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Fabulous Flip Sides – The Music Explosion – Interview with Burton Stahl plus Chris Ruggiero

“Little Bit O’ Soul” is celebrated with The Music Explosion’s bassist Burton Stahl, and Chris Ruggiero discusses his new vocal and piano duo album which includes a version of a Johnny Mathis flip side
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Music producer and concert promoter Joseph Mirrione is the CEO of Praia Entertainment and he assembles concert tours with each show having multiple acts, which can change from city to city. His Stars of the Sixties Daytona Beach show lineup next month includes The Music Explosion, vocalist Chris Ruggiero, both who we interview in this Goldmine article, The Cyrkle and more. The Cyrkle’s Pat McLoughlin interviewed Mirrione for McLoughlin’s Local Lix podcast series. Mirrione stated, “I bring the audience and the artists together. The audience is the most important part of the puzzle, then the artists. I facilitate that meeting and want to give each audience more than what they anticipate.” Stars of the Sixties is part of Mirrione’s Pop, Rock & Doo Wopp series.

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Burton Stahl, 2nd from right

Burton Stahl, 2nd from right

GOLDMINE: Welcome to Goldmine. I am happy that Pat McLoughlin has connected us, as he does so often with all of us Ohio music people. It is good to be sharing music stories with another fellow Ohioan.

BURTON STAHL: It is good connecting with you too and now you are down in Daytona, which is a nice area.

GM: It is. My wife Donna and I grew up in Euclid, ninety miles northeast of your Mansfield community. Since 1980 we have moved around and have been in Daytona Beach for the past fifteen years. We look forward to seeing you here on February 5. We certainly grew up hearing “Little Bit O’ Soul” on WIXY 1260 AM radio in Cleveland and on oldies shows and stations throughout the years as we have moved around. We also grew up watching Upbeat on WEWS, channel 5 in Cleveland.

BS: We would watch that TV show too when we were sixteen, which was a great regional music show with Don Webster as the host. When we started out, we had our version of “Little Black Egg” as a single and that was one of the first songs we performed on Upbeat. Of course, after that “Little Bit O’ Soul,” every time we had a release they would let us come up and do multiple shows. The show was put together so well.

GM: Let’s talk about “Little Black Egg,” since that came first. It is a great version of The Nightcrawlers’ song, who were from right here in Daytona Beach, written by Chuck Conlon. I can certainly hear your bass on the song.

BS: All the bands in this area were picking up that song to play it in their shows. First of all, it was simple, and secondly it had harmonies and all the elements you wanted when guys were learning how to play guitar. It was a great song. When we went to New York to be with music producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, they hadn’t heard the song. They asked us to play four or five songs on our song list. When we played that song, they loved it and wanted to record it. They brought “Little Bit O’ Soul” to us and we said that was kind of different. We took it and worked with it for a couple nights until we felt we had something to offer.

GM: The bass line that starts off the song is so prominent and catchy, one that you can whistle or hum.

BS: Right. In the studio I adjusted the treble on my bass and Rick, our rhythm guitar player, and Tudor, our lead guitar player, were playing the same Chet Atkins-style guitar model. In fact, one of their guitars is hanging up at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They had the bass turned up on their guitars. The engineer said that it created a different sound. With that sound, along with Bob’s drums, it just provided a great kick. The record did so well nationally. We kept thinking it would hit No. 1 but stayed at No. 2 beaten by The Association’s “Windy” and The Young Rascals’ “Groovin’.”

GM: The flip side “I See the Light” was originally the A side on the Laurie Records release and it reminds me of Marty Balin’s Jefferson Airplane songs from that era.

BS: Yes, that was going to be our first release for Laurie with “Little Bit O’ Soul” as the flip side. “I See the Light” had that west coast ethereal sound with a 12-string guitar. It was doing good on the charts in that region. I think it was played right away in Bakersfield, California. Even now when we play it, we try to make it as mystical as we possibly can. Even though the chord changes are simple, it sounds like one of the most complicated songs that we recorded. Then “Little Bit O’ Soul” took off in other markets and became considered as the A side.

Explosion flip side

The Music Explosion

Flip side: I See the Light

A side: Little Bit O’ Soul

Billboard Top 100 debut: May 13, 1967

Peak position: No. 2

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GM: Having that hit allowed you to be on different tours that summer including one in Connecticut I read about in Tony Renzoni’s first book, Connecticut Rock ‘n’ Roll. In that book there is a photo of a poster for The Gene Pitney Show, with Gene Pitney being from Connecticut along with The Fifth Estate, also from Connecticut on the tour, and joined by The Buckinghams, The Easybeats, The Happenings, and in the center of the poster is The Music Explosion. In Tony’s new book Historic Connecticut Music Venues, you share a story about that tour and a photo of the band.

