About Bob Feldman
“I was the dreamer, Jerry was the schemer and Richie was the voice of reason.”
- BOB FELDMAN
“I have a drawer full of almost one hundred 45s that we wrote or produced or both.”
- RICHARD GOTTEHRER
“Tell me, where’d you get those fancy clothes?”
- JERRY GOLDSTEIN
As a songwriting collective their surnames were never likely to trip off the tongue as smoothly as a Mann & Weil or a Goffin & King or even a Boyce & Hart. In fact, to the uninitiated, Feldman-Goldstein-Gottehrer sounded like a high-powered law firm rather than three New York-based writer-producers who hit a winning streak with their highly stylized productions and artful songs in the mid-60s.
Together for a mere four years, Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, and Richard Gottehrer were mavericks, a trio of Jewish musketeers who never took themselves quite as seriously as some of their peers and seemed to have a lot of fun testing the limits as they made their way in the music business. And where others saw their careers stutter and stall in the wake of Beatlemania’s new frontiers, F-G-G rode the crest of the new wave as though they were part of it – which, to some extent, they were. Not that it was always easy, as we shall see.
What really distinguished F-G-G was the hard-edged kinetic energy of their productions, whose bruising headlong thrust was propelled by the drummer (usually New York session pro, Herb Lavelle) surrounded by a welter of percussion effects. Their work in the studio was also characterized by a keen sense of spatial awareness with lots of air and ambiance playing their part. Yet, for all this, they were just as easily capable of switching to the opposite extreme, penning tender soul ballads of blissful sophistication such as ‘The Drifter’ and ‘Giving Up On Love’.
Best of all, they had few pretensions. Where teams such as Mann & Weil saw themselves as potential heirs to the great Broadway writers, harboring, as did many of their peers, ambitions of breaking into legitimate musical theatre, F-G-G owed more to Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis than to George Gershwin or Frank Loesser.
Before F-G-G there was just F-G: Feldman and Goldstein. And before that, there was just F: Bob Feldman, the first of the trio to make inroads into the music business as a 17-year-old in 1957.
Born in Brooklyn in 1940, Feldman grew up in an orthodox Jewish home and originally studied to be a cantor. The Feldmans lived across the street from Neil Diamond’s folks, just around the corner from the Sedakas, whose son, Neil, was a promising classical pianist, and a couple of blocks away from members of the Tokens, all Lincoln High School graduates and friends. Feldman began writing poetry to compensate for a speech impediment and at the age of 11 won a talent contest sponsored by the New York Daily Mirror and had several of his efforts published in the paper.
By the mid-50s, doo-wop was all the rage and Feldman soon fell in with various groups practising harmonies on the Brooklyn backstreets. Seeking an escape from conventional academia – no dreams of becoming a lawyer or a doctor for him – he teamed up with his neighbourhood buddy, Jerry Goldstein, and wrote some songs that brought the pair to the attention of Jack Lewis, an A&R man at United Artists Records, a recent subsidiary of the movie company. Lewis allowed the enthusiastic 18 year-old to sit in on sessions at weekends and mentored him on various aspects of the music business.
At this stage, Feldman was more serious about a career in music than Goldstein, who was studying design at the Platt Institute in Brooklyn, mainly to keep his parents happy. Back then, the quickest route to a potential hit was a novelty recording and Feldman and Goldstein chose this path as the most likely way of securing airplay in a crowded market. Thus ‘Comic Book Crazy’ by Ezra & the Ivies and ‘A Tribute To Donna’ by the Kittens, both probably recorded at the same session under Lewis’ supervision, appeared in March 1959, the latter being a tribute to Ritchie Valens, issued within weeks of his death in the plane accident that also claimed Buddy Holly’s life.
None of these early efforts were particularly distinguished or hitworthy, but they enabled Feldman and Goldstein to establish a toehold in the business as part-timers. By 1960, Goldstein was continuing his education while Feldman schlepped frocks around New York’s garment district. The two pals would grab a sandwich and hustle music publishers in their lunch breaks. Young, enthusiastic and markedly persuasive, they began to get some bites, mainly as a novelty turn, twice riding on the coat-tails of existing hits with ‘We’re The Guys’ (an answer record to Barry Mann’s ‘Who Put The Bomp’) as Bob & Jerry on Columbia Records and ‘Chubby Isn’t Chubby Anymore’ (a daft nod to the King of The Twist) on the Musicor label. Another of their songs, ‘Charm Bracelet’, was recorded by teenage pop vocalist Bernadette Peters. Though they were making inroads, it wasn’t until Feldman and Goldstein met Richard Gottehrer in a music publisher’s waiting room in the spring of 1962, that they tasted their first chart success.
Of the three, Bronx-born Gottehrer was the only trained musician, having studied classical piano since childhood and played cocktail music in an amateur trio while studying at Brooklyn Law School. At heart he was a closet rock’n’roller who idolised Jerry Lee Lewis and played a mean boogie-woogie in the Lewis style. (Some of Gottehrer’s fieriest piano chops can be heard on ‘Roll On (Mississippi)’, the B-side of the Strangeloves’ 1965 hit ‘Cara-Lin’.)
