Nino Tempo is best known for his duo with his sister, April Stevens, which produced a number of popular recordings in the '60s, notably "Deep Purple." He also had a long career as a session musician, and in the '90s belatedly embarked on a career as a jazz musician.
The son of Sam Lo Tempio, a grocer, and his wife Anna, Tempo began performing in recitals at age three and was a winner on the Major Bowes amateur show at four. At seven, he spent a week singing with Benny Goodman's orchestra in Buffalo, NY, an experience that inspired him to take up the clarinet, though his main instrument turned out to be the tenor saxophone. (He also plays guitar.) The family moved to California to further the artistic interests of the children when Tempo was still young, and he became a child film actor, first appearing unbilled in The Story of G.I. Joe (1945) and George White's Scandals (1945), then with credit in The Red Pony (1949). Meanwhile, his younger sister Carol Lo Tempio (born in 1936) unexpectedly became a recording success before he did. While record shopping, she was approached by Tony Sepe, the owner of the small independent label Laurel Records, who asked if she could sing. She recorded "No No No Not That" for Laurel under the name April Stevens, then moved to the equally tiny Society Records in 1950 for several releases. The records were not hits, but Stevens was signed to the major label RCA Victor Records, where a revival of the 1924 Cole Porter song "I'm in Love Again," credited to Henri Rene & His Orchestra featuring April Stevens, peaked in the Top Ten in July 1951. Stevens earned top billing on the follow-up, a revival of the 1926 song "Gimme a Little Kiss, Will Ya Huh?" that reached the Top Ten in August. Stevens' third and last chart single of the period was a cover of the Patti Page hit "And So to Sleep Again" in October.
Tempo played in high school dance bands, then began to carve out a career as a session musician, playing the saxophone as well as eventually arranging and composing for artists like Rosemary Clooney, Steve Lawrence, and Eydie Gorme, and he also worked intermittently as a big band musician for Horace Heidt and Maynard Ferguson. He continued to appear in movies, too, usually musicals, playing a character based on Benny Goodman in The Glenn Miller Story (1954), performing in The Girl Can't Help It (1956), and taking small parts in Johnny Trouble (1957), Bop Girl (1957), and Operation Petticoat (1959). By the late '50s, he was starting to get record releases under his own name. Tempo's LP Rock & Roll Beach Party appeared on Liberty Records in 1958, the same year the Tempo single "15 Girl Friends" came out on RCA Victor. Neither reached the charts, nor did a second RCA single, "Ding-A-Ling," in 1959, but that year, Tempo's composition "Teach Me Tiger" became a chart entry for April Stevens on Imperial Records. He made one more single for RCA, "Jack the Ripper," in connection with a film of the same name in 1960, then moved to United Artists Records, which released "What Is Love to a Teenager" without success later in 1960. It was at this point that he had the idea of forming a duo with his sister, but their first single together, "Ooeah (That's What You Do to Me)," also released by United Artists in 1960, was a flop.
Tempo went back to playing sessions, becoming a full-fledged member of producer Phil Spector's studio band, known informally as "the Wrecking Crew," and he was at a session for Bobby Darin, who recorded for Atlantic Records, when he met Atlantic president Ahmet Ertegun and pitched him on recording his duo act with his sister. Ertegun signed the two to Atlantic's Atco subsidiary and, under the billing April Stevens & Nino Tempo, released a revival of the 1931 song "Sweet and Lovely," which grazed the charts in the summer of 1962. Their next single, a revival of the 1932 song "Paradise," failed, as did their third Atlantic single, "Together We'll Always Be" (co-written by Stevens and the duo's mother, Anna Lo Tempio), after which Tempo persuaded Ertegun to release their revival of the 1939 song "Deep Purple," a recording Ertegun considered so bad it was embarrassing. Record buyers disagreed. Issued in the summer of 1963 with the billing switched to Nino Tempo & April Stevens, "Deep Purple" hit number one in November. It also won the 1963 Grammy Award for Best Rock & Roll Recording. The Deep Purple LP reached the Top 100. (RCA quickly took advantage of their success to compile their old solo recordings into an album, A Nino Tempo/April Stevens Program, released on its Camden Records subsidiary in 1964.) Having established a formula with "Deep Purple," Tempo and Stevens followed it with a revival of the 1920 song "Whispering" that made the pop Top 20 in January 1964 and hit the Top Five on the easy listening charts. The arrival of the Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion tended to marginalize the duo's brand of pop music, but they continued in the same vein with diminishing success. A revival of the 1931 song "Stardust" reached the pop Top 40 in March 1964 and also made the easy listening charts, and both sides of their next single, a revival of the 1925 song "Tea for Two" and the 1930 song "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)," reached the pop charts that spring. But subsequent Atco releases failed. In 1966, Tempo and Stevens moved to White Whale Records, a Los Angeles-based independent label, and altered their style to suit changing musical trends and achieve something similar to Phil Spector's "wall of sound" productions. The result was the single "All Strung Out," written by Tempo and Jerry Riopelle, which reached the Top 40 in October 1966. A couple of follow-ups flopped, but Tempo and Stevens returned to the charts in July 1967 with another Tempo/Riopelle composition, "I Can't Go on Livin' Baby Without You," which oddly had been previously released as the B-side of "All Strung Out." Over the next several years, the siblings released singles on White Whale, MGM, Bell, and Atco without getting onto the charts. By himself, Tempo had a 1967 single, "Boys Town," on Tower Records. He continued to play sessions and pitch his songs, and in 1970, though it did not become a hit, enjoyed a pop songwriter's greatest dream when his song "Feelin' Kinda Sunday" (co-written by Annette Tucker and Kathleen Wakefield) was recorded for a single release by Frank Sinatra with his daughter Nancy.
By 1972, Tempo and Stevens were on A&M Records, where their second single for the label, "Put It Where You Want It," charted in June 1973. They also recorded separately for A&M, and Tempo scored his first solo hit with "Sister James," billed to Nino Tempo and 5th Ave. Sax, which hit the pop Top 40 in October 1973 and also made the easy listening charts. He followed it in 1974 with three more solo singles -- "Roll It," "High on the Music," and "Gettin' Off" -- as well as his second solo album, Come See Me 'Round Midnight, but none of these records sold. However, Stevens, billed simply as April, reached the pop charts with "Wake Up and Love Me" (which she co-wrote with Tempo and Jeff Barry) in June 1974, and the duo, billed as Nino & April, reached the easy listening charts with "You Turn Me On" in April 1975. They moved to Chelsea Records for "What Kind of Fool Am I?" in 1976; Tempo had another solo single with "Hooked on Young Stuff" back on A&M in 1979; and he placed three tracks on the soundtrack to The Idolmaker, which charted in December 1980. But after that, he retired from record-making for a decade until he produced and played on Stevens' 1990 comeback album Carousel Dreams. Then he played at a memorial service for Atlantic Records co-founder Nesuhi Ertegun and as a result was re-signed to the label as a jazz instrumentalist. He made three albums, Tenor Saxophone (1990), Nino (1992), and Live at Cicada (1995). In 1996, he and Stevens recorded a new track, a version of the old Benny Goodman/Peggy Lee hit "Why Don't You Do Right?," for the Varèse Sarabande compilation Sweet and Lovely: The Best of Nino Tempo & April Stevens. By then, brother and sister were living in semi-retirement in Arizona. ~ William Ruhlmann