Lillian Walker-Moss was a member of the early 60's pop/soul group The Exciters. They are best known for their #4 Billboard hit Tell Him. This popular group originated in Jamaica, Queens - New York and was originally called The Masterettes. Lillian's fellow members were high school friends: Brenda Reid, Carol Johnson and Sylvia Wilbur. Sylvia left soon after and was replace with Herb Rooney. They began achieving local popularity in Brooklyn, Long Island and New Jersey through consistent gigging in talent shows and various teen clubs. After producing a few small label 45 records they got the opportunity to audition for Leiber and Stoller. Having passed the audition, they cut Tell Him shortly thereafter. It was a smash hit and Lillian and her group were suddenly local stars.
The album was heard by The Beatles and they asked The Exciters to be on the 1964 US Tour. The six week tour brought The Exciters to the national spotlight. At one show in the Gator Bowl, the stadium organizers claimed they were not allowed to perform there because they were black. When The Beatles got wind of this, they said "If The Exciters down play... we don't play." The organizers backed down and this was a major moment in US civil rights history as The Exciters not only played but brought the house down.
Post Beatles, The Exciters had issues maintaining the popularity of their heyday. They did produce lot's of exciting music but couldn't achieve the next big hit. In the early 70's Lillian made the decision to leave the group. During this period she had her ups and downs but through strength and determination, Lillian went back to college and received a Masters degree in Counseling. She excelled in this field for over 30 years. With encouragement from her daughter, Lillian returned to singing and today she regularly appears in The "Super Girls" act with fellow other singers from the era. Lillian's story is a classic one in overcoming adversity and realizing her dreams. I recently spoke with her about her life story.
R.V.B. - Hi Lillian... how are you?
L.M. - I'm fine
R.V.B. - Thank you for taking this time. Do you still live in the New York City area?
L.M. - Yes. I live in Queens.
R.V.B. - Oh! You never strayed far from home.
L.M. - No... not really far. I live about 15 miles away from my mom's house. She's not here anymore but that's how far I went.
R.V.B. - Sometimes you can't let go. I'm only 20 miles from where I grew up also.
L.M. - I wanted to relocate but I have so many choices that I can't make up my mind. I want to live by a friend or a relative. I have about five different choices so I'm in the process of trying to decide. Then again, there's always the option to stay put. Haha.
R.V.B. - New York is expensive.
L.M. - It is. It's just not as comfortable, and safe, and pleasant, and friendly as it used to be.
R.V.B. - What part of Queens did you grow up in?
L.M. - I grew up in Jamaica, Queens.
R.V.B. - Oh... that's a nice area. It's a train station hub.
L.M. - I live about three blocks from the train station. I'm in the commercial area where all the stores and the apartment buildings are. My mom lived in a more residential area.
L.M. - That's one of the reasons I moved there because I didn't always drive. I used to have to wait a long time but now the transportation is so much better. The busses come every 10 minutes. When I first moved here, you had to wait an hour.
R.V.B. - I used to shop at the Salvation Army thrift store by the train station. I would buy records there because I'm a record collector.
L.M. - Oh yes. That's right around the corner from Jamaica Avenue and 160 something. We used to have a friend that lived on Jamaica Avenue and Sutphin Boulevard. He was one of the last record shop owners around here. He relocated and that was the end of that. We used to go there all the time.
R.V.B. - Those were great days. Tell me about growing up in Jamaica and tell me about how you got involved with singing.
L.M. - I've been singing as an amateur since I was about three years old. I was one of those little kids that was in all the talent shows. When I was about 13 years old, I went to the Apollo Theatre and saw the Shirelles. Oh my God! I used to go to the Apollo all the time, mind you. I used to see mainly guys groups as well as solo artists like Bruce McFadden and Laverne Baker. I didn't want to sing by myself. I always wanted to sing in a group. I used to listen to The Shirelles and The Chantels. Silvia Wilbur - who is the lead singer on Never Ever by the Masterettes - and I used to call ourselves cousins. We grew up together since we were toddlers. When we were about 12 years old, I used to try and encourage her to get together and sing. We would get other kids together to sing with us but it never lasted. They would last for about three or four weeks and they didn't want to be bothered anymore. They weren't as serious as Sylvia and I. Eventually we said "OK, forget it." But the very first day of high school, I'm going to my class and I don't know where my class is. I'm looking for the class and I see Brenda and her mother. It wasn't Brenda who stopped me... her mother stopped me and asked me If I knew where this class is? She had a program card. I said to her "No!!! but that's the class I'm going to." She said "Oh... OK." There was a girl on the side of her and she said "This is my daughter and we're looking for the same class." She hooked me on her arm ... haha... and said "Come on, we'll all go together." She was very friendly. When we got into the class, we were quiet, and the all of a sudden Brenda and I started talking. she said to me "I love certain songs." She mentioned some songs. I said "I love those songs too." She said "I love American Bandstand." I said "Oh my goodness!!!! I love American Bandstand too!" We went on and on until she told me she was a singer. Every time she would watch American Bandstand, she would go down in the basement with her brush!!! - and make believe she was a famous singer - in front of her big mirror. I said "I use my brush in front of a big mirror in my room." Hahaha. I used to do the same thing. I told her that my cousin and I have a singing group... "Do you want to be in it?" She said "Sure... why not?" That was the beginning of The Masterettes.
R.V.B. - What a nice story... fate brought you together.
L.M. - It was fate. We were meant to be. I call it "A manifest destiny." We met that day and we started singing. At first it was just the three of us - Brenda, Sylvia and I - but Carol was Brenda's best friend. She was always there but she would never say a word. One day Brenda was in the store and we're singing to the records and Carol started singing to the records too. I said "Oh... you can sing???" She said "A little bit... I guess." I said "How come you never said so? Do you want to be in the group?" Hahaha - She said "OK!" So that made the four of us.
R.V.B. - Now at that early age, did you guys have to figure out who was going to sing what part?
