DEAR JERRY: Here I am right in the middle of a recording session, but I just told the band to take a short break so I can tell you everything I recall about the recordings I made in 1964 with the You Know Who Group.
Considering you couldn't reach me back in May, when you first wrote about “Roses Are Red My Love,” you did a good job piecing things together. Having moved to Canada many years ago can make finding me a bit more difficult.
The You Know Who Group, as you indicated, were not British at all. Chances are none of them ever set foot in England.
However, they were not a happenstance gathering of studio musicians. They were a real self-contained garage band and they played all their own instruments.
From their home base in Brooklyn, they came to my Manhattan studio, Talent Masters, wanting to record two original songs: “Roses Are Red My Love” and “Playboy.” Both were written by Robert Esposito, their leader and also their lead singer.
Other than Esposito, I don't recall the names of any of the other “Boys with That Great New English Sound.”
Now, nearly 50 years after their LP came out, it can also be told that the four guys on the front cover, wearing capes and masks, are indeed the same band that's singing and playing on the record! Pictured third from the left is Robert Esposito.
As for my musical contribution, I think I played some guitar, and possibly piano, which I overdubbed after the session. Contrary to frequently published reports, this was not a studio band. Other than myself, no outside musicians were involved.
These boys probably had a group name when they arrived at Talent Masters, but I doubt I ever knew it. My partner, Bob Harvey, came up with the idea of having them try to sound British. He also named them the You Know Who Group, and dreamed up the whole secret identity stunt, complete with masks and capes.
Esposito and the guys were not very happy about Bob's brainstorm, but they went along with it on the chance it would create more publicity if people thought they might be the Beatles, for example, singing under another name. Like the 4 Seasons did as the Wonder Who?
It turned out Harvey was right. If not for the gimmick angle, they probably would never have gotten to put out an album after just one moderately successful single.
Break time is over now. Gotta get back to making music.
Bob Gallo, Toronto, Ontario
DEAR BOB: Unless we hear from Robert Esposito, or another of the You Know Who Group, it is very unlikely we'll ever learn the names behind the other three masks but what a huge help you have been!
As far-fetched as it seems, some publications go so far as to suggest “Roses Are Red My Love” is really by the 4 Seasons. Clearly, the Jersey Boys have nothing to do with any of this.
The You Know Who Group is neither the first nor the last act to come across as mysterious by being masked.
Best known is Orion (Jimmy Ellis), who had about a dozen Country hits in the early '80s. But let's look at an earlier masked man, one not nearly as familiar:
In 1958, at Gold Coast Studio in Mobile, Ala., Jerry Lott recorded two original songs, “Love Me,” a frantic rocker, and “Whisper Your Love,” a rock-a-ballad. For over a year, those masters existed only on tape.
Then, in late 1959 when pure rock and roll vocals were few and far between, Lott played “Love Me” for Dot Records' top recording artist, Pat Boone.
Based on Pat's belief in the record's potential, Dot released a single in January 1960 with both of Lott's tunes (45-16056). Boone is also the one who suggested crediting the record to “The Phantom.”
Amazingly, Dot even issued the single in a custom black-and-white sleeve, picturing Jerry wearing a Lone Ranger-style mask. Having a picture sleeve was highly unusual for a Dot debut release by an unknown artist.
Even many the label's top-selling acts (Gale Storm; Hilltoppers; Fontane Sisters; Louis Prima; Lawrence Welk; etc.) didn't see a picture sleeve made for any of their Dot hits. Furthermore, only about 10% of Pat Boone's singles came with a custom sleeve.
IZ ZAT SO? Billboard's review (Feb. 29, 1960) of “Love Me” states: “A wild vocal that attempts to outdo Elvis at his wildest. Sleeve shows the Pantom (sic) with a blindfold over his eyes.”
This reviewer didn't know the difference between a blindfold, through which you see nothing, and a mask, with two cut out holes for the eyes.
Sounding like nothing else out there is sometimes an advantage, but that didn't help the Phantom. Dee jays didn't seem to love him and the record flopped.
Now quite rare, “Love Me,” the Phantom's only known record, can sell for around $300. With the picture sleeve that amount can more than double.
Both sides of the Phantom's single have been revived in recent decades; “Love Me,” by the Blue Cats in 1981, and “Whisper Your Love” by the Flat Duo Jets in '93.