Cleveland, Ohio, was a hotbed of pop music in the early to mid-'1960s.
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The city, called "The New Liverpool" by Rock Scene magazine in the 1970s, was the home of such bands as The Starfires and The Mods. The Starfires evolved into The Outsiders, who hit the Billboard charts with four Top 40 hits, including "Time Won't Let Me." The Mods became The Choir, who scored with a # 67 hit with "It's Cold Outside."
The Starfires, before becoming The Outsiders, included James Fox on drums, who later joined The James Gang (the band that gave us guitarists such as Joe Walsh and Tommy Bolin). The Mods, after becoming The Choir, included keyboardist Phil Giallombardo, who also later joined The James Gang.
The Outsiders included lead singer Sonny Geraci. Geraci would later lead Climax, which scored one of the '70s most beloved Top 10 hits with "Precious And Few."
The Choir included David Smalley, Wally Bryson and Jim Bonfanti, all later members of The Raspberries, a band that had four Top 40 hits in the early '70s. The Raspberries also included Eric Carmen ("All By Myself").
According to a 1972 interview with The Raspberries in Phonograph Record Magazine, Bonfanti of The Choir did the session drumming for the recordings for "Respectable" and "Girl In Love," two of The Outsiders' Top 40 hits, thereby creating a brief tie between the two groups.
This review is about The Outsiders, but I think that background knowledge on the importance of both The Outsiders and The Choir to Cleveland's rock music scene is important.
As The Starfires, the group included a horn section. Led by guitarist Tom King, The Starfires actually recorded a dozen tracks for Pama Records, a label formed by Tom's uncle. The band was into James Brown-style rock 'n' soul until the British Invasion of 1964, when they dropped the horn section and went to a more Merseybeat sound.
The group brought in Sonny Geraci as lead vocalist. Geraci is a pop vocalist in the tradition of Tommy James, Mark Lindsay and David Cassidy --- good looks and a strong, sweet pop vocal.
The Starfires decided to seek a major record company. King and his brother-in-law, Chet Kelley, created a song designed to bring them that deal. It was a little pop masterpiece called "Time Won't Let Me."
"Time Won't Let Me" incorporated a brass section, ala the Motown sound, with the big beat formula of The Beatles. It remains one of the most played songs on Classic Rock stations to this day:
"I can't wait forever / even though you want me to / I can't wait forever / to know that you'll be true / time won't let me..."
When King announced that he was seeking another label, his uncle at Pama Records felt betrayed. His uncle called him an "outsider," a name which The Starfires latched onto in renaming themselves as The Outsiders.
The band recorded the song at Cleveland Recording Studios with lead guitarist Al Austin sitting in as a session player (a common practice in the 1960s was using session musicians in place of a band's regular members because they were often more efficient in the studio due to their experience in that environment).
Among the players for that session were Sonny Geraci's brother, Mike, on baritone sax.
King's attorney called a representative for Capitol Records (a major force in rock music with acts such as The Beatles and The Beach Boys). He played the recording over the phone and the label rep went nuts. Almost immediately, the band "blindly signed," according to King, to Capitol.
Within a month of the release of "Time Won't Let Me" as a single in January 1966, the record was # 5 on the U. S. Like a charcater in the film 'That Thing You Do," the band's drummer, Ronnie Harkai had enlisted in the Air Force and had to be replaced. The band would suffer through many personnel changes over the years.
The follow-up single, "Girl In Love," went to # 21 in the Spring of 1966. The slow, soft, acoustic ballad, totally the opposite of the hard-driving guitar rock of "Time Won't Let Me," is presented on this CD with its "full delicate ending" for the first time. It's another King-Kelley tune about a girl about to marry (in this instance, they wrote it about the fiance of the band's bassist, Merton Madsen).
The third single, "Respectable," returned the band to a Motown sound. The song had been performed by them during their days as The Starfires. Originally, the tune was written by and first recorded by The Isley Brothers. The tune went to # 15 for The Outsiders, their third Top 40 hit of 1966:
"What kind of girl is this / she never, never ever been kissed / ... / she's so respectable..."
Propelled by the hit singles, the band's debut album, "Time Won't Let Me," rose to # 37 on the Billboard Top 200 album charts.
The band sought outside songwriters to expand their sound. Among the demos they listened to was a tune called "Help Me Girl," written by Scott English and Larry Weiss, who assured them no other artist had recorded it yet.
Actually, the tune, which became The Outsiders next single, had already been recorded by Eric Burdon and The Animals (it was the follow-up to their U. S. Top 10 smash, "See See Rider"). As a result, both The Outsiders and The Animals battled each other on the pop charts with different versions of the same song in the fall of 1966.
The Outsiders' version crawled to # 37 for their fourth Top 40 hit of 1966. The Animals version also went Top 40, hitting # 29:
"... you gotta help me girl / because I'm going insane ... "
English and Weiss had offered The Outsiders another tune which the band turned down. That tune, "Bend Me, Shape Me," became a Top 10 hit in the U. S. and England in 1967 for The American Breed and Amen Corner, respectively.
The second Outsiders album, entitled "The Outsiders Album # 2" (Capitol was hardly creative with their album titles), suffered from not having a Top 10 hit on it, peaking at # 90. It did, however, include some great tunes, including a cover of The Temptations' "Since I Lost My Baby."
