The Elegants are a Doo Wop group that were conceived on the streets and boardwalk at South Beach on Staten Island, New York. Vito Picone and his young teenage school buddies used to sing for the crowds heading to enjoy the ocean in the bungalow community during the summer. During practice one night, the guys tried singing a nursery rhyme as a goof. The next day, they thought they were on to something and worked on the song some more. They brought their song to the record companies on Broadway and secured an audition. The song "Little Star" became a number one hit and the rest is history. I caught up with Vito and here's what he had to say:
R.V.B. – Hi - this is Rob von Bernewitz - how are you doing?
V.P. - How you doing Rob? Yeah - sure.
R.V.B - So you grew up on Staten Island, huh?
V.P. - I was born and raised here.
R.V.B. - What's with the price of the bridge now?
V.P. – Actually, they just gave a little assistance to Staten Island residents so we're down to almost a reality. Anybody else is gonna really be suffering.
R.V.B. – Yeah, I noticed (hahaha)
V.P. - They're crazy, They're really crazy.
R.V.B. - Every time I gotta go to Jersey, it's like sixteen, seventeen bucks now?
V.P. Yeah, it's seventeen going across and you still gotta get over on the other side on the Outer Bridge.
R.V.B. - It's unbelievable, they're just making it so difficult for everybody.
V.P. - I remember when it was fifty cents when they just opened it, and they said it was gonna be paid for when they got to the number, but that's just the game they play. They suck you in and they just keep on going.
R.V.B. – Yeah, I hear that and it doesn't seem like it's gonna end anytime soon either.
V.P. – Nooo… no
R.V.B. - Every year it goes up.
V.P. – Yeah, so does everything else. It's unfortunate, it's really getting ridiculous.
R.V.B. - Yeah I hear you - it's tough out here on the Island too. Everything's just so expensive.
V.P. - The property taxes make up for it.
R.V.B. - You know we got a little bit more space out here, but to a certain degree Staten Island has some open space right?
V.P. – Yeah, we still do here. There's more parks here than any other borough.
R.V.B. – Yeah, I was driving... where the heck was it?... Lily Pond Ave.
V.P. - As soon as you get off the bridge, right?
R.V.B. – Yeah, I made a left and drove along the water.
V.P. - That's where I started the group, right there. As soon as you go down Lilly Pond, it automatically becomes Father Capodanno Boulevard. and right there starts the boardwalk. The South Beach boardwalk. That's where I started the group - right there on the boardwalk.
R.V.B. – Oh, very cool. So when you were growing up - before the group - what kind of music were you exposed to around the house? What were you listening to?
V.P. – Well - in the very early going - obviously big bands stuff was all happening in the forties and in the early fifties. I got into the Joe Stafford, Tony Bennett, Perry Como and all of that 1950's...
R.V.B. - Did you ever see those guys?
V.P. – No. At that point, I wasn't interested in visiting any of those type of concerts. I just listened to the radio and the music was on. You know, actually I didn't even listen to it, my mother had it on. We would listen to that when she came home from work. Before she came home from work, we were listening to the Italian stations my grandparents used to have on. They lived in the house with us but I never really listened to the radio. Then in 1954, just when I first got out of grammar school, in my first year of high school, I really started to listen to Pat Decad and Dr. Jive. Pretty much all of those early rock and roll stations. Then Alan Freed came along and I got hooked on it right off the bat.
R,V.B. - So how did the Doo Wop phase come into play? Everybody in the New York area in the late 50's was into it. Everybody was starting these groups. Was it just part of the culture or how did that come about?