One of his songs had appeared on an early Gladys Knight LP which probably no-one heard or bought. Gottehrer had also recorded ‘Twistle’, a gimmicky Johnny & the Hurricanes-styled instrumental on which he played the melody line on a squeaky organ in close unison with a whistler! Credited to Troy & the T-Birds, it appeared on a label owned by industry maven Morty Craft – known within the trade as Crafty Morty. Along the way, Gottehrer gained a few insights about the business from the older man.
According to Feldman, he, Goldstein and Gotteher wrote their first song together that day as they waited for their respective appointments with the elusive song publisher. Referencing one of the biggest hits of 1961, ‘Tossin’ And Turnin’’ by Bobby Lewis, which spent an unprecedented seven weeks at #1 on the Beltone label, the threesome sketched out a copycat tune right down to the title – ‘I’m Tossin’ And Turnin’ Again’. Pleased with their collaborative effort, they vowed to work together again and bounded out of the publisher’s office before being called in.
Beltone Records was an off-shoot of a busy recording studio located in the basement of a hotel on West 31st Street, just off Broadway. Its owner, Les Cahan, launched the label after arranging a pressing and distribution deal with one of his clients, King Records. From the off, the new logo enjoyed an unexpectedly hot run, notching up two smashes by Bobby Lewis and another by the Jive Five, whose doo wop classic ‘My True Story’ had reached #3. The problem lay in finding material strong enough to sustain these artists beyond their initial hits. Feldman, Goldstein and Gottehrer pitched themselves to Cahan as the solution, only it wasn’t really a solution, more of a temporary fix. Bobby Lewis did indeed record ‘I’m Tossin’ And Turnin’ Again’, but the title somehow smacked of desperation, and the record only reached #98 on the Hot 100. Nonetheless, Cahan lent them office space and assigned them to write for Beltone’s modest roster – essentially the Jive Five, whose moody ‘What Time Is It?’ can be heard here, Dean Barlow and Bobby Lewis. Beltone’s in-house arranger/A&R man, Joe Rene, took care of the music.
A couple of minor hits by the Jive Five and Bobby Lewis in 1962 went some way towards getting our heroes noticed, but their first real triumph came elsewhere: in the summer of ’62, they placed one of their songs, ‘In My Baby’s Eyes’ (co-written with Marty Sanders, a guitarist with Jay & the Americans), on the B-side of teen idol Bobby Vee’s current hit, ‘Sharing You’. This brought them to the attention of Snuff Garrett, one of the most successful A&R men of his day, and prompted a visit from ambitious young song-publisher Wes Farrell, also a songwriter of some note: he penned ‘Boys’, the Shirelles B-side later popularised by the Beatles.
Blessed with an uncanny ear for a hit tune, Snuff Garrett had almost single-handedly placed Liberty Records at the forefront of the industry with a string of hits by Bobby Vee, Johnny Burnette and Gene McDaniels, among others. But as a non-musician or writer, Garrett was reliant to a greater degree on material from song publishers, notably Aldon Music, whose staff writers included such stellar teams as Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil and Gerry Goffin & Carole King. Keen to escape their tyranny, Garrett began to nurture the relatively untried (and therefore, hungrier) Feldman, Goldstein and Gottehrer as an alternative song source for his primary artist, Bobby Vee. Writing to order, F-G-G placed two of their tunes, ‘A Letter To Betty’ and ‘Bobby Tomorrow’, on the backs of Bobby Vee’s next two releases. Although by this time, mid-1963, Vee wasn’t doing quite so well as before, both records saw chart action.
While hanging out with F-G-G in New York, Garrett found himself trapped indoors by a particularly heavy rainstorm. With nothing better to do, Garrett, F-G-G and their friend Marty Sanders went in and produced an ad hoc instrumental which they titled ‘Don’t Monkey With Tarzan’, credited to the Pygmies. Sanders played the acoustic guitar licks and provided the Tarzan calls. Garrett ensured that Liberty issued it. “We were going stir crazy because of this incredible downpour, so Snuff suddenly said, ‘Let’s go and cut a record – anything to get out of this.’ So that’s what we did,” remembers Feldman. “It was a time when you could be any group you wanted. We could just go out and make good records. And fun records.”
F-G-G were forging ahead on other fronts too. The well-connected Wes Farrell had been appointed General Manager of Roosevelt Music, a leading song publishing firm, and made the boys an offer they couldn’t refuse: a retainer of $75 a week, their own office and as a killer inducement, the chance to write the follow-up to Freddy Cannon’s current smash, ‘Palisades Park’. “We told him, ‘Prove it.’ Farrell went to the phone, called the president of Swan Records in Philadelphia, and told them he had just signed three new writers and that they had just written a smash for Freddy Cannon. The appointment was made for the next day at one o’clock. Farrell said, ‘You’ve got it. All you have to do is write it.’ We worked all day and night looking for an idea, but couldn’t come up with anything. However, on the two-hour train ride to Philadelphia, we finally wrote ‘What’s Gonna Happen When Summer Is Done’.
“The people at Swan Records loved it and started calling up musicians. The record was cut that afternoon. Unable to locate a saxophone player, Jerry Goldstein simulated a sax, vocally. The record hit the charts and his vocal sax solo made it into the final mix. We developed a rapport with Freddy Cannon and the Swan Records team. Over the next two years, we had five Freddy Cannon records and releases with Bobby Comstock and Ronnie Dio.”