The band released their third album, "In," in 1967. It featured new bassist Richard D'Amato, a veteran of the band from its days as The Starfires. Joe Kelley of The Shadows Of The Knight (known for the Top 10 hit "Gloria") added the guitar break to the track "Gotta Leave Us Alone" which appears on the album (as a single, the song only reached # 121, bubbling under Billboard's "Hot 100").
A fourth album, to have been entitled "Leave Us Alone," made it to the album cover stage before production was stopped by Capitol. Work on that album ended when Sears, Roebuck and Yardley asked for an Outsiders album to be used for a promotional advertising campaign.
The band was rushed into the studio to record a "live" set. The "live" set included tracks with the "applause" added some new studio recordings. Additionally, the previously recorded hits ("Time Won't Let Me," "Respectable" and "Help Me Girl") are the original recordings, stripped of keyboards, horns and strings and then remixed (with the added "applause," of course).
The band had no more Hot 100 singles after 1966. In 1967-68, session playing superstars such as drummer Hal Blaine and bassist Carol Kaye were brought into the studio to record with the band. Briefly, King began sharing record production chores with Richard Delvy, known for his work with Sonny and Cher.
Capitol ended its association with the band. King left the group. Capitol released one final single, "Loving You," in 1969, but under lead singer Sonny Geraci's name.
Geraci signed with Bell Records (then doing well with acts like The Partridge Family and The Sweet) subsidiary Carousel Records. That label released two Geraci solo tunes as The Outsiders. King, the group's founder, had also signed a deal as The Outsiders with Kapp Records (they released one single for that label).
The lawsuit that followed saw King getting control of the group's name, so Geraci changed the name of his group to Climax. Carousel Records became Rocky Road Records, releasing the first single by Climax, "Precious And Few," which propelled Geraci and the band to # 3 in 1972. The single charted higher than anything by The Outsiders and became Geraci's first Gold Record for sales of over a million copies.
With Climax, Geraci would have one more chart (this time on Rocky Roard Records, the new name of Carousel Records). The tune, "LIfe And Breath," reached # 52 in 1972.
For the next two years, Geraci continued to record, unsuccessfully. Among the songs he recorded was the original version of "Rock And Roll Heaven," later a hit for The Righteous Brothers. He was produced for a time by Steve Cropper of Booker T and The M. G.'s (who had hit # 3 with the million seller "Green Onions" in 1962).
Geraci continues to tour and has released some independent albums (most with remakes of his Outsiders and Climax hits; he did a remake of "Time Won't Let Me" for K-Tel Records).
King remains in record production with acts such as Dreamstreet and Lisa Butler.
A total of 25 tunes with a total running time of 68:02 minutes featuring the best of the tunes recorded by the band for Capitol Records. The heavily-illustrated CD booklet, very well-done, features liner notes by Steve Kolanjian with commentary by Tom King of the band.
The songs should be popular with fans of Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Box Tops and most 1960s' pop fans.
"Time Won't Let Me," "Was It Really Real?," "Girl In Love," "What Makes You So Bad (You Weren't Brought Up That Way)," "Chase Away The Tears," "Respectable", "Lost In My World," "Backwards, Upsidedown," "Lonely Man," "Oh! How It Hurts," "Since I Lost My Baby," "Help Me Girl," "You Gotta Look," "I'm Not Tryin' To Hurt You," "I'll Give You Time (To Think It Over)" and "Don't Take Your Heartaches Out On Me" (previously unreleased).
Also, "Gotta Leave Us Alone," "I Just Can't See You Anymore," "I'll See You In My Summertime" (great Beach Boys-style tune), "And Now You Want My Sympathy," "Little Bit Of Lovin'," "We Ain't Gonna Make It," "Why Shouldn't I Have A Cry Now" (previously unreleased), "Think I'm Falling" (previously unreleased alternate version) and "Loving You" (released as a solo single by Sonny Geraci).
On the web:
Capitol/EMI's 20-track 24-bit digitally remastered CD "Greatest" by Cleveland's Raspberries (the original lineup --- Eric Carmen, Wally Bryson, Dave Smalley and Jim Bonfanti --- who sang the million-seller "Go All The Way" reunited in 2004-2005) was released in May of 2005 in the U. S. and Europe. It features all 7 of Raspberries Hot 100 singles, has 20 tracks and runs 78:53 minutes: http://www.epinions.com/content_186044681860
Sonny Geraci official site: http://www.marstalent.com/bio_sonny_geraci.htm
Sonny Geraci tour schedule: http://www.marstalent.com/itinerary.htm#SonnyG
Esquire Records in Cleveland, a source for Sonny Geraci's more recent albums: http://www.esquirerecords.com/citimusic/clubs/default.asp
The Cleveland Plain Dealer's history of local pop music, 1960s-current: http://www.cleveland.com/music/index_story.ssf?/music/more/local/timeline/index.html
The Cleveland Plain Dealer answers the question "Where Are They Now?" regarding local legends from Ben Orr to Joe Walsh to Eric Carmen: http://www.cleveland.com/music/index_story.ssf?/music/more/local/timeline/sidebar/where.html