V.P. - I think there was probably a couple of reasons. First of all, like I said, listening to all those early stations you gravitated towards that music. Then Alan Freed started doing the shows at the Brooklyn Paramount and the Brooklyn Fox. Those are the shows we started to go to... the first concerts that we went to. For two dollars you got on line and you wound up seeing seven, eight, ten acts sometimes. So now, when you started looking at it, you saw that these guys were all young people and pretty much street kids. Then, The Teenagers cemented it by showing you could be fifteen years old and have a record. So everybody started to emulate all of those early groups, and the next thing was, “hey, why not make a record?”. The business was right here. The whole industry was right in Manhattan on Broadway and 51st street. You know, the Brill Building and 1650 Broadway. So we just took our act into those buildings and started knocking on doors. You could stay on one floor and knock on ten doors and you would have auditioned for ten different record companies.
1650 Broadway New York
R.V.B. - So there was really no security? You just walked right in and knocked on doors?
V.P. - Nothing, there were groups singing in the hallways and the fire escapes. They were everywhere... all waiting to get an audition live.
R.V.B. - So when you went to these shows, the Alan Freed shows, what was it like? Did people dance or did they just stand around in groups?
V.P. - There was no dancing, but you would always find a few people who just jumped out of their seat and danced in the aisles. You had theater seating, so you were sitting in a theater seat, but no feeling in the world like it. Even standing on line with thousands of people, you never even flinched. It just became an automatic part of the excitement. You got in there and you sat down, and you just watchesd all the groups come out one after another. The Cadillacs started doing dance steps and then everybody started to copy that type of movement. That became more exciting and the groups were doing hand gestures and things like tha,t just to be one step different than the other groups. All of that became part of the mystique of that era. It was so exciting that everybody wanted to do it. I don't think that there were many people who said, "We would like to sing" but there were a lot of people, once they started imitating these groups, got themselves involved and we were one of them. I mean, when I first started my group, everybody was hanging around street corners. That was the key. We didn't really hang out, even though we had street corners in my neighborhood that we hung out at. Those areas, where we hung out, we would go at a certain time of the day or at nighttime, but in the summer, specifically on the boardwalk in South Beach where I come from in Staten Island. That area was a haven for summer bungalows. It was like Coney Island. There was actually rides and amusements all up and down the strip there, like Coney Island was. All of those bungalows were people who came for the summer. A lot of them stayed there. They winterized the bungalows, and added two or three rooms, or went up another story, and they became permanent houses. Some of the people that did that... Johnny Maestro's family, Bobby Darin's family had summer bungalows in my neighborhood.
R,V,B. – Now, the bungalows - were they from people who lived in that area?
A typical summer bungalow on Staten Island today.
V.P. - The whole area... my whole neighborhood... pretty much from where people came from was the lower east side, both the fourth ward and the sixth ward. That would be the Mulberry, Mott Street section, and also the Cherry Street and Henry Street and Market Street part of Italy... where Johnny Maestro came from. Then, there was also the Bronx. They would come down for the summer - which was where Bobby Darin's family was from. Also, we picked up a lot of people from the village in Manhattan, and also there were three other sections. When they came there they were all sections anyway, so even though they lived in my neighborhood, they were all pretty much in the three or four block area when they moved here to stay with their friends. Hoboken was a major haven for those people. They would all come from Hoboken, Jersey City, and Union City, New Jersey.
R.V.B. - It is a beautiful area, and the boardwalk is beautiful also.
V.P. - That whole area had been pretty depressed for a while. Nobody was going down there anymore. I wanted to do my 35th anniversary about fifteen years ago in that area, and the borough President’s office didn't want to do it there. They said the area was not really conducive for any kind of concert. Nobody would go down that area. As a matter of fact, the statement to me was, "The place wouldn't even draw flies". I insisted it on doing it in the area where I started the group. So I put together without much assistance from them. I got a flatbed trailer from a friend of mine who made a stage on that 40' flatbed trailer. We brought in fireworks... we brought in lights and power from Con Edison. They gave us some power there, and we put that concert there that night, and we drew close to twenty thousand people in that little area. They had to shut the streets and everything down.
R.V.B. - Good for you.