BS: Yes. Gene would always close the show with his hit song “I’m Gonna Be Strong.” On one occasion, we were in a large gym and at the peak moment we sneaked on stage with whip cream pies and on the last note we all attacked Gene. It was hilarious, and the crowd loved it. The audience was in on the joke, as they watched it being set up, but Gene had no idea. The Gene Pitney Show was a great tour with a wonderful group of very talented artists.

L to R: Burton Stahl, Bobby Avery, Jamie Lyons, Don “Tudor” Atkins, Rick Nesta, photo courtesy of Burton Stahl and Tony Renzoni

L to R: Burton Stahl, Bobby Avery, Jamie Lyons, Don “Tudor” Atkins, Rick Nesta, photo courtesy of Burton Stahl and Tony Renzoni

GM: Your next Top 100 single was the bouncy “Sunshine Games” which I still hear online today on WQGR as part of Ted Alexander’s noontime 10,000 Oldies show out of Lake County, Ohio.

BS: Yes, that is another fun one to play.

GM: You had mentioned “Groovin’” earlier. Your late 1967 single “We Gotta Go Home” reminds me of a Rascals sound. I can picture Felix Cavaliere singing this one from his organ bench. I love that song.

BS: That is a good song. I love it too. It has a great pop sound. We were only eighteen and nineteen years old with multiple singles on the charts that year. The harmonies and falsettos were an interesting concept for us, too.

GM: The flip side of that single is the instrumental “Hearts and Flowers” which reminds me of Vanilla Fudge’s version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”

BS: We had gone to Manny’s Music and our guitarist bought an electric sitar that musician Vinnie Bell created.

GM: That electric sitar is also on “What Did I Do to Deserve Such a Fate,” which is another standout song.

BS: Thank you. Yes, the beginning of that song has his electric sitar on it.

GM: Another instrumental flip side is “Dazzling” from 1968 with a surf sound.

BS: Oh yeah. That was another one of those jam session creations. We had new instruments and wanted to try them out. We never got a chance to go beyond the original recording sessions on some of those instrumentals to add melody lines or vocals.

GM: That year there was also Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus which featured members of The 1910 Fruitgum Co., The Ohio Express and The Music Explosion. I certainly enjoy “Quick Joey Small (Run Joey Run)” and is another one I just heard for the first time in a long time on Ted Alexander’s 10,000 Oldies Show.

BS: Yes, we were involved in that Super K's Circus album and the Carnegie Hall show.

GM: In the following decade, my best friend John introduced me to a song he heard on the radio, “Breakfast in Bed” by The Capitol City Rockets, with Jamie in that Columbus band.

BS: Jamie went on to do some great recordings and I can always tell his vocals.

GM: During that decade, there also was the Mansfield group Owen B. in the Top 100 with “Mississippi Mama,” some swamp rock with Bob on drums.

BS: Music sure was changing. When we all started out, we liked folk music. Then we evolved more into rock. Then Creedence Clearwater Revival hit it big with that swamp rock sound, so we always had new ideas for our records.

GM: Yes, CCR were huge in 1969, with three albums that year, which is also the same year as a song my wife Donna enjoys hearing on SiriusXM’s 60s channel, “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’” by Crazy Elephant.

BS: Yes. That is what The Music Explosion turned into briefly, with some of our guys. Our guitarist got drafted, I left the band, Rick would go on to the group Wild Life and Bob helped form Owen B. I played in about five or six bands with some fantastic musicians who could play just about anything. I am still working with one of the guys, Dane Donohue. He had an album out with many big name guests like Stevie Nicks, Don Henley, J.D. Souther and Timothy B. Schmit. Now they call that style yacht rock.

GM: I remember that album from 1978. We stocked it at Peaches Records & Tapes.

BS: Yes. Dane and I have been playing together and I hope Dane will be with me in Florida. I look forward to meeting you there. I love Goldmine. I have read your magazine for many years. I always learn so much from you that I wouldn’t otherwise realize. I love the information and stories. Thank you so much for this Goldmine interview.


Explosion Chris CD

GM: Welcome back to Goldmine. As you know, my favorite song on your I Am album was your version of "Anyone Who Had a Heart" which ended up doing very well in my 100 Fabulous Songs of 2021 list. Now you're back with Quiet Nights. With this album being solely piano from Christian Tamburr and your vocals, lyrics jump out and melody is key. My favorite song on this collection is "Fly Me to the Moon," not only due to the melody and lyrics, but your vocal delivery is stunningly pure, taking me back to the vocal sound of one of my favorites, Andy Williams.