L.M. - We all had beautiful voices, but we didn't know what we were doing. We would sing to the records. We used to sing in unison. We thought we were so cool... we had the steps and everything! This is how we got the name The Masterettes. We used to sing in Brenda's basement and she also had a piano in her mom's office that was upstairs. It was like an enclosed front porch, and we used to practice in there. We often had the windows open. This group of boys were passing by one day and they knocked on the door. They wanted to know who was doing all of that singing??? We said "Us... were a singing group. We wanted to make records... and so on." They said "You know ladies... you do have real good voices but you're not singing in harmony." We didn't know the difference between unison and harmony. We thought that you just got up and sang songs. They were The Masters. They did that song "A man's not supposed to cry." That was Herbie's original group. They started coming over every day and teaching us how to sing.... teaching us how to do harmonies. He started showing us more songs and then he started writing original songs for us to sing. They used to take us to their gigs. They used to have gigs almost every weekend. They wanted us to see how you perform on stage... how to get the audience going! It wasn't all about singing and making records. That's the part that I wanted to learn. We were doing it for months and months and we were supposed to get gigs. We would say "When are we going to get to sing on the show?" They said "You're not ready." Every week they would tell us "You're not ready." We were disappointed. We were beginning to think we were never going to be ready. We were getting discouraged. One day out of the clear blue sky they said "You're ready." We went out to Oyster Bay Long Island and did our first amateur show at the high school. We sang out there and knocked them dead. After a while they started getting us other gigs. Most of them were non paying gigs. We would do gigs with them, and open for them. The people started liking us more and more. In the early stages we were still The Masterettes. We used to sing at The White Brick Inn in Hempstead. A lot of young people would come and see us there. One of the guys in the Masters' father was a manager, so he started managing us. He introduced us to this guy in Brooklyn who had a small, local label. That's when we made Never Ever. We didn't print that many copies. We did make a lot of noise in the local area. Nobody heard of us passed New York. We were pretty popular in Brooklyn, Queens and in the suburbs in Long Island. A lot of people even knew us in the city. After we made Never Ever, they started putting us on shows. We were still amateurs but we were on big shows with people like Gladys Knight and the Pips... The Shirelles... The Imperials... and people like that.
R.V.B. - That had to be so exciting for you... no pun intended.
L.M. - Oh yeah! We met Randy Roker, who was the brother of Wally Roker from the Heartbeats. He was like the backstage manager. He told us that they had a management corporation. It was Randy Roker, Wally Roker and Big Al Sears... the bandleader. They had a little management corporation and they wanted to manage us. They stole us from the guys in Brooklyn and we went with them. Sometimes I have to ask Brenda about details. She lived in Huntington for a long time but she just moved out to LA because her son is a famous producer. He was encouraging her to move out there. So she decided to go. She really loves it out there and she's doing pretty well out there. We had another manager after them Carmine Denoya. We started gaining popularity and doing a lot more shows.
R.V.B. - You were paying your dues.
L.M. - Yes... we were paying our dues. We gravitated to getting an audition with Leiber and Stoller.
R.V.B. - That's a big audition. Where did that audition take place?
L.M. - At 1650 Broadway. Do you know that building?
R.V.B. - Yes. That's where the Diner and the Iridium Theatre is now.
L.M. - Exactly. Leiber and Stoller flipped over us at the audition. They simply loved us. They gave us this song Tell Him and said go home and listen to it... learn it... and come back. Now Herbie used to write all of our songs so we weren't as crazy about Tell Him as we were about our own songs. We thought they were going to let us record our own songs. We had made this big plan that when we get to the studio, we're gonna tell him that we have our own songs and we don't really want to do this. We'll all stick together and they'll have to let us do our songs. Hahaha
R.V.B. - It didn't quite work out that way?
L.M. - Hahaha We all caved in so fast... it's not even funny. Hahaha "We learned this song... but we were thinking that maybe we could do our own songs. We learned this song like you instructed us to do but we want to do our own songs?" Hahaha They said "Just keep trying it, keep trying it." We said "OK!!!!"
R.V.B. - Where did you record that song?
L.M. - We recorded it at Bell Sound. Back then, Bell Sound was the know all, and do all of recording studios. Teacho Wiltshire was a famous musical arranger back in the day. He was known as the "Hitmaker." Just like Leiber and Stoller were known as the "Hitmakers." Back then, you just didn't go in a studio and press buttons, they had an entire orchestra. These kids don't know what they're missing. It was so fantastic... Rob.
L.M. - Live!!! every instrument that was on that record was in that room. There had different microphones... they had different areas. I don't know if they still do it now-a-days but back then they had studio musicians. They had their own gigs and they used to go and perform live on stage, but these guys were the best in the business. If these guys played on your session, it was bound to be a hit. Leiber and Stoller pulled out all the stops. They put everything and everybody into our songs. They were dying to get us where they thought we should go. Some people say we were before our time and after our time.
R.V.B. - One thing about your time was that it was a magical time. Because things were done live, there's a certain spontaneity to the music. Today's recorded music is sterile. It's pieced together. Somebody can be in another state. You can feel the excitement of your music.
L.M. - Exactly. That's what used to push the singers. It was almost as though you were on stage. When we were recording we didn't even have 8 tracks. The lead singer would be in one booth... the group would be in another booth... any effects or special instruments doing licks, would be in another booth and the rest of the band would be in one big room. You can look out the window and see Teacho just cooking with the orchestra. He was like a conductor. It was so cool back in those days.
R.V.B. - How many takes did it take to get Tell Him down?
L.M. - Just one take!!! Brenda was known in the business to be able to knock it out with as few takes as possible. We have some songs on the Tell Him album where you can't even tell but Brenda was about to pass out. She was pretty sick with phenomena or the flu and they had booked all the studio time. Back in those days it wasn't so easy to cancel a session. They booked the engineers, the technicians, the musicians and the studio time, and it cost big bucks. Hahaha - She was half dying and she pulled it off. You can't tell how sick she was on the record. Back in those days people used to really force themselves. It was never say never... do or die. Hahaha.
R.V.B. - After the album came out did you have a lot of shows to do?
