Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Birth of a Nu-Wop Tune

            When I sat down to write my first book, Seven-Inch Vinyl: A Rock and Roll Novel, I began by creating a cast of fictional characters. In a book about music that meant creating fictional musicians and groups. So, Teddy Boyette, my Rockabilly superstar was born. Then along came the Du-Kanes, a street corner group of male DooWop singers from the Bronx, along with the Pixies, an African American trio of girls who began by singing in a church choir, followed by the Have Knots, a British Invasion band. These artists needed songs, so I made up song titles to go along with each of them.

After the book was published, I launched into a series of interviews with broadcast and Internet disc jockeys around the country. Asked on several occasions about the songs, I surprised many with my answer, “I made it up.” One such interviewer was Mike Miller.

Mike is a singer/songwriter who lives in Florida. He sang with the Mystics for a time and fronted his own group, Harmony Street, through a long and successful career. He now hosts an Internet radio interview show of the same name on Boston Internet Radio that features oldies music 24/7 with a great lineup of disc jockeys. Over the course of time, Mike and I became friends and I was pleased when my wife Carol and I got to meet him and his lovely wife Paulette at a couple of shows in Florida in March, 2012.

During one of our conversations, Mike asked me if I’d mind if he took a crack at writing music and lyrics to one of the Du-Kanes songs, “Bouncing a Kiss off the Moon.” I was quite flattered and told him to ‘go for it.’ Before doing so he needed some info on what I thought the song should be about. I envisioned this tune to be about two young teen lovers who were going to be separated, for some reason or other, by a great distance. They pledge that in those deep sad, ‘missing you’ moments they would go outside and bounce a kiss off the moon. Many great songs of the fifties and sixties used the moon as reference to romance.

Over the course of the next several months, Mike worked on the tune and sent me several “takes” he recorded, each version better the previous one. The project was beginning to have a life of its own. The song is also used a lot in the sequel to Seven-Inch Vinyl, Beyond Vinyl: The Rock and Roll Saga Continues and Mike and I gave serious thought to a tie in, an actual song (or two) that could be sold on i-tunes, Amazon, and so on.

Mike next enlisted the aid of bass singer Les Levine (B.Q.E. The Del-Vikings and the Tribunes) and asked him to add a bass track to the song. Les complied and the finished product proved to be the perfect finishing touch Mike believed the song needed. The release of this unique ballad written in a true DooWop, or as I like to call it, “Nu-Wop” style should resonate with oldies fans everywhere.

With my approval and heartfelt thanks, “Bouncing a Kiss off the Moon,” and a second tune, a cover version Mike and Les did of an old Harptones hit, “That’s the Way it Goes,” (credited to the Du-Kanes) are NOW available on i-tunes for just .99 each. Here’s the link for ordering:

And as if that wasn’t enough, “Bouncing a Kiss…” will have its world premiere on Sunday night, January 19, 2013, n Cool Bobby B’s immensely popular SIRIUS radio show “The DooWop Stop” on the ‘50’s on Five’ channel which airs 7pm to Midnight EST. (with repeated airings during the week).

So be sure to listen in for Michael and the Dreams, performing as The Du-Kanes singing Bouncing a Kiss of the Moon, from the novels Seven-Inch Vinyl and Beyond Vinyl written by Donald Riggio.

Both books are available now in Kindle form on with print versions of Beyond Vinyl coming soon.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Beyond Vinyl: The Saga Continues - Chapter One

The wait is over. Though publication of the sequel to Seven-Inch Vinyl is still a couple of months away, I decided I wanted to start a buzz about that upcoming event. What better way than to post the first chapter of the sequel here? BE WARNED: there ARE spoilers galore contained here so if you haven't finished Seven-Inch Vinyl, DON'T read this yet! Your comments are most welcome. You can reply and comment here or on Facebook or both. As always, thanks for your support.


Chapter One:
“Reunion- Revisited”

October 18th 1969

The din of a dozen conversations resonated throughout the backstage area of the Majestic Theater in mid-town Manhattan. It neared midnight. Moments earlier the venue played host to “An Evening of Solid Gold,” a sold-out Rock and Roll reunion concert. The show featured an array of performers who recorded for Chanticleer Records, one of the most successful independent record labels of the fifties and early sixties.

             It was a re-birth of sorts for Joseph Rabinowitz, the thirty-four year old entrepreneur and co-founder of the label. His life had been in shambles for the past five years. An idyllic marriage ended in divorce. The music empire he created with his business partner Leo Klein came crashing down around his ears. The onslaught of the British musical invasion very nearly destroyed the American music industry.