From there, the three caballeros never looked back, making their presence felt in New York recording circles with Wes Farrell championing them as the team to watch. Aware that Dion DiMucci was about to leave Laurie Records and sign for the mighty Columbia label, Farrell somehow pulled off an interim deal that entailed Dion recording two F-G-G songs specifically written for the Bronx Wanderer.
A deft pastiche of the punchy style that had kept Dion at the top for the past couple of years, ‘Swingin’ Street’ and ‘Gonna Make It Alone’ probably weren’t sufficiently innovative for an artist hoping to mark his label switch with a fresh approach; much to Feldman’s chagrin, both tunes were shelved. “‘I’m Gonna Make It Alone’ was going to be Dion’s first Columbia 45 through Wes Farrell who had the connection. Then they came up with ‘Ruby Baby’ and our tune was forgotten about. They felt so bad about it, they put my name on the B-side, ‘He’ll Hurt You’, along with Wes Farrell and a couple of other people. It was by way of compensation. Wes Farrell knew how upset I was.” Dion’s unissued version of ‘Swingin’ Street’ is heard here for the first time on a legal CD.
‘Gonna Make It Alone’ and ‘Swingin’ Street’ soon found another taker in Ronnie Dio, a 23 year-old bar-room belter from upstate New York who’d fronted local bands since the late 1950s. Dio and another local artist, Bobby Comstock, were signed to the Valex Agency run by one John Periales, a former insurance salesman who’d entered the music business booking local acts. Both Dio and Comstock were signed to the Lawn label, a subsidiary of Swan Records. Thanks in the main to Dio’s powerful pipes, he and his three-piece band, the Prophets, did a creditable job on ‘Gonna Make It Alone’, which boasted an unusually floaty mix designed for 60s AM radio.
“At that point in time, we were playing a lot of colleges,” Comstock told Gary James. “We were based in Ithaca and nearby you’d had Colgate, Syracuse, Cornell Universities. They’d call up and Periales would book us. We worked out a deal on the whole thing. It was very fair. Later, when the major agencies started booking us, that was a totally different situation. They would get the booking commission and John Periales began managing Ronnie Dio and myself.”
Periales established a working relationship with Wes Farrell through their shared interest in Bobby Comstock, whose frat rock classic, ‘Let’s Stomp’, became a sizeable hit on Lawn in early 1963. The other side, ‘I Wanna Do It’, was almost as popular, though the suggestive lyric hampered radio play. “In those days,” said Comstock, “you’d go to these publishers at 1650 Broadway. They’d play demos for you. I met Wes Farrell when he was first starting. He was working for a music publisher, Roosevelt Music run by a guy named Hal Fein. We met F-G-G. They liked me, I liked them, so they started writing songs for me.” Though Feldman, Goldstein and Gottehrer wrote and arranged both sides, Comstock credits Farrell as being the producer, but it was probably a collective effort as they bear all the F-G-G hallmarks.
Comstock’s next 45, ‘The Chicken Back’, credited John Periales as the producer and F-G-G as the arranger, so it seems politics played a part in the apportioning of credits at this early stage. F-G-G themselves appeared on Swan masquerading as the Strangeloves, a name that propagated an amusing subterfuge, as we shall see. It’s a measure of their faith in Comstock that they recorded him for the next two years, culminating in 1965 with a couple of powerhouse singles (including ‘I’m A Man’, heard here) and an album on the Ascot label.
Their star rising, next to come calling was Tom Catalano of Columbia Records, who had been charged with organising the launch of the internal song publishing division to be named April/Blackwood. His first move was to cajole F-G-G to sign for the new firm as staff writers, placing them on a generous retainer of $200 a week and furnishing them with their own suite within Columbia’s imposing Manhattan HQ. They, in turn, persuaded Neil Diamond, a struggling unknown whom they’d befriended at Roosevelt, to join April/Blackwood in the spring of 1963. Diamond had yet to get into his stride as a writer, but he did get to make his first solo 45 for Columbia under Catalano’s supervision. This was a significant portent for both men; when Diamond signed for the Uni label six years later, Catalano was on hand to produce classics such as ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘I Am…I Said’.
Back in 1963 the music biz was still being run along old school lines by imperious Broadway-based song publishers who held lofty sway over the US recording scene. The so-called British Invasion of 1963 would shortly sweep away this established order, but hardly anyone saw it coming except, perhaps, for Snuff Garrett, who’d witnessed Beatlemania first-hand late that year during a trip to London. Al Nevins and Don Kirshner of Aldon Music, sensing that fortune was a fickle mistress, sold their company to Columbia Pictures in April 1963. It was a buyout that left quite a few artists and their A&R men in the lurch; Aldon and its writers were never quite the same following the sale.
By this time, F-G-G were producing demos deemed good enough to release as masters, such as ‘Snow Girl’ by Ron Winters (née Ronald Striano), a song written for Bobby Vee replete with some of his adenoidal vocal licks. When Vee took a pass, the writers spiced the demo up with a couple of overdubs and sold the master to Aldon Music’s Dimension label in the winter of ’63.
A curious dynamic drew our three protagonists together with the Angels, a winsome female trio who’d scored in 1961-62 with ‘Til’ and ‘Cry Baby Cry’ on the Caprice label owned by artist-turned-producer Gerry Granahan and Neil Galligan, head of Canadian-American Records. Later singles had fared less well and Caprice gave F-G-G a shot at producing the girls in late 1962, getting one of their songs on the B-side as part of the deal.
