Author Donald Riggio
Reviewed by Fran Lewis
Living in the South Bronx and growing up near a record store that carried the top 100 hits is something kids today will never experience. CD’s, DVD’s and IPod’s are the way to go in 2011 but not so long ago we had stereos, our own 45’s and you were able to pick out the ones you wanted and bring them right to your own special jukebox or turntable. Playing these records, inviting your friends over for a party to dance and have some great fun brought the songs and the artists right into your own home. The greatest things was that good old 45 record never wore out, was right there where you wanted it to be and you never had to play all of the songs on a tape or CD to get to listen and dance to the ones you wanted. Nothing better than taking out those old discs and listening to the artists, looking at the different labels, doo wop sounds, Motown, watching Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and hearing the voices of DJ’s like Cousin Bruce and Alan Freed over the air on the radio to get the fun started.
Seven-Inch Vinyl might be fiction but the events in this book definitely bring back a time when the music was truly great, the artists could really sing and growing up was really fun.
Joseph Rabinowitz and Danny Cavelli were great friends. Both wound up joining the army for different reasons. Joseph loved music and learning the history of many genres, and Danny fixing cars. Author Donald Riggio describes their army tour, their friendship and their passions.
Danny and Joseph both had their own visions of what they wanted for their futures. But, fate steps in and Danny and Joseph are both in a fatal car crash leaving two dead including Danny as the third and Joseph critically injured. As Joseph rebuilds his life he becomes close to Danny’s sister Janet and here is where things begin to change. As he becomes stronger we learn more about his determination to become part of the music industry and start a life with Janet. We also meet Teddy Boyette a young man who finds his way into the music business as one door is slammed in his face another opens. Meeting or trying to get an audition with Artie Franklin proved to be the wrong move or way to go but an accidental encounter at diner with Cap Steward would be the chance of a lifetime. Cap offers him a job and chance to sing and play his guitar that he cannot turn down and one waitress named Dee a different opportunity.
As Joseph and Janet get to know each other, Teddy begins his life on the road and his music career. Janet and Joseph made a bold move and Sol and Myra Rabinowitz will now decide how they feel about their relationship. Janet hoping to win them over and Joseph relentless in his hopes for their future.
Joseph Rabinowitz was enterprising, smart and knew exactly what he wanted when he walked into Harmony Time Music Store. Playing the piano I have to admit that Harmony was where my teacher bought my music. This book brings back so many great memories. As Joseph meets Leo Klein the owner they form a strong bond, he offers him a job and his entire business soars as they now carry the top 40 hits, 45’s, 78’s, record equipment and a brand new recording studio. As Joseph helps Leo embark on their latest venture, Teddy Boyette comes to mind when he calls his friend Chanty to ask if he would like to record a record in his studio. Meeting Teddy, Chanty’s visit and his agent would forever change their lives. Helping many others get started was Joseph’s goal and the end result is still to come.
As their recording studio was built, contracts drawn up and signed and their first record made Billboard Magazine lists Teddy right up there with Fats Domino and Pat Boone. Reading about the how a 45-vinyl record was made, the history behind it and the process really is quite astounding and compelling. The songs that were sung, You Belong to Me and many others of that time period really brought it all back and made this book come alive for those of us that grew up during the 60’s and loved the music of the decade before. But, with everything and in every time period the mob seems to have their hand in things and two friends form a business alliance supposedly selling magazine subscriptions and then become more involved in the music business. How will this affect Joseph and Leo still remains to be seen? How will Janet, his wife feel when he learns he took her poems and turned them into songs? As Teddy becomes more popular and their business booms they move to Manhattan. Added in we learn about Rosa Parks, John Kennedy and the Holocaust, which Joseph’s parents lived through, and will never forget.
But, things heat up and do not always go the way you want and successes become too paramount and then the downslide begins. The mob gets into the business and forms Alexis Records. Just as Teddy’s career takes off and he becomes a household word, teens all over are listening to him and he becomes number one on the charts, fate once again sets in, his plane goes down and his life and career ended. More than upset, Joseph, now Joe Rabin, Leo has to find a new singer, deal with the tragedy and create a newer sound with another singer. Four young men who are friends decide to form a group called the Du-Kanes. Practicing in one of the group’s apartments upsets someone and the police ask them to stop practicing so late. But, one officer goes to bat for them, finds them a place to practice and eventually things turn around as Joseph and Leo now have a new group that soars and some that still have not made it. From Elvis Presley, to Buddy Holly, to Pat Boone, Fats Domino and many others the author reminds the reader of the greats from that time period.
But, things will change as the times do and the mob sinks its teeth into the business trying to control the singers, their monetary gains, but the record industry too. Hoping to make the DJ’s play their songs, their music and their artists would dramatically change the complexion of the industry. But, when the author writes how these four young men celebrated with an egg cream and malteds it really made me smile and reminded me of on once a month treat of a vanilla malted or chocolate egg cream made just right in the candy store that was directly under our apartment building on Southern Boulevard in the Bronx.
Things began to change in the lives of Joseph and Janet as their marriage began to backslide and they drifted apart. He buried himself in his work and she went to England to see the world and the castles. Then the British invasion came along with the Vietnam War, Kennedy’s assassination, the downslide of his business. Losing Janet, several contracts and the Beatles made things difficult not only between Joseph and Leo but others as well. Joseph needed a group that would pull in money, sell records and recoup his loses. Then once again tragedy strikes in an unexpected way when learns of the death of a dear friend and the reason behind it. So many things happened during this time period. Castro comes into power, McCarthy, Kennedy, the Russians and Sputnik and so much more. This was a time period filled with so many changes in the world not only in politic, space but in music too. I remember watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and seeing some of the greatest performers in person on his show when my dad’s friend got us tickets on a Sunday night. This book is filled with so much history, nostalgia and reminders that things really don’t change only the people do. Music is so different today and the groups varied and the sounds definitely not Motown.
The characters might be fiction but some of the events are real. From Chubby Checker and the twist, to Bobby Rydell, Bobby Darin and Fabian the music of this time period is timeless and this book brings it all back. But, when the author talks about the Bronx, the many different places he lived and Morris Park and Pelham Parkway, I smile. Because, it is all still here and still beautiful just the people are different.
As careers ended and his company was bought out, his life took a different turn and what happens in the world will change not only the complexion of the music industry, government, life for many and Joseph too. How does he revive his business and what brilliant idea does he have? You need to take this outstanding trip back in time when the Du-Kanes reigned, when wearing bobby sox was a definite fashion statement, when Dion and the Belmonts were hot, and the music of the 50’s soared and the emergence of Rock ‘n Roll took over the and performers like Elvis, Dion, Hank Williams, and Jerry Lee Lewis were at the top of the charts. From World War II, to Korea, Vietnam, racial tensions and the first man on the moon, author Donald Riggio brings it all back with a flair that is unique, filled with facts, even a murder, some deceit, treachery and much more before it all comes together in a surprise ending that will bring tears to your eyes and the audience on its feet.
There is nothing like listening to the old 45’s and I still have some of mine and wish I could convert them to a CD to listen to the songs that meant something, had meanings and made everyone get up dance my favorite Lindy Hop with my favorite partner my late sister, Marcia. This is one outstanding novel that everyone should read whether you lived through the era or not the music then will always be the music now to me.
So, Donald, thanks for the memories, the great story, Joseph Rabinowitz, Leo Klein, the Du-Kanes, Chanty and of course Teddy.
This book gets FIVE SEVEN INCH VINYL’s
Fran Lewis: Reviewer