The success of this show gave Joseph a sense of vindication. It provided a rare, happy moment in his professional life that now spilled backstage. Still, more personal disappointments tempered his enthusiasm.

Then, in what seemed like the very next instant.

“Hey, look who I found wandering around!” Somehow, the voice of Curtis Tinnsley, the show’s musical director managed to gain the attention of some of those gathered, Joseph among them.

          He was stunned when he saw that Curtis had his ex-wife Janet in tow. Excusing himself from a conversation with a reporter, Joseph made his way across the crowded area. Janet smiled and lowered her head as he drew near.

          “You know this woman, Joe?” Curtis asked.

          “She looks vaguely familiar.”  He joked taking both of Janet’s hands in his. He resisted the temptation to kiss her. “Thanks.”

           “No problem,” It was nice seeing you again, Janet.”

          “Same here, Curtis.”

           Weeks before, she surprised Joseph by showing up at his apartment with her five year old daughter. It was the first time the couple had seen one another since Janet moved to London shortly after their divorce. Janet’s love affair with a British rock star named Ian Markham produced her daughter Danielle. Although Joseph invited Janet to the concert at that time, she told him that she wouldn’t be able to attend. Now, he felt more than happy to see her backstage.

          “Why didn’t you call me? I would have sent tickets.”

          “It was a last minute thing. There was a change in plans so, here I am.”

          “You’re alone?”

          “Yes, I am.”

“My, my,” a voice said from behind them. They turned to see Leo Klein approaching. His was another familiar face from her younger days. “Joseph told me you’d been in town, but he didn’t expect you to show up.”

          “It was a last minute thing,” she repeated. Janet tilted her head to accept his gracious kiss to her cheek.

          Leo turned to Joseph. “We should wrap things up here.”

          “Yes,” he responded, and turned to Janet. “We’re having a party at Monahan’s on Sixth. You’ll join us?”

          “Oh, I think not. I just wanted to come back and congratulate everyone.”

          “Nonsense,” Leo said.

          “Leo’s right, you’re coming with us.” He thought for a moment before adding. “Unless…where’s Danielle?”

          “With her nanny, she’s fine.”

          “Then it’s settled. You can ride with us. I’ll get this crowd started. Leo will you take Janet and get us a cab?”

          “Certainly,” Leo happily agreed.


          Monahan’s Irish Pub was a chain of taverns throughout New York City. Their location on East 59th Street featured a large downstairs banquet room which seated close to a hundred people. It had a low, wood beamed ceiling, rich oak paneling and soft, muted lighting. More than a dozen long tables set up side by side lined both walls. The room reached near capacity by the time everyone from the show arrived. Many who knew Janet from the old days monopolized her time swapping stories and catching up. People like Johnny Seracino and Bobby Vitale from the labels most successful male group, the Du-Kanes or the two remaining members of the Pixies, Althea Rhodes and Roberta Johnson. In her songwriting days with Joseph they’d written many hit songs for them and others.

She enjoyed a long conversation with Mickey Christie, an old friend and Joseph’s sound engineer. Mickey’s wife Linda had been her closet friend and confidant. Now they lived on the west coast with two children of their own. They had fun looking at snapshots of their kids.

          Joseph too found himself otherwise occupied with matters, business matters.

     “People are going to be talking about tonight’s show for a long time.” Jacob Miliewski offered in a soft voice. The well-known New York disc jockey was the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. He sat with Joseph and Leo at a smaller table off to one side of the room.

“Jacob’s right,” Leo said. “This was beyond our wildest dreams.”

“Listen, kid,” Miliewski told Joseph. “You gotta strike while the iron is hot. First thing tomorrow morning, you start making plans for the next one.”

“Next one?” Joseph asked with surprise. “Jacob this was a one shot deal.”

“Sure, sure, when we thought it was a risk that’s the only way you could look at it. But you beat the odds…proved it could work. If you don’t follow up on it you can bet your ass somebody else will.”

Leo’s eyes widened at the thought of another money making project “Joseph, we should at least discuss it.”

“Okay,” Joseph relented, “but not tonight. Let’s sleep on it.”

“That’s the ticket,” Jacob beamed.

As the festivities wound down, many partygoers headed home. Joseph and Janet finally had time to sit together and have a quiet conversation.

She told him of her relationship problems with Markham, especially drug related incidents which had become public. “I’m not returning to England,” she told Joseph, taking him by surprise. “I will not expose Dani to all that.”

“How do you think Ian will react?”

“He’ll be angry…hurt. He does love his daughter very much. He just doesn’t have a place in his life for us anymore.” Joseph looked away. “Sorry,” Janet added, after realizing she once said the exact same thing about him. “I don’t think I’ll have an easy time of it.”

