Chapter 3 Sex Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll :
Left in Limbo
Wow what a year 1966 was for ? and the Mysterians! We never even planned to make a record, let alone to be in New York City to record an ALBUM! AND getting ready the week of January 24, 1967 to record our 2nd album AND three more singles!
Can you imagine? We are on the road we are doing concerts with every group imaginable – no, actually they are doing concerts with US because ? And the Mysterians HAVE ARRIVED!
AND along the way I told Neil Bogart, the sales manager of Cameo Parkway Records at that time, about all these groups in Michigan . He thought we were from Detroit. I told him no, we are from the Tri-Cities that’s up north : Saginaw, Bay City and Midland and also ones from around the outskirts of Flint and he says “Oh, you mean the BOONDOCKS”
I said No man, there's rock 'n' roll groups come here to play like Sam the Sham--you name it, they all come around here to play And we had bands like Bob Seger and the Last Herd, the Rationals, and Terry Knight and the Pack so I gave him all these names and Cameo Parkway picked them all up. Lots of things were happening with Cameo Parkway because we had their first big #1 million seller since Chubby Checker did “The Twist”
It looked like 1967 was going be very promising for the music scene, Cameo- Parkway and ? and the Mysterians I mean, if you thought something was happening in the music industry in 1966, just wait til 1967!
The week of Jan 24th ? and the Mysterians were on our way to NYC. There was a lot of snow and ice and it was probably going to take us about 14 hours to make the trip instead of 11 but we headed forth with great songs to do for the next record.
So, we're back in the Big Apple ready to record our 2nd album Its really cool – so we head on up to the Allegro Recording Studio and I open the door and there's Neil Bogart right there, so I blurt out “Hey Neil, we're here to record our 2nd album!” and he turns around, without a smile—the first time I ever saw him without a smile-- and he looks at me and says “We aren't going to record you guys” and I looked right back at him and said “Oh yes you are. I have a good enough contract and this is what it says” – I'm bluffing my way through because I had never gotten a copy of my contract.
So I get on the phone and I call our manager, Lilly Gonzalez, but she says she doesn't have the recording contract.
So we are there—we can either turn around and go another 14 hours back to Michigan and figure out whats next for ? and the Mysterians, or just record at the mercy of Neil Bogart and see what he's going to hit us with.
Bogart took my bluff and we're getting set to record, but the first thing he slaps us with is that he is going to pick the A sides for the 45s and our songs would only be used for the B sides. Now according to what we were told was in my contract, it was all supposed to be our material regardless, on both sides of the 45s. Remember, our first album only had ONE non-original on it and that was because Bobby REALLY wanted to do Stormy Monday.
We were expecting to do another album of our original music, but because we know we might not record at all if we don't do what Bogart says, so instead of heading home we decide to see what happens.
He brings in a guy to play a song on the piano that they've decided is going to be our “A” side—a song called “I Can't Get Enough of You Baby” and Neil tells us he wants us to start it out with the same intro we had used on 96 Tears. I said “96 Tears??” Why do you want to do that? People will think we can't come up with something else and are just riding our million seller!
But like I said we had no choice—we can turn around and do nothing and scout for someone else who MIGHT want to pick us up or we can stay and record. Then Little Frank and Eddie decided they didn't want to record so I told Neil and he said “well we'll just replace them with studio musicians”. I don't cuss but I kept repeating this colorful expletive under my breath because Little Frank is just 14 years old and his parents aren't there to act on his behalf. We're in a bind because he isn't legally able to negotiate this. So I went back and told them Neil said he'd just replace them and they decided it was better if they recorded than to have something go out that didn't have the whole band on it.
We recorded “Can't Get Enough of You Baby” which they released in March of 1967, but other than a Billboard ad, they did not promote at all. It still managed to get to #56 on the Billboard top 100. It was all a blur.....
Then I came back and did Girl (You Captivate Me) which was once again another song they chose for us, with one of our originals on the flip side- they also did not promote it, but it hit the top 100 (98) before it quickly faded under fire that I sang a “nasty word” in the song. I promoted it solo.
The final Cameo-Parkway single was“Do Something to Me” . All three songs received great reviews from Billboard but our own record company wouldn't capitalize on them and push the songs.
So we recorded the singles and were recording the album and things were not happening for us any more –we got ripped off for a bunch of money but we still had an album to finish. I decided I wanted to do “Shout” because we were already doing it on the road. And so I recorded that.
Maybe nothing was happening with us as far as not getting anything and them not promoting us, but I'm still an entertainer and a singer and I’m still a songwriter and we'd been doing Shout on the road and everybody liked it so why not record it?
That’s what I'm saying-Things weren't working out but if you know who you are and you've got the opportunity to still do an album, why pout? I'm gonna do shout and I know people are digging it and we may never have the opportunity again to record the song so I'm going to take advantage of it.