CHRIS RUGGIERO: That is a tremendous compliment for me because I am also a big fan of Andy Williams. Some of his influence may have subconsciously slipped in. The first thing you probably notice about this is that we decided to do it as a ballad. Taking the song out of the bouncy swing environment of the Frank Sinatra version, for example, left me with a lyric that I thought was actually more of a sad song. It’s very plaintive. I brought Christian Tamburr the idea to do this as a ballad and I think our original idea was an arpeggio on the piano, very similar to “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers. What Christian came back with was so much more imaginative than what I had in mind, and that’s the sign of a fantastic collaborator. He’s probably the most ingenious pianist I’ve ever heard in my life.

GM: I have the 1960s and 1970s versions of half of the songs on the collection, "Up on the Roof," "Dream a Little Dream of Me," "The Long and Winding Road," "My Girl" and "Vincent." I knew four more, at least a bit, but there was one that you taught me, Finneas' "Angel." That is a beautiful finale, and you provide your own harmonies on it too.

CR: Clint Holmes turned me on to Finneas and suggested that maybe this song would be a good fit for my voice. I started singing it and working with it and I realized it fit nicely alongside the other songs on this piano and vocal duo album. “Dream a Little Dream of Me” is ninety years old. This song is two years old. What do they have in common? Great lyrics, great melody and they tell a story. I am hoping that my audience hears the opening line of “Angel” and, even though they won’t know the song, will want to hear the rest of the story beginning with the line, “Congratulations, you’ve been pretending to be human so well.” That hooked me the first time I heard it.

GM: You sing part of the Brazilian song "Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)" in Portuguese. This song is one that some of our readers may know from the same Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto album that included the Top 10 hit single "The Girl from Ipanema."

CR: My manager and producer, Joe Mirrione, is a big fan of Brazilian jazz and he gave me the bug. He told me he thought the song fit very well with the type of pop that I’m doing, and he had brought a version of it to The Flamingos years earlier, suggesting they include it on an album, and they passed on it. When I heard a version of it without the Brazilian Portuguese lyrics, I felt like it was missing something. So, I went off to learn a verse in Portuguese. There are vowel sounds in their language that don’t exist in English, so it was challenging but I sent it off to one of my favorite Brazilian singers for her seal of approval before we did the final mix. She said I passed!

GM: When you perform here in Daytona Beach, it will be just a few weeks after Johnny Mathis performed on the same stage singing his hits. His first hit single was "Wonderful! Wonderful!" When that debuted in Billboard's Top 100 in February 1957, "When Sunny Gets Blue" was on the flip side. Your version of that flip side is beautifully sung jazz.

CR: Thank you. I am a big fan of Johnny Mathis and an even bigger fan of those songs that he recorded, because again, they have a great melody, and the lyrics weave a great story. The way I sang it I don’t think I deviated much from the original vocal melody but Christian Tamburr’s arrangement and piano playing takes it to another place entirely. Then we did Johnny Mathis’ “It’s Not for Me to Say” in combination with “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which is something I love to do, meld two songs that are not obviously similar but lyrically fit well together. On my Time Was album I also recorded “Chances Are,” so I guess you could say I’m working my way through the Johnny Mathis songbook. The great part is that people who are fans of Johnny Mathis’ music are also likely to be collectors of albums and CDs. When I tell other musician friends that we are selling lots of CDs on my website, they’re always shocked. People who are sentimental about songs and lyrics also seem to be sentimental about holding the physical music in their hands, which is great!

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Johnny Mathis

Flip side: When Sunny Gets Blue

A side: Wonderful! Wonderful!

Billboard Top 100 debut: February 9, 1957

Peak position: No. 14

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GM: Half the songs on Quiet Nights were hits in the 1960s, so it is only fitting that you will be making a special guest appearance at Joe Mirrione’s Stars of the Sixties Show next month. My wife Donna and I are looking forward to the show as we try to catch as many of these shows as possible when they come to town.

CR: I am looking forward to it, too. I can't thank you enough for all the coverage you have given me at Goldmine.

Daytona Beach concert lineup February 5, 2022

Daytona Beach concert lineup February 5, 2022

Next month Goldmine will interview Sandy Yaguda from Jay & The Americans, who have multiple concert dates coming up, which can be found at Joseph Mirrione’s Pop, Rock & Doo Wopp website.

Related Links:

Local Lix Podcast with guest Joseph Mirrione

Goldmine Fabulous Songs of 2021 including Chris Ruggiero