Which British Invasion Drummer Ended Up Operating a Driving School?

freddie-on-drums                                                                     Freddie Marsden

Here’s the story of a guy who is a footnote in Rock n’ Roll who celebrated his birthday on this date. Never considered a great musician of note, but played drums in the tradition of the British drummers of the time, like Ringo Starr, Mick Avory, and Charlie Watts.

Of all the successful Merseybeat musicians, Freddie Marsden was the most down-to-earth. He was a friendly, charming man who enjoyed his success in the Sixties as the drummer with Gerry and the Pacemakers and then happily settled down to the routine of a daily job.

Unlike in the Beatles, there was a sharp distinction between front man and accompanists in Gerry and the Pacemakers, the other group at the helm of the 1963 Merseybeat pop craze. But behind Gerry’s grinning vibrancy, his elder brother, Freddie, who died  at aged 66, was solidly at the music’s heart, ministering as a drummer with a strong tenor for vocal harmonies.

Freddie Marsden was born in the working-class Dingle area of Liverpool in 1940 and his brother, Gerry, followed two years later. Their father, Fred, was a railway clerk who entertained the neighbors by playing the ukulele. With the vogue for skiffle music in the mid-Fifties, he took the skin off one of his instruments, put it over a tin of Quality Street and said to Freddie, “There’s your first snare drum, son.”

In 1957 the brothers appeared in the show Dublin to Dingle at the Pavilion Theatre in Lodge Lane. Studies meant little to either of them – Freddie left school with one O-level and worked for a candle maker earning £4 a week, and Gerry’s job was as a delivery boy for the railways. Their parents did not mind and encouraged their musical ambitions.

On leaving Francis Xavier grammar school, Freddie bought a full kit from his earnings as a candle maker. He and singing guitarist Gerry formed a skiffle group, the Mars Bars, which by 1959 had become Gerry and the Pacemakers, priding themselves on their GP-monogrammed blazers and their embrace of everything in the week’s Top 20. Amassing a huge local following, they became a last-minute addition to the bill of a spectacular starring US rock’n’roller Gene Vincent – and all but stole the show with an emotive arrangement of You’ll Never Walk Alone. In 1961, they began the first of several clubland seasons in Hamburg.

g-at-c   Gerry & The Pacemakers in Hamburg

We had our own van and I did most of the driving. We got to Hamburg about two o’clock in the afternoon and when we got to the Top Ten Club, the manager said that we were on at seven. We were given [the slimming drug] Preludin to keep awake. Gerry was our main singer, and all the singing and the smoking battered his voice. When he was 12 or 13, he was in the church choir and his voice was absolutely brilliant, but he got that huskiness from Hamburg.

g-b-poster

 

Their repertoire was now freighted with rhythm and blues, showbiz standards and, tellingly, originals such as Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying by the Marsden brothers. A punishing schedule of nightly performances transformed the group into a hard act to follow when they returned to less demanding tasks in Liverpool. If they and the Beatles occupied the top two positions in the first popularity poll by regional pop gazette Mersey Beat, competition dissolved into camaraderie – as exemplified when the Beatles attended Marsden’s 21st birthday party, and the two groups combined as the Beatmakers one evening at Litherland town hall.

gerry-and-the-p

In late 1962, Gerry and the Pacemakers was the second band to be signed up by Brian Epstein – the Beatles were the first. When the Beatles rejected Mitch Murray’s light-hearted “How Do You Do It”, Epstein told the record producer George Martin that he had just the group to do it. On 22 January 1963, Gerry and the Pacemakers traveled from Liverpool to London to record the song, as Marsden recalled:

We sat in the back of a freezing van for 10 hours in the worst weather you can imagine. The road manager slept through it all because he was shattered. We knew that the Beatles had turned down “How Do You Do It” and I thought they were silly to do that, as it was a much better song than “Love Me Do”.

