BY STEVEN CASTO
GOLDMINE: With the cancellation of the Leave Us Alone album, Happening “Live” became the band’s fourth album. Wasn’t there a promotional campaign associated with Sears & Roebuck and Yardley?
RICK BIAGIOLA: The Sears and Yardley promotion was a series of concerts sponsored by the two companies to promote their teen clothing and such. Part of the payment was that the two companies agreed to purchase a whole lot of albums. I can’t confirm the number, but 10,000 comes to mind. We did shows in many towns and did autograph signings at the actual Sears stores’ record departments and most of the albums were purchased at that time. A couple of autograph sessions ended with The Outsiders running through the store to the rear exit to a waiting vehicle while being chased by, mostly, girl fans. Looking back, it was rather silly.
GM: I’ve always been puzzled by the front and back cover photos on the album because the guitarist has his back to the camera and he’s only referred to as “Grumpy” in Sonny Geraci’s band introduction on the record itself. Bill had left and the guitarist pictured isn’t his replacement Walt Nims. Who is that guy?
RB: On the album cover it’s Tom, Sonny, Mugsy on the right, and me. The other person pictured was our roadie and equipment manager and he’s on the left standing in for our missing guitarist.
GM: Walt Nims plays on the album and became Bill’s replacement. Why isn’t he on the cover?
RB: At the time the cover picture was taken, it hadn’t been decided who the new guitarist would be, and Sonny used the nickname “Grumpy” in the band’s introduction on the album because of that. Originally, Walt was a temporary replacement, but he decided to join the group and he was the guitarist of record on Happening “Live”.
GM: Happening “Live” isn’t really a live recording but rather studio recordings with audience reaction added over and between the tracks. Most songs are new recordings, but others were the original versions given different mixes. Isn’t that right?
RB: “Time Won’t Let Me” and “Respectable” were the complete original tracks with the horns, organ, and other overdubs removed. Ron Harkai is the drummer on those, and Al Austin’s guitar parts were kept on “Time Won’t Let Me.” I believe that Walt Nims played the horn parts on guitar and we added live type endings to make the songs sound like live recordings. “Girl in Love” and “Help Me Girl” were actually re-recorded in the studio to make them sound more like live recordings. Originally, there was no drum part on “Girl in Love” but I added those, and I believe that Walt Nims played the harpsichord part for “Help Me Girl” on his guitar.
GM: The liner notes for the Capitol Collectors Series CD for The Outsiders and some Internet sources give drumming credit on the “live” album to Richie D’Angelo who replaced you after you left the band, but isn’t that incorrect?
RB: Richie D’Angelo did not play on the Happening “Live” album. As far as I know he did not record any songs with The Outsiders but played on a few live performances. Except for the two songs on which Ron Harkai played, I was the drummer on that album and for many of the singles that followed. Sometimes I find it frustrating that people who write books and articles don’t contact the people who actually lived it. I probably would have been one of the easiest to find seeing that I’ve always lived in Cleveland and my name was in the phone book. Boy am I dating myself.
GM: There would be no more albums after Happening “Live” and none of the singles did well. What was happening to the band at that time?
RB: We moved to California in the summer of 1967 to be closer to Capitol Records where we felt our fortunes would be handled better. But just before we left, Tom King had a blow-up with our manager Roger Karshner. The band signed a bad contract with our lawyers and management. The lawyers were taking 25% of the gross, the William Morris Talent Agency was taking 15%, Tom King, as the band leader, was taking 20%, and I feel that was fair, and that left the remaining 40% to be split between the rest of us at 10% each. However, additional expenses were taken out of the band members’ shares for office and secretarial costs. When the band was doing well with tours and record sales, finances were good and we were satisfied. Shortly before the move to California, however, radio began to play Outsiders’ records less and this cost us record sales and concert dates. Bill Bruno saw this coming and that’s why he left. I think the decrease in radio play for The Outsiders may have been due to Tom’s decision to split with management. Management may have put the word out to radio stations that the band members weren’t grateful, that we were prima donnas and backstabbers, and this may have caused radio stations to stop playing our records.
