The Chants, 1961/2, top row, left to right: Pete Antell and John Linde; bottom row, left to right: Al Ferreira (tenor sax and vocals), Mike DeVivo and Curly (bass and vocals).
The American Twisters in Milan, Italy for the movie Mondo
Caldo Di Notte, 1962, left to right: John Linde, Pete Antell,
Curly, Mike DeVivo and Al Ferreira.
The Valrays, 1963, top to bottom: Rod McBrien,
Benny Palmeri, Bob Musac and John Giametta.
The Trains, 1964, left to right: Bobby Bloom,
John Governali and Bob Kneiper.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The publicity photo shown above is a good example. It was taken in 1963 at Limelight Casuals, a clothing store situated in the Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington, Long Island, New York. Standing are drummer-songwriter John Linde, keyboardist Stoney Jackson and guitarist-songwriter Pete Antell. Seated at the table in front of them are vocalists Joan Paulin, Jean Marie Johnson, Gail Jones and Betty Lloyd, collectively known as the Percells. What follows is their story.
THE PERCELLS was the dream of Gail Jones, their lead singer.
Gail grew up singing gospel, while still appreciating rhythm and
blues: "I started singing when I was about ten years old.
My grandmother was a singer. She sang with the Twilight Gospel Singers,
who became one of the first African-American groups to carry gospel
to Europe. She had passed away by the time they got there, though.
As a little kid, I listened to LaVern Baker and Little Willie John."
Gail decided that it was time to put together a singing group that
she could call her own. She and her school friend, Jean Marie Johnson,
formed a group just to have fun while exercising their vocal cords.
Jean suggested her friend Betty Lloyd and Betty knew another girl,
Joan Paulin, who came from a musical family. Joan, her three brothers
and her mother all sang in church choirs. Her oldest brother, James,
was the first African-American organist to play at Radio City Music
Hall in New York City.
The quartet started singing every day while walking home from school.
As a result of this practicing, the young ladies became disciplined
vocalists. It wasn't long before they began getting work, singing
at local venues on Long Island such as Gibson's, Glen Cove and St.
Alban's Terrace. They were also singing at most of the dances that
were held in the area. This round of venues included The Celebrity
Club in Freeport, where Joan's father was a producer and the master
of ceremonies. He also became their legal advisor and manager, steering
them into coveted spots like opening shows for notable artists like
Lenny Welch. The group began traveling to New York City from Long
Island to record demos, including a radio jingle for radio personality
Magnificent Montague, then with WWRL.
The group's name is a product of a touching scene from Gail's quest
to absorb as much musical knowledge as possible: "There was
a bar in the neighborhood that had blues bands. I used to sit outside
because I wasn't old enough [to go inside]. One night, this guy
was sitting outside next to me and he was singing along with the
music. They wouldn't let him in either because he was very disheveled.
He had one of the most beautiful voices I had ever heard. I asked
him what his name was. His name was Percell. I told him one day
his name would be in lights. He never lived to see that, but it
The talented Percells would soon cross paths with two equally talented
singer/songwriters who would become their mentors. These guys were
not older veterans, but fresh talent barely out of their teens.
PETE ANTELL grew up as Peter Blaise Antonio in St. Albans,
Queens, home to musical luminaries like Count Basie. When Pete was
10, his family moved to Levittown, Long Island. Pete took up playing
the guitar. By the time he was in high school, Pete had expanded
his musical horizons by writing his own songs. His first band was
called Tony Leopard and the Spots. This band was fortunate enough
to make several 45s as the backing band for the Charades and other
vocal groups recording at Allegro Studio in New York City. The Spots
became the Escorts, changing their name again to the Scarlets. The
Scarlets recorded an instrumental for Dot Records entitled 'Stampede'.
For Pete, there were other musical prospects fast approaching.
JOHN LINDE was born and raised in Oceanside, NY. John started
down the road to a musical career by taking part in the school band
as a percussionist. After graduation from high school and a stint
in the armed forces, John resumed his quest for a niche in the music
business by forming the Chants in 1959. John was the band's manager
as well as their drummer. He diligently followed up on all possible
avenues in order to work. Through John's contacts and his meticulous
business acumen, the Chants began building a solid reputation as
an excellent club band, establishing followings at various venues
on Long Island.