L.M. - Yes. We had gigs all the time. Are you aware of the super girl group that I sing with now??? We talk about this subject. I don't know if you saw the movie 20 Feet From Stardom ? Even though it's fiction. If you even saw the movie Cadillac by Beyonce... so much of the story is true of the girl groups. Not so much the guy groups. The guys knew how to handle themselves by the girl groups... we got robbed so badly, it's not even funny!!! We would have records on the charts... people banging down our doors to book us... standing room only crowds. We did sock hops and other promotional gigs, that the record company was sending us on. People are thinking that you're making all of this big money!!! They were making all the big money!!!
R.V.B. - I've heard that from Lois Harris from the Chantels and the Dixie Cup ladies. They had the same story.
L.M. - The Supergirls act had five different famous record hits and we all had the same experience. People hire us to talk about what really happened in the industry... the girl group pioneer experience. The ladies now-a-days have no idea how lucky they are. They don't allow themselves to get burned. They get that money. In the 60s, Rob... we didn't know. Popular music was becoming pop music. We were little kids who didn't know how to negotiate. When we were in high school, we never dreamed in a million years that we would have a hit record that would last for 60 years. It wasn't in the realm of possibility to us. Maybe to me, because I was a dreamer. Brenda and Carol used to say that they never dreamed it... I dreamed it. They could sing. You go to church and you sing in the amateur shows and then go get your career. You don't get famous. Little African American girls from Queens don't get famous. It didn't happen back in the day. The Chantels and The Shirelles were some examples that did. Louise's group "The Hearts" did but they weren't super big. It just wasn't happening that much. We didn't know anything about the music business. All we knew was, we could sing real good and that everybody was making a big fuss about us. All we had to do was get dressed... look pretty... and go sing on the stage. That's all we did. We didn't know how to do anything else. Everything was done for us. It was a couple of years before we saw any statements for our recording sales. Everybody was making all this money off of Tell Him. We're like "Where's our money?" They said "Oh!!! You're in the red." I say it like a broken record but we used to have all these designer clothes, just like the modern stars. We rode first class on the airplanes. We had the limo's picking us up and they drove us everywhere. We had 5 star hotels. We ate at the best restaurants. I used to think "Wow!!! Look what they give you?" Hahaha! I'm only a little kid. I don't know about this type of stuff? "Wow! Look at the beautiful clothes they give you. We get to do this and we get to do that." All along we were paying for it. Hahaha!
R.V.B. - The record companies were like that but on the other hand, it was an opportunity and that's why I'm talking to you today.
L.M. - That's exactly right. That's what we all say. We complain about how we got jipped and robbed, but when all is said and done and the smoke clears, we feel so happy and so proud to have had that experience... to be able to say to young people that we were the pioneers. We paved the road for you guys.
R.V.B. - I'm sure there were other girls singing to hairbrushes that didn't get the opportunity you had.
L.M. - Trust me... I believe in God. I thank my God. I thank Leiber and Stoller and United Artist... whether I got jipped or didn't get jipped. I thank them for that experience. I appreciate it so much. Especially with Tell Him, I believe it's in eight movies. People are still playing it. Sometimes I'll say The Exciters and they'll know the name... except for some young people. If I say Tell Him, and sing one line, even the young people know it.
R.V.B. - It's a household song. It's all over the airwaves
L.M. - The oldies shows still play it. I respect the DJ's. I'm Facebook friends with a lot of disc jockey's and they tell me when they play the song. I get calls for interviews. Anything within reason that I ask, I'm willing to do. They don't have to pay me. You know why? - because they help keep us alive. To this day, they're still fighting to keep us alive. I can't tell you how much this means to me.
R.V.B. - You deserve it because you are pioneers and you're getting the treatment you deserve.
L.M. - Thank you. Better late than never.
R.V.B. - Can you give me an example of some of the people you were teamed up with on some bills that you played on in your heyday?
L.M. - I got to meet all my favorites, The Chantels... The Shirelles. I didn't meet Nanette from Reparata and the Delrons... Beverely from The Raindrops... and Louise from The Hearts and the Jaynettes until later on in the 90's. I used to work with Margaret from The Cookies all the time... we used to do shows at the Apollo. I used to work with the Crystals... LaLa. The Chiffons once or twice. We used to work on a regular basis with Patti Labelle and the Bluebells.
R.V.B. - How about guy groups?
L.M. - We mainly worked with guy groups because that was the thing back in the day. They would have two or three girl groups and the rest were all guys. That's another thing that I'm grateful for... when I was a little kid, I used to go to these shows to see my idols and eventually I got to work with them. The Exciters started out as an R & B group but then we became a crossover group. We crossed over to pop. Now-a-days they consider us a pop group. We got to play with many famous groups from the 60s and 70s.
R.V.B. - You toured with The Beatles.
L.M. - That was an amazing and phenomenal experience. That was one of my favorite experiences in my career. When we worked with The Beatles, we flew first class. The very first day on the tour started at The Cow Palace. That whole tour was done by jet plane. Hahaha
R.V.B. - Look at you... a real big superstar.
L.M. - One of Brenda's Facebook friends put up a picture of us from the Beatles tour. You can see all of these people in the Picture. There were about 100 people in the entourage. It was a lot of fun because it was a private prop jet. We used to push the chairs over and sit on them with the flotation cushions. I brought my portable record player. We would sing and party on the plane. We would have lots and lots of fun just singing. The Beatles were so cool. I hadn't seen them for many years after that. I had even left the business for a while. I don't know what they grew up to be, but they were such cool teenagers. All of us hung together. It was The Beatles, us and Jackie DeShannon. We were on for the whole leg of the tour, which lasted six weeks. Other acts would come and go. I only remember Fats Domino when we were down south in New Orleans. The Righteous Brothers only did a lot of shows but us, Jackie DeShannon and The Beatles did the entire tour. We just had so much fun with them. They were so down to earth. They were not full of themselves. They had the weirdest sense of humor. They were always clowning around in front of famous people. We were young teenagers and acted like it... teenagers are silly.
R.V.B. - What was the biggest crowd that you played for?