GM: Wasn’t your time with the band coming to an end after the California move?
RB: I stayed with the band in California about three months before I returned home to Cleveland. The band had played no concerts. There were financial issues. I was feeling discouraged and homesick, so I left. There were no hard feelings. I just felt the group’s popularity had diminished and being on the road had lost its glitter for me by then. Eventually I fell out of touch.
GM: What did you do after leaving The Outsiders?
RB: I decided to finish high school and I learned, that because I was absent from school for so many days, I was lacking credits in History and English and they wouldn’t let me graduate. The History and English teachers offered to tutor me and, after I got the needed credits, I was able to graduate. I didn’t perform for about a year but eventually ended up in a rhythm and blues band called Blue Idiom where I stayed for a year and a half. Years later, in the early 1970s, after leaving The Outsiders, Richard D’Amato had a lounge band act in Cleveland where he was backed by a trio featuring a guitarist, organ, and drummer, and, for a time, I was his drummer. Performing was my main job until around 1983 at which time bands saw decreasing playing time thanks to disco and DJs. At that point I got a regular job although I’ve continued to play ever since.
GM: The front of your bass drum had the band’s logo on it and it’s now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What’s the history behind that?
RB: That was designed by Mert and in the recording studio we’d remove it so it wouldn’t muffle the bass drum sound. After I left the band, I gave it to Ken Hamann, the owner of Cleveland Recording Company, and he hung it on the studio wall. After Ken passed away, his son Paul inherited it and it was Paul who donated it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ron Harkai, Tom, Sonny, and I appeared at the Hall of Fame dedication, and Sonny and Tom wouldn’t speak to one another. A photographer wanted to get a picture of Tom, Sonny and me but Sonny and Tom refused to appear together in the picture, so I had the picture taken with Ron instead.
GM: A few years ago, you reformed The Outsiders. What was the decision behind that?
RB: I got a phone call from a guitarist turned bassist, from Indianapolis, who had worked with Sonny, and he felt he could create some interest in the band that could lead to tour dates. I declined, feeling that having only the drummer from the original band was not enough to give it credence. He then told me that Bill Bruno would join the band if I’d join, too. Bill and I didn’t know the other band members and we were skeptical but agreed to join if Bill’s brother John could be the band’s lead guitarist and Bill would play rhythm. He covered the travel and hotel expenses and we got together for rehearsals in Indianapolis. A drummer with little piano experience, became the band’s keyboardist and there was a lead singer who was trained in classical and Broadway singing but he couldn’t sing rock songs. He was not a good choice to replace Sonny. Simply put, he didn’t fit. We rehearsed and put a setlist together, but something was lacking. I felt it wasn’t the best band I was ever in and later performances proved me right. Our first gig was in Illinois at a run-down movie theater that held between 300 and 400 people. In 2017, we were booked at the Cannery Casino in Las Vegas and that show was mediocre at best. We did two shows in two years and didn’t perform again until a show was booked at the Seneca Casino in Niagara Falls in March 2018. The show was OK, but Bill and I were starting to feel that the current band was not something that could do well touring on the nostalgia circuit. Bill felt the band was a weak imitation and left. Despite being the only member from the original band, I began to feel like a sideman and finding myself in agreement with Bill that the band was a weak imitation, I decided to leave and form my own version of the band with friends in Cleveland. I requested and received the copyright for the Outsiders’ name and with the blessings of Bill and Mert. I reformed the band with Jimmy Aschenbener, Rik Williger, Greg DePaulo, and Michael Abraham. They are good friends of mine who are top-notch players and decent singers. No one came to mind as the lead singer. There are good singers in Cleveland, but they had bad reputations and there are good people but not capable singers. I decided I didn’t want a lead singer to front the band because whoever it was, the lead singer would be unjustly compared to Sonny Geraci. Also, the crowd would be disappointed that Sonny wasn’t there.
GM: The reformed band has a new CD release called It’s Time... How was the title chosen?
RB: We were kicking ideas around and Michael suggested “It’s About Time” and my wife Lois suggested “It’s Time…” including three periods to suggest a dramatic pause. Mike liked Lois’s suggestion and Lois and I liked Mike’s suggestion, but Lois’ suggestion was the one we selected.