In 1961, the Chants hooked up with a family of fledgling recording
entrepreneurs, Bill and Steve Jerome. They owned a small storefront
recording studio and a label called Tru-Eko Records. The Chants
prepared to record a version of 'Respectable', a song written and
previously recorded by the Isley Brothers for RCA. The Chants reworked
the song to suit their style and began performing the tune as part
of their act. After 'Respectable' was released, it became the winning
pick on Murray The K's show. John relates the story: "'Back in those
days, Murray The K had a boss record contest. Each day's winner
would be played on Friday. That winner would go into rotation. We
won the day, then we won the week."
With 'Respectable' now in rotation on New York radio, demand for
the record significantly increased. Since the Jerome brothers could
not break the record on Tru-Eko without proper distribution, they
leased it to MGM. The Chants promoted the single and themselves
through television appearances on The Clay Cole Show in New York
and The Buddy Morrow Show in Detroit.
Immediately following the recording of 'Respectable' John needed
to replace both his guitarist and his bass player, Jeff Layton.
John recruited Mickey Lee Lane for bass and called Pete to ask if
he was interested in a job as a vocalist and guitarist in the Chants.
Pete accepted. He was in on the recording of their next single,
the novelty tune, 'Dick Tracy', which comedian Chuck McCann featured
every Sunday morning on his New York children's television show,
Let's Have Fun, while he read about the adventures of the comic
strip detective. This was the second and last single for MGM, released
on their Verve subsidiary. Since Bill and Steve Jerome were still
novices in the music game, their methods were not entirely cohesive.
(They were still three years away from creative success as part
of the forces behind Reparata & the Delrons.)
John thought it best to handle the business affairs of the Chants
by himself. Since their popularity as a club band was high, offers
began coming in for the group to cut a production deal. John says
that one particularly tempting offer came from Buena Vista Productions
out in Los Angeles. Just as John was ready to accept this deal for
the band, an offer from a booking agent in Milan, Italy came his
way: "'Michael Goland at Buena Vista offered us
the chance to play Vegas. We decided to go to Italy instead. A lot
of carrots were waved under our noses - movies, television. We had
a lot of diversity with Mike DeVivo and Pete.'"
The band was all set to go, but at the last minute, Pete could
not make it. Newly engaged, he decided to stay behind. John replaced
him with another guitarist, who, unfortunately, did not work out.
John contacted Pete, who took the next available airplane to Europe
to rejoin his band. Italian producer, Armando Sciascia spotted the
band while they were playing The Olympia Ballroom in Milan. Sciascia
recorded numerous sides on the band for his label, Vedette Records.
He was instrumental in placing the Chants in Mondo Caldo Di Notte,
an Italian movie about the American twist craze. During filming,
their name was changed to the American Twisters. Sciascia released
their records under this moniker. After the run of recordings and
appearances in Europe, John decided he'd had enough and returned
to the States. The other members remained behind for a while, but
after a time, they too returned to America.
Once back in New York, Pete resumed his creative schedule, recording
some sides for Amy Records under the pseudonym Jay Walker and The
Pedestrians. With so many projects mounting, Pete and John, now
his songwriting partner, formed an alliance with two promotion men,
Teddy Fagen, who worked for Liberty Records on the west coast and
Steve Harris, a New York promotion man associated with Malverne
Distributing. Their aim was to take their demos to record companies
along Broadway, the strip formerly known as Tin Pan Alley. In 1962,
this area was a hotbed of musical activity, catering to this new
business of Rock & Roll, with myriads of publishing houses,
promoters and both established and ad hoc record labels. For young
songwriters, these companies were the conduits to use to introduce
their songs to popular performers. Pete recalls how he was suddenly
thrust into the spotlight as a solo artist: "We were producing
Nick Cardell at the time. At the end of a session at the Stea-Phillips
studio, we had ten minutes left. We recorded the demo of 'Night
Time' with the musicians singing backup. Steve Harris, a promotion
man, took it to Harry Chipitz at Cameo-Parkway."
When Harris returned with the news that Cameo wanted to release
the demo, Pete was aghast. "They want us to re-record it?
Harris said, 'No they want to put it out as is.' Put what out?!
