Johnny Maestro, whose voice powered the 50’s Crests & the 60’s Brooklyn Bridge
By Phill Marder
(No. 53 in a series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
We’ve been at it for about 18 months now, pointing out many artists who, in our ever so humble opinion, should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but aren’t.
And I’m sure some of you, if not all of you, have been wondering when/if I’d ever run out of deserving candidates. I was wondering myself. But starting today, we’re going to wind down this series by suggesting a few names from the ’50s we haven’t touched upon. Now keep in mind, these names are not leftovers where I’m concerned. If it was my call, they’d all have been inducted already. But I try to be realistic and all those remaining are real darkhorses to gain induction.
Perhaps they’ll gain entry to the Goldmine Rock Era Hall of Fame one day.
JOHNNY MAESTRO – Rarely does a vocalist lead two major groups in two different eras to top-of-the-charts status, but that’s exactly what New York City’s golden-voiced Johnny Maestro did.
As Rock & Roll was taking hold in the late ’50s , Maestro was at the forefront with his group The Crests, and when the British Invasion was winding down in the late ’60s, he resurfaced with The Brooklyn Bridge. In between groups, he managed to throw in a couple of solo top 40 entries.
Maestro, who passed away in March, 2010, can be heard on “16 Candles,” one of Rock’s most enduring ballads and a No. 2 score in 1958, “Six Nights A Week,” “The Angels Listened In,” “Step By Step,” “Trouble In Paradise” and other great recordings by The Crests as well as The No. 3 Brooklyn Bridge smash “Worst That Could Happen” plus “Blessed Is The Rain” and “Welcome Me Love.”
Maestro, The Crests and The Brooklyn Bridge have yet to receive a nomination for induction.
Maybe The Chantels will enter the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame some day
THE CHANTELS – In a battle of New York City girl vocal groups, The Bobbettes got there first and biggest when their 1957 hit “Mr. Lee” reached the Hot 100 about seven weeks before Arlene Smith’s group scored with “He’s Gone.” “Mr. Lee” eventually made it to No. 6, much higher than any recording by The Chantels, but even though the follow-up to “He’s Gone” peaked at only No. 15, it established The Chantels niche in the history of Rock & Roll.
That release, of course, was “Maybe,” one of those rare records that keeps growing in stature the more time passes. Meanwhile, the Bobbettes never did have another big hit.
The Chantels, though, followed “Maybe” with two more gems, “Every Night (I Pray)” and “I Love You So.” Ironically, after Smith left, The Chantels had their highest charting single, “Look In My Eyes,” which reached No. 14 in 1961.
The Chantels were nominated in 2002 and 2010, but failed to gain induction.
Whether cover versions or originals, everything touched by the Diamonds sparkled
THE DIAMONDS – These four Canadians often are criticized for covering recordings originally done by black artists, therefore “stealing away” recognition and monetary rewards from the deserving creators. This may have been the case for some artists in the ’50s, and maybe even for the Diamonds on occasion. But this was a very talented group that, from all reports I’ve heard, earned the respect and thanks from those they covered for, in fact, making them a lot of money and giving credit where credit was due.
In addition, multiple versions of hit records had been going on for years. Certainly, whites covered blacks, but it worked both ways, the black group Billy Ward & the Dominoes covering “Jennie Lee” by Jan & Arnie being just one of many examples. Whites covered whites (Elvis doing “Blue Suede Shoes,” for example) and blacks covered blacks also (how many versions of “Gloria” are there?).
Plus – The Diamonds had hits with non-covers, too, “The Stroll” soaring to No. 4 in early 1958, “High Sign” and “She Say” being other high-charting gems.
Between 1956 and 1961, The Diamonds polished off a very impressive 15 top 40 hits, beginning with a cover of Frankie Lymon’s “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” which came out one week after the Teenagers’ version. The original peaked at No. 6, while the Diamonds got to No. 12 and stayed on the Hot 100 19 weeks. To further support my above statement, female vocalists Gale Storm and Gloria Mann each released their own version of this hit, and Storm’s made it to No. 9, while Mann’s also charted. Four versions of the same song on the chart simultaneously, three bonafide smashes.
The Diamonds also chalked up hits with Buddy Holly’s “Words Of Love” (No. 13), The Willows’ “Church Bells May Ring” (No. 14), and The Rays’ “Silhouettes” (No. 10), not to mention their signature song “Little Darlin’,” a cover of a minor hit by Maurice Williams & The Gladiolas which sat at No. 2 for an amazing eight weeks in early 1957.
The Diamonds never have received a nomination.
The artist who took the most heat for covering hits by black artists probably was Pat Boone, who bears special mention here. Boone was discussed at length in comments under the October 28 posting “The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame deserves credit for including all genres of popular music.”
Boone became one of the biggest selling artists of all time with what appeared to be a schizophrenic career, the very early section being almost exclusively covers of records by blacks. When he did heavy rockers, such as Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame” or Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” or “Long Tall Sally,” he fell flat, turning off most teenagers. He just didn’t have the look or voice. But when he covered ballads, such as The Flamingos “I’ll Be Home,” Ivory Joe Hunter’s “I Almost Lost My Mind” and The Orioles “It’s Too Soon To Know,” for instance, his beautiful voice more than did justice to the material.
And, Boone also covered hits from whites, even sampling the catalogs of Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra, among others.
In any case, Boone made a lot of money for whoever had songwriting and publishing credits for the material he did. If the original writers had lost possession of their material, something that happened often in those days, I don’t see why Boone should be blamed. I don’t ever recall seeing his name listed on writers’ credits.
John Rook founded the Hit Parade Hall of Fame based on a conversation with Boone.
“Pat Boone’s an old friend of mine from way back,” Rook said. “He called me around six-seven years ago and during our conversation I asked him if there was anything in his career that he was missing. He told me one thing…that he had never even been considered for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”
Of course, neither have two other superstars of the ’50s similar to Boone, Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams. Both were chart mainstays during Rock’s early years and were very popular with teens, Williams even sharing No. 1 with the Rockabilly classic “Butterfly,” also No. 1 by Philly’s Charlie Gracie. White covering white again. The follow-up, “I Like Your Kind Of Love,” also was an uptempo number that hit the top 10 in 1957. But Williams’ main contributions were great ballads such as 1959’s “Lonely Street.”
A teen hop never was complete without Mathis. His roster for 1957 alone – “Wonderful! Wonderful!,” “It’s Not For Me To Say,” “Chances Are” and “The Twelfth Of Never” provided ample romantic background for those not skilled at the bop, the stroll or the jitterbug.
I doubt Boone ever will get a call from the Rock Hall, and Mathis and Williams are even less likely to gain that acknowledgement. But the ’50s certainly would present a different musical picture without their contributions.
Remember, earlier in this series we’ve already profiled ’50s giants Brook Benton, Bobby Day, Paul Anka, Bobby Vee, Cliff Richard & the Shadows, Connie Francis, Neil Sedaka and Jack Scott. These articles can be accessed by going to the top of the page, clicking on blogs, then “Great Blogs Of Fire.” Happy Scrolling.
Next time, we’ll finish up the ’50s with three Country Music legends who played a major role in getting Rock & Roll off the ground, but have yet to receive their due from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.