L.M. - Every crowd was the biggest crowd. The craziest crowd was in Houston Texas. They were climbing all over the Beatles limousine. They dented the hood and the roof of the car. Unfortunately, a girl in a wheel chair got killed. They had just built this really big, beautiful hotel. The crowd was pushing and they crushed her and pushed her through the plate glass window. It was just awful. We were used to singing to standing room only... screaming crowds but we weren't used to this. The Beatles were a phenomenon. Michael Jackson was a phenomenon. I love Michael Jackson dearly. He's one of my all time favorite singers. The Beatles were the first phenomenon. Nobody had ever seen crowds like that before... it would be a lie. I'm telling you... the clapping and the screaming was thunderous. You had to hold your ears or you would go deaf. The United States had never seen crowds like that before. They used to write about it in the papers. We were down in Key West, Florida - they were complaining that they were tired of eating hotel food on the plane... "We want some good ole' fish and chips... and real home cooking." Brenda's mother was a wonderful cook back in her day. She said "Oh, you want some home cook food? The next time we get a break, I'm going to the store and make a home cooked meal in our hotel room." When we were off if Key West, The Beatles stayed in a villa and we stayed in a hotel with a big beautiful suite. So Brenda's mother promised them she would make them food. Those days every little thing was out there what The Beatles did. The fans heard that they were coming to dinner. We hear a knock on the door one day... Oh my God Rob!!! a truckload of girls come in our room. They're looking in the bathroom... they're looking under the bed... in the closets... "Where are they, where are they?" We never saw anything like this before. We were standing there with our mouths open thinking "What the heck is this?" I know we should of told them to leave and we eventually did. Hahaha
R.V.B. - Hahaha
L.M. - "Who are these people?" Hahaha
R.V.B. - What did Brenda's mother make them?
L.M. - I don't remember but it was a big spread. I remember we went to the supermarket and bought all of this food. They were so delighted. They started calling her mother "Mama." Not only was Brenda's mom a good cook but you know the story of how I met Brenda... Brenda's mother met me! She was very outgoing and had a gregarious personality. They really took to Jerneice. They loved her. We were like "You guys love her more than us!" They would say "No we don't." They gave us gold bracelets that said "Beatles American Tour 1964" and I had a picture book signed by them. I used to save everything but it was stolen. There was a fire in Brenda's mothers house and she lost a lot of her things also. A couple of things survived. When we got together a couple of years ago we reminisced over them. She would share copies of her pictures. When we came back to New York, we hadn't seen them for a while and when they came to play Shea Stadium, they were staying at the Waldorf. Their road manager Malcolm told us they were in town. They had called Brenda's mom. So we were going to go and visit them. Brenda's mom told them if they ever come back to New York, I'm gonna make them some real food. When we went to see them, they had saw horses separating the sidewalk. You couldn't see anything. They had security and police protection you couldn't get near the place. We were able to get to the front door by saying we were The Exciters. We had a little weight. We didn't tell them that we were going to see The Beatles, we told them we were staying there. The people around us were saying "Who are those people??? How come they can go through and not us?" Security said "Mind your own business." When we got inside, they would let us see The Beatles. We told them we were friends and we had spoken to them already. The guy didn't believe us. I'm telling you, they had rich... poor... white... black... young... old... fat... skinny... tall and short people making all kind of lies to see these kids.
R.V.B. - I'm sure they'll use any trick in the book.
L.M. - They thought we were BS-ing' them. Malcolm had said "Ask for him." Malcolm came to get us and we went upstairs. There were important people trying to get in but they couldn't. Those people were crazy!!! It was in the papers that The Exciters went to see The Beatles. We're still trying to locate pictures and articles of us with The Beatles. We know that there were many articles that were written. This news reporter from Chicago - John Wade - traveled in the entourage with us during the tour.
R.V.B. - There are obviously a lot of books written about them. Did you try looking through them?
L.M. - Brenda is looking because she is writing her autobiography.
R.V.B. - At the Waldorf, did you notice any change in The Beatles since your tour with them?
L.M. - Oh no!!! They were still the same. I remember saying "They're still crazy." They were still young. British people in general have a certain sophistication about them with their language and demeanor. The Beatles were very intelligent and knowledgeable... especially with music. We liked everything about them, not just their music. They had that British dry sense of humor... especially John. He was the one that had us laughing. He thought it was ridiculous being a celebrity. It's not that they didn't like it. They liked the money... they liked the fame, but they weren't crazy about the hoity-toity atmosphere. They may have embraced it more years later when they had become adults. Back then, they were like "We don't care whether were famous or not. We come from Liverpool." Haha
R.V.B. - That was a working class town.
L.M. - In a way, it was kind of becoming of them. They were so down to earth. If they had come from money I guess they would have behaved differently. White people had the hood also. In the 60's it was harder to get famous. You have to take the age and the time period into consideration to understand where they were coming from.
R.V.B. - You mentioned the time period. Did you have any problems with racial issues?
L.M. - We didn't have that many problems. We had two problems. We had a problem in Colorado. In Colorado, we walked out on the stage and they booed us. They said "Go home. We want The Beatles!!! We want The Beatles!!!" They were so rude and so mean to us. We started crying and ran off the stage. The stage manager of the show said to us "First of all ladies, understand this... this has nothing to do with you guys. It's not that they don't want you guys. These people came to see The Beatles. They don't want to see anybody else. It's their tour and we're offering them other talent to get the crowd warmed up. Please go back out there." Herbie gave us the sad look like a father. "Ladies... you're gonna go back out there and you're gonna sing like you never sang before. You're gonna get out there and burn that stage up. You hear me!!!" We said "OK." I swear Rob... I didn't want to get back out there. I would rather take a beaten than go back out there. All three girls... we swallowed our pride and walked back out there. The MC had said to the audience how rude that was. There is one thing that I did appreciate, I don't know if anybody knows this but The Beatles handpicked us. It wasn't like they were looking for somebody to open the show. The Beatles told us that they had heard our music. Our music was very popular in the UK in those days... even more popular than in the United States. They had heard us and they wanted us. They wanted to meet us and they wanted to work with us. The MC said "The Beatles handpicked this group to play on this tour. I don't think they are appreciating this." We got back out there and Rob... it was one of the best shows we ever did. Herbie said "Go back out there and burn that stage up and that's what we did. That's what hurt pride will do for you. We went out there and had three encores.... a standing ovation and three encores.