gerry-vs-beat The Beatles, Gerry & The Pacemakers, and Roy Orbison

The single went to No l, as did its cheeky follow-up, “I Like It”. Having seen Paul McCartney’s success around the Liverpool clubs with “Over the Rainbow”, Gerry and the Pacemakers wanted a similar, emotional show-stopper and they picked “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. With George Martin’s arrangement, they became the first UK beat group to record with strings. They also became the first act to reach No l with their first three singles. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was subsequently adopted by a Liverpool football club and became their fight song.
gerry-at-cavern

In 1961 they were joined by Les Maguire on piano and thus the hit-making Pacemakers line-up was complete. They alternated at the Cavern club’s lunchtime sessions with the Beatles and, one famous night at Litherland Town Hall, they combined their talents to form the Beatmakers. Freddie Marsden had his 21st birthday party in the Dingle with the Beatles as guests. It is sometimes reported that he was considered as a possible replacement for the Beatles’ drummer Pete Best after Best was sacked in August 1962, but “That’s rubbish,” he told me.

Look at my high forehead. I could never have had a Beatle haircut for a start. I considered myself a very basic drummer. I laid the beat down and didn’t do anything fancy. I knew my limitations and I stuck with the strong off-beat and it seemed to work. We were nice and tight. Ringo was definitely more technical than me.

After the three No 1 hits for Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1963, their fourth single, Gerry’s own song “I’m the One”, went to No 2 the following year. Freddie felt that they would have had a fourth chart-topper if they had picked their stage favorite, “Pretend”. Freddie co-wrote “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Cryin'”, which became their biggest US hit, reaching No 4 in 1964. He was immensely proud when José Feliciano recorded the song. Freddie Marsden also co-wrote “Why Oh Why” and “You’ve Got What I Like”, and sang the occasional vocal, joining Gerry on harmony for “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues”.

ferry

The group was featured on scooters for the film Ferry Cross The Mersey (1965), which was written by the creator of Coronation Street, Tony Warren. Although the plot is trite, the film offers invaluable views of Merseyside sights and clubs of the Sixties. The title song, written by Gerry Marsden, charted for the group in 1965. “There were lots of songs about Chicago, Broadway and London,” said Freddie, “but nobody had mentioned Liverpool until then.”

Before a last big UK hit with the movie’s title theme, there had been a breakthrough in the United States in summer 1964 with Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying. Finally, Gerry’s acceptance of a West End musical role sundered the group – though Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying was revived by Jose Feliciano, and, from the 1970s, Gerry relived past glories with a new Pacemakers.

This group did not, however, include Freddie, who had retired as a professional entertainer to run the Pacemakers driving school near his home in Southport, Lancashire. Attractive in his relaxed candor, he seemed content with his latter-day career while remaining quietly proud of his achievements during his years just beyond the main spotlight.

 

Looking back, I underrated myself as a drummer. I was always more into sports than playing drums and when I compared myself to some of the drummers I’d heard in America, I didn’t fancy getting up to their standards.

Freddie Marsden became a telephone operator for £14 a week but later opened the Pacemaker driving school in Formby. Although he was always courteous to his fans, he never returned to music. A few years ago, when I asked him if he still had his drums, he said, “No, I got rid of them. They took up too much space in the garage.”

freddie-2

Freddie Marsden

Frederick John Marsden, drummer & composer, born October 23 1940; died December 9 2006. He is survived by his wife Margaret, and a son and daughter.

 

What British Invasion Band Had Their Biggest Hit Long After They Had Split Up?

