Doo-wop is a genre of harmonizing vocals that came out of cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Newark and Detroit, et al. A music style birthed out of African American neighborhoods initially in the 1940s, Doo-wop gained popularity in the 1950s and early ‘60s, even attracting Italian groups who shared a love for the music. Built upon vocal harmony, doo-wop consisted of simple lyrics, beats and harmonies, often done a cappella. Currently, Doo-wop lovers will have the opportunity to hear the styling of such well known denizens of the doo-wop genre such as The Duprees, the Platters, Barbara Harris and the Toys, Larry Chance and the Earls, the Belmonts and Ragdoll who will be performing on Saturday, Jan. 24 at 8:00 p.m., at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, located on the Lehman College campus, at 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West in the Bronx.
I caught up with Tony Testa of the Duprees who talked about his sojourn with the group. “I have vivid memories of the early days of Doo-wop. I got involved with the Duprees around 1964 or ‘65 as a guitarist and led the band for a number of years. That is how I got to know the Duprees originally” recalled Testa. “Back then, there were a couple of things that made a perfect blend at the time. There was the fact that these groups had a wonderful knowledge of and appreciation for the music that preceded them; music that came out of the 40s and big band era. The other thing is their hook-up with George Paxton who was the owner of Coed Records. Mr. Paxton came from that big band era so he was the one who integrated that wonderful blend of music reminiscent of the Glenn Miller orchestra behind the youthful exuberant vocals of that time. That melding was so unique it still has great appeal today. It is wonderful to see the faces of the audiences today reacting to music which is over 50 years old,” continued the singer.
Although some groups had members who studied music, many were just natural singers inviting their buddies to band together to harmonize, each being assigned a specific part. “All you needed was two or three of your buddies to get together and chimed up as they called it. We would use a simple harmony like 1, 3, 5. Street corner songs like as “In the Still of the Night” and “Hushabye” were the types of songs we sang,” remarked the vocalist.
Groups sang songs that were fun to sing and simple in structure, making it appealing and easy for street corner pickup groups to do. That was the generation of groups like the Duprees, the Vogues and the Lettermen, etc., who evolved rhythms into more sophisticated harmonies later on.
Tesla agreed many were influenced by the music from church. “I remember vividly when growing up standing outside a Black Church that was around the corner from us. Me and a few of my friends enjoyed listening to that music and felt as if the music absolutely went through our bones because it was so inviting and so emotional. I think it was the springboard to a lot of my appreciation for music,” stated Tony who with his fellow Duprees consisting of Jimmy Spinelli, Tommy Petillo and Phil Granito replaced the original Duprees Joey Van Canzano, Mike Kelly, John Salvato, Tom Bialoglow, Joe Santollo and Mike Arnone, three of whom have passed.
“You know the term doo-wop is a bit of a misnomer. The term never came about until way past the 1960s with the advent of multi-act shows through the 70s and into the 80s where they put under this umbrella the term doo-wop. Doo-wop describes the street corner singing. They still use the term widely to tag groups that are not really doo-wop at all,” claims Tesla who also expands on the Duprees musical songbook and variation, thereby recently paying tribute to Frank Sinatra via their current CD entitled “Happy 100th Mr. Sinatra.”
The Duprees made songs famous such as “My Own True Love,” “Take Me As I Am,” “Why Don’t You Believe Me,” “Have You Heard,” “Love Eyes,” “It Isn’t Fair.” “Let Them Talk” and “You Belong to Me.”
Fans interested in hearing my BlakeRadio interview with Tony Tesla can do so via www.blogtalkradio.com/blakeradio/2015/01/13/topically-yours–the-duprees-tony-testa or who wish to purchase tickets to the Doo-wop show hosted by Johnny Z of WFAS 1230AM, and producer Sal Abbatiello of Fever Records at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts can call the box office at 718-960-8833 or go on line via www.LehmanCenter.org.