It was at Caprice that F-G-G had met Ron Striano, a young guitarist fronting the studio band for in-house arranger Hutch Davie. Striano had brought the Angels to Caprice in 1961, as well as introducing former classmate Rose Marie Cassili to the label. Renaming her Janie Grant, Granahan produced her Top 30 hit, ‘Triangle’, in 1961. For a while, Caprice was a hot little label, but things had levelled off by late ’62. F-G-G picked up the Angels baton because, to quote Feldman, Caprice was “refusing to record them and they were trying hard to make ends meet”.
Hailing from Orange, New Jersey, the Angels were two sisters, Barbara and Phyllis “Jiggs” Allbut, and their friend Linda Jansen. Prior to this, the Allbuts had made a couple of records with another local group, the Starlets. By the time F-G-G began working with the trio, Jansen had been replaced by Peggy Santaglia. Feldman said, “We were writing and making demos of our songs and started using the Angels on our demos.”
After nearly 50 years, the facts surrounding ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ are unclear. One day in 1963, as Feldman tells it, he stopped by his old school, Lincoln High in Brooklyn, on a nostalgia trip after learning that an adjacent sweet shop where he used to hang out as a kid was being demolished to make way for an apartment complex. Stopping to say goodbye to the owners and enjoy one last egg cream, he found the inspiration for a song. “In the rear of the shop were a bunch of teenagers hanging out. A young lady was shouting at a boy wearing a black leather jacket and a duck’s ass hairstyle. She was yelling, ‘My boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble. So if I were you, I’d disappear quick, because if he gets hold of you, he’s gonna kick your ass’.” Feldman grabbed a napkin and started writing her words down, finished his egg cream and returned to Manhattan. He told Goldstein and Gottehrer about the events that day and, before they went out to enjoy a late-night dinner, they had written what was to become a rock’n’roll classic.
According to the Angels, the song began as a demo for the Shirelles but turned out so well that F-G-G, sensing its obvious potential (and no doubt influenced by Jerry Goldstein’s ongoing relationship with Jiggs Allbut), decided to create a master by adding horn parts and making some edits. Boasting an infectious Kwela-styled background chant and archly pertinent teen lyrics, ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ sounded like an obvious hit. Tom Catalano earmarked it for the Shirelles, but F-G-G insisted on letting the Angels have first option, firmly standing their ground.
Feldman tells it a little differently: teaming up with hip arranger Leroy Glover, the boys recorded four backing tracks in a single session, then overdubbed vocals by three different artists to maximise the return on their outlay. Financial constraints meant that F-G-G had to cut corners in the studio and masters were sometimes recorded in job lots and credited to fabricated names. “The night we cut ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ we cut four A-sides with four different groups and put the same B-side on all four songs. One was by Heavy & the Companions – we sold that master to Columbia. Then we sold another master [‘Sneaky Sue’ by Patty Lace & the Petticoats] to Kapp Records, and one we never sold. But one of the four was ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’. The 45 had an edit where the instrumental break was shortened and some splicing here and there, but the longer version we put on the album is the uncut song.” (This doesn’t quite tally with the facts, as the B-sides were all different, but no matter.)
The fallout was immediate: April/Blackwood locked F-G-G out of their of their office suite and released them from their contract. Shell-shocked but undeterred, they rented a small office in the same building and set themselves up as indie producers, forming Grand Canyon Music as a publishing outlet for their material.
Subsequent events were informed by a touch of serendipity. Smash Records, a pop subsidiary of the Mercury label, had recently restructured its managerial team, appointing Charles Fach at its head and British-born executive Doug Moody as his second in command. Fach’s first initiative was to sign Jerry Lee Lewis, late of Sun Records, an acquisition that would pay off when Lewis became a major country star later in the decade. Equally keen to further the cause of the revitalised Smash label, Doug Moody’s ears perked up when quite by chance he heard an acetate of ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’.
In a memoir penned some years ago, Feldman wrote: “We were sitting in their office the morning after we had mixed and mastered the record, waiting for the acetate to be delivered so that they could hear the final product. The door opened and a very animated short gentleman with a heavy British accent introduced himself as Doug Moody, vice-president of Smash Records. He said, ‘You boys have a #1 record there and I want it for my label’. We were stunned. We were waiting for the acetate to arrive and here was this guy wanting to buy it and put it out. He said, ‘Give me one week. Don’t do anything with this record until you hear from me, and I’ll get you $10,000 dollars for it.’ Shocked, we readily agreed and went on about our business. Moody’s mother was in charge of the RCA pressing plant, so he pressed up 50 acetates, got in his car and started getting the record played up and down the East Coast. The following week, Moody called and told us to expect a call from Charlie Fach, president of Smash Records. It seemed that all week long Smash’s promotion people and distributors were calling Fach and congratulating him on his new smash hit and ordering tens of thousands of records. Fach, who knew nothing about it, got in touch with Moody who told him, ‘It’s your record. All you have to do is sign the cheque’.” Fach thought the $10,000 price was high, but by the time the contracts were signed and the cheque issued ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ was a monster hit.