In honor of The Zombies nomination to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I felt this is a good time to provide some background of the group.

rod-argent     colin-blunstone

  Rod Argent                                       Colin Blunstone

Aside from the Beatles and perhaps the Beach Boys, no mid-’60s rock group wrote melodies as gorgeous as those of the Zombies. Dominated by Colin Blunstone’s breathy vocals, choral backup harmonies, and Rod Argent’s shining jazz- and classical-influenced organ and piano, the band sounded utterly unique for its era. Indeed, the Zombies’ material — penned by either Argent or guitarist Chris White, with unexpected shifts from major to minor keys — was perhaps too adventurous for the singles market. To this day, they’re known primarily for their three big hit singles, “She’s Not There” (1964), “Tell Her No” (1965), and “Time of the Season” (1969). Most listeners remain unaware that the group maintained a remarkably high quality of work for several years.

zombies

The Zombies

The Zombies were centered around St. Albans’ school in Hertfordshire, where Argent, Grundy, and guitarist Paul Atkinson began playing together in 1961. Eventually, bassist Paul Arnold was added, and introduced the others to singer Colin Blunstone, persuaded to leave his job at an insurance firm. Colin’s fellow schoolmate Chris White soon took Arnold’s place, and the group developed a local following; unsure as to whether they should continue after school ended, the band was persuaded by Argent and White to enter a local talent contest.

The Zombies had a deal with Decca before the contest was even decided.  Argent showed up at the studios with a song he’d written specifically for the occasion, a dark brooder called “She’s Not There.” But a cover of Gershwin’s “Summertime” was the heavy favorite for first single. Fortunately, label producer Ken Jones insisted that “She’s Not There” was the hit, and while it did relatively well in the UK, heavy exposure by New York radio powerhouse WINS led it to sell two and a half million copies stateside. “She’s Not There” was only the second song Argent had ever written

In early 1965, another piece of classic British Invasion pop, “Tell Her No,”  but that appeared to be it for the group, who couldn’t match their earlier successes.It was a remarkably confident and original first-time effort, with a great minor melody and the organ, harmonies, and urgent, almost neurotic vocals that would typify much of their work. It did well enough in Britain (making the Top 20), but did even better in the States, where it went to number two.  Yet that was as much Top 40 success as the group would have for several years.

The tragedy was that throughout 1965 and 1966, the Zombies released a string of equally fine, intricately arranged singles that flopped commercially, at a time in which the chart success of 45s was a lot more important to sustain a band’s livelihood than it would be a few years down the road. “Remember When I Loved Her,” “I Want You Back Again,” “Indication,” “She’s Coming Home,” “Whenever You’re Ready,” “Gotta Get a Hold of Myself,” “I Must Move,” “Remember You,” “Just Out of Reach,” “How We Were Before” — all are lost classics, some relegated to B-sides that went virtually unheard, all showing the group eager to try new ideas and expand its approaches. What’s worse, the lack of a big single denied the group opportunities to record albums — only one LP, rushed out to capitalize on the success of “She’s Not There,” would appear before 1968.

Their failure to achieve more widespread success is a bit mystifying, perhaps explained by a few factors. While undeniably pop-based, their original compositions and arrangements were in some senses too adventurous for the radio. “Indication,” for instance, winds down with a lengthy, torturous swirl of bitter organ solos and wordless, windblown vocals; “Remember When I Loved Her,” despite its beautiful melody, has downbeat lyrics that are almost morbid; “I Want You Back Again” is arranged like a jazz waltz, with the sorts of sudden stops, tempo shifts, and lengthy minor organ solos found in a lot of their tunes.

The Zombies were also, perhaps unfairly, saddled with a somewhat square image; much was made of their formidable scholastic record, and they most definitely did not align themselves with the R&B-based school of British bands, preferring more subtle and tuneful territory.

