Friday, December 16, 2011


 The second radio station in Syracuse to feature rock was WNDR Radio AM-1260 in 1957. Strangely, the one that had set the stage for the others, WOLF did not become a full time rocker until 1959. Of the three, WNDR became the most popular with the teens in the late 50's, and was in many was the prototype Top 40 in the market. The sound of WNDR was typical of the emerging rock radio genre, faced paced, energetic disc jockeys with "picks to click" & "wax to watch" selections, frequent singing jingles idetifing the station and its slogan, a weekly list of Top 50 hits. Also typical were the large number of commercials geared to the lucrative teem market, as well as "newscast" featuring electronic sound effects. Many of the disc jockeys used nicknames, "Dandy Dan" Leonard, "Jolly Rolly" Fowler, "Mad Man" Morton,  Russ "The Moose" Syracuse and "The Movin Man" Gary Vann.

It was at WNDR that "Dandy Dan" Leonard became a household name, thanks to his unique announcing style. Leonard was also instrumental in booking many national touring rock acts that came to Central New York. In addition, his involvement with local bands made him an entrepreneur of the 1950's rock  & roll scene.

Who were those early Syracuse groups to feature this new sound of Rock n' Roll? Well! by this time the 5 Points had been through one name change and two lead singers, the second Delbert Jenkins (a Frankie Lymon sound-a-like) departed shortly after an appearance on WSYR's Jim Deline television program. The group now known as "The Eldaros" comprised of Bobby Green, Jimmy Singleton, Levy Hall, Kenny Tucker, James Crawford and guitarist Duke Kearse. By 1957, this group had made a demo recording ("Baby Child") at Dufford Studio located in downtown Syracuse on South Warren Street, While at Dufford's recording an album that was never released they met song writer Jacquelin Nesbit, who wrote a song called "Rock A Bock", that became the Eldaros first record for the Vesta Record Label in February 1958. Little did they realize but over twenty years later the flip side "Please Surrender" written by Green would become  one of the most sought after group records by many of the countries top rhythm and blues collectors.

With that release, the Eldaros received much publicity though both the Syracuse Newspapers as well as air play by WNDR's Mr, Rhythm and Bill Worth (later known as Billy Williams) who was now the singing groups manager. Worth though his many national connections tried to obtained a recording contract for them with Aladdin Records a blues label out of Los Angeles. Aladdin was the home of many stars as Shirley & Lee, Thurston Harris and the Five Keys. After the Aladdin contract arrived Worth needed capital ($) to finalize the deal. Bobby Green said "That Worth was paid by the group and disappeared." The contract was never signed and is still to this day in the property of Green. The Eldaros disbanded in 1958, but Bobby Green and Jimmy Singleton stayed together to record "Each Passing Day", another classic, this time written by the songwriting team of Wilma Lung and Viola Flansburg (who later wrote the hit song- "Teeter Totter Love" for The Marcels in 1963) the sonng was released on both Utica's Mark Records and Albany's Stentor Records in 1960.

Another early band during this period was the Scarlet Tones. Otis Smith, Mart Irons, Howard Scott and Jack Oden were all students at Madison Junior High in 1956. Shortly thereafter George "Bebo" Singleton and Leroy Mackle were added top form the nucleus of what was to become the Rhyhm Cadets. This a- capella group started singing together while at the Syracuse Boys Club and managed by Tom Coulter. The Rhythm Cadets emulated the earlier Quintones and their style would help from the vocal direction lead singer :Bebo" Singleton would follow when they recoded "Dearest Doryce" released by Vesta Records in 1957. This was the first rock n' roll record ever released by a Syracuse group and is the rarest, most sought after recording ever to come out of Central New York. The Rhythm Cadet performed their hit as well as the flip side "Rockin Jimmy" in capturing first prize at the Upstate New York Arthur Godfrey Talent Show hosted by television star Polly Bergan. Other local acts that performed were the Bigtree Sisters, The Eldaros and the Emeralds.

The Emeralds were another a capella group in this early period of Syracuse rock. James Fagan, Tom Royal, James Royal and Greg Tearney followed their recording od "School Boys Love" with a concert at Lincoln Auditorium with the great Louis Armstong in 1957. September 16, 1957 was the date of another giant rock n' roll package rolling into the War Memorial. Promoter Irving Feld billed it a the "Biggest Show of 1957"  as he gathered the foremost stars in popular music and rhythm & blues for one massive show. Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Paul Anka, The Drifters, Everly Brothers, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, Jimmy Bowen, Clyde McPhatter, Buddy Knox, LaVern Baker and The Crickets with Buddy Holly.

1957, was important for another reason, this was the year Syracuse gave birth to its first rock n" roll band, "The Impalas" from Valley High School. The Impalas featured the area's first electric guitarist Jeff Chappelle, along with drummer "Buzzy" Baker and Brian Saunders (bass). A short time later they added Nick Russo and changed their named to "Jeff and the Notes." This band played no original material, but played the popular hits of the day, such as "Sincerely", "A Rose and a Baby Ruth", "Fever" and others aired by WNDR & WFBL. Being Syracuse's first rock band brought many advantages, in 1959 they backed up vocalist "Bebo" Singleton on his solo recording of "The Shrine of the Echoes" as well as his follow up "Dolores" b/w "Dreams Oh Dreams" released nationally of the Vim Record label #508.  In between the Singleton recordings Chappelle and the Notes auditioned for Ted Macks Amateur Hour as well as making a number of appearances on the Jim Deline television show. Although this band only had demo recording of their own material  and never a single release of their own, they did record the locally familiar singing commercial "City Opticians have it for the Eyes" aired by every Syracuse radio and television station for over twenty years.