Following up such a distinctive record proved problematic and, biting the bullet, F-G-G eventually chose a song by other writers – ‘I Adore Him’, penned by Jan Berry of Jan & Dean and Artie Kornfeld – which went to #25.
A near-hit for the team in the wake of ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ was the deliciously camp ‘Sneaky Sue’ by Patty Lace & the Petticoats on Kapp. Issued in the solemn aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, the record made #104 in January 1964. F-G-G frequently used studio vocalists on their recordings, and it seems that the group was one such aggregation. Their follow-up, ‘Girls Don’t Trust That Boy’, had the peculiar distinction of being issued well over a year later, when the group had been forgotten. Perhaps sensing this, Kapp helpfully named them on the label as Paula, Peppi and Pixie. Feldman cannot recall their real identities, other than that their lead singer was in-demand session singer Diane Christian, who also did the honours for F-G-G on an update of the Shirelles’ oldie ‘I Want You To Be My Boyfriend’, released on the Josie label as by the Chic-Lets. ‘Wonderful Guy’ (included here), is a gloriously dynamic stereo master of the second of the three solo 45s Christian made with F-G-G, minus the background voices.
Beatlemania dampened interest in the all-American Angels, but they persevered. In 1964, F-G-G wrote and produced a 45 by the girls entitled ‘Little Beatle Boy’, and who could blame them for trying to cash-in. And in a bid to latch on to the passing surf’n’drag fad, they recycled ‘(You Can’t Take) My Boyfriend’s Woody’, a track from the group’s “A Halo To You” LP, overdubbed new lead vocals, and sold the master to Imperial Records, who released it as by the Powder Puffs. Eventually, the team-play between the Angels and F-G-G began to sour; Jerry Goldstein and Jiggs Allbut had ended their relationship and money squabbles may have played a part – no-one is saying. Leaving F-G-G’s orbit, the girls changed their name to the Halos and recorded a handful of singles for Congress, a subsidiary of Kapp Records.
Meanwhile, determined to prove the Angels were as interchangeable as any of Phil Spector’s acts, F-G-G set out to find a similar-sounding group – any group – and settled on the Pin-Ups, four girls from Brooklyn brought to them by Larry Martire, the dangerously connected manager of the Shangri-Las. An Angels record by any other name, ‘Lookin’ For Boys’ appeared on Stork, F-G-G’s own short-lived label, to a rave review in the trade journal Billboard. In the event, it failed to make the charts.
The British Invasion altered the entire dynamic of the American music industry with its dependence on the song factories of Tin Pan Alley. Though attuned to the zeitgeist, F-G-G weren’t immune to the changes. As soon as the Beatles hit, F-G-G went into the studio with Ron Striano – now an honorary fourth member of the team – and recorded ‘Back In The USA’, a scorching all-American riposte to British onslaught. Actually, it was an old Chuck Berry song that hadn’t been heard much in the States. Striano sang lead while F-G-G chanted hypnotically in the background over a relentless driving beat. A tougher record than anything coming out of Britain, it was probably on the wrong label (Dimension) at the right time.
“The long hair wig I wore in the Strangeloves was my wife’s – but the beard was mine!” BOB FELDMAN
“The British Invasion had begun and we were hurting,” said Feldman. “We’d gone through most of the money we had earned and had no clue as to what we were going to do. Then we found an old track that we had cut for the Angels. It was never finished, so we put our voices on it. It was a 50s Jo Stafford song, ‘Love Love (That’s All I Want From You)’. In the middle of the record, I did this monologue in what I thought was a British accent. We didn’t think anybody would buy us as Liverpoolians (sic) so we decided to say that we were from Australia. There was no Crocodile Dundee then.
“Dr Strangelove or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb was the big hit movie of the time. A friend of ours happened to stop by our office wearing Dr Strangelove glasses and giving us that crazy Peter Sellers salute. Before we knew it, we were all walking around the table saluting and laughing our heads off. At that moment the Strangeloves were born: Miles, Niles and Giles, three brothers from Australia, with the same mother but different fathers. That explained why we bore no resemblance to each other! We were from the tiny village of Armstrong which bordered on Aborigine country but was not found on any existing map. We were independently wealthy sheep farmers who had discovered a new strain of cross-bred sheep named the Gottehrer Sheep! I put on a wig, long hair, and a beard.
“Anyway, Swan Records bought the master and released it. We got a call from a DJ in Virginia Beach who wanted us to do his Halloween show at the Dome with Chuck Berry and the Shangri-Las and Gene Pitney. We told him, ‘We’re not British, we’re Yiddish.’ He said, ‘I don’t care what you are, if you do the show, I’ll make this record #1.’ So we drove down to Virginia Beach in two cars with some friends. On the way we got arrested for speeding and the disc jockey had to bail us out. This bizarre beginning was a prelude to arriving in Virginia Beach. It was unreal: there were thousands of kids being held back by State Troopers. They were screaming, waving, throwing jellybeans, teddy bears and even little stuffed kangaroos and holding up signs and banners that read Welcome To America, We Love You. The mayor was there with the key to the city and limousines with police escorts to take us to our motel. Girls were fainting and throwing articles of clothing at the arrival of the Strangeloves in America. Virginia Beach was supposedly the first stop on our world-wide tour. And instead of flying-in from Australia, we had driven all night from New York to get there!