“Janet, I want you to understand that you won’t have to go through this alone.”

She managed a smile and a single thought entered her mind, ice cream.


          The first thing Janet saw when she opened her eyes the next morning were two empty one-pint ice cream cartons on the night stand. Sometime while living abroad she acquired a taste for strawberry ice cream over butter pecan. Rather than quibble about it, they bought a pint of each. The first thing she heard was the deep breathing of Joseph asleep next to her. He looked so peaceful, a combination of relief from the nervous tension of the concert the night before, and satisfaction from their session of torrid lovemaking.

          The decision to go back to the apartment with him was impulsive to be sure.  Caught up in the exhilaration of the events she couldn’t refuse his invitation. In this afterglow moment, she felt no regrets. Joseph still loved her. She knew this from the first time she visited him with Danielle weeks before. As to her own feelings, she wasn’t sure.

Joseph woke and turned to face her. She responded by lying flat on her back. He reached his arm across her belly.

          “Should I make us breakfast?” he asked.

          “Goodness, Joseph it must be lunch time by now.”

          “Alright then, lunch.”

          “I really should be getting back. I don’t leave Dani with her nanny overnight often.”

           “Can I call you later…dinner?”

          “Not tonight.” Then, before he could protest, “tomorrow perhaps…we’ll have time for all this, Joseph, I promise.”

          “I need a shower and coffee.”

          “Go ahead. I’ll make the coffee.”

          He kissed her on the cheek before getting out of bed.

           She lay there listening to the shower running, and thought about what she told him. Was she ready or even willing to renew a relationship she fled just a few years before?

 She left the bed and walked to the closet. There she found several neatly pressed white dress shirts hanging in a row. She put one on, buttoned a single button across her breasts and headed toward the kitchen.

Once the coffee was brewing, she took the time to look around the apartment. Last time she noticed a new addition to the furnishings, a bookcase standing some eight feet high in the middle of one wall of the living room. As she approached to inspect its contents, she wondered how he ever found the time to read. She scanned a row of titles and found them, standing side by side, the four photo books she published abroad. The first two contained pictures from the English and Scottish Countryside. The third featured photos from Germany and the fourth from the Netherlands, both done while she toured with Ian’s band, The Have Knots. Seeing her work on his bookshelf gave her a warm feeling.

Joseph was fully dressed as he entered the living room. “Coffee smells good.”

“Should be just about done.”

“Better hurry if you wanna shower before all the hot water is gone.”

“Interesting collection you have here.”

“For show mostly. I never seem to have any time to read these days.”

Janet smiled.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Radio Host Colin Lively's Promo For the Seven-Inch Vinyl Interview

Colin Lively is a New York based Raconteur, beauty expert and the "Hairdresser to the Stars." He recently conducted a live radio interview with me. It was an unforgettable experience. Here is the promo he did prior to the show - Thanks Colin.