al-kooper

Al Kooper

By 1967, the group hadn’t had a hit for quite some time, and reckoned it was time to pack it in. Their Decca contract expired early in the year, and the Zombies signed with CBS for one last album, knowing before the sessions that it was to be their last. A limited budget precluded the use of many session musicians, which actually worked to the Zombies’ advantage, as they became among the first to utilize the then-novel Mellotron to emulate strings and horns.In 1967, however, the band signed to CBS to cut one last album, and the result, Odessey and Oracle, was an instant classic. But the album languished, the band broke up, and the Zombies weren’t heard from again until two years later, when DJs around the country began picking up on CBS’ last Zombie single, “Time Of The Season.” The album passed virtually unnoticed in Britain, and was only released in the States after some lobbying from Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat & Tears insisted upon it, saying it “stuck out like a rose in a garden of weeds” By that time it was 1968, and the group had split for good

oracle

Odessey and Oracle was their only cohesive full-length platter (the first album was largely pasted together from singles and covers). A near-masterpiece of pop/psychedelia, it showed the group reaching new levels of sophistication in composition and performance, finally branching out beyond strictly romantic themes into more varied lyrical territory.   Rolling Stone Magazine named Odessey and Oracle (2003) one of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time

The Zombies had been defunct for some time when one of the tracks from Odessey, “Time of the Season,” was released as a single, almost as an afterthought. It took off in early 1969 to become their biggest hit, but the members resisted temptations to re-form, leading to a couple of bizarre tours in the late ’60s by bogus “Zombies” with no relation to the original group. By this time, Rod Argent was already recording as the leader of Argent, which went in a harder rock direction than the Zombies. After a spell as an insurance clerk, Colin Blunstone had some success (more in Britain than America) in the early ’70s as a solo vocalist, with material that often amounted to soft rock variations on the Zombies sound.

Much more influential than their commercial success would indicate, echoes of the Zombies’ innovations can be heard in the Doors, the Byrds, the Left Banke, the Kinks, and many others. After a long period during which most of their work was out of print, virtually all of their recordings have been restored to availability on CD. Blunstone and Argent reunited for an album, Out of the Shadows, and toured together in 2003 as Blunstone & Argent, playing live shows into 2004 when they began gigging again as the Zombies, with an album and DVD set, Live at the Bloomsbury Theatre, appearing under that name in 2005. To honor the 40th anniversary of Odessey and Oracle, the four surviving original members of the group reunited for a series of three concerts at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theatre in March of 2008, with a CD and DVD set of the shows hitting the market later that summer. A new studio album, Breathe Out, Breathe In, attributed to the Zombies featuring Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent, appeared in 2011.

The moniker was pared down to the Zombies for 2015’s Still Got That Hunger, an album of new tunes from a lineup anchored by Argent and Blunstone and featuring guitarist Tom Toomey, bassist Jim Rodford, and drummer Steve Rodford. The Still Got That Hunger lineup toured in tandem with the Argent, Blunstone, White, and Grundy edition, presenting a show in which the original members performed Odessey and Oracle in full, followed by a set of new material from the most recent lineup.

Which TV Star/Singer-Songwriter Attended the Orchestration Session of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”?

Singer, composer, heart throb, pioneer – all are accurate descriptions of Robert Michael Nesmith. Most easily identified by his trademark bluish wool hat with pompom, Nesmith fashioned a diversified career within music and also in film.

Michael Nesmith was born on December 30, 1942 in Houston, Texas. His parents had divorced when he was only 3 years old and he and his mother Bette moved to Dallas. Nesmith attended Thomas Jefferson High School, where he performed in musicals and in the school’s choir.

michael-fearyews

 

Michael’s mother, Bette Nesmith, was a legal secretary in Houston, Texas. Due to her hobby of painting, she came up with the idea and invented Liquid Paper typing correction fluid and made an enormous fortune overnight. He inherited half his mother’s $50 million estate from the sale of Liquid Paper; the rest finances a private think tank.