“We did the show. One of the songs was ‘Bo Diddley’. We were banging on our drums, dancing around the stage and acting crazy. When the song ended, there was dead silence. We looked at each other, like, what do we do now? After what seemed an eternity to us, the audience started screaming and generally went berserk. ‘Love, Love’, got to #1 in Virginia Beach [and Bubbled Under Billboard’s Hot 100]. The B-side was a piano/voice demo titled ‘I’m On Fire’, which became Jerry Lee Lewis’ last rock’n’roll hit.” (F-G-G had got the song to Lewis via Doug Moody.)
Cleverly peddling the illusion that the Strangeloves were a fully functioning rock band, F-G-G decided to follow through with an off-the-wall remake of ‘Bo Diddley’, the song that had been so well received whenever they’d performed it. Recorded at an extremely high level for the time, the track alone sounded like a potential hit with its double drum beat – Gottehrer pounding an African drum against Herb Lovelle’s backbeat – and guitarist Everett Barksdale playing an intricate little counterpoint throughout the verses.
“We were looking to sell the master of ‘Bo Diddley’,” said Feldman. “Swan hadn’t picked up our option. We’d cut it at Atlantic’s studio, so we took it to Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler. Ahmet loved it but Wexler hated it – too sacrilegious to his ears – and he threw us out. Ahmet chased after us and apologised for Jerry, and then called Bert Berns. We found out that Atlantic were starting a new label with Bert called Bang Records. Bert loved the track and wanted it for Bang.”
Instinctively, Berns knew the key selling point was the track itself and not the lyrics. He advised F-G-G to discard the original vocals and pen a new set of words to match. Not unreasonably, he figured why give away the publishing and writer’s royalties? And thus ‘Bo Diddley’ became ‘I Want Candy’, which in turn became one of the biggest hits of the summer.
Richard Gottehrer: “There was a wonderful guitar player at the time named Everett Barksdale who came up with the riff and he was playing off the melody of ‘Anna’, a continental hit by Silvano Merano, on ‘I Want Candy’. We had become quite knowledgeable about producing at this point. We kept ping-ponging in the studio – we recorded the drums twice, also with me banging on African drums. Jerry, Bob and myself were overdubbed singing together four times. That’s why the record has this overwhelming sound. After we mixed and mastered it, we added more EQ and reverb so it has a very processed feel but at the same time a real raw vibe to it. This process occurred over a period of weeks.
“Everybody loved the Australian thing and we really started getting into our persona. We had real zebra skin vests made by a voodoo lady, custom-made black leather pants and gold heart-shaped belt buckles with our initials on them. We also wore either black turtle-necks or red silk shirts with our names embroidered in a heart across our chests. We carried spears and African war drums which we got from Olatungee at the African Pavilion at the World’s Fair. WE WERE READY!”
Actually, there were two sets of Strangeloves: the original F-G-G trio and the road version, the latter filling in whenever F-G-G were too weighed down by studio work, a frequent occurrence by then. The Lost Souls – a New Jersey band comprising Tommy Kobis (on drums), Jack Raczka (guitar), Richie Lauro (sax) and John Shine (bass) - played some local gigs as the Strangeloves and later on, a trio comprising Jack Raczka together with Joe Piazza (bass) and Kenny Jones (drums) maintained the illusion. “We sent them out as the Strangeloves – didn’t work out – so they became the Sheep,” said Feldman.
When they weren’t passing themselves off as colonial backwoodsmen, F-G-G were as busy as ever behind the scenes, recording Little Eva, Jimmy Jones and many other artists. Their song ‘Giving Up On Love’ was a modest hit for Jerry Butler and they wrote and produced a Chubby Checker 45 for Parkway, the 60s club classic ‘At The Discotheque’, which reached the Top 40. “We’d written that for the Righteous Brothers originally, but could never get it through to them,” remarked Feldman. Gerry Granahan, late of Caprice and now a hotshot at United Artists, produced Ray Pollard’s flawless soul classic ‘The Drifter’, a song F-G-G had written with Ben E King in mind. “Atlantic liked it but passed because the title referred to King’s old group, the Drifters. Also, in the States, drifter meant bum or hobo, which also worked against it. None of it made sense to the Atlantic honchos.”
Once F-G-G were established as producers, the name Bassett Hand began appearing on their productions as the arranger, prompting interest from fellow A&R men in this hitherto unsung musical director with the hit touch, unaware that he was the figment of a private joke. “One day, an A&R man from Coral called. He wanted Bassett Hand to write some arrangements for a forthcoming session. We told him that Bassett Hand was under exclusive contract to us, but that he would write scores at $250 per title at a time when the average fee was maybe $150 or less. The Coral man was shocked at the price, but he reluctantly agreed. So we sent him chord sheets for his four songs and charged $1000!” (The illusionary Bassett became a vinyl ectoplasm in his own right with a couple of instrumental singles, ‘Detroit’ and ‘The Happy Organ Shake’.)
On a roll in the summer of 1965, F-G-G arrived at the biggest hit of their careers through a mixture of accident and design. Bob Feldman takes up the story: “‘Hang On Sloopy’ was originally a track on an album the Strangeloves made for Bang Records. It was supposed to be the follow-up to ‘I Want Candy’. We were doing a show in Tulsa, Oklahoma with the Dave Clark Five. It was the tail-end of a mini-tour of one-nighters and Dave Clark taped our version of ‘Sloopy’ because they loved it. They told us they were going to record it as soon as they got back to England.