Rock and Roll, Murder Hair and Woodstock

by Colin Lively

It will be a bittersweet Colin Lively Show this week. Colin will be taking a walk down Memory Lane as his guest on this week’s show takes him down his. Colin Lively, a country boy, was growing up in the shadow the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia. Donald Riggio, a city boy, was growing up in the Bronx in the shadow of the Throg’s Neck Bridge. A typical Sunday morning for Colin was having biscuits, red eye gravy, and grits..then off to the Rainelle Methodist Church, and lunch with the proper folk at the Pioneer Hotel. A typical Sunday morning for Donald was having a bagel, with a schmear, and maybe sneaking in an egg cream before heading off to Saint Helena’s Catholic Church, and then Nonni Riggio’s house for spaghetti and gravy(which is what the older generation of Italians called tomato sauce).. Two lives of young men, dreaming and dreaming big. Who could possibly make comparisons of these two totally different young lives being lived? BUT …… (aha moment) …TELEVISION.
The environments may have been totally different, but the impact of the technology of right there in the living rooms of all American homes, rich or poor,was scorching imprints into our psyches . Then there was that night. No, not that night . THE NIGHT!!!!….The event that changed the world.Sunday, September 9th , 1956. The Ed Sullivan Show. And paved the way for extraordinary music. In the time it takes to blink an eye, the youth of America was totally changed. Fashion changed. Sexy changed. Music changed. Dance changed.
Soon, Colin was old enough to move out of the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains, Donald was old enough to move out of the shadow of the Throg’s Neck. It was time to Live That Dream. In itself, sounds like an old TV show. Colin may not have known what he wanted, exactly, but hedonism was quite natural. But, Donald wanted to have a band of his own. Maybe like another Italian guy from the Bronx, Dion DeMucci and his Belmonts. Dion was from the Bronx and he was BIG!! really BIG too…
But the luminous skies overhead weren’t to be blue very long. A greater , darker shadow was moving in . A shadow looming so large, that not even Elvis,the Beatles, or Dion, or even our beloved President could control. The world had just gone from an innocent, safe place to be to being a very scary and heavy place. Vietnam. Life. Love.Marriage. Paycheck. Mortgage. BABIES!!! … Divorce. Alimony. Ulcers. New marriage. Two mortgages. No paycheck . BABIES!!!…geeze… who can dream big under these conditions!!
Yes, the 60s were a tough 10 years for young adults. But would I exchange them ? NO WAY!!!.. War Protestors..Long Hair.. Woodstock..the Kennedys.. Marilyn Monroe..The Supremes.. Man on the Moon.. Women’s Rights.. Race Riots.. YOKO, oh no!!.. and the music…the amazing amazing music. The music that defines a time that is no more. Real voices. Real music. Real words. That conveyed messages. Subliminal. Direct. Refined. Urgent.
No, Donald Riggio, did not end up with his own band. He is not compared to Dion. But, has Dion written a novel that takes us back to the most amazing decade that has ever been? I don’t think so!! SEVEN INCH VINYL.
Seven-Inch Vinyl is Donald Riggio’s dream come true in the form of an amazing fiction novel. It is something of a history book. The characters are familiar. So familiar that I found myself trying to guess which real life people the people who live in Donald’s imagination and now in mine. That seems like Elvis. Yes, Elvis because there’s the manager, Cap Stewart..hmm. CAUGHTCHA…Colonel Parker!!
There’s the record company called Chanticleer Records where stars are made, and unmade.
There’s the Sex…The Drugs…The Rock and Roll….The Sex….The Murders…….yes, in between the music is MURDER!!!!
Amazing plot development makes me love this book.. Never one dull page..It is truly a “Rock and Roll” murder mystery novel, with a twist, and maybe even a boogaloo.. and Donald Riggio, if you can bear with his Bronx accent, is one amazing guest for this week’s Colin Lively Show.

Seven-Inch Vinyl: A Rock and Roll Novel (from Good Reads):
In 1953, the entire world waited for an explosion. The United States and The Soviet Union both possessed a weapon that could blow the planet to bits. But when the explosion finally did come, it wasn’t from an Atom Bomb blast-but from the birth of rock and roll music. Seven-Inch Vinyl chronicles the evolution of rock and roll between the years 1953-1969. An interesting array of fictional characters takes the reader on a remarkable journey from the rural landscapes of Kentucky where Rhythm and Blues is on the rise to the juke joints of Memphis as R&B meets country to create the Rockabilly sound. From there travel north to the bustling metropolitan cities of Cleveland and New York where the vocal harmonies from singing groups seems to occupy every street corner.
The British Invasion of performers in the mid-sixties threatens the very life of the American music scene. But bolstered by the founding of Motown, and the emerging folk scene from Greenwich Village to Haight-Ashbury, a rock and roll revival rejuvenates past careers and re-kindles the popularity of its early days. Told against a backdrop of racism, political unrest, war and assassination, the narrative blends actual historic events with music history to demonstrate how rock and roll changed the lives of generations of young men and women to forge the course of the nation and the world
Join Colin Lively ((LIVE)) Friday, 2-3 pm EST, online at
Listen by phone at
Chat-in or call-in 877-500-ZEUS (9387)
Replay: Friday 11pm EST
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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Seven-Inch Vinyl expands to a trilogy.

The first post of the New Year is a Moldie Oldie. First published last August, It serves as a reminder of what's happening with the sequel and my writing efforts. I've made a resolution to add to the blog on a more regular basis so..err...we'll see. Anyway let's get the journey to "Beyond Vinyl: The Saga Continues," on its way.

As the creative juices flow over me and I turn things up a notch in writing the sequel “Beyond Vinyl: The Saga Continues” a whole new set of ideas, characters and events propelled me beyond the planned parameters of book two. What choice do I have but to plan for a third, “When Gold Turns To Gray.”

The title was determined by the results of a poll conducted on Facebook recently. By way of explanation, it exemplifies the GOLDen tunes of the past as they and their fans turn GRAY. I want to thank those who participated in the poll. The book will take readers into the new millennium but will remain faithful to the music of the 50’s and 60’s as the baby boomers start to collect Social Security.

But let’s backtrack to book two.

