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The Fascinators

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The original members of the Fascinators came together, as did many of the vocal groups of the '50s, while singing harmonies on the street-corners of their hometown, in this case, the Ridgewood-Bedford Stuyvessant section of Brooklyn. The group -- Tony Passalaqua, lead, Angelo La Grecca, baritone, Nick Trivatto, tenor, Ed Wheeler, tenor, and George Cernacek, bass (though he was just a tenor and occasionally had to smoke cigars before appearances or record sessions in order to deepen his voice!) -- ultimately received offers from several record labels, but it was their manager, Jim Fererri, who directed them to Capitol Records. Unfortunately for the group, Capitol wanted to sign Passalaqua as a single artist, but he insisted that he would not go forward without the group. Manny Kellem, director of A&R, proceeded to set a session up with musicians Big Al Sears and King Curtis on sax, Panama Francis (from the Count Basie band) on drums, and the arranger was Sid Bass. Capitol issued three singles before dropping the group, who became so completely disillusioned by the entire process that they disbanded and, with the exception of Passalaqua, were never to record again. Passalaqua later changed his name to Tony Richards and joined a group called the Twilights. Somewhere along the way, he met Kay Twomey, a songwriter who wanted to manage his career as a solo artist; she brought him to Irwin Schuster at a major music publishing company that would later be purchased by singer Bobby Darin. He recorded as Tony Richards and the Twilights for Colpix, who issued another single by Richards as a solo artist ("Shout My Name" was the second Jeff Barry-penned song ever recorded). Richards continued working with Barry before leaving Colpix to record for Canadian American, becoming Tony Mitchell for the new imprint. He recorded Barry's "A Million Drums" with backing from the Angels (one month prior to the release "My Boyfriend's Back"), which became the ABC Pick Hit of the Week; it was later covered by Jimmy Clanton. (Mitchell's version was a hit in South America and Brussels). In 1967, Mitchell connected again with Barry -- who by now was working with songwriter Ellie Greenwich and producers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller -- and recorded an album for Atco, which was not successful. He also sang with a group called the Dedications, whose own lead singer would often forget to show up for appearances -- Tony was their on call lead, just in case. This group eventually ended up working out pretty well and they decided to add Mitchell permanently. They began calling themselves the Soul Survivors. Mitchell left the group six months before they were to hit with "Expressway to Your Heart." Several years of background singing sessions followed. He contacted Barry once again, who had a then-current hit with a "group" he was working with, the Archies. There wasn't a job for him with the group and ultimately he changed his name back to Anthony Passalaqua. He began a short-lived career in racing Double A Fuel dragsters. Passalaqua was later invited to join the Archies to anchor their sound and went on to again record Greenwich (who had split with partner/husband Barry and gone independent), but the single failed and ultimately he hung up his microphone, having come quite a long way since those days on the street-corners of Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn. ~ Bryan Thomas

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