolitano and Joe Sirico from Mike Dugo’s 60sgaragebands.com site, archived here. Both of these were sources for this story, along with my own interview with George Napolitano. Special thanks to George and the other members of the Ox-Bow Incident for sharing these rarely heard songs.
The Stains came out of Yale University in New Haven. They recorded one 45 in 1966, then disbanded and reformed as the Five Cards Stud.
“Now and Then” is a garage classic, written by Gordon Strickland, Jonathan Coles and Mike Farmer. The actual A-side is a good cover of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind”, done with just a little crunch on the guitar.
Richard Perry produced the Stains 45 as well as their first single as Five Cards Stud, “Everybody Needs Somebody” / “Be-Bop-A-Lula” on Lieber-Stoller’s Red Bird label. Perry would go on to produce Tiny Tim’s and Captain Beefheart’s first LPs. The Five Cards Stud cut another 45 for Smash, “Beg Me” / “Once”, and the A-side became a pick hit on WLOF in Orlando in March of 1967, breaking into the top 20 in April.
Vocalist and rhythm guitarist D. Gordon Strickland spoke to me about his time with the Stains and Five Cards Stud:
I recall hearing “Hearts of Stone” when I was around 8 years old and became very interested in music. When Elvis hit the scene I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. While I liked to sing and play the guitar, I didn’t form a band until 1964, freshman year in college. I had been asked to be the drummer in a band in high school, but I declined since they only played instrumentals. It was also partly because I didn’t know how to play the drums!
The Stains were essentially myself, Jon Lippincott on drums, Jonathan Coles on lead guitar, Rick Lander on bass and later Mike Farmer on Farfisa. Jon and Jonathan were roommates of mine and Rick lived across the hall. Mike was a year or two older and we hooked up with him after a few months.
In the beginning, I played rhythm guitar. Jon had never played drums and Rick had never played bass. We were pretty bad for a while. Jonathan played classical guitar having studied with Andres Segovia and cared little for rock and roll but agreed because he thought it would be fun. He never used a pick but played electric guitar with his fingers.
I don’t quite remember how we hooked up with Tom Curtis, also a Yale student, but he became our manager. His grandfather and grand uncle were the Cohn brothers who founded Columbia Pictures so he had a flair for promotion. He actually came up with the name. Initially he wanted it to be Vandal Stains and the Daises but I declined to become Vandal so we settled on the Stains.
The first dance we played at was at the Yale Divinity School. It was actually quite amusing as the crowd was somewhat subdued. I got so worked up on stage dancing around that I kicked the main electric plug out of the wall so we ended a song midway through. The audience thought we were new wave.
There were several bands at Yale at the time. Prince La La was one that was heavy R & B. A local New Haven band called the Shags was popular. The Stains mostly played at colleges in the northeast.
Richard Perry was working for George Goldner when we met George and was also dating his daughter, Linda. George was old school. At one point, I was ad libbing during the fade out of one song we were recording and said Mary Jane. George asked me what that had to do with anything and when I told him it was slang for marijuana, he went back and deleted it. His glory days were behind him and he let Richard be more involved.
We signed with Red Bird but as you’d expect, never saw a dime. The problem was, and may still be, that the real money is in promotion. All we could ever get anyone to do was essentially pay for the session time and mail out some 45s. I remember going to a radio station in Hartford, CT and being shown a room stacked with probably 1000 45s that represented a few weeks of receipts. The station would obviously have slots for new songs by known artists so you were competing for very few openings in the play list. To get a better audience, you needed to spend money which our label never did.
Richard Perry had his “office in the Brill building in NYC. We visited him once and he told us he wanted us to do a cover of “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind” by the Lovin Spoonful. He had us practice it in his office. What he didn’t tell us was that Kama Sutra Records was next door, the Spoonful’s label. They heard us and came over to find out what we were doing. Needless to say they quickly released their version as a single which they hadn’t planned on doing.
Richard Perry is the same guy who produced Streisand, the Pointer Sisters and others. I remember he played me a demo and said that this was going to make him a name. It was an atrocious song but he was right. He had discovered Tiny Tim. I was under whelmed by his musical prowess but shows what I know.
Tom Curtis got us a summer job at Harlow’s in NYC, where the Rascals had recently played. Tom felt that the band members were not sufficiently strong to go “professional” so we held auditions and got three new Yale students and a keyboard player from Upsala College, in essence an entirely new band. The new members were all accomplished musicians but we had to learn a lot of material in a short period of time.
We were at Harlow’s for 10 weeks, playing from 9 – 3 am, half hour on half off, six nights a week. We were reviewed by Variety, again courtesy of Tom’s connections. That summer we also opened for Otis Redding at Central Park. Again, Tom called up and spoke to the President of Rheingold Beer, the sponsor, and talked us on to the show. This was the first time I had seen Otis live and afterwards it made me wonder what I was doing in the business although he said to me as we left the stage, “Not bad, kid”. We also played at Palisades Park on a Cousin Brucie show that included Marvin Gaye.
The last song we recorded was produced by Artie Kornfeld, who later organized Woodstock. That song, “Beg Me”, was a remake of a Chuck Jackson song and had some success, reaching number 2 in Raleigh and number 18 in Orlando. Again we saw no money and there was no effort to promote the song.The way it got to number 2 in Raleigh is that the local radio station was doing a spot for a local band that didn’t have a record so just happened to pull ours from a pile and played it in the background. He started to get calls so started playing the record. He told me it would have reached number 1 but it was based on local record sales and they ran out of copies. We ended up playing before about 10,000 people in Raleigh on a show with the Tams.
I would have continued to pursue music but after college in 1968, I had two choices, get drafted into the Army or volunteer for the Navy. I did the latter and when I got out about three years later, it just seemed too late. I did write a few songs and even had Richard Perry interested in one of them but nothing came of it.
D. Gordon Strickland
Anyone have a photo of the group?
“Beg Me” at #8 on WKIX’s top 30 in Raleigh NC, May 20, 1967