Chapter one begins sixteen years after the events depicted in Seven-Inch Vinyl into the year 1986. Chapter two will flashback to the very minute when Book one ends to follow the life of Joseph Rabinowitz as his amazing journey continues. Flash backs and flash forwards will be the essence of the saga as we return to characters and events we merely touched upon before. We’ll learn more about Chanticleer and his young adult life. Janet’s travels through England will be explored with more in-depth detail. Surprising new characters will be introduced to carry the narrative forward. Other musical genres will come on the scene, Progressive Rock, Hard Rock, Southern Rock and Disco just to name a few will take their place on the record charts but the oldies revival era will continue to grow and flourish both with live shows and on radio and television.

As we did in the first book we’ll traverse the years using real life events that demonstrate how Rock and Roll impacted history and vice versa. The chapter “John and Tricky Dick” will deal with the way the Nixon administration waged war on former Beatle John Lennon when the latter sought to become a spokesperson for the anti-war movement. “Greetings From the Children of Planet Earth,” will continue our fascination with space travel. And in “.44” we’ll see how a deranged killer almost single-handedly destroyed the New York nightclub scene in the seventies.

There will be moments of great joy and sadness within the pages of “Beyond Vinyl,” another treasure trove of emotional memories for those who lived it. The ending will leave readers clamoring for more.

Look for “Beyond Vinyl: The Saga Continues” coming in 2012.

In case you haven’t caught on to the Seven-Inch Vinyl experience you can order your copy today by using the instructions on the right-side scroll of this blog. Take a look at prior blog posts to see what critics and readers alike have to say.

Much Love,

Donald Riggio

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Radio Personality Christine Vitale Reviews Seven-Inch Vinyl:

Christine Vitale hosts the highly popular, three hour radio program "The Group Harmony Alley," which broadcasts every Sunday night from Fairleigh Dickenson University in Teaneck, New Jersey on WFDU89.1FM. After she read Seven-Inch Vinyl we did a live call-in interview on the show. In addition, she was kind enough to provide the following written review which she posted on her Facebook pages. Thanks so much for the kind words, Christine:

• In Review: SEVEN INCH VINYL: A Rock and Roll Novel

I wonder how many people are more fussy and critical than I am, especially when it comes to reading material. I admit when I received my copy of Seven Inch Vinyl, A Rock and Roll Novel by Donald Riggio in the mail, I didn’t rush to tear open the package in excitement and begin reading in fervor. Nope. In all honesty, I waited, all the while saying to myself,” I’ll get to it, after I get through reading my litany of other reading materials first.” I admit I wasn’t excited because I had seen, read, and tossed aside many-a-cliche music nostalgia-book before, and I didn’t think this one would be any different. But I was wrong.

Within the first few pages, I found the story intriguing and engaging, both in subject matter and in writing style, perhaps more by chance, than by design, but the more I read, the more interested I became, and I couldn’t wait to interview the author on my Sunday night WFDU-FM radio program, The Group Harmony Alley. I couldn’t wait to pick his brain about what inspired this unusual piece of work that I found myself carrying with me throughout the house, keeping me up past my bedtime, and making me late for work in the morning. I was addicted.

What I enjoyed about this book: The simple writing approach: Sophisticated enough to keep me interested (after all, I am an intellectual…lol), and simple enough to read at an easy glide. Likewise, the character development: Not overly-complex, yet enough depth to keep me wanting to get to know some of the characters better with the turn of each page. The storyline: The book mirrors a reality, a view of both the bright and dark sides of the music business and the gritty, shameful realities of life--those awkward social ills we all bear witness to however often, or admit it or not – are tucked away in many-a-mind as skeletons in a closet. Subjects such as racism, anti-Semitism, Holocaust, mafia, infidelity, drug abuse, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, teen pregnancy, interracial coupling, and infertility. Not quite the topics that come to mind when one thinks “nostalgia” yet each just naturally weaves its way into the fabric of the story. I indulged in this bold statement of honesty, and realism in this novel. I appreciated that the author shows little compromise in dishing out the converse of candy-coated cheesecake nostalgia. Furthermore, I could appreciate the diversity in characters some with interesting and ethnic names that both feed into and defy stereotypes, and others entrenched indelibly in historical reality.

What also grounds this story in reality is the periodic listings of historical fact, interspersed throughout the book. I’m a realist. I personally want to see things as they are, and as they were—and take little interest in being fooled into teenage fantasy. With this book, mission accomplished, Mr. Riggio!

Christine Vitale, Host

The Group Harmony Alley on WFDU-FM/89.1 – Teaneck, NJ

Sundays, 7pm to 10pm - EASTERN

Live stream and archive available at

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The San Diego DooWop Scene

Steve Thorn is a reporter for the San Diego Troubadour Music Magazine. This month he wrote an article showcasing a hige DooWop concert being presented in San Diego. He had some nice words for me and Seven-Inch Vinyl in the article. My Sincere thanks to Steve.