V.P. - Once they saw that it had that kind of appeal, the borough President’s office got involved and they started to renovate the whole area. Now it has become a beautiful area and of course Sandy gave it a pretty good beating, but now they have a catering hall on the boardwalk right where we started the group. Right on that spot. There’s seafood restaurants and some other things going up in that area. That boardwalk - when we first started that group - instead of hanging out on street corners like most of the kids in the New York area. We had close to two hundred kids on that boardwalk every night of the summer. We would just start to imitate the groups that were on the radio, and that's how I started the first group before the Elegants. I was only just fourteen years old when I started that group.
R.V.B. - How did you go about finding the other members? I guess the other singers were there also, but how did you find the musicians? Did you guys play the instruments also, or just primarily sing?
V.P. - That didn't really happen until the Beatles came out. There were very, very few people playing instruments - even the Board of Education started a program in 1954 - a music program - we were saddled with whatever they gave us. I wound up with a trombone and there was no way I was going to be playing rock and roll with a trombone. There were maybe two or three guys who hooked up with different bands. That's what they started to do at the local dances. The church dances and things like that. The bands would be playing there, and then the next thing you know we would wind up singing at the church dances. We entered a few contests. We won two or three contests in a row, and one of them was a recording contract. The contract didn't really pan out. It was actually a scam, and when we were there we wanted to keep singing. We just kept knocking on doors and wound up with a recording contract. The first group I was talking about was a group called The Crescents. We had a girl lead singer and three guys. Myself and another guy, Carman Romano, who was also a trombone player in P.S. 39 which was the public school up the street that we went to. We wound up doing this one recording. We did very little traveling , and it was almost like a traveling promotional tour that we did on the east coast. We sang with the Valentines and the Fi-Tones - some of the real early groups of 1955/56 - and then the girl didn't want to do it anymore. She wanted to be a dancer more than a singer and she wound up leaving. There was a tragedy there. I think the owner of the record company got shot and killed and that became the end of that record company.
Looking back to Brooklyn from South Beach.
R.V.B. - I guess that would put a little damper on things.
V.P. - Yeah, (haha) Carman and I decided we wanted to continue and we went back to the neighborhood... back to the boardwalk, and we found two or three other guys that were hanging out there. We made up parts of what we were gonna be calling the Elegants. Then we did the same thing. We started auditioning at different record companies. We wanted to go to places that we were familiar with. The first place we went to was Hull Records. They had the Heartbeats on there, the Pastels, the Avons and those are the groups that we really liked. We idolized the Heartbeats, so we wanted to go to that label first. Fortunately the woman that owned the company... it was a husband and wife, they flipped over "Little Star" and they wanted to record us. We winded up signing contracts and recorded for Hull records... All the first sides we cut were for Hull Records. She thought that "Little Star" was a little too strong for her distribution so she sublet us to ABC Paramount and they put us on their brand new subsidiary label APT records. They released it under their distribution and with the power of ABC distribution, the song got international recognition and obviously from that point on it was a home run for us. The song did very well and it was accepted by the teenagers. Most of the young kids loved it, and the song just kept going higher and higher up the charts until it became number one.
R.V.B. - Very, very cool. Now, did you use house musicians from the record label?
V.P. - There was nothing but house musicians at the time, but unfortunately for them, most of these guys were big band musicians who found themselves with no work because Rock and Roll was starting to take over and the big band music was starting to fade. They would do the session work and get like twenty five bucks for the night or whatever they got for the night , but we really at that point wound up with really some of the best musicians in the business because they filtered down to us. Even though they really didn't like music that they were playing, they were making a payday. On "Little Star" for instance, the guitar player was Bucky Pizzarelli. Bucky Pizzarelli is probably one of the most renowned guitar players in the country and probably the world. His son, John Pizzarelli, is a superstar in his own right today. John Pizzarelli had his band for a while and was doing well. The thing that really gave him some notoriety was the tremendous song about the casino in Connecticut.
R.V.B. - Foxwoods?
V.P. - Foxwoods, right.