“We were supposed to fly home as well, but there were tornados all over that part of the country and I didn’t want to fly in that, so I said, ‘No – we’re driving.’ So an agent said, ‘Listen, if you’re driving home, why don’t you stop off in Dayton, Ohio and do a show on the way and pick up a couple of thousand bucks?’ We said, ‘Fine.’ I remember it was a Friday night, we stopped in Dayton and there was a last-minute replacement band to backup the Strangeloves called Rick & the Raiders, a bunch of young kids. We were standing in the wings watching them and I heard 16 year-old Rick Zehringer [later Derringer] play guitar like I’d heard nobody else play guitar. And they backed us up during our spot. Meanwhile, we were worried about the Dave Clark Five, because they’d told us they were going to cut ‘Hang On Sloopy’. Being that ‘I Want Candy’ was out and on the way up, there was no way we were going to be able to get our version out without killing ‘Candy’. So immediately after the show, we signed Rick & the Raiders up, had them call their folks, and we all drove to New York. We renamed them on the way. First it was the Real McCoys, then just the McCoys. We got back, went into the studio, put their voices on the track, and then put Rick’s guitar on it. If you listen to the Strangeloves’ version, it’s the same track.”
Rick Derringer: “My parents were very pragmatic. They told me that I’d never make a living as a guitarist so plan for something else, plan for another job. I was enrolled at Dayton Institute, a five-year art school course. I’d just graduated from high school and I was supposed to start school in September ’65. But in August we met these producers that asked me and the rest of the band to come to New York and record ‘Hang On Sloopy’. We were given a portable battery operated mini record deck and a seven-inch lacquer of the Strangeloves’ version to learn. We would sit in Central Park every day rehearsing it. We nailed that sucker! Even the engineers were jumping up and down in the control room yelling ‘Number One! Number One!’.”
Bob Feldman: “We took an acetate of ‘Sloopy’ to Grossingers, a hotel in the Catskill Mountains, where Bert Berns was spending the Jewish holidays with his wife Ilene and some friends. In the middle of the dinner, we walked into the dining room, put a small portable phonograph on Bert’s table and played him ‘Hang On Sloopy’ by the McCoys. We came up with the name McCoys because on the trip from Dayton to NYC all they did was argue, like the Hatfields and the McCoys. Berns flipped out. He said, ‘That’s my record. I want it.’ We said, ‘Okay.’ We shook hands and left for our weekend gig. We booked our own Strangeloves/McCoys tour with the McCoys as our opening act. Then they accompanied us while we did our show. By the time the tour was finished, ‘Hang On Sloopy’ had surpassed ‘I Want Candy’ in both sales and position on the charts. The McCoys single also has an edit, there was an extra verse we took out, strictly because the song was too long for a single and Bert Berns was a stickler for getting airplay.”
‘Sloopy’ was a slight re-write of a year-old Top 30 hit titled ‘My Girl Sloopy’ by the Vibrations, an R&B vocal group on Atlantic. As written by Wes Farrell and Bert Berns, the song had an entirely different, less universal appeal. Chancing their luck, F-G-G pushed Wes Farrell and Bert Berns for a co-writer credit. “Bert Berns wasn’t a problem,” said Feldman, “but Farrell couldn’t agree because he was associated with two heavies in the business, Phil Kahl and Joe Kolsky [former associates of Morris Levy, dreaded head of the Roulette label]. For a while, our lives were in danger. So we were never given a cut; it caused bitterness and resentment for years.”
The Angels and F-G-G temporarily patched up their differences and in mid-’65, entering the studio incognito, they recorded a one-off 45 together as the Beach-Nuts. “We were probably the first people to use a steel band on a rock record,” Feldman explained. “It was a take-off of the old Belafonte hit, ‘The Banana Boat Song’. During the session, we couldn’t get through to them what we wanted them to play. ‘The Banana Boat Song’? Seemed like they’d never heard of it. After about an hour and a half, somebody says, ‘You know, ‘Day-O, Day-O’.’ They say, ‘‘Day-O’? Why didn’t you say so?!’ An hour and a half and we couldn’t get it on record. Crazy times, fun times.” Released on Bang, ‘Out In The Sun (Hey-O)’ picked up respectable airplay and by August it was hovering just outside Billboard’s Hot 100. (The Angels re-grouped in 1967 and recorded a slew of singles for RCA without further F-G-G involvement.)
F-G-G mined the McCoys/Strangeloves lodestone for the remainder of 1965 and well into 1966, though with diminishing returns. As with ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’, following up a hit of the magnitude of ‘Hang On Sloopy’ – the record had also reached #5 in the UK – proved challenging. A revival of the old 50s hit ‘Fever’ reached #7 in the States but flopped in the UK. Bang probably missed a trick by consigning F-G-G’s wistful ‘Sorrow’, a track from the McCoys’ first album, to the B-side. Over in the UK, the Who’s co-manager, Kit Lambert, recognised its potential and produced a fired-up version by the Merseys, two former members of the old Merseybeats, and got a substantial hit out of it. (‘Sorrow’ was later popularised by David Bowie.)