San Diego Troubadour

Call It R&B, Call It Doo-Wop, Call It Fun!

By Steve Thorn

It was an urban scene that became part of American popular culture; under a street corner lamp teenagers from different ethnic backgrounds hovered together, cleared their throats, and began to sing in unison. At first the words were difficult to decipher. Were they really words at all? No, more like run-on syllables; “Rama Lama Ding Dong,” “Sha Na Na,” and “Oooh Ahh, Oooh Ahh.” It would left to the lead singer to belt out actual lyrics, sometimes in a falsetto register so angelic that it seemed to be the byproduct of divine intervention.

Welcome to the world of doo-wop or, more appropriately, rhythm and blues. It’s difficult to determine when the term “doo-wop” began to be bandied about; certainly, this phrase didn’t exist in the peak years of street corner groups – the ’50s and the early ’60s. Most reliable music almanacs trace the term to one specific person and time; New York Disc jockey Gus Gossert, who began saying “doo-wop” as a reference point during his oldies show on WCBS-FM in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Although it has been several decades since a doo-wop group topped the Billboard music charts, the music of the street corners never vanished. Motion picture soundtracks from American Graffiti to The Shawshank Redemption have relied heavily on doo-wop, and PBS specials that have showcased doo-wop for entire evenings continue to pull in impressive ratings. Many stars from the PBS broadcasts have hit the road, and the latest musical caravan will be arriving at Humphrey’s by the Bay this month for the “Ultimate Doo-wop Show.” Artists on the bill include the Contours (“Do You Love Me?”), the Spaniels (“Goodnight Sweetheart”), Kathy Young (“A Thousand Stars”), The Vibrations (“Hang On Sloopy”), “The Olympics (“Western Movies”), The Volumes (“I Love You”), Paul and Paula (“Hey Paula”), and The Pentagons/Joe Jones (“To Be Loved”). A San Diego-based a capella group, the Royals, will also join in on the fun, and the Blue Suede Orchestra will provide musical accompaniment. It’s going to happen on Friday night, September 9, at 7:30pm under the stars at Shelter Island.

If Buddy Holly and the Crickets begat the Beatles, who are the original pioneers of doo-wop? Certainly, there were more gospel groups (the Soul Stirrers, the Swan Silvertones, the Pilgrim Travelers, the Golden Gate Quartet) than tambourines to shake in a Sunday morning Southern Baptist service. As for African-American secular music groups, the All Music Guide resource book gave its blessings to the ground-breaking records of the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots. Originally featuring the quartet of brothers Herbert, Harry, Donald, and John Jr., the Mills offered America and the rest of the world a musical escape from the depression years of the ’30s. The ’40s showed no signs of slowing down as the brothers recorded the classics “Paper Doll” and “You Always Hurt the One You Love.” The Mills continued to record hits during the ’50s and got a kick out of what the teenagers on the street corners were doing. They even went so far as to release a cover version of the Silhouettes’ “Get a Job.” In the tumultuous ’60s the Mills Brothers had their biggest single in years, when a radio-friendly tune called “Cab Driver” (penned by Carson Parks, brother of songwriter-orchestrator Van Dyke Parks) made the top 30 in 1968. The Ink Spots were also in heavy demand for radio shows, movies, and endless road journeys. A YouTube clip of their signature tune “If I Didn’t Care” provides an wonderful example of the spell they would have over future doo-wop acts: exaggerated body language and well-rehearsed choreography; melodramatic lead vocalizing; and spoken-word passages were the trademarks of the Ink Spots. As with so many vocal groups, (the Platters, the Coasters, the Drifters) the Ink Spots would eventually splinter into many different music camps. Archivists today recognize the classic lineup led by leader Bill Kenny and backing vocalists Charlie Fuqua, Deek Watson, and Hoppy Jones as the definitive Ink Spots quartet.

From the boroughs of New York, doo-wop headed West. By the time it reached the California coast, the genre enjoyed a renewed energy. Even a quiet navy town like San Diego produced a doo-wop queen: pretty Rosie Hamlin from National City. Rosie and the Original’s 1960 international smash, “Angel Baby,” represented doo-wop at its peak. It wouldn’t be long before surf music and the British Invasion artists would dominate the charts.