R.V.B. - That's like a smaltzy type of song.
V.P. - Right, it's almost like Paul Anka. It sounds a little like Paul Anka.
R.V.B - Right, He did that huh?
V.P. - That was John Pizzarelli. He did such a good job on that they started giving him visual credit. They showed him singing it and so on. That gave him a little more notoriety, and then the next thing you know, he was able to show his real talent because he's a tremendous jazz guitarist. Now he's a much sought - after musician. He's doing very, very well. His father played the guitar on “Little Star”.
R.V.B. - Oh ok - so after you cut the song and started getting some radio play - first of all let me ask you this. Where were you the first time you heard the song on the radio?
V.P. – Well, we knew when it was gonna be aired because it was gonna be on this program. I think it was pick of the week or something like that. I think it was WMCA or WINS. That was gonna be the show where they were gonna play this particular song. They told us what segment of the radio show and it was eight o'clock at night, and we were prepared to hear it. That's the first time we heard it. When it hit number one it was a different situation. I was a class clown, so every year I had to go to summer school and I was coming out of one of my classes in summer school and Jimmy, (one of the original members) was waiting for me outside for me in his car. He was a couple of years older than us. He was nineteen and he had his own car, so he was standing out there and he had the radio blasting and he's yelling, "Listen, listen". When I walked over to the car he told me it just hit number one. So I took my books and threw them right in the garbage pail there.
New Dorp High School. Staten Island
R.V.B. - You were pretty young huh?
V.P. - I was sixteen when I recorded "Little Star" in March. My birthday is next week or two weeks, and I was sixteen years old at that time and the record came out in July in the summer of 58. By that time, I was seventeen years old when it was released, but I recorded it at sixteen years old.
R.V.B. - So did you have to support it by traveling regionally?
V.P. – Well, that's one of the reasons that I flipped the books because I knew at that point we were gonna be on our ride because they told us we would be doing a promotional tour and actually be doing some traveling. The first thing they had offered us... they told us that we'd be going to Hawaii. "Little Star" had become the biggest selling records in the Hawaiian Islands, and we were definitely going to Hawaii. So we flew out there and at that time there were no jets. We flew eight hours to California and nine hours to Hawaii on a transcontinental turboprop plane.
R.V.B. - Well that's what I call a good start to your career.
V.P. - Oh God! I tell you eight hours on a plane is scary enough, but the fact was when I had got off the plane, they had closed all the schools and we had all the school kids in the airport because - don't forget - you had no tubes or anything. You got off a plane on a ladder and went down on the tarmac at the time. We got off that plane and we saw thousands of kids on the tarmac and oddly enough when we got there, this one woman came running up... this African American woman comes flying up and slams into me and hugs me and say's to me "Please Vito, tell everybody I used to manage you. I'm from Staten Island, I'm from Staten Island."
R.V.B. - Hahahah
V.P. - She was a Phys Ed teacher at the high school, and she told everybody she was our manager once. Then they put us in a car - in a limo - and we had a police motorcycle escort take us to the hotel. Right off the bat, it was just phenomenal. From there on, we just had a tremendous run. We did ten day tours, and thirty day tours together and we wound up traveling on busses with Buddy Holly, Dion and the Belmonts, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Everly Brothers - it was surreal - the fact that we were listening to all these records only weeks or months before. Now we were traveling with these people and our record was number one. Bobby Darin coincidently enough, as it turned out the five of us plus Bobby Darin plus Johnny Maestro, even though we all hung out in that area in our neighborhood ...we all had a record on the charts at the same time. "Little Star" was number one. "Splish Splash" I think was number three, and I think "Sixteen Candles" was number eight. I mean, that's an unbelievable miracle. The odds against something like that were...
R.V.B. - How close to each other were you? Were you in the same neighborhood or a couple towns over?
V.P - We knew each other very well. Like I said, we hung out together in the neighborhood there - and more importantly - we had musical aspirations which separated us from most of the guys who wanted to play ball and be ball players or whatever.