Michael spent fourteen months in the U.S. Air Force where he tipped over a general’s airplane while cleaning it.

michael-folk

After his tour of duty, Nesmith was given a guitar as a Christmas present from his mother and stepfather. Learning as he went, he played solo and in a series of working bands, performing folk, country, and occasionally rock and roll. His verse poems became the basis for song lyrics, and after moving to Los Angeles with his first wife and friend John London, he signed a publishing deal for his songs. Nesmith’s “Mary, Mary” was recorded by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, while “Different Drum” and “Some of Shelly’s Blues” were recorded by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys. “Pretty Little Princess,” written in 1965, was recorded by Frankie Laine and released as a single in 1968 on ABC Records. Later, “Some of Shelly’s Blues” and “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care)” were made popular by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their 1970 album Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy.

Nesmith was a self-described “failure” growing up. “I just didn’t do anything,” he said in his famous 1965 screen test for _The Monkees (1966)_ ; he expanded on this in a 1968 Australian radio interview by noting, “I was just starving and writing music.” He got work as a session guitarist up and down the East Coast before moving to Los Angeles with his wife Phyllis Barbour in 1965. He managed to get a record contract with Colpix Records and released several 45s as well as appearing on ‘Lloyd Thaxton’s’ syndicated teen dance show.

davy-jones

He had actually been “labelmates” with Davy Jones earlier, as both were signed to the Colpix Records label, though they’d apparently never met. His first professional recording (under the pseudonym “Michael Blessing”) was a folk music single entitled “What Seems To Be the Problem, Officer? While Jones had released a modestly successful LP and single by 1965, Nesmith’s two singles hadn’t gotten far past the promotional stage. The Colpix label (belonging to Columbia Pictures, and controlled by Screen Gems) was dissolved in 1966, to make way for the new Colgems label–with The Monkees as its centerpiece.

Michael published several songs through different companies before signing his contracts for The Monkees. Since he was already signed to Screen Gems as a songwriter, the company next bought up Nesmith’s earlier publishing, so his songs could be used for the Monkees

 

He arrived for his first interview for The Monkees wearing a wool cap, to keep the hair out of his eyes while driving his motorcycle around town (Nesmith also carried a bag of laundry, to be done at a nearby laundromat on his way home). Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider remembered him as “Wool Hat”; they wanted to name his Monkees character that, but Nesmith refused.

In describing  his famous wool hat”It had a life of its own. I used to take it off and put it in a little house, feed it . . . ”

monkees

When Nesmith won the role for The Monkees (1966) he was the first of all involved to see where the show and the music would go. Nesmith produced tracks for The Monkees even before TV series filming began; he has said “about a hundred” tracks were made by himself, Micky, Peter, and Davy in the first half of 1966, and among the songs recorded was his composition “The Girl I Knew Somewhere.”

The Gretsch guitar company built a one-off natural finish 12-string electric guitar for Nesmith when he was performing with The Monkees (Gretsch had a promotional deal with the group). He earlier played a customized Gretsch twelve-string, which had originally been a six-string model. Nesmith used this guitar for his appearances on the television series, as well as The Monkees’ live appearances in 1966 and 1967. Beginning in 1968, Nesmith used a white 6-string Gibson SG for his live appearances with The Monkees. He would use that guitar in their motion picture Head for the live version of “Circle Sky,” and also for the final original Monkees tour in 1969 with Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz. In a post on his Facebook page in 2011, Nesmith reported that both guitars were stolen in the early 1970s.

don-kirshner

The hiring of Don Kirshner quashed this group gestation, but Nesmith continued to produce tracks for the group, usually with Micky Dolenz providing co-lead or harmony vocals; the trademark of Nesmith’s 1966-produced tracks was the stellar deep bass work of Robert West.

Being the leader of the group by virtue of having the strongest musical vision and polish, Nesmith challenged the controlling powers, culminating in the famous “That could have been your head!” near-brawl with Columbia executives in late 1966-early 1967 that left a wall torn open.