During the time of their studio backup recordings, Jeff  and the Note added a South Onondaga High School student who would leave his mark on the national music scene, Duane Hitchings. Hitching, an accomplished pianist at a very early age, had to leave school early to record with the band and often wasn't allowed to play in local bars because his was under age. He matured musically and otherwise with Jeff & the Notes as they continued their studio work backing up  Jan" and the Radiants and later The Madisons. Duane had his first taste of national stardom playing the piano solo on Jan and the Radiants version of "Is It True" b/w "Now Is The Hour released nationally by Clock Records.

In 1961, they changed their outdated name to "The Dynamics" added John Kane & Roy Smith and appeared with such rock acts as Freddie Cannon, Bobby Darin, Johnny Cash, Bobby Rydell, Paul Anka and Frankie Avalon. Before their eventual breakup in 1963, the Dymanics were featured on the Dick Clark Caravan of Star Show at the War Memorial. They performed to an overflow crowd the Little Willie John song "Fever.

Duane Hitching's left a short time later to study classical music at the Philadelphia Conservatory. It was their that Duane was introduced to the new sound of rock. Although not into heavy rock music of the late 60's, he was none the less impressed by Cream (w/Eric Clapton) and the Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield who he saw perform at a local Philadelphia club. This exposure influenced Duane in taking a part time job as the clubs MC. It was their he met Buddy Miles and in 1968 joined the Buddy Miles Express. Three albums and two semi hits later he left to join with ex-Express member Jimmy McCarthy in Cactus. Cactus was formed by ex-Vanilla Fudge members Tim Bogart & Carmine Appice when they failed to assemble a band with Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck. He left Cactus in 1972, then formed the new Cactus Band played Syracuse and then rejoined friend Mike Pinera to form "The Image". Hitchings biggest break came in 1979, as he reunited with Carmine Appice as they appeared on Rod Stewart's hit album "Blonde's Have More Fun". It album contain the number one hit single in the U.S- "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" with Duane receiving co-songwriters credit. Many more sessions with Rod Stewart followed like million sellers "Young Turks" & "Infatuation", and performing on hundreds of others big name artits. Duane Hitchings returned to Syracuse on  October 7, 2010 to receive the "SAMMY's  Lifetime Achievement Award."

WNDR's Dick Lawrence, after finding success with Jeff and the Notes now expanded his managerial duties by signing another great act "Jan and the Radiant". Originally known as Little Jan and the Orients, the group consisted of Jan Perolla, Carl Irvine. Bill Shelly, Tom Nelli and Dom Secredi ( who had replaced Tip Munger) Through Dick Lawrence, the vocal group signed a national recording contract with Clock-VIM Records in 1960 and released two singles "If You Love Me" b/w Heart and Soul" also "Now Is The Hour" b/w "Is It True". Both recordings were backed by Jeff and the Notes and received national airplay with "Now Is The Hour" rumored to have reached the Top 10 in both Detroit and San Francisco.

Radiants singer Tom Nelli departed in 1962 to study voice at the Brooklyn Conservatory. Then to the nightclub circuit, The Latin Quarter, Copacabana, Dangerfield's and finally to the Broadway stage. Tom appeared in "The Fantastics" and "Camelot" that lead to the motion pictures Grand Slam, Shaft and An Italian In America.

Dick Lawrence now managed Syracuse's top two attractions. But, Dan Leonard was not to be outdone. In the summer of 1957, Dan staged Syracuse's first giant record hop and dance at the Air National Guard Hanger at Hancock Airport.. The event drew well over 3,000 teens to view such national and regional acts as Kathy Linden, The 4 Coins and Chuck Alaimo and to dance to their favorite hit records Leonard even formed his own record company in 1958, 'Dandy dan Records". That summer he released two discs "Cherry Pie" by the Dialtones and "Miss Sweet" by the Teentones. Both records received local airplay, with the Teentones becoming the best seller.

Other Central New Yorkers were now receiving national attention. Utica's Annette Funicello became one of the famous Walt Disney Mouseketeers and also appeared in many Disney motion pictures. Oneonta's Larry Santos and the Tones released "3 Little Loves" and the great Bobby Comstock of Ithaca and his group the Counts clicked with his Blaze Recording "Tennessee Waltz". Comstock's vocal style was defined as "Soul with the strong Beat'. Alan Freed head the demo of Tennessee Waltz and selected it his "Sleeper of the Week" on his daily television program. Freed then signed Booby to appear with him at the giant "Fifth Anniversary" stage show at the Brooklyn Fox Theater.

Following their purchase by Ivy Broadcasting in 1959, WOLF Radio AM 1490 also entered the rock field. Their disc jockey lineup consisted of Bob Kennedy, Bill Towre, Ed Morgan, Ted Hackett and Eastwood High alumnus Emerson "Dusty" Rhodes (one of the famed greatWOLF "Sandmen") They readied for their battle with WNDR.   PS- "Dusty" Rhodes would be the first in a long impressive line of great WOLF broadcasters that I would listen to as a youth on my parents old tube style Zenith radio (made in early 40's) and still plays to this day.

Rock was spreading in Syracuse and local movie theaters also played a large part. Top rock feature films. Rock Around The Clock, Don't Knock The Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock, Jailhouse Rock, Mr. Rock and Roll and Go Johnny Go graced the marquees of RKO Keiths, Loew's State and Loew's Strand Theaters downtown plus drive-in movies all around the Central New York area.

1 comment:

  1. There as a group in Baldwinsville called the Heartbeats back in the late fifties. Their song on the 45 was Heartbeat and flip side was Scratch My Back. They were way worse than Little Jan and the Radiants but we loved them anyway. I can't track that record down. Any clues?