R.V.B. - So at the time you were touring with these guys, can you name a couple of venues that stuck out on the tour?
V.P. – Well, you know I have a room downstairs where I got a lot of posters and everything set up. I got like a music room and sometimes I look at the places and I try to remember myself. We did a lot of theaters, especially that one tour I remember was thirty states. We did thirty states in thirty days. You got in town on a bus... you went in and did a sound check... you did the show... you got back on the bus and drove all night to the next town... went into a hotel at three o'clock in the morning and got up the next day at three in the afternoon... you would do a sound check and do another show... go back in the bus and go to the next town and so on.
R.V.B. - So you didn't have much of a chance to check out where you were.
V.P. – Yeah, you really didn't get a chance to see anything during the day really. You were so tired and you slept the day, but we spent that much time together. If we were in the hotels or the surrounding areas we would manage to do it - or if we had time you would go to a movie or someplace like that. Some of the places we wound up going to... we were all over Illinois. We did quite a few places in Illinois. We did a lot of Mosques. There was a lot of these Temples and Mosques that would hold five thousand, six thousand people – theaters… we went to Canada. I forget the name of the venue, but they had either the Montreal Maple Leafs, or the Toronto Maple Leafs, or whatever … the Montreal Canadians . They played hockey there, but we had like seventeen thousand people in those type of venues. There were also a lot of old theaters, that years ago used to be burlesque theaters in Pennsylvania - and also in the Cleveland area. When we went down south. That was another experience, because we had never experienced segregation before. So when we got down across the Mason-Dixon line, that's when I realized they wouldn't allow some people go into the same restaurants that we went into or use the same bathrooms. We would see the signs for colored or whites only. We were traveling with Clyde McPhatter. The Coasters were with us... the Olympics. "Western Movies" at the time was on the charts.
R.V.B. - So how long was your set? What did your set consist of?
V.P. - We only did two maybe three songs, I think we did. We did "Little Star" and then "Getting Dizzy" and then we would do a cover by somebody else.
R.V.B. - So there would be four or five other acts on the same bill?
V.P. - There was at least ten to twelve acts when we did the Brooklyn Fox for Alan Freed in 1958 for the Labor Day. We did ten days there and that particular show, all told, there was twenty acts or something on the show. The reason being , that over the ten day period, he would change some of the acts. Bill Haley's Comets came in for one day. The Everly Brothers were in there for four days. As a matter of fact, we shared a suite together in Brooklyn at the Granada Hotel or whatever it was. It was an adjoining suite, the Everly Brothers were in one side and we were in the other. Bobby Freeman had "Do You Wanna Dance" and we became very close with Bobby. All of the acts that were there if you totaled them up, there were probably twenty, twenty one acts on his ten day show. The staple acts... the ones that were there every night for the ten days was us, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Clanton, Frankie Avalon, The Royal Teens. The Royal Teens at the time... Bobby Gaudio was with the Royal Teens. This is before he went on to become one of the Four Seasons. He wrote a lot of their material.
R.V.B. - Where did you come up with "Little Star?" Were you at your house?
V.P. - We were rehearsing one night and we were looking for something different. It must have been about four or five hours of trying to come up with different ideas. Then we started doing nursery rhymes almost as a joke. You know "Little Jack Horner" and "Little Bo Peep" and blah blah blah, and we started goofing on each other. It was getting really late and we were getting silly and we started doing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and then all of a sudden the harmony and everything started sounding pretty interesting. So we said, “Look, let's go to bed, and we'll come back and rehearse the next night and see what we can come up with”. When we went home, the next day, Artie Venosa was our first tenor. Artie and I sat down and maybe within an hour we had written "Little Star". We brought it to rehearsal that night and the guys liked it and that was it. It became… everywhere we went, we sang it. Every contest we entered, we won it. Then we originally wound up with the recording contract when we auditioned with "Little Star"
R.V.B. - That's awesome. Did you rehearse in a studio or somebody's house?