The Monkees succeeded in ousting supervisor Don Kirshner and took control of their records and song choices, but they worked as a four-man group on only one album, 1967’s Headquarters. The band never overcame the credibility problems they faced when word spread that they had not played on their first records; Nesmith instigated this when he called the band’s first non-studio press conference and called More of The Monkees “probably the worst record in the history of the world”. However, their singles and albums continued to sell well, until the disastrous release of Head, filmed with much assistance from Frank Zappa.

michael-zappa

The Monkees went off the air in 1968, the same year as their only feature film, Head, premiered to poor reviews and box office results. Tork soon left the group, but Nesmith and the others made one more album together as the Monkees. Nesmith took a controlling involvement in the group’s albums, but given the strong egos of each member, and breakage was inevitable. Nesmith finally left in 1970.

Nesmith’s last contractual Monkees commitment was a commercial for Kool-Aid and Nerf balls, in April 1970 (fittingly, the spot ends with Nesmith frowning and saying, “Enerf’s enerf!”). With the band’s fortunes continuing to fall, Nesmith asked to be released from his contract, and had to pay a default: “I had three years left… at $150,000 a year,” which he had to pay back. He continued to feel the financial bite for years afterwards, until his inheritance from his mother’s Liquid Paper fortune in 1980 eased those concerns. In a 1980 interview with Playboy he said of that time, “I had to start telling little tales to the tax man while they were putting tags on the furniture.” While Nesmith had continued to produce his compositions with the Monkees, he withheld many of the songs from the final Monkees albums, only to release them on his post-Monkees solo records.

michael-ringo                                                                Michael & Ringo

In the 1960’s, Michael enjoyed his fame and struck up friendships with fellow musicians in the U.S. and abroad.Interestingly, he attended the famous orchestral session for “A Day In The Life” by John Lennon..

michael-fnb

He joined longtime bassist friend John London and pedal steel ace ‘Orville “Red” Rhodes’ for The First National Band, a group that pioneered the mixture of country music with rock-&-roll. The song “Joanne” off of their first album, “Magnetic South”, became a big hit. Though the FNB broke after three albums, Nesmith and Rhodes kept on going with the Second National Band. Their records were critical successes, but unfortunately were not big hits.

michael-tv

Nesmith then invented and sold the concept 24 hour music television to Time Warner. He produced a proof of concept called “Pop Clips” which Time-Warner aired on the Nickelodeon channel as a test. It was an instant success. From there was developed the MTV network.

He also branched into TV and film production, with such works as Elephant Parts (1981), Timerider (1983), Repo Man (1984), Square Dance and Tapeheads, as well as several TV specials.

As to why he didn’t rejoin The Monkees when Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones re-formed the group, c. 1986 “It would be kind of like Ronald Reagan making another movie.”

Nesmith continued to make records on a sporadic basis, 13 solo albums in total. He reunited with Red Rhodes in 1992 and a Latin-flavored masterpiece called “Tropical Campfires”. He was nominated for a Grammy for his 1994 album “The Garden”. – He reunited with the Monkees in 1996 for the “Justus” album. In 1997 he wrote and directed an ABC television Monkees special. In 1998 St. Martins Press published his first novel, “The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora”. In 2005 he finished his second novel, “The America Gene”. He also started a small video game development company called Zoomo Productions, based in Monterey, California.

An opportunistic lookalike from the U.S. cashed in on his similarity to Nesmith by appearing on talk shows and doing interviews in Australia during the 1980s. The scam was successful, the lookalike being far enough from America to avoid detection as a fraud (which is less likely in the U.S., where the real Nesmith has made many media and show-business acquaintances). An entertaining interviewee, the impersonator’s charade was not discovered until after he had vanished from the public eye. The imposter, Barry Faulkner, who had pulled various fraudulent scams for 40 years, was finally apprehended and sent to jail in 2009.

michael-monkees

 

In 2012, Nesmith briefly toured Europe prior to re-joining The Monkees for their tours of the United States. Intermixing the Monkees concerts, Nesmith also launched solo tours of the U.S. Unlike his 1992 U.S. tour, which predominantly featured music from his RCA recordings, Nesmith stated his 2013 tour featured songs that he considers “thematic, chronological and most often requested by fans”.