Our opening tune, the Strangeloves’ ‘Night Time’, featuring Jerry Goldstein’s brattish lead, made #30 in February 1966, but by then changes were afoot. Towards the end of 1965, Julius “Julie” Rifkind – one of the original “Gang at Bang”, as the company’s execs referred to themselves in frequent and garish trade press ads – launched his own label, Boom, backed by the corporate muscle of ABC Records. Rifkind had been a key player at MGM in the early 60s, presiding over the careers of Connie Francis and Donnie Elbert (whom he also produced) among others. Boom carried on where Bang had left off, releasing even louder and more kinetic productions than ever. F-G-G contributed collectively and individually, a sign perhaps that the boys were beginning to develop separate identities within the team framework.
Boom’s two opening shots – a revival of Bunker Hill’s ‘Hide & Seek’ by the Sheep, ostensibly the Strangeloves’ road band, but actually F-G-G in yet another disguise, and former Pixies Three member Debra Swisher’s ‘You’re So Good To Me’ (a Beach Boys album track penned by Brian Wilson and Mike Love) – were well received, but only ‘Hide & Seek’ made the charts, peaking at #58 in February 1966.
That month, Jerry Goldstein relocated to Los Angeles to open F-G-G’s West Coast office. As he embraced fresh challenges in a brighter and more optimistic work environment, Goldstein began to pull away from his former partners and pursue individual career initiatives. Late that year saw a self-produced solo release on Boom as Giles Strange with ‘Watch The People Dance’, but it is the snarling punker on the other side, ‘You’re Going Up To The Bottom’, that is heard here.
Gottehrer, meanwhile, had launched Sire Productions and Sire Management with Seymour Stein from offices on West 54th Street in New York. Sire’s first production, blue-eyed soulster Dean Parrish’s roof-raising revamp of ‘Tell Her’, a Bert Berns song, nudged the charts on Boom in August ’66.
Always close, Feldman and the supremely adaptable Goldstein got together again in the studio that summer and recorded the AOR mini-hit, ‘Because Of You’ as Rome and Paris. Sold to Roulette Records, it reached #104 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under chart. “I tried to imitate the Flamingos,” says Feldman. “It’s still one of the all-time oldies in Pittsburgh!”
Sire Productions quickly became Sire, the record label for which Feldman and Gottehrer were to record a few Strangeloves singles including 1968’s ‘Honey Do’. Sire was famous for signing Madonna in the 1980s, but Gottehrer had sold out to Stein by then and gone on to produce the Go-Go’s and Blondie’s first album. Goldstein went on to make his fortune producing and managing Sly Stone and War in the 1970s.
Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer remain friends to this day.
ROB FINNIS / 2012
With very special thanks to Bob Feldman for his kind co-operation in the preparation and realisation of this project, and to Brett Berns, Cassie Berns and Martin Roberts.
(ANTEPENULTIMATE PAGE) CREDITS
Mike Callaghan and David Edwards – The Bang Records Story (www.bsnpubs.com)
Davie Gordon – F-G-G Discography at Spectropop.com (http://tinyurl.com/cpdsdj2)
Gary James – Bobby Comstock interview (www.famousinterview.com)
Photos courtesy of Diane Christian Toppin, John Clemente, Ady Croasdell, Bob Feldman, Rob Finnis, Alan Lorber, Jerry Shatzberg, Eddie Smith and Michael Randolph. Records and record covers supplied by Eric Charge, Ady Croasdell, Rob Finnis, Vicki Fox, Peter Gibbon, Rob Hughes, Mick Patrick, Martin Roberts, Tony Rounce and Simon White. Trade magazine adverts and cuttings from the Ace Records Ltd collection.
1, 8, 13, 16, 20, 23 & 25 EMI United Partnership Ltd. 2, 9, 19 & 21 Screen Gems-EMI Music Ltd. 3 EMI Songs Ltd. 4 & 17 The International Music Network Ltd/EMI Music Pub Ltd. 5 Asterisk Music. 6, 12, 22 & 24 Grand Canyon Music Inc. 7 Universal Music Pub Ltd. 10 Tristan Music Ltd. 11 TRO Essex Music Ltd. 14 Sony/ATV Music Pub (UK) Ltd/The International Music Network Ltd. 15 Jewel Music Pub Co Ltd. 18 Jerry Goldstein Music Inc. 26 EMI Tunes Ltd.
1, 4, 8, 14 & 16 (P) Sony Music Entertainment Inc. Licensed courtesy Sony Music Entertainment (UK) Ltd. 2 & 9 (P) Licensed from Rollercoaster Records UK. 3 (P) Mercury Records Ltd. Licensed from Universal Music Operations Ltd. 5, 7, 17, 18, 19, 20 & 22 (P) FGG Productions Inc. 6 (P) Geffen Records. Licensed from Universal Music Operations Ltd. 10, 11 & 24 (P) EMI Records Ltd. Licensed courtesy of EMI Records Ltd. 12, 13, 15 & 23 (P) Capitol Records LLC. Licensed courtesy of EMI Records Ltd. 21 (P) Vee-Jay Ltd Partnership. 25 (P) Courtesy of ABKCO Records Ltd www.cameoparkway.com. 26 (P) Essential Media Group LLC.