V.P. – No, we used to rehearse in each other's house. One of the fortunate things in one sense was that Carman was one of the original members. He and I started the group. Carman and I lived about three houses away from each other. His mother had a house with an apartment downstairs and it was not rented. So the apartment downstairs was vacant for about a year and a half, and we used that as our rehearsal studio. Also, one or two of the other guys were dating girls in the area, and we would sometimes find ourselves at their house rehearsing and also at my house. We had a downstairs area in the basement and we would rehearse sometimes down there. We were always in our houses.
R.V.B. - I'm just trying to get a picture. I know you guys were a vocal group, but when you rehearsed did you have musical accompaniment or did you rehearse a cappella?
V.P. - We never really had our own band. I didn't have my own band until the revival period into the 70's somewhere. Up until that point we just basically sang a cappella. We rehearsed a cappella and when we got to the job, there was a band provided or we lip - synched to "Little Star" or whatever.
R.V.B. - So that sounds like a really fantastic time for you and for everybody else at that particular time, but then the Beatles came in right? And screwed things up?
V.P. - Hahaha yeah - that was the beginning of the end. What we thought was gonna be the beginning of the end.
R.V.B. – Well, it wasn't only you though.
V.P. - The whole industry. The industry as we knew it. It just became a whole different area. Some people managed to gravitate towards to the different things that were out there, but not the Beatles sound. The British invasion became the British invasion because they had a uniqueness about them. The Monkees and some other groups that came up with the sound of the British acts. Everybody started to look for something else. They came up with the "Blue Eyed Soul" routine. The Rascals, and those kind of groups. The Vanilla Fudge, and everybody's trying to find their own niche. Even myself, you know we had broken up, and two of the guys got drafted and one of the guys got married and I had an injury. I had an accident where I had lost the vision in my left eye and I was laid up for almost six months with this problem that I had. A piece of steel that actually had damaged my eye and wound up lodging in my head so I had been unable to do anything for like six months. So when I got back together, I actually formed a group similar to the Rascals. We started working with that group and I worked throughout most of the sixties with a band... fronting this band. We traveled all over the mid west and so on. We did some work down in the south and the Catskills. I kept myself busy in that area. In 1970 there was a revival show at The Academy of Music in Manhattan. It was gonna be a one night revival and from that night on, we've never really been out of work.
R.V.B. - That's great - did you spend a lot of time up there in the Catskills?
V.P. - Oh yeah. I've spent so much time up there that I used to tease everybody and tell them my real name was Vito P. Cohen
R.V.B. - Hahahah
V.P. - I told them you converted me, you got me. I'm an Italian with a Jewish brain.
R.V.B. - That's another thing on how the Catskills went downhill. It's making a revival now, kind of because of the casinos, but I was actually up there this summer and driving through these towns. They were like an old western ghost towns.
V.P. - You go through Liberty, Monticello and places like that now and if you didn't know what they were like before you wouldn't think twice about it, but you go through those towns now it's like you're waiting for tumbleweed to come by. The demographics have changed so much. The ethnicity has changed so much up there. When we worked up there, it was not only a hundred percent, it was a hundred and fifty percent Jewish.
R.V.B. - Right, I remember camping up there as a kid.
V.P. - The camps, yeah, we used to sing in all the bungalow colonies. The bungalow colony - for those people who don't know what a bungalow colony is - on your way up to the Catskills to the major hotels there were people who had bungalows in groups off to the side of 17 on the way up there. In those communities, most of the Jewish people who lived in the New York area would drive up there and stay at all these bungalows and they would literally place their families there for the summer. Their wives and kids. They would go back to the city and work all week and they would come back for the weekend. So when they would come back for the weekend, they would have one specific building where they would have entertainment for that colony. We would entertain in those bungalow colonies. There's hundreds, there still up there.
R.V.B. - I know - I passed by them and they're all vacant.
