BY STEVEN CASTO
GOLDMINE: Rick, you ended up as the longest tenured drummer for The Outsiders. Discuss your background as a drummer.
RICK BIAGIOLA: I decided to become a drummer after watching an episode of The Ozzie and Harriet Show. Ricky Nelson played guitar and sang at the end of each episode and one day his usual drummer was sick and unable to play so Nelson took over the drums for that show. I was watching and became hooked. I listened to big bands and swing bands and some of my other influences were Sandy Nelson and Cozy Cole, who had the hits “Topsy I” and “Topsy II.” Also, I liked the drummer for Joey Dee and The Starlighters on “The Peppermint Twist,” Steve Gadd, and Jeff Porcaro. I feel my style of drumming is similar to Porcaro’s. During my junior and senior years in high school, I played in a local bar band called The Sensations. I was only 16 or 17 and because my father had passed away, I was able to get a license to play in bars as the supporting member of my family. The Sensations played the hits of the day like “The Twist” and we were popular enough to play several nights a week, including school nights. I ended up sleepwalking through my junior and senior years.
GM: Ron Harkai was the drummer for The Starfires on the “Time Won’t Let Me” single. Did he play on any other tracks that were recorded for the first album?
RB: Ron Harkai was drafted after recording “Time Won’t Let Me” and elected to join the Air Force. Jimmy Fox, later of The James Gang, replaced Ron and played on the rest of the first album and he did a two-week promotional tour with the band. Fox was going to Kent State, so he wasn’t going to stay with the band. Denny Benson was brought into replace Fox and when that hadn’t worked out, Ron suggested that Tom King call me. I was not acquainted with Tom King and The Starfires, but we all knew each other by our reputations.
MERT MADSEN: I’m not sure, but I think Ron and Al just played on a couple of numbers (most likely both sides of the “Time Won’t Let Me” single). Because Ron was drafted, there wasn’t enough time for him to stick around and play on the rest of the album.
GM: Rick mentioned Jimmy Fox playing drums on the first album and during the two-week promotional tour which included the band’s appearance on Hullabaloo. Do you have any recollections about the tour and Fox you’d like to share?
MM: Yes. Jim was not only a great drummer, but also a very nice guy. We were good friends. He played with us for a couple of years in The Starfires, so we knew each other quite well. Jim went on to form his own band with, among others, Joe Walsh, the famous guitar player, and they became the James Gang. The last time I saw Jim I was visiting the U.S. in late May of 2018 and we attended a party at Rick’s house.
GM: What are your memories about the two-week promotional tour and the band's appearance on Hullabaloo?
MM: For that promotional tour we traveled in a Dodge van and it was a bit of a tight fit with all our gear and clothes. Everything went by so fast. It’s like playing a film in super high speed. I’ve looked at the Hullabaloo video lots of times and I remember that appearance well. They were throwing clothes out of fake windows. It’s a shame that the band’s intro with Chad and Jeremy is cut out of the beginning because that would explain why the clothes were being thrown out the windows. It was supposed to look like an eviction because we were The Outsiders.
GM: Denny Benson replaced Jim Fox for only a brief time, but long enough to appear in a few promotional pictures. I understand that his image was airbrushed out of the picture that became the front cover of the first album. Why didn’t he last longer with the band?
MM: He and Tom did not gel well together, so he was replaced and, yes, he was airbrushed out of the picture on the first album. Dennis was pissed and told Tom he would sue him. Nothing happened as far as I know. We did go to a clock shop where we took some pictures for PR purposes and Dennis was in those pictures.
RB: He was airbrushed out of the front cover picture. Bill Bruno is wearing a red jacket and brown pants in that picture and if you look closely between Bill’s legs you can see Benson’s shoe that the airbrushing missed.
GM: Bill Bruno replaced Al Austin and plays on the first album. How was he chosen?