Michael was married (and divorced) three times and has four children.

Michael  recently was quoted as saying, “I’m clearly in my endgame. I mean, we’re not talking about deciding to do something else. We’re talking about dying. [Laughs] So I don’t know. Who knows where that is? That’s somewhere . . . that door is coming up. I can’t make it out on the horizon just yet. But at a certain point it’s going to be time for me to say, “Eh, I think I’ll lay down.”

Which Male Doo Wop/Early R&R Singer is Known to Have Been a Pimp at Age 10?

frank-t-2

As lead vocalist with the Teenagers, Frankie Lymon (1942-1968) became the first black teenage singing idol. The group’s success inspired the formation of a number of youthful black vocal groups, from the Students in the late ’50s to the Jackson Five in the ’60s. The group’s sound influenced young singers such as Ronnie Bennett and Diana Ross, and served as prototype for both the girl groups and early Motown groups of the ’60s.

His wise-beyond-his-years vocal and performing abilities not only made the Teenagers a group several notches above the competition but made Lymon the first black teenage pop star. Though only together for a brief 18-month period, Lymon & the Teenagers exerted an enormous influence, spawning several “kid” vocal groups and providing initial inspiration to Berry Gordy to model his entire Motown production approach around Lymon’s original vocal style.

Formed in the Washington Heights section of New York, the half-black, half-Puerto Rican Teenagers began as an assemblage of schoolmates and neighbors practicing popular R&B in the hallways of their respective apartment buildings. A performance at Edward W. Stitt Junior High School got the attention of 12-year-old Frankie Lymon, there to play bongos in his brothers’ mambo band. His seemingly innocent falsetto was a perfect fit, and he was soon singing with the group — but not always as lead. They called themselves the Premiers and hoped some day to make a record.

An apartment neighbor gave the group some poems his girlfriend had written to him as letters — partly in an attempt to get them to practice something new. One poem was worked into a song called “Why Do Birds Sing So Gay,” and when a member of the doo-wop group The Valentines got the Teenagers an audition with the Rama label, it was further morphed into “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” featuring Lymon on lead. It was a smash, and the group followed up with hits like “I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent.”

Unfortunately, despite the squeaky-clean image of the group, they were no innocents — Harlem native Lymon had been a pimp at ten.

The Valentines were under contract to Rama Records owned by George Goldner. Barrett a talent scout for Goldner arranged an audition. Goldner was impressed. At subsequent recording sessions bandleader Jimmy Wright suggested a name change to the Teenagers to reflect the members ages.

frankie-l-t

Early February, 1956 “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” was released. With Lymon on boyish soprano lead, the song became an instant smash on Gee Records. The song was subsequently covered by the Diamonds and Gale Storm, but unlike most songs rendered by white artists, the original proved to be the biggest hit. The Teenagers were on their way. Lymon was credited with writing this, their first big hit, However, in the early ’90s, a federal judge ruled after a lengthy trial that Lymon hadn’t written the song — another member of the Teenagers had.

Sporting a clean-cut wholesome image, the appeal of the Teenagers was their youth. On stage they were very energetic. The group was well choreographed  by Cholly Atkins who would go onto greater fame with the Temptations. The Teenagers were packaged so as not to upset middle lass American parents. They even appeared in letter sweaters.