Nearly 50 years after doo-wop’s golden age, fans remain loyal to the music of the street corners. San Diego radio listeners now have the opportunity to hear the best in doo-wop every Saturday night (9-11pm) over the airwaves of KCBQ-AM. Serving as master of ceremonies over the sea of 45RPM records is Mike Zuccaro of Mira Mesa. Originally from the Bronx, Zuccaro’s family moved to the suburbs of Tappan, New York, which he described as a “deadly dull place. I first heard this music when I was about 13, in 1972, when WCBS-FM became the first oldies station – REAL oldies, not Beatles – in the country. They fearlessly and proudly played Laverne Baker, the Charts, Chuck Willis, the Jive Bombers, countless black and white vocal groups that would give modern program directors conniptions. They did the Saturday ‘Night Sock Hop’ and the ‘Doo-Wop Shop’ on Sunday nights with Don K. Reed. It just clicked with me. And I did listen to WABC and other Top 40 contemporary stations. I could easily do a ’70s show just as well. But the great groups, the roots of rock and roll, the duets, the instrumentals, the single artists from 1950 to about 1962 – almost all forgotten about. [They’ve been] vindictively excised from all modern playlists, and there’s no good reason.”

For Zuccaro, the “music hits home. And it was far before my time. No one else in my high school listened. It was a 35+ demographic even then, in the ’70s. But it’s so real, it’s just a visceral zetz in the kishkas (as they say in Yiddish in New York) that it needs to be heard more. Just one man’s opinion.

“Now it’s all over the internet, like all other music,” said Zuccaro. “Easier to find than ever. I read the comments on YouTube that younger people write; they’re just discovering it, along with many other genres. And some of them dig it, they get it. It hits home with them, too.”

Another East Coast transplant, Donald Riggio, has expressed his love of doo-wop in the printed word. Riggio is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Seven-Inch Vinyl (there are those “45” records again), where fictional characters linked together by the music industry react to actual events from the ’50s and ’60s.

“Doo-wop has had a huge impact on my life,” Riggio explained. “I first heard it in the hallways and subways of the Bronx in the early ’60s. When my Beatles-influenced band formed in 1964, we supplemented our repertoire with songs by Dion and the Belmonts, the Earls, the Duprees, and others. It gave us an edge on the other guitar bands forming at the time. I enjoyed the purity of the harmonies and the simplicty of the lyrics…lines like ‘I’m in need of a girl…you’re in need of a boy…let’s put our needs together…’ sheer poetic magic.”

Although he now resides in Las Vegas, Riggio is an enthusiastic supporter of San Diego’s Royals, led by former Bostonian Peter King. I just always liked the music,” said King. “It’s happy, fun, upbeat, and positive.” Did a background in opera help King in doo-wop – or vice versa? “Again, doo-wop has always been my favorite genre. I studied classical piano when I was very young and studied voice for many years with an emphasis on classical music. I’ve also done music theater production and played a variety of music styles all my life. Opera was one phase. Classical music and theory gives anyone a solid foundation that may be applicable in any and all music styles.”

There are unique challenges to performing a capella doo-wop. “An a cappella setting with one voice per part is very challenging in any musical style,” said King. “Everyone has to be very conscious of pitch, rhythm, and blend. Most doo-wop arrangements are relatively easy and have consistently similar chord progressions.”

Initially known around San Diego for his involvement in improvisational and stand-up comedy, former Brooklynite Mitch Feingold now promotes music in addition to the laughs.

“Mitch Feingold Presents is my production company, which produces live music and comedy shows. I got involved with the music in September 2008 when I ran sound for the University Heights Arts Festival at Swedenborg Hall,” said Feingold. “I started Songwriters Acoustic Nights in November 2008. The concept was to make it a unique showcase of quality singer-songwriters from San Diego. It has now expanded to L.A. performers. I also got into producing Saturday shows, some of which included Gregory Page, Carlos Olmeda, the Forget Me Nots, Randi Driscoll, and other well-known singer-songwriters. As for the doo-wop, my friend Peter King had a doo-wop group that sounded great. I invited his group, The Royals, to open at some of my comedy shows. Later I got more involved with that genre and produced several all doo-wop a cappella shows.”

Ask Feingold why he’s passionate about doo-wop. Just expect more of a sermon than an explanation. It’s like asking a Bronx native to speak with gusto about an American League team with distinctive pinstripes. “I grew up in Brooklyn. How can you not be a fan of quality a cappella doo-wop? When you hear it performed properly, it is awesome! The harmony and energy produce a wonderful sound.” Feingold continues to make his pitch on his website. “This style of music was originally created by the neighborhood kids, hanging out on the street corners, harmonizing with the only instruments that they could afford – their voices. Doo-wop was created without formal voice and music lessons. It was their music – singing about what was important to them in the 1950s and early 1960s. It was, and still is, the music of young people and those who are young at heart.

“For many young people, their only exposure to doo-wop has been public television’s version with the groups backed by large bands. That version creates the perception that it is for the older generations only. However, when they get to hear younger groups singing a cappella doo-wop the way it was meant to be performed, their perception changes. Currently, there seems to be a resurgence of this music among young people.”