GM: For the new CD, the band has recorded several Outsiders hits and album tracks, along with a few new ones including a new single, “You & Me.” Like the original band did on occasion, the lead vocals are shared on the new release. Talk about the songs and how the lead vocalists were chosen for them.
RB: It really wasn’t that difficult. Everyone in the band has his strengths as a vocalist. I’m not a ballad singer nor am I a trained singer. I’m better at rhythm and blues so I’m not going to sing “Girl in Love,” but I felt I should sing most of the songs from the original band because I was there. I sing “Time Won’t Let Me,” “Respectable,” “Help Me Girl,” “Bend Me, Shape Me,” and “Little Latin Lupe Lu.” Greg’s voice is best suited for British Invasion style songs and he sings “Girl in Love.” James wrote “You & Me” so his voice was best suited to sing it and he sings “Here Comes My Baby.” Rik sings “What Makes You So Bad (You Weren’t Brought Up That Way)” and Michael has the smooth voice, so he sings “Precious and Few.” All the songs we recorded are based on songs we perform in concert. A friend suggested that we re-record “Bend Me, Shape Me.” Remember it wasn’t over two minutes long on the In album so Mike recorded a guitar solo to make the new version longer, but we stayed true to the original feel. “Little Latin Lupe Lu” is a high energy rhythm and blues flavored song that follows a short drum solo about two-thirds of the way through our live set. On flows into the other. We open our show with “Respectable,” which was our second biggest hit. “Here Comes My Baby” is the British Invasion connection. It has a unique feel with an up-beat tempo.
GM: My fellow Goldmine writer Warren Kurtz told me that “Precious and Few” was the first slow song that he and his wife Donna danced to, when they were dating and saw Sonny perform it at the Grog Shop in Cleveland. This song was a hit for Sonny’s band Climax, which he formed after The Outsiders. Why include it on your new Outsiders album?
RB: We do it partly as a tribute to Sonny and also because Walt Nims, who like Sonny, was in both The Outsiders and Climax, and he wrote it. Nims was tinkering around with it while he was in The Outsiders, just before I left the band. It’s not an Outsiders’ song, but it started there. Walt made some chord and melody changes later, but it’s a connection to his time with The Outsiders.
GM: One final question. What can fans expect at an Outsiders’ concert today?
RB: The entire set lasts an hour. Along with the songs on the CD, our live show is rounded out by several songs from the 1960s. We try to include a couple of musical surprises to showcase The Outsiders’ considerable musical talents beyond authentically reproducing the original excitement of The Outsiders’ hits. The energy builds as the show progresses and we consider the show a success when the crowd leaves feeling they were truly entertained.
For more information about future concert dates, to watch videos of The Outsiders, or to purchase the It’s Time… CD, an autographed press photo, autographed drumsticks, or Outsiders’ t-shirt, with the band’s new logo designed by Rick’s wife Lois, please visit their website. Fans can also get updates on their Facebook page.
In this four-part interview series for Goldmine, Mert and Rick, who were and are first-hand eye-witnesses, not only confirm previously known information, but they correct some of the misinformation that exists, and they provide new details along with insights into what it was like in the recording studio and on tour. Their time to go on the record has arrived.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without their cooperation. Mert and Rick graciously gave their time to answer my mountain of questions and I can’t thank them enough for that. Additional thanks to Rick for connecting me with Mert. Rick’s wife, Lois, provided valuable assistance to the interview process and I thank her for all she did. Thanks, also, to my wife Julie for her suggestions and proof-reading. Finally, thank you to author Malcolm Searles for suggesting that I reach out to Warren at Goldmine to make this series happen.
You & Me
Written by James Aschenbener
The current lineup of The Outsiders’ new single “You & Me” captures the pop rock sound of the 1960s-1970s which inspired Gin Blossoms’ music in the 1990s. Lyrics of a hopeful love relationship are given a bouncy backdrop with a steady rhythm, organ, brass sounds, and a solid electric guitar solo. Go to the band’s website below for links to the song.