Joey Dee & The Starliters

TrackAlbum
Dance, Dance, DanceDance, Dance,• Dance
Hey, Let’'s TwistHey, Let’'s Twist OST
GuantanameraHitsville!
Hot Pastrami
With Mashed Potatoes
Doin’' The Twist At The Peppermint Lounge
I Lost My BabyJoey Dee
Peppermint TwistDoin'’ The Twist At The Peppermint Lounge
Roly PolyHey, Let’'s Twist OST
What Kind Of Love Is This?Two Tickets To Paris OST
ShoutDoin'’ The Twist At The Peppermint Lounge
Ya YaDoin’' The Twist At The Peppermint Lounge

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Contributor: Peter Viney

Have you ever played music time machine? It’s a party game for when you tire of Desert Island Discs. You can go back to any ten points in musical history: The Beatles at The Cavern in 1962, Bob Dylan in Greenwich Village 1961. Pink Floyd at the UFO in 1967. Or you could get gobbed on by the Sex Pistols in 1977. You choose. I’m taking The Peppermint Lounge, late 1961 as one of mine. Joey Dee and The Starliters are on stage. Robert Mitchum and Elizabeth Taylor are the sort of people who formed the audience. Three teenage girls dressed in matching yellow dresses were waiting in the long line to get in. The doorman mistook them for dancers they’d hired, let them in, and they had to get up on stage to shimmy along. During What’d I Say one was dancing so well that they jokingly handed her the mic, and she took it, and tore the place apart.

That was the girl who became Ronnie Spector, and those three girls became The Ronettes, though they spent months dancing along with Joey Dee, first in New York then Miami, and sang with him on his Dance, Dance, Dance album. I had a picture of The Ronettes on my bedroom wall and … (Too much information. Ed.)

Joey Dee latched on to the twist phenomenon early, and had the residency at The Peppermint Lounge for thirteen months. The band were unusual for 1961 in being mixed race, with three dancing lead vocalists (Dee, David Brigati, Larry Verneri), backed by Carlton Latimore on Hammond B3 organ with bass pedals and Willie Davis on drums. The three Italian Americans danced out front with the two African Americans backing them. Three of them could play sax if need be, and they often used two saxes. Where they are unusual for the USA is the repertoire, which leaned towards the same R&B standards being played by the British bands in Liverpool and Hamburg: Shout, C.C. Rider, Talkin’ Bout You (the Ray Charles one, not the Chuck Berry one), Money, Sticks & Stones, Kansas City, Hello Josephine, Raindrops, Fanny Mae, Honky Tonk.

Their two Peppermint Lounge albums are also unusual in that recording a band live was rare then, and even more so a “pop group”. Atlantic, Capitol and Roulette were trying to sign the band, but only Roulette went along with Joey Dee’s insistence on a live album. The recording quality suffers but you get feel and atmosphere, and Roulette mined the first LP mercilessly for singles. It has the classic sound. Peppermint Twist Part I/Part 2 has its 1-2-3 kick 1-2-3 jump routine, which developed from an earlier single, Shimmy Baby. They never mention a guitarist, but there’s an excellent one on Peppermint Twist. The single was released before the live recording was made, but incorporated on the album as if it were part of it. Ya Ya is another pick from the album because I like the tune. Hot Pastrami With Mashed Potatoes was a single that conveys the live sound … a workout rather than a song. All these five minute plus live versions mean singles with Part 1 and Part 2 every time. Shout is another long workout.

The second Peppermint Lounge album has more classic songs like Dee Clark’s Raindrops, a wonderful song but quite a rough recording and Zoot Money used to do it better. Dee Clark definitely did. Their version of Money predates The Beatles recording. The issue is that as they tackle more melodic material, like Raindrops, Hello Josephine and Will You Love Me Tomorrow the limited backing of Hammond and drums starts to feel too thin.

The Hey! Let’s Twist album came from the B-movie which Joey Dee was in. The Ronettes failed their audition to be the girlfriends, being told they were too light-skinned to play blacks, but too dark-skinned to play whites. It benefits from better sound and more extended sax, and both singles, Hey! Let’s Twist and Roly Poly stand out. Peppermint Twist and Shout were re-recorded for it. Do avoid Dance The Authentic Peppermint Twist if you see the 45. I didn’t and it turns out to be monotone spoken instructions on how to twist, and was given free with purchases of Vaseline … no joke, they made hair tonic as well.

What Kind Of Love Is This was written by Johnny Nash for the film Two Tickets To Paris. My favourite track. I bought it as soon as I heard it, and it’s without Starliters but with a full studio backing. For British readers, Tony Blackburn in gold lame jacket did a killer cover version live at Bournemouth Pavilion throughout 1963. I Lost My Baby is another Johnny Nash composition, very much in the style of What Kind Of Love Is This with orchestra. A third Johnny Nash song was Help Me Pick Up The Pieces. Roulette wanted to try positioning Joey Dee as a solo teenage idol. The songs were on the solo album Joey Dee though Joey Dee & the Starliters continued to tour.

Dance, Dance, Dance gets in because the addition of The Ronettes, who recorded eight tracks with him in 1963. It’s very much in their extended workout style. Ya Ya from two years earlier was put out as a single at this point.

The Starliters of late 1963 and early 1964 included Eddie Brigati (vocals, David Brigati’s brother), Felix Cavaliere (keyboards, vocals) and Gene Cornish (guitar), and after they left Dee they first became The Young Rascals, then The Rascals. Guitarists in the later Starliters included the actor Joe Pesci, Charles Neville of The Neville Brothers and in 1965 a young Jimmy James, later to be called Jimi Hendrix.

!967’s Hitsville! opens with Feel Good About It (Parts 1 and 2) in his key style, then it’s soul covers of Reach Out I’ll Be There, Land Of 1000 Dances and Hold On I’m Comin’ – again just what British bands were doing live at the time. Though they weren’t doing Guantanamera. Joey was, and in Spanish and much beatier than the Sandpipers’ hit with excellent trumpet and a ‘Louie Louie’ riff. There’s a McCoys/Strangeloves vibe about it that I like. You Can’t Sit Down is revisited with quotes from Peppermint Twist and What’d I Say.

She’s So Exceptional would have been great, but three or four years earlier is its natural setting. He carried on into 1968, doing an early version of Neil Diamond’s Cherry Cherry as well as Black Is Black, and most surprisingly, Psychotic Reaction. The long intro fits with his 1961 style, but the lyrics don’t suit him. It’s all material you’d love to have seen in a club, but there are better recordings of all of them.

Joey Dee is part of a small sub-genre of American live bands recorded at classic clubs, along with Trini Lopez at PJs and Johnny Rivers at The Whisky a Go Go. Good covers, good show, no original material.

Footnote on the videos

The Peppermint Twist confirms a note in one of the compilations that they played musical chairs on stage, and that Carlton Latimore would sometimes join the front line. I assume that’s what’s happening here as there’s a white guy behind the Hammond and that uncredited guitarist is on stage … though they are all miming. As this was a TV show, it makes it clear that in 1962, they wanted that then rare multiracial line to be seen right up front.

What Kind of Love Is This is a wonderful find … this was a definite and strong idea on how to present a song during a film, and equally an idea that proved to have insufficient mileage to get through to the MTV era. Fortunately.

Official Joey Dee Website

Joey Dee biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #122

1 Comment

  1. Rob Millis
    Nov 12, 2013

    That seems very much like a Lowrey organ on the video judging from the sound and the ornate music rack. The “uncredited” guitarist on the other hand seems to have been blessed with Fender’s then-flagship Jazzmaster!

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