BY STEVEN CASTO
GOLDMINE: The Outsiders’ fourth single was “Help Me Girl” and the flip side was “You Gotta Look.” The 45 label says the arrangements were by Chuck Mangione. What do you remember about him and those recording sessions?
MERT MADSEN: I felt he had a refreshing new sound and that he was a very experienced arranger. Even Tom Baker, who arranged our first album, praised Mangione for his work with us. I especially liked his arrangements on “Lost in My World.”
RICK BIAGIOLA: Our manager, Roger Karshner, hired Mangione and we met him when he was brought into town. He was an instructor on staff as the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and he came to Cleveland and worked on the basic tracks for “Help Me Girl.” I was present when he charted the idea for the horns. His arrangement gave the song a more orchestral sound and he insisted that his name appear as the arranger on the 45’s label.
GM: “Help Me Girl” peaked at No. 37 on the Billboard chart and may have performed better had a competing version by The Animals not been released. How did the band feel about The Animals’ version?
RB: The song came from an outside writer named Scott English who also wrote “Mandy” for Barry Manilow, although he wrote it as “Brandy.” Manilow changed it to “Mandy.” English composed and shopped songs and he recorded them on cassette tape, which he sent around to record labels. Tapes of “Help Me Girl” got to both bands and there was miscommunication between managements. The Animals had declined to record their version and then changed their minds. Both songs were released at the same time, causing a split in airplay, with The Animals getting played on the west coast and our version getting played on the east coast. Both versions did well, but either would have done better if the other version didn’t exist. We were in Utah or Arkansas and heard The Animals’ version for the first time on our tour bus. We were so angry that steam was coming out our ears!
MM: First of all, I felt that we did a much better job on the song. It was more dynamic and exciting. I don’t bear any grudges against The Animals, but I think we all felt that it was greedy for the writer of the song to deal it around like he did. He didn’t get any more out of it by doing that. Long live stupidity, I say.
GM: Because he was your manager, Roger Karshner’s name has been mentioned a couple of times. He would become a vice president for Capitol Records and in 1971 he authored the book The Music Machine which included some information about his days as your manager. What are your thoughts on Roger Karshner and his writings about the band?
RB: Karshner had worked as a record executive for Capitol Records but he left to become our manager along with a local Cleveland attorney, who is still alive, so I won’t name him. One day Karshner showed up driving a red Porsche convertible and he said to us, “You bought this for me.” He was not a classy guy. He wrote that book and he included a chapter on us, only he changed our name to The Misfits so he wouldn’t reveal that it was The Outsiders he was writing about. He wrote lies about us.
MM: I didn’t like him. He was arrogant and wanted us to dress in ugly imported clothes from England. I’ve read the book which showed what an asinine person he was. He and his partner were only in it for the money and they didn’t care about us at all. The band was only a money machine for them as far as I recall. They were the real Misfits. If it weren’t for them, we would have kept going a few years more. They were greedy!
GM: Mert, you left the band prior to the release of the third album, In. Were you involved with any recording sessions for that album?
MM: Yes. I played on four songs on the third album. They were “Help Me Girl,” “You Gotta Look,” our version of “Kind of A Drag,”and “Charlena” as far as I recall. Rick sang the lead on “Charlena”. (According to notes in the Capitol Collectors Series CD, the song “I’m Not Tryin’ To Hurt You” was recorded on the same day as “Help Me Girl” and “You Gotta Look”, so it seems that Mert may have played on five songs from the In album.)
GM: What are your memories about Outsiders’ recording sessions?
MM: Even though it was hard work and very hectic, it was fun. I enjoyed it. I felt more alive in the studio than any other place. Creating a good record was rewarding. I think the most songs we recorded were three or four in a session. When things went well, we just kept going while the sound was good. We recorded using several tracks in order to get a better stereo effect. On our recordings it was always the five of us, the core band, with Sonny as our front man and lead singer. Sonny would also sing background vocals and he even sang the harmony on “You Gotta Look.” Rick sang background with all of us on certain songs and he also sang lead on “Wine, Wine, Wine” and “Charlena.” Horns, violins, harps, organ, and piano were played by separate hired musicians who never traveled with us on our local shows and tours. I have the best memories thanks to Ken Hamman. He was our engineer and he worked wonders with so little equipment at the Cleveland Recording Company and we always knew we were in good hands with Ken at the rudder.
GM: Rick told me that you designed the band’s logo that appeared on the front of the bass drum and that drumhead now resides in the “Cleveland Rocks” exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You must feel proud about that. How did you come up with the design?