RB: Bill became the band’s new guitarist following an audition in late 1965 or early 1966. He was from Pittsburgh and he met Tom King at a party and because he could play guitar and sing tenor, he was recruited as the band’s new guitarist.
MM: It was after recording the “Time Won’t Let Me” single that we found Bill. Tom King and I drove to Bill’s house in Pittsburgh and asked if he would join us. I don’t know how Tom found him, but Bill said “Yes,” and he became the new guitarist in place of Al. After Bill left The Outsiders other guitarists, like Walt Nims, played with them, but I was long gone by then and I didn’t follow the band after that. I’m still in touch with Bill who lives in San Diego.
GM: Before releasing “Time Won’t Let Me,” the band changed its name to The Outsiders. Why?
MM: Roger Karshner, our manager, said that The Starfires was an outdated name for a band. Tom King chose the Outsiders’ name because he and his uncle Pat, who owned Pama Records, got into a heated argument one day and Tom’s uncle Pat said, “You have always been an outsider to the family,” so Tom chose that name to show he could make it on his own and to spite his uncle. I was there at Pat’s house when the argument took place and I was a witness to their argument. I guess that since Pat had sort of built his business up around The Starfires, he felt that Tom was slipping away from him. It was Pat who sent us to New York to make “Ring of Love” with The Perry Como Singers and Pat had even invested in a record press that was in his big garage and he would press our records there. But Tom had bigger dreams and he wanted a bigger record label, like Capitol, so at Pat’s house, one word led to another and it ended with the famous words from Pat, “You have always been an outsider to the family.” Tom turned around and said to me, “Mert, let’s go home” and we left, never to go back there again. Those words by his uncle made Tom bite his teeth together and he said, “We don’t need him Mert. We’ll show him that we are the ones with the talent, and we will succeed without him.” So, when Roger Karshner said, “You guys must change your name,” Tom immediately said, “Then it’s going to be The Outsiders!” and we agreed right then and there. That’s the full story of how the band’s name became The Outsiders.
RB: The most popular version involves Tom King’s uncle who owned the Pama Records label and he wanted to release “Time Won’t Let Me” on his label. When Tom took the song to Capitol Records instead, the uncle called Tom an “outsider to the family.”
GM: Capitol Records signed the band and “Time Won’t Let Me” went to No. 5 in the nation. How did the band feel about signing with Capitol and the chart success of the “Time Won’t Let Me” single?
MM: We felt quite honored that Capitol chose to release our songs on their label. It goes without saying that we were quite proud of “Time Won’t Let Me,” but since it broke out at different times across the country’s radio stations it climbed unevenly. Had it gone to the top on the stations at the same time, we felt it could have gone higher. It might have gone all the way to No. 1.
GM: Rick, in the spring of 1966, the band’s first national tour was starting, and, with the dismissal of Denny Benson, the band needed a drummer. Explain what happened next.
RB: Tom King called me and said the national tour was starting in three days and he needed a drummer “Now” and I told him, “I’ll call you back.” My father had passed away when I was young, and I was playing in The Sensations helping to support my family. Also, I was 18, a senior in high school, with weeks to go before graduation. My mother intervened and in her Italian wisdom she asked, “Ricky, do you think you’ll ever get another opportunity like this in your life?” She was right and I accepted Tom’s offer. He drove me to several Cleveland clothing stores to be fitted in British Invasion style clothes which he paid for. I met the other band members at the airport gate.
GM: There was no time to rehearse with Rick for the national tour. Were there any concerns about that?
MM: Not really because Rick was already a very capable drummer from the start, so we welcomed him with pleasure. He was 17 or 18 and he was our mascot. We called him “The Kid.” He was so cute in those days and it was only with great affection that we called him that.
RB: The first couple of shows were rough but, thanks to years playing in bar bands, I was able to fit in. Plus, it was a packaged tour featuring several different artists, so The Outsiders only played a three or four song set that lasted 15 minutes.
GM: What are your memories of the first national tour?
