DEAR JERRY: Several years ago you wrote an informative piece about the two hits of “Alley Oop.”
You say versions by the Hollywood Argyles and by Dante and the Evergreens both hit Billboard's chart the same day (May 30, 1960), and how there may not have been much time between the two recording sessions. It seemed uncertain which came first.
I'm writing to ask if this unsolved mystery finally been solved?
Martin Boyd, Evansville, Ind.
DEAR MARTIN: At last we know, thanks to the Moon Tony Moon that is.
As an original member of Dante and the Evergreens, Tony also read that column and graciously called to chat. He then sent the following letter with the details we craved, and more:
“What a wonderful treat it was talking to you! Now here's the “Oop” scoop:
“The Hollywood Argyles cut it first (Lute 5905), in Hollywood obviously. Within a couple of weeks their record was already in the Top 10 hit in L.A., Chicago, Houston, and other west and mid-west markets.
“Larry Uttal, owner of Madison Records in New York, took note and called Lou Adler in California (Jan & Dean's manager at the time) asking if he knew of a group who could cover “Alley Oop.” He knew Lute was a very small company whereas Madison was an established label, especially in the east.
“Madison recently had hits with the Viscounts (“Harlem Nocturne”), Tassles (“To a Soldier Boy”), Singing Belles (“Someone Loves You, Joe”), and Untouchables (“Poor Boy Needs a Preacher”).
“As for me at the time (early 1960), I was working with the Pastels, a Santa Monica trio. Producer Kim Fowley asked me to help them improve their harmonies, so I became a fourth Pastel.
“We were also working with Aki Aleong, who put out my single of “L-o-v-e,” credited to Tony Moon and the Aktones (Pan World 513). “A year later, Aki had a nice hit himself with “Trade Winds, Trade Winds” (Reprise 20021).
“Aleong is even better known for his very successful acting career. From 1956 to present, he's appeared in more than 250 television shows and over 40 feature films
“Because of the other Pastels connection to Jan & Dean going back to their days at Santa Monica City College we were contacted by Lou Adler who asked if we would cover “Alley Oop” for Madison.
“Agreeing to do so, we parted amicably with Aki Aleong and signed with Madison.
“There was another group of Pastels, known then for the hit “Been So Long,” so we changed our name to Dante and the Evergreens and rushed into the studio. Our “Alley Oop” (Madison 130) was out in just two or three days!
“It became No. 1 in New York City and Philadelphia in a few weeks, and we were on our way.
“Because of being instantly successful, no one had ever seen us. In fact, our first gigs were consecutive weekly shows at the Uptown and the Apollo, two of the nation's top R&B venues. This came about because “Alley Oop” was just as big with the R&B stations as well as Top 40 outlets.
“The R&B dee jays thought we were a black group (hence the R&B booking sites), and jocks like Georgie Woods and Jocko Henderson gasped when four bushy blondes arrived in Philly.
“Fortunately, the R&B audiences loved our act. Dante (Don Drowty) was a real soulful dude and our stage show had a lot of Coasters-like comedy.
“We spent the summer of 1960 in the New York area, returning to the Apollo that fall as our second hit, “Time Machine” (Madison 135) rode the charts, followed by “What Are You Doing New Year's Eve” (Madison 143).
“Interestingly, our Madison tracks were produced by Herb Alpert, years before his Tijuana Brass fame, and Lou Adler. They ran Herb B. Lou Productions at the time.
“One life-changing night came when we did Murray the K's 1960 Christmas show, at the Brooklyn Paramount. That is the night I met Brenda Lee.
“Brenda invited me to join her band as conductor and lead guitarist, which I did for about three years, beginning in February '61.
“Touring the world with Brenda at her peak was an amazing experience. Hard as it is to imagine, she was even more popular in some of those other countries than here.
“Since Dante was leaving the group anyway after that Christmas show, Brenda's job offer was perfect timing.”
Tony Moon, Nashville, Tenn.
IZ ZAT SO? Since Tony Moon's recollections focus on the first half of the '60s, let me add a bit about his post-Brenda Lee endeavors.
Beginning in 1965, Moon began producing recordings by the Vogues.
Some of the Vogues most memorable Co & Ce label hits are “You're the One;” “Five O'Clock World;” “Magic Town;” “Please Mr. Sun;” and “The Land of Milk and Honey.”
“Five O'Clock World” was one of Tony's demos cut at RCA's legendary Studio B in Nashville, and then overdubbed in Pittsburgh. The others were done by Tony in Nashville.
Also, the majority of the tracks on the recent CD from Varrese Sarabande are unreleased cuts from that same 1966 Nashville session Moon produced.
Between 1966 and '69, Tony found time to produce the Skunks (Quill); We the People (Challenge, RCA); Lemonade Charade (Epic, Bell, Capitol); and the Merging Traffic (Decca).