L.M. - One other story about prejudice... this is really serious. We... The Exciters are the blockbusters of the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville Florida. So we're on the tour and everybody is having fun and the tour is going wonderful. They're loving The Beatles... they're loving Jackie. Everybody is having an exciting time. So we were down south and they heard that the Exciters were on the tour and they sad that no black people can work at the Gator Bowl... it's segregated and it's not allowed. We were about to cry again and we were saying to Brenda's mother "What are we going to do?" The Beatles said "What do they mean the Exciters can't play? The Exciters are on the tour and it's a package deal. Whoever is on the tour, that's who is going to perform on the show!" They told us "Ladies, don't worry about it, we're going to take care of it." The Beatles took a stand and I will honor them for as long as they live on the earth. They did it personally... not their manager or this one or that one. They said "If the Exciters are not singing on the show, than The Beatles are not singing on the show either. They didn't care whether back people never sang there or not. We were the first black people to sing there. The word came back.... The Beatles are playing in the Gator Bowl and so are The Exciters. You know what Rob?... we went there and blew the roof off of the Gator Bowl. Our little act came out and blew the roof off... they loved us. I was so happy and proud of us. Brenda and I always talk about this incident, every time we get together. We talk about the two times we weren't wanted. That was the only times in our career. We were never "not wanted" anywhere ever... Rob. In the 60s, a couple of times we were booked into a country western club... with the drawl and the booze. We looked around and said "We better get outta here." They didn't now we were black. "Why are we here?" I said "Don't worry." When we walked out on to the stage they didn't boo us but their faces were all scrunched up... "Eww... who are you?" Again!!! we got em'. Our name was The Exciters and we were exciting. We were so proud that we could overcome that. I didn't do it so quickly with my personal life as I did with my singing.
R.V.B. - How exciting was the European tours for you?
L.M. - It was so exciting. We had lines at the Olympia Theatre. At that time, the Olympia Theatre was the "Know all and be all of life" in Europe. It was special to perform there. We followed Sammy Davis Jr. and got to meet him. As he was leaving, we were coming in. We got there about two days early. We went to the show and they said "Do you want to meet Sammy Davis Jr.?" He was very gracious to us. Back then the audiences were strange. They sat very quiet and silent. That meant that they liked you. If they make a lot of noise and throw money on the stage, that means they don't like you. There was this act on before us, and the people were making a lot of noise and throwing money. We thought "Oh wow!!! they really like him." When we went out, every time we sang a song, they clapped and were - for the most part - quiet. I thought we were bombing!!! "We came all the way to Europe to bomb!!!" We were whispering to each other on stage "Step it up... Step it up!!!" And we're still bombing!!! We were like "Oh my God, they don't like us. Well at the end, THEY WENT BERZERK!!! "Encore... Encore." We were like "Huh???" We thought they didn't like us. We sang two or three extra songs. People were going crazy and giving us flowers... they loved us. We didn't get it. When we got off stage the manager explained to us, how the audience acts in Europe.
R.V.B. - It's the exact opposite in America.
L.M. - They didn't yell of holler, or throw any money. We thought they hated us and were just being polite.
R.V.B. - How long was your average set?
L.M. - It varied between a half an hour and 45 minutes. Once in a while we would do a full hour. We would do songs off of our album and standards.
Which standards would you play?
L.M. - We did "My Way... Fly Me to the Moon... I, Who Had Nothing." We did a lot of Frank Sinatra songs... Barbra Streisand and Sammy Davis Jr. ... Sam and Dave... the Isley Brothers. The top popular songs of the day. Our audience liked the standards.
R.V.B. - Did you play anywhere else in Europe?
L.M. - We were at the Olympia Theatre for six weeks at that time. We toured all of England. The first leg or the tour was in London.
R.V.B. - Did you get to take in any of the historical sites?
L.M. - Yes... we saw a lot of things. The tour was so hectic that we didn't get that much time off. We went from one place to another... boom, boom, boom. One thing I remember was that it was very cold. They had the most wonderful clubs there. Some of them looked like your living room or your basement. They had such nice themes to them. We thought "They have us way beat on clubs." We did Paris in 63 and I think we did England in 66. We played in the Caribbean on another tour.
R.V.B. - I guess it wasn't cold there. Haha
R.V.B - Did you experience the same sense of excitement in the Islands.
L.M. - By that time, the British invasion had already started. The way the audience had acted had changed. In England, they behaved like American audiences.
R.V.B. - Were you teamed with other acts on the England leg?
L.M. - The promoter had a lot of acts already there. The very first day we were over there, they had a big party. There were a lot of people there. The one's I remember were the Orioles and the Ink Spots... Patty Labelle and the Blue Bells. All of the acts went to the party but each act were on their own tour. We were almost halfway through our tour and when we came to this certain town, Patti Labelle and the Bluebells were in town. We met them in our hotel and had our girly girl pajama party. They had their own tour and we had our own tour.
R.V.B. - Where was this party?
L.M. - I remember it was in a big, giant apartment.
R.V.B. - It must have been fun meeting all the different musician friends there.
L.M. - We used to do two things. We used to do the Chitlin' circuit. The theaters were mainly for African American performers but white people had appeared in them. In New York it was The Apollo Theatre and in Philadelphia it was The Uptown Theatre. In D.C. it was The Howard Theatre and in Baltimore it was The Royal Theatre. All of these theaters used to book the Doo Wop groups. We also did highfalutin shows and benefits... for Cerebral Palsy, March of Dimes and for Jerry's kids. Then we did our own gigs in a lot of clubs, where it was just us headlining. Once in a blue moon we did clubs with other people. I remember a long time ago when Johnny Maestro was transitioning from the Crests to The Brooklyn Bridge... we did a show with them. It was at a big club in Brooklyn. I'm not sure if it was The Community Gardens.
R.V.B. - After all the big fanfare was over, you had to maintain that lifestyle and career.