V.P. - There were a lot of hotels up there and we did every one of them. The Concord and Kutshers... old Mrs. Kutsher was like a second mother. She used to squeeze my cheeks all the time like my grandmother. Like I said, we were very well received up there. They were really good to us up there.
R.V.B. - So you played Carnegie Hall?
V.P. - The first Rock and Roll show into Carnegie Hall. We went in there with about four or five acts. Dick Fox had done that show. We were one of the first ones into Carnegie. Ourselves, we were one of the first Rock and Roll acts into Lincoln Center. I went in there with a dance troupe. This dance troupe of young girls danced and did some tremendous silhouette work behind us. We were singing some of our stuff, so it was a nice presentation. We did that by ourselves. We were one of the first Rock and Roll groups into Radio City Music Hall also. We wound up doing Radio City probably a total of 8 times, I think. Plus, the 20th anniversary for WCBS FM. The Beacon Theater also.
Carnegie Hall at night.
R.V.B. - So are you playing anywhere these days?
V.P. - We work almost every week-fortunately - thank God. We've been very, very fortunate.
R.V.B. - Did you ever get out to Westbury?
V.P. – Oh, I've done that at least a dozen times. That's Dick Fox who did the Carnegie show. He's been doing Westbury there for at least thirty years.
R.V.B. - So who are some of the guys you're getting teamed up with these days ?
V.P – Well, one of the fortunate things for me is about 22 or 23 years ago, I started a booking agency in Manhattan. I actually started it right in the building 1650 Broadway. The same building where I got signed. The major record industries were in that building and the Brill building.
R.V.B. - Did you ever run into Al Kooper?
V.P. - Yeah sure. Al Kooper was with the Royal Teens.
R.V.B. - Right, I read his book and he said those two building are close to each other. One building was the upper class writers and the other...
V.P. - It depends. My building where I was, the whole second floor was Irving Cohen. You're not going to get a bigger writer than he was, but it wasn't rock and roll. Everybody was there, Paul Simon, everybody had been setting up shop in those places. Even the Tokens were doing some production. They produced the Chiffons, Randy and the Rainbows, and all of those early sixties groups. Between both buildings you jump from here to there. If you had something interesting you would run up the street and let somebody hear it and hopefully somebody would record it. In that building right now is a doo wop cafe. It's a restaurant and it's called Ellen's Stardust Diner. There's an old subway car right on the sidewalk. You have to walk through the subway car to get into the building and inside it's all fifties. The waiters and waitresses are singing and dancing all over the place. They jump on your table and start dancing.
R.V.B. - I'll have to check that out because I go into the city about once a week
V.P – Yeah, it's right on 51st and Broadway. Ellen, the woman that owns it, was Miss Subway 1958. That's the reason for the subway car. Balantine Beer used to have this contest and the Transit Authority had all these different contests. She was Miss Subway 1958 and she opened this diner. There is a big screen showing old footage from different artists while you're eating. There's also a Lionel train that rides around the whole top with flat cars with boxes of Duz soap and Borax.
R.V.B. - They used to sponsor a lot of stuff right?
V.P - That's a pretty interesting little diner. Down in the basement below that used to be Allegro studios. A recording studio that most of us did demos and early recordings in. She just rented that place a few years back... gutted the whole thing and made a night club out of it. Her son runs a jazz club down there called the Iridium which is one of the top jazz clubs in the country.
R.V.B.- Oh yeah, that's where Les Paul used to play.
V.P. - Les Paul was a regular there every Monday night until he passed away.
R.V.B. – Yeah, they get some nice acts in there.
V.P. - Oh yeah. I had put a couple of acts in there when she first opened it... some 50's things in there. I had Larry Chance and the Earls down there, and some other acts. It just didn't make it down there and it just wasn't working down there. Her son took his place from uptown and moved it down there. I closed the office in 1650 about two years ago and I still have the booking agency. I moved it to Staten Island. As a matter of fact, I booked one show this morning with Larry Chance and the Earls, the Chiffons, The Chimes, The Jarmels, and the show I just did with the Brooklyn Bridge, and the new lead singer now that Johnny passed away. Also, with the 1910 Fruitgum Company, and Jay and the Americans. I'm still booking quite a few of them, so I'm talking to them on a daily basis.
