More than 15 years before the blockbuster PBS series brought together dozens of doo-wop pioneers for marathon concerts, there was one, legendary all-day affair that reunited a staggering array of R&B talent for a single, spectacular concert, totaling 96 singers and musicians.
Producer Mark del Costello backstage with the original Capitol 5 Keys (left to right) Maryland Pierce, Rudy West, Ramon Loper, Bernie West, Ripley Ingram, and (front) guitarist Timothy Harris. (James Macintyre photo)
On Sept. 11, 1983, at the Burlington County College in Pemberton, N.J., the original Capitol-label Five Keys reunited for the first time in 25 years. They were joined onstage by The Silhouettes, Laddins, Spaniels, Johnnie and Joe, Limelites-Videos, Five Willows, Earl Lewis and the Channels, Ravens, Castelles, Cherokees, Rainbows, Swallows, Jive Five, Falcons and Hank Ballard.
It wasn’t a “three songs and off” deal, either. For anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, each group performed a myriad of hits and collectors’ favorites with a tight band backing throughout. Mind blowing? You bet.
They weren’t looking for an audience of thousands, but with tickets priced at $75 each, only about 100 devotees turned out. With more $45,000 invested, to say Garden State promoter Mark del Costello lost money would be a gross understatement. But realizing the importance of the once-in-a-lifetime summit, the lifelong R&B fan, record collector, photographer, and Martin Scorsese production associate captured it all on ?-inch video and 16-track audio tape. It’s a thought that still drops jaws among vocal group fans. A tape copy was stolen decades ago and bootlegged in inferior quality since, del Costello has yet to share the true magic of the event with fans.
Happily, it seems that’s about to change. Del Costello will likely celebrate the 25th anniversary of the famed concert with a digitally mastered and mixed release of highlights on DVD, along with another star-studded concert to reunite many of the genre’s unsung heroes in fall 2008.
“In the 1950s, I was into the rock ’n’ roll I heard on WIBG in Philadelphia,” del Costello, 58, recalls. “I lived across the street from a major record collector who showed me his collection. He had a complete run of records on Chance, the Gems on Drexel, a lot of really rare stuff. In 1962, I met Val Shively and that sealed the deal. I was a record collector.”
Collecting the then-esoteric sounds of the Five Keys on Aladdin and the Castelles, and meeting pioneers like Frankie Lymon and Lee Andrews further whetted del Costello’s appetite for knowledge. He eagerly devoured the music emanating from sources like the WFUV Time Capsule radio show and collectors’ magazines Bim Bam Boom, Record Exchanger, and Yesterday’s Memories.
“They were the pioneers in the ‘music anthropology’ of vocal groups,” he said. “They put a human face on vinyl.”
A comparable passion for movies and the original posters that were used to advertise them eventually morphed into an enviable collection of thousands of posters by the early 1970s. Del Costello, who learned photography in the Army, pursued photography as both avocation and vocation from 1970-75. Electric Factory Concerts’ advertising agency hired him to shoot concerts, starting with was Pink Floyd in 1973. Del Costello photographed virtually every week.
Inspired by Martin S