L.M. - At first it wasn't but you know how show business is. I call it the roller coaster effect. One minute we're doing well and the next minute the gigs are starting to dry up. The price was starting to go down also. Then all of a sudden it would shoot back up again. I was saying "If we could last through the down times, we would shoot back up again." We were fortunate that we never fizzled out up until the time that I retired. I left the group but it was still going strong. It was our only job. We were proud that even though we didn't have a hit record out we were still gigging all the time. The record companies were still after us. We were on seven different labels. Other than Leiber and Stoller, we never approached a record company. One record company would steal us from another. We worked with Morris Levy, Bert Berns, RCA Victor... we were on a lot of labels. They had a lot of faith in us. Nobody knows why we couldn't get another monster hit. They say that we're a one hit wonder but we did have a few hits. Most of our songs hit at 4 or lower but everybody was looking for that monster. They didn't consider a hit like Tell Him. Later on down the line they considered Do Wah Diddy at hit but not back in the day. When Manfred Man covered it, that was the end of us.
R.V.B. - It was a very popular song for them.
L.M. - We appreciated the song though. I'm still getting royalties for it. It's on a lot of albums. How is it that we're famous with it now but we weren't famous with it then??? Hahaha
R.V.B. - It's a hard business to figure out. If somebody does figure it out, everybody will be doing it. When you originally retired what was the next life plan for you?
L.M. - I was just working for a while. When you're used to living the high life with the beautiful clothes... the restaurants... the clubs and other luxury's - and you're young - it's not easy to get used to a paycheck to paycheck job. You have to put things on layaway because you can't afford to buy it. I was working my buns off. I had to work overtime hours just to maintain half the lifestyle I was used to. My father had warned me not to spend all my money on clothes and records because later on down the line you will need the money for a rainy day. I didn't put money away so I has to work a lot of hours and not making much money. My parents wanted me to go to college but I didn't go because I thought singing was my career and I didn't need college. But when it was over, I decided I'm taking my buns to college. I went and got a BSW and later received a Masters in Counseling. I was a counselor for many years. It's so crazy how I got into the field. I was very depressed when I left the singing group. I wasn't comfortable with everyday living and started becoming more and more depressed. I missed the music a lot and didn't know what to do with myself. Music was my life since I was a teenager. Eventually I got so depressed, I couldn't even work. I volunteered to sign into a program for three months to deal with this issue. It was for people who were traumatized. It was for people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. When I got into the closed environment, I turned into a monster... a good monster. Time went by and the depression started wearing off, I started coming back to myself. I was a go-getter. I was the peer counselor... the president... the secretary... the chairperson of the welcoming committee. People were looking up to me. The therapist and social worker took note of that. One day the social worker asked me "If you could be anything you wanted to be, what would it be." At the time I was in my early 30s. I said "I always wanted to be a singer - which I was - and a social worker." He said "Why can't you be a social worker?" I don't know what I was thinking at the time but I thought "In order to be a therapist, you have to be a genius like Freud or Adler!" He said "No you don't... I'm not a genius." I said "OK. Yeah that's true." I had been reading psychology books since I was a young teenager. A couple of my father's friends were therapists but it never dawned on me. Just when me and Sylvia went to see The Chantels, it never clicked that we could be a singing group too. The light bulb when off in my head when I saw The Shirelles. That's what happened to me with the therapist. They had given me a battery of tests and to be honest with you, I really didn't have to money to qualify for this program that would send me to college. They found a way for me to be quality for the program because I had been traumatized. I began with IBM. IBM was the number one thing to do. I hate computers to this very day. I've always hated them. Hahaha They said "With your test scores we were thinking that you should go to college." The therapist told the career counselor that I was college material. The career counselor said "I'm going to make a deal with you. You go to college for one semester, if you don't like it, I promise that I'll send you to any college you want. But if you like it, promise me you'll stay until graduation." That was an offer I couldn't refuse. Rob!!!! needless to say... the first hour... I mean the first five minutes I sat in the classroom... hook line and sinker, I loved it!
R.V.B. - And the rest is history.
L.M. - The rest is history. I was a therapist for 30 years and I never looked back. I told very few people that I was a singer. I didn't even want to look back at my singing career. I would make myself unhappy. I used to tell people that show people have show business in their blood, but I gave myself a blood transfusion. I don't have it in my blood no more. "I LIED!!!!"
R.V.B. - Where did you work?
L.M. - First I worked in Temp agencies. Then I worked at the Social Security Administration for about a year. Then I worked for the post office. I was with the post office for about seven years. It was at that time I decided I was going to go to college. In 1994, I had spoken to Brenda after around five years of not staying in touch. It's not that we weren't friends, it was that out paths took us in different directions. I spoke to Carol more frequently but not that much either. I had gotten married and our paths... like I said went in different directions. Out of the clear blue sky Brenda calls me and says "Lil... United Artists is giving this party called Legends of Rock and Roll. They are re-releasing all of the songs on their label for certain groups. They want us to come to the party at Mickey Mantle's." Rob... I can't even describe this experience. I had totally willed the singer out of my head. I wasn't crazy - I was only depressed - in the fact that I knew I was a singer. So that I didn't want singing so badly, I wiped it out because I thought it was making me depressed. I wanted to be an everyday person. I don't want to be an object. I want to be a real person and have people see me for myself and not for my singing and my beauty. So in 1992, I'm Miss Moss... the counselor. When she's not counseling, or going to college, she sits on her couch and watches TV. She's a couch potato. Haha... so now Miss Moss - the couch potato - is now going to go to this party and reload the fabulous Exciter. I hadn't lived that life in so long I had completely forgotten about it. I cannot tell you how I felt that day. First of all... we started rehearsing. My voice had deteriorated so much. They wanted us to sing like the records. I couldn't sing that high anymore. They said the vocal chords are just a muscle and you have to practice ahead of time. I practiced for about two or three weeks and I was able to match my voice from the records. So we got some fancy clothes and we're going to go to this party. I didn't even drive then. I was used to taking the bus like some poor little woman living from paycheck to paycheck. On this day a limousine picks me up and I'm sitting there getting flashbacks of this girl who used to be so fabulous. I was driven around in limo's... taxi's, and fancy cars. I never had to drive anywhere. It was so amazing. It was a rainy day and I was getting to get out of the limousine and Brenda's daughter grabbed my hand and said "Where are you going?" I said "I'm getting out!" I had forgotten what it was like to be somebody. "Sit here... the limo driver will open the door." I said "Oh God... I forgot." Haha... So I sat there like a little lady and I'm getting ready to get out when they open the door. I holding the man's arm and he's got the umbrella so I don't get wet. On any other day nobody cares if Miss Moss is drenched to the bone. But tonight, they care about this singing girl.