This is just a demo!" Cameo-Parkway was one of the fastest
rising independent labels in 1962, boasting immensely popular artists
as the Orlons, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, Chubby Checker, the
Dovells and Jo Ann Campbell in their stable. Harris played the demo
of the song Pete had recorded. The senior gentlemen at the label
flipped for the simplistic, yet effective ballad. The makeshift
backing vocal group was assembled from the studio musicians at Stea-Phillips,
and, according to Pete's account, were certainly not singers. Pete's
sentiment was that the backing harmonies were off, but when Cameo
Records says you have a hit, you have a hit!
'Night Time', the reluctant single with the raucous backing vocals,
sailed into the charts in late 1962, hitting big in New York City,
entering the WABC music survey at #28 and staying on the New York
Top 40 list for 8 weeks. The result was a national chart entry and
a significant hit in many local regions, including New York, Philadelphia
and Pittsburgh. For the second Pete Antell single, Pete and John
provided Cameo with the wild, country-flavored 'Keep It Up'. This
established an ongoing association with Cameo/Parkway as independent
writers and producers who could supply the label with premium product.
Besides Pete's two singles, he and John placed records by two singing
groups comprised of fellow Long Island natives. The Valrays released
two singles for Parkway, the Beach Boys-flavored 'Get A Board' and
'Yo Me Pregunto (I Ask Myself)'. The Expressions, formerly the Imaginations
with lead singer Bobby Bloom, released 'On The Corner', later covered
by the Ad Libs. Out of all these singles, 'Yo Me Pregunto' made
significant inroads into the charts. John had been influenced by
Spanish music while playing at The Copa. The decision for Spanish
lyrics was a result of that influence and Pete's dissatisfaction
with the sound of the English words.
In addition to the records they were producing for Cameo/Parkway,
Pete and John formed their next lucrative alliance with another
Long Island ensemble through an associate at Ultra-Sonic Studios.
Keyboard player Stoney Jackson had worked with this quartet of young
ladies who called themselves the Percells. Stoney recommended the
outstanding group to Pete and John. Bill Stahl, the owner of Ultra-Sonic,
also knew of the quartet's vocal prowess. When the songwriters heard
the Percells at the studio one night, they liked what they heard.
Immediately, plans were made to record the Percells.
The first Percells session was a tune created out of an old saying,
'What Are Boys Made Of'. The song begins with unison vocals, halting
momentarily, then taking off at a galloping pace, accompanied by
a quick-playing piano, courtesy of Pete, and blaring saxophones
for the bridge. The group sings together on the title refrain and
Gail takes her emphatic, sassy lead during the verses. This breathless
production made it to #53 on the pop charts (#17 R&B) in the
spring of 1963, also reaching the top 20 in Canada. Its flip was
a sweet, wistful ballad entitled, 'Cheek To Cheek' with flawless
unison vocals. This song is Joan Paulin's favorite: "I really
liked that song because I could really hit a high note. 'Cheek To
Cheek' was very sweet to me."
The popularity of '
' netted the group an appearance
on American Bandstand and lives shows at the Brevort Theater with
the Dovells, at Shea Stadium with Dee Dee Sharp, and a spot on Jocko
Henderson's Rocket Ship Revue at the Apollo Theater, on a bill with
Ruby & the Romantics, the Chiffons, the Chantels and Bob B.
Soxx & the Blue Jeans. The Percells were now included in John
and Pete's camp of premium hit makers. With just several days notice,
Pete and John wrote and recorded a jingle using the Percells, Expressions
and Valrays. This jingle was for famed New York deejay Bruce Morrow,
then with WABC. 'Cousin Brucie', still on New York radio, uses the
jingle to this day. The Percells even backed Pete on a song called
'It's Your Birthday', a tender tune that he wanted as the follow-up
to 'Night Time'. Cameo, unfortunately, didn't care for it.
As far as the Percells as artists were concerned, what followed
was a rapid succession of singles, all released during 1963. Before
the second session, however, Joan opted out of the group. Life as
a performer was not at the top of her priority list: "I
made my choices, but there was no ill feeling. Gail was most serious
about singing. She had a gift from God! I had no intentions of singing
for a career." The Percells continued as a trio, with Pete
and John accommodating the change in sound with a different vocal
arrangement. The second single, 'Look At That Guy', sports the young
ladies singing alternately in group harmony and unison. This song
featured the popular mashed potato beat, featuring a piano and high
hat drums. John states that he would have liked more time to create
a proper follow-up to '
': "the record company
was screaming for a follow-up, so we gave them what we had."