MM: That was my favorite tour of them all. A real fun tour. We were about 35 people on an old Greyhound bus hitting 34 states and three Canadian provinces in 6 weeks. All the places we played were packed and we played about 20 minutes per act. It was a blast. It included Gene Pitney, B.J. Thomas, Bobby Goldsboro, Len Barry, The McCoys, Chad and Jeremy, and Norma Tanega. We had fun together and it was like a big happy family.
GM: Rick, unlike most drummers who played sitting down, The Outsiders featured you standing up. Why?
RB: It was a first for me and I never played that way after leaving the band. The band did a number of synchronized dance steps and standing allowed me to, not only look different from other rock drummers, but I was able to sway back and forth with the other members although I couldn’t actually do all the dance steps. I managed to play standing up by tightening down the hi-hat, so my left foot didn’t have to be on the pedal. This allowed me to play the bass drum with my right foot and balance myself on the left.
GM: As the national tour was winding down, Capitol released the follow-up single “Girl in Love.” What do you recall about the “Girl in Love” single?
RB: That was not the band’s choice. “Lost In My World” was recorded with Ron Harkai on drums at a recording session when I was not present and we wanted that to be our follow-up to “Time Won’t Let Me” as that was what pop groups did at the time, release a follow-up to a hit that had the sound of the first record. Our management decided that releasing the ballad “Girl in Love” would, instead, show the group’s versatility. We lost that argument.
MM: I only remember that the band thought it was a bad idea to release a slow tune after “Time Won’t Let Me.” We all wanted to choose a more up-tempo tune, so we didn’t lose momentum. Let’s record a similar song like the first one. For example, “Lost in My World.”
GM: Mert, I’ve read that “Girl in Love” was written about a girl you were dating at the time the song was written. Is that correct?
MM: Tom King told me later that it was written about my first wife, Marlene, just before we got married. He never told me why he thought of her in that respect. That marriage lasted four years and, now, I’m married to my Danish wife and it’s been 48 years since we tied the knot.
GM: “Respectable,” a cover of the Isley Brothers song was the band’s third single and the only one released from Album #2. “Respectable” was recorded during the same sessions for “Lost in My World” and features Ron Harkai on drums. Is that correct?
RB: Ron and I were both present at the studio sessions for Album #2 as he was home on leave from the service for a short time. Two or three songs had both of us playing together. The final mix could have produced the sound of one drummer playing the parts or one player may have been left out of the mix. It’s possible that Ron played the beats and I played the fills. I know I played on “Oh, How It Hurts,” “Lonely Man,” “Backwards, Upside Down,” “I Will Love You” and “Wine, Wine, Wine.” “Wine, Wine, Wine” was my first lead vocal in the studio.
GM: Rick, you’re first recorded performances are on Album #2, but in the credits your surname is given as Baker instead of Biagiola. Why was it changed?
RB: That was sprung on me by management, because my name was considered too ethnic and too difficult to pronounce. Tom King may have known about it. I didn’t know it had happened until I saw the album cover and I was furious for not being told about it. By then it was too late to change the album cover, but I complained to get it changed back.
Flip Side: Lost in My World
A side: Respectable
Top 100 debut: August 6,1966
Peak position: 15
While “Time Won’t Let Me” was still hanging on in the Top 100, Capitol released the orchestrated “Girl in Love” as the group’s second single, which reached No. 21. Rick Biagiola told Goldmine, “That was not the band’s choice. We wanted ‘Lost in My World’ to be our follow-up to ‘Time Won’t Let Me’ as that was what pop groups did at the time, release a follow-up to a hit that had the sound of the first record. Our management decided that releasing the ballad ‘Girl in Love’ would, instead, show the group’s versatility. We lost that argument.” “Lost in My World” was released as the flip side of the Cleveland group’s third single, with “Respectable” as its A side, a cover of an uncharted 1959 single from another Ohio group, The Isley Brothers.