March, 1956 they were booked by Alan Freed in one of his rock and roll reviews at the Brooklyn Paramount. They appeared with the Platters and Bill Haley and His Comets. A second single “I Want You To Be My Girl” was released in April. A week later they appeared on CBS-TV’s Shower of Stars. By the end of April they were touring with “The Biggest Rock and Roll Show of 1956”

In August  production was begun on a movie called Rock. Rock, Rock in which the Teenagers made a cameo appearance. In September they appeared on Alan Freed’s radio show. While headlining the Apollo “ABC’s of Love” was released. After that they went back to Hollywood to film a cameo for Don’t Knock the Rock. In late September they began a tour with Bill Haley that lasted until late November. In November their fifth single “Baby, Baby” was released and their first album Meet the Teenagers was released in December. The Teenagers were enrolled in the School for Professionals. and on the road they took correspondence courses and had traveling tutors. However, they were falling behind in their education  and the group stayed at home the first of months of 1957. During this time “Paper Castles” was released.

After appearing in a carnival in Panama in March they began a three month tour of England beginning at the London Palladium. While in London, the Teenagers recorded a second album Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers at the London Palladium.

frankie-s

George Goldner had been trying to convince Lymon to go solo and after the success in Great Britain he agreed to do so. On  Alan Freed’s weekly television show in July, Lymon appeared solo.  “Goody Goody,” his the last record with the Teenager was released in July.

In September Lymon began an 80 day tour with the Biggest Show Stars for 1957 as a solo act. His first record without the Teenagers, “My Girl” was released.. In November Lymon’s “Little Girl” appeared on Roulette and the Teenagers “Flip-Flop” on Gee

January 1958 Lymon released “Thumb, Thumb” Lymon and the Teenagers reunited to sing “Goody Goody” on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand. In June he appeared with the Coasters at the Apollo Theater.

Losing his youthful soprano voice, at the age of fifteen Lymon’s career was in decline. After the initial success of the first two records sales had slipped with each release. “Goody, Goody” was the last record by Lymon or the Teenagers to have any significant sales.

frankie-with-afro

Lymon had experimented with drugs since 1958. On June 21, 1966 he was arrested on a heroin charge. Lymon entered the army in lieu of a jail sentence but, received a less then honorable discharge a short time later.  He moved to Fort Gordon, Georgia where he  married a local school teacher Emira Eagle and stayed in the Augusta area appearing at a local lounge. In mid-February he told his wife he had a weekend job in New York. On February 27, 1968 he died in the same house he had grown up in with an empty syringe by his side.

frankie-grave

As with most young performers of the era, the Teenagers lost rights to their material. Goldner’s publishing firm had handled the song, taking fifty percent off the top. Originally Frankie Lymon, Herman Santiago and George Goldner were listed as “Why Do fools Fall In Love” composers. Santiago’s name was soon dropped and in the mid-sixties Lymon and Goldner sold off their rights to the song.

frankie-wife

In 1984, on behalf of Emira Lymon, a lawyer and artist’s agent sued to wrest the copyright away from the current owner. The case became confused when it looked like Lymon had a second and possibly a third widow. Elizabeth Waters claimed to have married Lymon in 1964 in Virginia. However, it turned out she had been married to someone else at the time. As Water’s claim went to court, Zola Taylor ex-member of the Platters, claimed that she had been sexually active with Lymon as early as the “Biggest Rock “n” Roll Show of 1956″ tour. She claimed to have married Lymon  in Tijuana about 1965, but could produce no certificate. The first hearing, held in Philadelphia, was decided in favor of Miss Waters being Lymon’s first wife. Emira appealed and won a reversal based on her claim that she was Lymon’s last wife.

Herman Santiago and Jimmy Merchant also pursued their claim to the songs rights in federal court. In December, 1992, the two singers and Emira Lymon, received complete rights to the song.

By 1980, Sherman Garnes (heart attack) and Joe Negroni (cerebral hemmrage) had both died when the remaining Teenagers decided to rebuild the group. Santiago and Merchant performed with Garnes’ brother, while the high tenor parts were handled by Pearl McKinnon of the Kodiaks, and later by Frankie’s brother, Lewis Lymon

Frankie Lymon has been called the “father” of the girl group sound. He was a direct influence on Arlene Smith of the Chantels, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and the Isley Brothers, all who recorded for George Goldner.