R.V.B. - It was like a time warp.
L.M. - We were walking down the little red carpet and we go into the restaurant and the flashbulbs are going off. People are pulling me here and there. Every reporter known to man is wanting to interview me. I had brought my daughter... this is the cutest thing Rob... she's saying "Take her picture... that's my mommy. Take my picture too... I'm the daughter. I'm famous too." She was a pre-teen then. All night long they were at my back. I couldn't lift a finger to do anything. I was like back in time many years before. I was loving it. We spoke... we got interviewed. I did so many interviews I can't remember who they were for. Every four feet there were people asking for autographs. When we sang, they went crazy and the place lit up. First of all, not everybody sang but they wanted the Exciters to sing. There was another guy group that sang also. We sang Tell Him and Do Wa Ditty. We were standing on a platform and a lot of people were standing around. Carol was there but Herbie had passed away. After that night I started thinking. "I remember that life now. I wouldn't mind having that life again." That lasted for a minute, then it went away. My daughter's friend was an excellent singer. She was the lead soloist in a gospel choir. My daughter could carry a tune but she had one of those voices that has a lot of vibrato in it. She wanted to go to a singing workshop at the Learning Annex. So her and her friends were going to this singing workshop. She goes "Mom... do you want to come to this singing workshop?" I said "Girl... you know I don't sing anymore." She said "You need to stop that and try singing again." I said "Nope... not for me. I had that life already. This is my life now." She paid her money for the workshop and the day of the workshop she said "Mom... you gotta do me a big, big favor. You got to go with me to the workshop. My friends cancelled." "That's not my problem. I'm not going to any workshop." She said "You're gonna make me waste my money. I don't want to go by myself." So I said "OK... I'm going to go with you to this workshop. But I'm telling you now! Do not - for any reason - tell anyone that your mother was a singer." She said "OK mommy... I promise." We went to the workshop and she didn't. There were four sessions and then the final rehearsals. Then you have a show in a music auditorium. She did OK at the show but they loved my singing. On the last day when you had to present your song to the group, she chickened out. She didn't want to get embarrassed. I said "What did you go to the workshop for? You sang just as good this week as you did last week. What am I going to do?" She said "I'll go with you but I'm going to tell the guy that I'm not going to sing my song." I sang the song Amazing Grace. Everyone had to write on index cards what you thought of the person singing. Everyone wrote... fantastic voice! You should be in show business. Every single one had wonderful reviews. I didn't believe them. They don't have to lie. I don't care if I don't sound good. My daughter kept saying "Mommy... you do sound good." Then she tells me "Guess what mommy, I told everyone that you used to be a famous singer." Hahaha... she did it at the very end. Then everyone was saying no wonder you sound so good and have such a powerful voice. That whole night at the restaurant, I kept saying to my daughter "Tell the Truth." You know teenagers can be brutal. If anything was wrong, she wouldn't hesitate to tell me. She said "Nooooo!!! Did you hear what those people said?" I must have asked her about 50 times. "Are you sure the people were just not being nice?" She said You really did sing good. You don't sound like that in the house."
R.V.B. - Hahaha
L.M. - After hearing this I told her I'm gonna start taking lessons with this guy. If I get any better, I'll keep it up. If I don't, I won't keep it up. I started singing gospel music. I was a supervisor of an evening program. A counselor that I had known for many years was a very religious woman. I was practicing one day and she happened to come in the room. She said "I didn't know you could sing like that?" I said "I don't tell anyone that I can sing. I don't consider myself a singer anymore." She said "How much would you charge to sing in my church? Would you sing at one of our benefits?" I was always went to church because that's how I was raised. I had moved more from a duly obligation to really feeling the spirit. I told her I wouldn't charge her anything. I went to her church and sang and they kept wanting to pay me. I went there around four times. One day they had this big event and I started singing Oh Happy Day and the place was rocking so much that it was taking time away from the program. There were preachers, speakers and other talent on the program. It was one of those churches where they get the feeling. It still won't sink in Rob, that maybe people do like me. So I would sing there and with my daughters friends choir. One day I heard The Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston, and it just floored me. It felt like I could identify with the story. Music and counseling are connected in some ways. It brought tears to my eyes. So I started singing it. I joined another group with The United Federation of Teachers and sang on a couple of their shows. The people there also loved me. I was like when it it going to happen that the people are not going to like me and I'm just going to relegated to "Go sit down somewhere girl." But it never happened. So after that I started taking it a little more seriously. One day I met John Clemente. He introduced me to Paul Errante. When he found out I was one of the Exciters, he said why don't you sing. I said "No... I don't think I'm gonna do that." I told him I had been singing some gospel and for the UST. He said "I'm going to try to get you on some shows. He actually got me on shows. I couldn't believe that the people liked me. I just didn't want to accept it. I can't tell you why. It finally started sinking in and I started singing by myself. First I started doing a lot of showcases and then I started getting paid. I was coming along. That's when I made friends with the girls I sing with now. Just when I was going back to my solo career, Paul asked me if I wanted to do a show with a couple of the other girls... Margaret and Louise. I said "Sure... why not?" That's how I started singing with the "Supergirls".
