Nino Tempo & April Stevens's relation to rock was pretty tenuous; after all, most of their early and mid-'60s hits were updates of popular standards like "Deep Purple," "Whispering," "Stardust," and "Tea for Two." They weren't quite in the easy-listening mainstream, though, due to the pop/rock feel of most of their arrangements, and Stevens's breathy, sensual style. Tempo, in fact, was a good friend of Phil Spector, working under the producer as a session musician on some of Spector's hits. As pop performers with a bent for Tin Pin Alley material, though, the brother-sister (despite their different last names) duo was kind of stuck between generations, especially two months after their number one hit "Deep Purple," when the Beatles made the top of the hit parade.
Tempo and Stevens were born Nino & Carol LoTempio in Niagra Falls, NY. Tempo was a musician from an early age, playing Benny Goodman in The Glenn Miller Story; Stevens was recording when she was a teenager, landing her first Top Ten hit ("I'm in Love Again") in 1951, over a decade before "Deep Purple." In the late '50s, Stevens had a small solo hit with the ridiculously breathy "Teach Me Tiger." In the early '60s, she and Nino teamed up as a duo, signing with Atco.
"Deep Purple" was recorded in a mere 15 minutes at the end of a session, explaining the almost improvised nature of the vocals (with Stevens taking long spoken passages) and homespun harmonica, ingredients which gave the record much of its charm. It reached number one in November 1963, and won a Grammy award as best rock & roll record of the year, which says a lot more about the Grammys' questionable grasp of rock than the single, which was at least as much adult pop as rock. They were quickly on the charts again with a soundalike followup, "Whispering" (number 11), but by then the British Invasion made their brand of retro-pop passe, though a few smaller hits followed in the next couple of years.
The duo's greatest triumph was "All Strung Out," a 1966 Top 30 hit that rates as one of the greatest Phil Spector-inspired productions of all time. It was originally offered to the Righteous Brothers as a follow-up for the Spector-produced "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin,'" explaining the Wall of Sound ambience to a large degree; John Travolta, of all people, would take it into the Top 40 in the late '70s. No other hits were forthcoming for Tempo & Stevens, although they continued to record for years. Tempo was active as a session saxophonist, contributing to sessions by Frank Sinatra, Linda Ronstadt, Cher, and others, as well as making jazz albums on his own. ~ Richie Unterberger