Pete sees this differently: "I really loved the record -
different, yet The Percells' sound and style." The flip,
'Boyfriends', features Jean Marie on the response lines with Gail.
This ballad's melody line comes straight from Pete's own 'Night
Time': "We figured we wouldn't get into trouble if we stole
Unfortunately, the second Percells single failed to generate any
interest. The production team countered with 'My Guy'. Despite its
positive aspects, including a novelty B-side called 'Hully Gully
Guitar', this single also failed to chart. Pete and John were certainly
aiming in the right direction with their sparse, yet lively productions,
but for some reason the next hit for the group was elusive. Meanwhile,
they were still producing sides by the Valrays and the Expressions.
For the next Percells single, a new ingredient was added to the
musical mix. 'The Greatest' starts with the girls singing in unison
with Richie LeCausi from the Expressions singing bass, reminiscent
of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry's Raindrops recordings. The song
then moves full speed ahead with handclaps, emboldened drums and
call-and-response harmonies with Gail's lead. Pete regards this
as his favorite Percells recording: "'The Greatest' is my favorite.
I remember teaching it to the girls in a nightclub and it was a
little bit intricate, the harmony
and they did it so well!"
The ambitious producers had high hopes for this record, thinking
it would go really far. John's hopes were dashed when the record
floundered: "I thought that we were going to have a number
one record with 'The Greatest'. I really feel it could have gone
all the way. It was the fourth release. If it was the second or
third, I think that it would have been on the play list with all
those groups that bring back that era." Pete feels that
much of the responsibility rested with the record label, ABC-Paramount.
The company simply did not do everything to promote the Percells'
recordings. The company's main interest was with all the proven
artists that they had signed at the time, artists like the Impressions,
Ray Charles and Fats Domino, as well as Tommy Roe, the Del Vikings
and Eydie Gorme. ABC-Paramount was also a distributor, so it is
much more surprising than usual that they didn't push their entire
After the last session with the Percells, John and Pete turned
their attention to other projects, always meaning to follow up on
the Percells, but never being able to: "I feel that we made
a mistake in not recording them further. We didn't mean to stop
recording them, we just didn't record them again. We were writing
and producing almost like machines. We would get very excited about
the next project, the next baby, and not take care of the babies
that were already born."
Pete and John stayed busy producing former Chant, Mickey Lee Lane,
on Swan Records. Mickey had a hit with 'Shaggy Dog'. They also wrote
and produced two singles, 'The Plan' and 'Fourteen Getting Older',
for an ad hoc group called the Trains, a name given to them by John
as he drove alongside the Long Island Railroad on his way home.
Bobby Bloom had sung the demo, but John supplied his lead for the
release on Swan Records. In 1965, Pete started his own label called
Bounty Records with Elektra Records owner Jack Holzman. Hearing
something special in a young folk poet named Bob Dylan, Pete recorded
and released a version of Dylan's 'The Times They Are A-Changin''
with co-producer Paul Rothchild. He was also recording a promising
new artist named Bobby Coleman, who had started his singing career
as a member of the Blenders, a non-recording group who also hailed
from Long Island. Unfortunately, two weeks before the record was
to be released, Coleman was killed in an automobile accident. Bobby's
wonderfully atmospheric '(Baby) You Don't Have To Tell Me', was
released, but nothing was done to promote it in light of the circumstances.
The song was later recorded by the Walker Brothers. During the same
time Pete worked with Bob Crewe, supplying 'A Man Is A Man Is A
Man' to Tina Turner for one of her Philles 45s and recording as
an artist for Crewe's New Voice label. His stellar single 'Warm
Smoke' is a much sought-after collector's item. John worked for
a time with Leiber and Stoller, then began a six-year association
with Kama-Sutra Records, where he was responsible for bringing in
a young piano player: "I brought Billy Joel to Kama Sutra.
He was a smart Alec."
Today Jean Marie Johnson lives in Orlando, Florida. Betty Lloyd
married a member of Ruby and the Romantics' band and is settled
in Cleveland, Ohio. Joan Paulin Ellis remained in Hempstead to raise
her family. She retired from Verizon in 1991 and is currently working
part-time. Joan is excited by the fond memories she has of her tenure
with the Percells: "The sixties were wonderful! Singing
and traveling is something you will never forget." Gail
Jones Houston re-entered the music business in the 1980s, devoting
her time to singing gospel music, working with notable ensembles
such as the Gospel Experience Choir and the Art of Living Voices.