MM: The design came out of nowhere and I drew it freehand after measuring the distance from side to side. It took a bit of calculation because the letters are different sizes. It was done with a marker. It’s not even paint. Of course, I’m proud of it. I made it 55 years ago. That’s over half a lifetime since then. It’s just amazing.
GM: You left the band in October 1966 and your first replacement was Pete Shelton and Richard D’Amato came after him. Did you know either of them?
MM: No. After I left, I lost total interest in who was who and what was what with them.
RB: Pete Shelton was from England and he played bass on some live performances, but he didn’t record anything with the band. He decided to step into the road manager position, which I think, he preferred. People loved his British accent. Shelton’s replacement was Richard D’Amato. Richard and I attended the same high school, and he was a year behind me. We didn’t actually know each other, but because we were in competing bands, we were familiar with one another. Richard was known by Tom or Sonny and was asked to join by one of them. I was surprised one day to see Richard come to rehearsal, pick up a bass, and start playing. Richard, we called him “Mugsy,” sang “Bend Me, Shape Me” on the In album and he did a really nice job. That was another Scott English track and not even two minutes long on the album.
GM: Rick, didn’t the In album feature another lead vocal for you?
RB: Yes, I sang “Charlena” and I still sing it in shows with the current band.
GM: Mert what did you do after leaving the band?
MM: After I left The Outsiders, I reconnected with Al Austin and we ended up playing in a local Cleveland band called The Originals. That was a fabulous band, the best band I ever played in by far. It was an extremely versatile band with four guys that could all sing lead vocals. We played a lot of Motown songs, Blood, Sweat & Tears, a few numbers by Chicago, and a lot of other hit songs from the 1960s which I have mostly forgotten. Al and I were in that group with Tom Baker, a very skilled musician, who arranged the Time Won’t Let Me album, Tony Liota, Dennis Samsa, Jimmy Vince, and Richie Pavlic was on drums. We appealed to older kids, college kids, and we had a following of about one thousand fans. We played larger places like The Cleveland Agora.
GM: You’re living back in Denmark now. When did you return?
MM: I left the U.S. in early 1970 and for the first four months I stayed with my sister and brother-in-law in Venezuela and in May I went back to Denmark where I’ve lived ever since. Today my wife and I live in a small town about a 40 minute drive north of Copenhagen called Espergarde. Here I mostly play my accordion. I’ve played music for 76 years starting when I was four years old.
GM: Are there any final comments you’d like to make about your time with The Outsiders?
MM: I have heard that The Outsiders was one of the groups who influenced the decision to build the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Then, again, there were other Ohio groups like The McCoys who did “Hang on Sloopy” and who was a big group at the same time as The Outsiders. Now, they call Cleveland the “Record Capital of the World” and that makes me feel quite humble, and I have to pinch myself every time I talk about this. I was in the middle of the rock and roll era in its best, young years. For me, it doesn’t get any better than that.
GM: After In the band started to record a fourth studio album titled Leave Us Alone, but, except for five songs, the album wasn’t completed. Rick, what happened?
RB: After we recorded five songs, we didn’t have enough material to finish, so Capitol shelved the album.
GM: One of the five songs recorded for the aborted album was the single “Gotta Leave Us Alone” and this featured Joe Kelly from The Shadows of Knight on lead guitar. Why was Kelley used on the session?
RB: We toured a lot with The Shadows of Knight and were friends with them. Kelley impressed Tom as being an extra capable guitarist and Tom and Bill wanted a red-hot guitar player who could play that part.
GM: Speaking of Bill, didn’t he leave the band around this time?
RB: Bill was an economics major in college, and he could see money becoming a problem for the band and, with the possibilities of lawsuits coming, he decided to leave.
A side: Help Me Girl
Top 100 debut: October 29, 1966
Peak position: 37
1966 was a big year for The Outsiders, with all four of their career Top 40 singles released that year, beginning with “Time Won’t Let Me,” followed by “Girl in Love,” then “Respectable,” and finally “Help Me Girl.” The final song was also released by The Animals that year and peaked at No. 29 for them. Rick Biagiola told Goldmine, “The song came from the outside writer, Scott English, who composed and shopped songs and he recorded them on cassette tape, which he sent around to record labels. Tapes of ‘Help Me Girl’ got to both bands and there was miscommunication between managements. The Animals had declined to record their version and then changed their minds. Both songs were released at the same time, causing a split in airplay, with The Animals getting played on the west coast and our version getting played on the east coast. Both versions did well, but either would have done better if the other version didn’t exist. Mert Madsen added, “I felt that we did a much better job on the song. It was more dynamic and exciting, but I don’t bear any grudges against The Animals.”