L.M. - Yes. We're still doing it. We worked a lot last year. We haven't had that many gigs this year. About a month ago we were at Performing Arts Center at the College of Staten Island. We did a big show for Legends Productions. We had a couple of gigs for the LAR production company. We did the Hauppauge show last year. "Rob!!!! you would not understand it!!!" It was like the party at Mickey Mantle's... but on a lot bigger scale. Not as major as The Exciters but just under it. It was close by... on Long Island. They didn't need us to do the finale. We were going to do the show and then go. The whole entire day we were bombarded. We did really well on the show. They gave us a standing ovation. When we came outside in the hallway - before the show... during intermission... after the show - the fans had their books.. they had their magazines... they had their papers... we even signed some Spaulding balls!!! We signed autographs all day long until our hands almost fell off. We took so many pictures it's not funny. We stayed long after the show because they just couldn't get enough of us. People came from Brazil... from Spain... from Italy... from Ireland... from England... it was awesome.
R.V.B. - It's a big event.
L.W.M. - Who knew this would be so awesome? All of us were so amazed. We've to big places with large crowds. Maybe in the last two to three years it's starting to thin out. We started with the super girls in 1997ish. We played at very nice performing art centers... small arena's... theaters, and we still do.
R.V.B. - The theater at Hauppauge High School is fairly large. It seats over 1,000 people.
L.M. - It was the vibe. I think the name alone creates its own personality. After our show last year, the people on Facebook went bonkers. The LAR event is something that people look forward to. Louise locked up a gig with Willie Winfield and the Harptones. She played with Willie on Saturday and we were there on Sunday. She is there this year again with Willie.
R.V.B. - Well Laura and Rob likes to change things up to keep it interesting.
L.M. - Willie gets it every year because he's a fixture. People come from miles around to see Willie. He explained to me that there are around three acts that are steady. Willie is from the 50's. He's like the beginning of rhythm and blues... and rock & roll so they really love him.
R.V.B. - Do you have any other hobbies besides music?
L.M. - I love to read. My whole house is a library. I love movies... I love plays... I love shows. I love every art there is. I'm a museum fanatic. I love the arts in general. I was raised on it since I was a little kid. My parents always played jazz and classical music. We had Sunday outings where they would take us to the museums. I still do it today.
R.V.B. - It's very educational and it's what makes human beings, human beings!
L.M. - I also like sports. I don't play sports but I come from a very athletic family. They excelled in sports in high school. Some of them were semi-pro.
R.V.B. - What sports did they play?
L.M. - My father played every sport known to man. He was also a golden gloves champion. Most of them did Track and Field. My mom ran in track. My brother was a swimmer. My sister did track and volleyball. They did baseball and softball. I didn't do any of it... hahaha. I'm a bookworm.
R.V.B. - You were too busy being a superstar.
L.M. - Hahaha!!! I'm a big sports spectator. I like to go to baseball games but I enjoy it more watching it on the TV.
R.V.B. - Who do you like... the Mets or the Yankees?
L.M. - I consider myself a Met fan but I like them both. I just like New York period!!!
R.V.B. - Do you follow basketball?
L.M. - I love to watch basketball and track. I love to go to dance concerts as well. I love to dance as much as I love music. I go to Lincoln Center.. City Center. The American Ballet Company is one of my Favorites. Alvin Ailey is one of my most favorites. I'm a big fan of any kind of dance.
R.V.B. - Did you ever take dance lessons?
L.M. - In high school, we all took dance lessons.... not because we were crazy about dancing... but because all the cute guys used to play the drums in the dance class. Hahaha!!!!
R.V.B. - Hahaha!!! That's a good reason.
L.M. - Sylvia, Brenda and Carol... the three of them could really dance well. I'm telling you... I couldn't dance. They said "You can dance." I could do the basic steps. When they danced with their partners, all the people would form a circle around them. That was their level of dancing. I felt like "Poor little me."
R.V.B. - That's very nice. What were some of the records that you spent your hard earned money on as a teenager?
L.M. - I loved The Isley Brothers. I loved Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers... Little Anthony and The Imperials... The Manhattans... The Coasters... The Cadillac's. A lot of the Doo Wop guys. Of course the ladies. I loved the Chantels and The Shirelles.
R.V.B. - Did you see these people also?
L.M. - I met every single person that I mentioned. As a young girl, I don't know what in my mind that I thought a celebrity was going to be? I felt so disappointed and let down when I started meeting them. My parents used to say "They're just regular people like us." My father said "What did you expect them to be?" I still ask myself that question to this day.
R.V.B. - A teenager thinks that their hero's are larger than life.
L.M. - Exactly! I thought they were like Greek gods. They were just regular guys that you meet at a candy store. The girls were just regular girls like us.
R.V.B. - What are you proud about in your career in music?
L.M. - I'm proud that I became famous. It was my dream since I was a little girl. I finally made it. I'm also proud that I sang in some of the most sought after venues in the word. That I got to meet a lot of wonderful famous friends. The performers, the promoters, the DJ's.
R.V.B. - Who were some of the DJ's that you met?
L.M. - I met DJ's from WINS, WMCA, WABC, WWRL... which was an African American format. We had Jacko and Hal Jackson. We knew many from out of state. When we were in town, we would visit different station to promote the show. Our manager would set this up. Then they would invite us to dinner and we became friends with them and their families.
R.V.B. - Did you perform on television?
L.M. - Yes. We were on Hullabaloo... Shindig... The Jacko Rocket Ship Show... The Clay Cole Show. We did a couple of shows for Hal Jackson. We did the telethon for Jerry Lewis on Labor day. The March of Dimes and Cerebral palsy. For some reason we never made American Bandstand. We received a couple of plaques for our participation.
R.V.B. - Did you have to lip synch on some TV shows.
L.M. - Yes. We used to practice lip synching. We put that into our regular rehearsal. We weren't so good at it at first but we gradually improved. It used to make Brenda crazy, but after a while we got used to it.
R.V.B. - It's just a matter of practice. It sounds like you really enjoyed your music career back then as well as today. You had a lot of fun doing it.
L.M. - It was so much fun. Like they say "If you do what you like... it's not like work." I'll get up and sing anytime and anywhere. It's just something that I really love to do. I feel blessed to have the chance to do exactly what I wanted to do. There were two things that I wanted to do in life. One was to be a singer and one was to be a therapist. I got to do both. I feel satisfied.
R.V.B. - Good for you. I'm pleased to have this pleasure of talking with you about your life.
L.M. - Thank you for asking.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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