R.V.B. - How can I see who you're booking? Is it on your website?
V.P. - I don't put those shows on the website because I book them for independent promoters. Sometimes these promoters get a little upset if they see someone else on the same site and it conflicts with theirs so they do their own promoting on their sites. My stuff is all on my website. I have nobody to compete with, it's me. John Doe might have one September 12th and the other one might have one September 13th and they get upset that I'm creating competition. I try to stay neutral.
R.V.B. - So when is you next gig?
V.P. - This weekend we're in Tarrytown, New York
R.V.B. - In that theater up there?
V.P. – Yeah, in the theater.
R.V.B. - I hear that's a nice theater.
V.P. – Yeah, it's beautiful - and the following week we're doing... I think it's a church in Floral Park, Queens at their school... a Catholic school. It's a fundraiser for them and they're having a show and a dance.
R.V.B. – Oh, that's getting closer to me, I'm out by Port Jefferson.
V.P. – Oh, you're out on the Island. Yeah, for some strange reason we found a home out in Queens for the next couple of months. We got four or five dates in Queens. We're going out to Illinois with a couple of other acts. The Doves are with us on that show. Shades of Blue.
R.V.B. - I forgot to mention - when I take that Lily Pond and the boardwalks are on the left - it's like a shortcut to Hylan Boulevard.
V.P. - You go up to Midland Avenue and make a right.
R.V.B. - There's a McDonald's on the corner there. I know that.
V.P. - When you come down Lily Pond, you come down a hill, and at the bottom there's a sharp turn. There's two apartment complexes on the left hand side. When you make that sharp turn there, from that point on it becomes Father Capodanno Boulevard. As you're driving in about a quarter of a mile, the boardwalk is all along the left hand side now. If you look there's a statue of four dolphins like a fountain. Right straight up from there on the boardwalk is where I started the group.
Father Capodanno Blvd.
R.V.B. - Oh cool.
V.P. - If you made a right turn after the Dolphins, my school would be right there. P.S. - 39. Once you get on Hyland Boulevard and you drive for about two miles you will see New Dorp High School.
R.V.B. - I remember when I got to Hylan Boulevard, I made a made a left there was a big park.
V.P - That's about five miles up. That's Gateway National Park.
R.V.B. - That's a beautiful park
V.P - There's a long winding road until you get to the end and then there's a marina there. That whole area took a major beating with Sandy. Even my mother who is ninety seven years old, and she's still living in the old neighborhood by those dolphins there. Her house got hit directly with that wave. It was like a tsunami. It ripped the whole back of the house off and put about eight feet of water in her house. Fortunately, I had taken her out of there the night before and she was staying with me. We just got her back in the house about five months ago.
R.V.B. - It's just amazing how much damage that storm did.
V.P. - That area there, I think about 27 people died. The most in the state.
R.V.B. – Wow - that's a shame - and I was complaining that I had no electricity for ten days.
V.P - If you continue to McDonald's on that way on that street, the last block on that left before you come to that playground before you get to the school on the left hand side is Mason Avenue. It's a little dead - end street and if you look at the sign it says Johnny Maestro Way. That's where his family lived and his brother still lives there. That's where they had their summer house.
Johnny Maestro being recognized on Staten Island.
R.V.B. - Wow, I'll have to check that out the next time I'm over there. Anyway it's been a pleasure talking with you. You told a fascinating story and I enjoyed learning what you had to say. Thank you very music for talking with me.
V.P - If you need anything else give me a holler.
R.V.B. - I appreciate it and I enjoyed the conversation.
V.P. - Alright buddy, take care.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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