Gail has also sung and acted for the Creative Performing Institute.
She currently works as a production assistant with an audio/visual
company and recently formed Houston Unlimited, a video and movie
production company. Gail has also finished a new CD of inspirational
music with British producers Philip Henry and David Patrick.
John Linde kept himself busy producing Vanilla Fudge with Shadow
Morton ('The Beat Goes On'), and with Bandana Productions with Dee
Anthony. At the dawn of the 1970s, John moved out to California
to establish some musical projects. He mixed and mastered Emerson,
Lake and Palmer, the J. Geils Band, Humble Pie and King Crimson.
Over the years, John moved his family east again, settling in Florida.
In 1987, under Quest Studio Productions, he produced and wrote the
screenplay for Before God, his first independent production for
Universal. Most recently, he and former Valray Rod McBrien have
been writing and producing half-time shows for Florida's Orange
Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. John also writes film scores and tends to
his restaurant business with his sons. Peter Antell stayed on the
east coast, writing songs and forming new acts. He has his own orchestra,
which can be seen in the Woody Allen movie Crimes And Misdemeanors.
Pete is still actively engaged in writing songs and recording.
|THE AD LIBS
|On The Corner
Blue Cat 119, 1965
|PETE ANTELL &
THE AMERICAN TWISTERS
|I Only Have Eyes For You /
Singin' In The Rain
Vedette 24002, 1962
|Baby Let's Twist / Tiger Twist
|Whisper I Love You / Taffy Twist
|You Pretty Baby / Honky Tonk
Vedette 24005, 1963
|Where You Goin' / Carol
|Do The Hully Gully / Hully Gully Baby
|Everybody Stomp / Yackety Jack
|THE PETER ANTELL GUITARS
|Pipeline / Round Up Time
|Hully Gully Guitar /
Easier Said Than Done
|Honey, Hully Gully / Rock Robin
|Night Time / Something About You
Cameo 234, 1962
|Keep It Up / You In Disguise
Cameo 264, 1963
|Land Of Love / What's Your Game
Bounty 45101, 1965
|The Times They Are A-Changin' /
Yesterday And Tomorrow
Bounty 45103, 1965
|Warm Smoke / Wanting
New Voice 818, 1967
|Arlene / How Can I Help It
Liberty 55556, 1963
|I Stand Alone / Everybody Jump
Amcan 405, 1964
|Respectable / Kiss Me Goodbye
Tru Eko 3567, 1961
|Respectable / Kiss Me goodbye
MGM 13008, 1961
|Dick Tracy / Choo Choo
Verve 10244, 1961
U.W.R. 4243, 1962
|(Baby) You Don't Have To Tell Me / Pleasure Girl
Bounty 45106, 1965
|To Cry / On The Corner
Parkway 892, 1963
|JAY WALKER & THE PEDESTRIANS
|Never Happen / Hey Now
Amy 348, 1962
|MICKEY LEE LANE
|Shaggy Dog / The Zoo
Swan 4183, 1964
|She Don't Want To / Hey Sah Lo Ney
Swan 4222, 1965
|What Are Boys Made Of /
Cheek To Cheek
ABC 10401, 1963
|Look At That Guy / Hully Gully Guitar
ABC 10449, 1963
|My Guy / Boyfriends
ABC 10476, 1963
|The Greatest / I Stand Alone
ABC 10516, 1964
|Stampede / Park Avenue
Dot 16004, 1959
|I'm Not A Fool / I Know What's Up
Dyno Voice 224, 1966
|JIMMY SOUL & THE CHANTS
|Respectable / I Wish I Could Dance
20th C. Fox 413, 1963
|The Plan / We Two
Swan 4196, 1964
|Fourteen Getting Older /
The Beware Song
Swan 4203, 1965
|IKE & TINA TURNER
|A Man Is A Man Is A Man
Philles 134, 1966
|Get A Board / Pee Wee
Parkway 880, 1963
|Yo Me Pregunto / Tonky
Parkway 904, 1964
|THE WALKER BROTHERS
|(Baby) You Don't Have To Tell Me
Smash 2048, 1966