And that's how you've got to look at things. Just cuz somebody is doing you wrong and something isn't working out the way it should be working out, you still have the opportunity to do something you believe in and do what you're doing, include that in- there's no use in pouting and no use in getting mad, just finish the album the best you can and see what happens to it.
But at the time “Do Something to Me” was our last single on Cameo Parkway so I decided I didn't want that in the album, I wanted to make a 45 out of that and that’s what happened “Do Something to Me” was just a single –a 45 – it was number 1 around our local area radio stations the week of September 9, 1967 and everywhere else we played it was top five- in Hawaii it was number 1, the album and the single –I did a gig for Richard – Dick Clark- on his Caravan of Stars and the Strawberry Alarm Clock had the #1 song at the time “Incense and Peppermints” and our song was #5 in a lot of places down south and the song was doing very well but we only got up to 110 on Billboard because Cameo-Parkway didn't do very much to promote us. It was years before we found out why.
So people who wanted to know what happened to ? And the Mysterians, that's what happened.
Its not that we couldn't record or write good songs any more-- if you had no promotion by a major label you weren't going to go anywhere. If they just recorded you because you had a contract but they did nothing to promote or distribute the records, without any push every record was going to chart lower and lower. Remember, I chose the label I was looking at a brighter future for ? And the Mysterians the bigger future, our writing our performances and being one of the greatest groups ever- which we are- but we just haven't been in the limelight like the other groups but we are still here. Cameo had a different plan.
Looking back to 1966 when our song was a million seller, Neil Bogart had told us our first royalty installment was coming on April 30, 1967 and each of us would be receiving $50,000 – I mean after all, it was for a #1 hit selling over a million copies.
I made down payments on two Rivieras – one for my dad and one for me. We were making good money on the road with Mamas and Papas, Beach Boys Sonny and Cher and others like McCoys, Outsiders, Left Banke, the Dick Clark Caravan shows.. We also played on soul shows with Percy Sledge—other bands couldn't bounce back and forth like that between genres. Our music had a beat to dance to
Everything was happening the way it should happen then so we all bought things. Little Frank was 14 so his dad signed for a Cadillac—I think it was a gold one. Bobby bought a new house for his parents-made a down payment on it. He told me I should buy one and I told him I was going to wait until the money came in April.
In January of 67 after arriving at the studio, we knew Cameo-Parkway was done pushing our recordings but we were still owed for “96 Tears” so we're going along because we still have money from shows coming in and we thought we still had those checks coming in April 67 and just doing our things.
So April 30th rolls around and everyone is calling me saying their checks didn't come in the mail Mine will come later on so then the mail came and there was no check I called Neil Bogart and told him the checks didn't come in the mail. He bluntly replied “you guys aren't getting anything—you signed all your rights over to us.”
We never signed ANYTHING—we didn't even sign a real recording contract. But apparently our manager, Lilly Gonzalez, did. She had sold us to Neil Bogart and we didn't even know it – we didn't find out what had really happened until 1999.
I never even talked back, no matter how many rejections there were from the beginning back at Mt Holly and Bob Dell at the Big 600 radio station -he said it was “not top 40” and “nothing but trash” and threw our record in the garbage can. Later he claimed he discovered us. But what good would it have done to say something or get nasty, for then we would never get ahead...so when Neil Bogart said we had signed our rights over and we weren't getting anything all I could say was “well, we're done”.
I said to myself, when they make a movie, this is what's going to be in it. “You guys can have have all the money, all the fame, everything that comes with it but there's one thing you guys can never have --and that’s my ability to write songs, to sing and to entertain. That belongs to me and money can't buy that.”
Cameo-Parkway released “Do Something To Me” in September of 1967 and it was #7 in our local market but did little on the national charts without the push of the label. We were with Premier Talent, the next biggest to William Morris—they handled a lot of the 60s band and we were still being booked . We were still doing concerts and stuff but then word got out that Cameo Parkway was was in trouble. When Cameo was closed, the bookings almost immediately stopped and we were back to playing clubs and teen centers again.
In 1968 Merlin Publishing got hold of the Cameo-Parkway publishing catalog and that was Alan Klein and they took over the whole Cameo-Parkway roster and then ABKCO owned “96 Tears” and everyone's big hits. They still do.
Because of the money situation, Bobby went and got a regular job to keep the house he'd bought I don't know if Little Frank's dad kept his car--he had a good job and a nice house in a new subdivision. Our Riviera's had to go back--the money wasn't there to pay for them any more.
Were we going to plunge to our death or gracefully float and land on our feet ?
And with that, ? and the Mysterians were left in limbo.
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Article made by Question Mark & Susie Martin/2015
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