If we take Feingold’s message to heart – and there’s no reason that we shouldn’t – could the kids who are currently gushing over Glee and going gaga over an envelope-pushing diva one day become devotees of doo-wop? Stay tuned.


Whether the listener is a neophyte or a veteran fan who has been away from the game, there’s plenty of good doo-wop no further away than the computer screen.

Earth Angel The Penguins Topping the poll of favorites for many doo wop aficionados, the Penguins’ tale of a divine beauty has captivated listeners for over half a century. West Coast fans find satisfaction in informing their East Coast constituents that the Penguins hailed from California. California?!!

I Wonder Why Dion and the Belmonts Few artists have skipped so effortlessly through different genres than Dion DiMucci. He’s been a doo-wop singer, a rock and roller of the first degree, folkie, gospel singer, and rocker (again). All were done very well, but doo-wop was where he earned his reputation.

Why Do Fools Fall In Love? Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers Before Michael Jackson, rock’s childhood prodigy was Lymon. And like Jackson, the later years proved stormy. Lymon died in 1968 from a heroin overdose.

Crying in the Chapel The Orioles Gospel music has always been a crucial component to doo-wop, no more so than in this classic. It also happened to be the biggest gospel single Elvis ever had.

Rama Lama Ding Dong The Edsels The Ford Edsel automobile was met with apathy by the American consumer but doo-wop cats and kittens found this frantic rocker one sweet ride.

Come Go With Me The Del Vikings Simple but sweet sounds from one of the earliest of the integrated doo-wop outfits.

Tears on My Pillow Little Anthony and the Imperials Dylan’s a huge fan of Jerome Anthony Gourdine. After doo-wop, Anthony became a soul superstar (“Hurt So Bad,” “Goin’ Out of My Head”) and a Northern Soul icon (“Better Use Your Head”).

Over the Mountain, Across the Sea Johnnie and Joe Heroic, inspiring, transforming – not enough descriptive words exist in the Queen’s English that do adequate justice to 2:13 minutes of recorded bliss. It is easy to spot that I’m a fan.

Tell Me Why Norman Fox and the Rob Roys Talent runs deep in the Fox Family. Norman’s daughter is Kim Fox, one of the best singer-songwriters in the contemporary Los Angeles music scene.

— Steve Thorn

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moving Historical Fiction Through Time:

Recently, fellow Henderson Writer's Group Author, Anna Marquez asked me to post something on her blog pertaining to Seven-Inch Vinyl. I came up with this, explaining how I used real-life events to move the story-line along through the years:

Moving Historical Fiction Through Time:
By: Donald Riggio

When I wrote my Rock and Roll novel, Seven-Inch Vinyl, I knew that I would be spanning a period of sixteen years as seen through the eyes of various fictional characters, traveling along several different storylines. I had to come up with some device to propel the narrative ahead through time, sometimes chapter by chapter.
I decided the way to do it was to incorporate some significant event in history where I put the reader down in a future point in a character’s story. I also tried to find events that could be tied to the music of the times.

By doing some research I was able to find out that the song that was playing on the top-40 radio station in Dallas, Texas on the morning President John Kennedy was assassinated was “I Have a Boyfriend,” by the Chiffons so I used that to open a chapter.

In 1965, New York disc jockey Dan Ingram was playing a song called “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon.” The speed suddenly slowed down and a minute later the entire east coast was thrown into a massive blackout. I used this to end a chapter where events had my protagonist experiencing of the darkest days in his career. It was a perfect metaphor.

It’s important for writer’s to keep their audience anchored in the time frame depicted in the book. Occasional reminders of the time and place will do that. Throw in a morsel of history for your reader to chew on.

…On this night,(December 15, 1954) viewers watched the image of Walt Disney behind his desk. In the background, a bouncy tune began to play. Disney’s image
faded into a series of hand drawn sketches that resembled the panels of a comic book. The lyrics of the song described the illustrations. They told the tale of Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier…By the time the second and third episodes of the Davy Crockett saga aired in February of 1955, the entire country was caught in a “Davy Crockett” marketing frenzy. Consumers spent millions of dollars on toys, books, clothing, or anything linked to the television show…

In just a few short sentences, the above passage moved the narrative ahead three months in time.

I found that this device works more often than not. Its keep your readers focused on “when” and “where” they are. They trust you, the author, to keep them rooted in your world. If you don’t, your work will go back on their shelf or worse.

Donald also shares daily rock and roll trivia every on his Donald Riggio page on Facebook where he has 2800+ friends. Come by and party like it’s 1959.