The Capris

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The Capris
Origin Ozone Park, Queens
Genres Doo Wop
Years active 1957–2010
Labels Planet, Lost Nite, Old Town, Mr. McPeeke, Trommers, Ambient Sound, Columbia Records
Members Frank Reina (Orig.)
Wayne Smith
Tony Sergi
Lou Esposito
John Monforte
Past members Nick (Santo) Santamaria (Orig.)
Mike Mincieli (Orig.)
Vinnie Naccarato (Orig.)
John Cassese (Orig.)
Rosario (Sonny Boy) Morice (Orig.)
John Apostol
Bill Chefalas
Tom Ferrara
Johnny Harris
Al Dimone
Mickey Henry
Andy Katchinos
Al Puglisi
Tony Danno
Ralph Maviglia
Sal DeStefano

The Capris are an Italian-American Doo Wop group originating in the Ozone Park section of Queens, New York in the late 1950s.

Biography[edit]

The group originated in Ozone Park, Queens in 1954 when they were teenagers.[1] The original members were Rosario Morice (aka Sonny Boy, Lead), though he left the group before recording he has always been recognized by the group when attending a performance. Nick Santamaria (aka Nick Santo, lead), Mike Mincieli (first tenor), Frank Reina (second tenor), Vinnie Naccarato,(baritone), and John Cassese (bass). They were all around 15 years of age at the time and still in school. Rosario, Vinnie, Mike, Tony, and John all went to John Adams High School, while Nick was a student at Woodrow Wilson and Frank attended Franklin K. Lane. Mike Mincieli, started the group and recruited the members. In the spring/summer of 1958 the final member was recruited and really got things together. They originally called themselves "the Supremes" but soon changed to "The Capris." It is often thought their name came from the island of Capri, since the boys were all Italian, but Nick confirmed in a 1993 interview with Greg Milewski, that they named themselves after the 1957 Lincoln Capri.

By 1958 the group had started gaining experience and popularity by performing at local venues, school dances and churches. They attracted the attention of independent record producers. Soon they would record their first single.

Career[edit]

Their break came when they responded to an ad placed in a local paper by two wanna-be producers. At the audition, they sang a ballad, "There's A Moon Out Tonight" (words and music by Joseph Luccisano, Anthony Gentile & Alfred Striano) and soon they found themselves at Bell Sound Studios New York cutting the song, along with an uptempo number, "Indian Girl." Released on Planet Records in the autumn of 1958, the record became an almost instant obscurity. (An original Planet pressing of the single can now fetch up to $1500 in collectors circles.) After they released it on Planet Records they had it released on Lost Nite Records in 1961. Months later (in the same year) they had it released on Old Town Records, which took the song to the top of the charts the next year. "There's A Moon Out Tonight" has a unique ending, chiming down from falsetto to bass instead of the other way around. Each Capri sings the tune's title in turn, but slightly lower (and slower) than the preceding member. Along with that song, they only recorded one other song, entitled “Indian Girl,” on the flip side.

An obsessive record collector named Jerry Greene (later the owner of the reissue label Collectables) was working at Times Square Record Shop (a legendary purveyor of records located in the heart of Times Square, Broadway and 42nd Street), not for money, but in exchange for hard-to-get records. Under the wise ownership of Irving "Slim" Rose, the subway arcade shop influenced radio play and record sales nationwide in the early sixties. Since the doo-wop sound was still current in New York City in the early sixties, it was possible for some 45s specifically reissued at Slim's behest to receive much wider airplay, as new singles, since they were not national hits (or, in many cases, even known) on first release. "There's a Moon Out Tonight," The Shells' "Baby Oh Baby," the Chanters' "No, No, No," and, notably, the Edsels' doo wop classic, "Rama Lama Ding Dong," all began their long ascent of the national charts from that lowly subway arcade.

In 1960 a customer brought in a copy of "There's a Moon Out Tonight" for credit against more expensive records in the store. This was a unique practice Jerry had devised to get collectors to bring in hard-to-find records so he could resell them. Greene gave the customer a $50 credit for the Capris single and brought it to DJ Allen Fredericks to be aired on his "Night Train" radio show.

The young entrepreneur saw a good thing evolving and with three other collectors chipped in and bought 100 copies from the defunct Planet label and sold them to Irving "Slim" Rose for a tidy profit. They sold out in about a week and Jerry repeated the buy-and-sell formula. When he returned to Planet for a third try the owner told him all the records were gone but he'd sell Jerry's cartel the masters for $200. The investing collectors bought the masters but passed up purchasing the publishing rights for $10 more, because they felt they'd spent all they could — in retrospect, not a good move. Jerry then reissued it under Lost Nite Records, a label that he and his pals had formed in 1960.

Original Lost Nite Label - 1961

He pressed 330 copies on red plastic vinyl and gave out a few to local disc jockeys. Within a week the record was on the air and more orders were coming in than the fledgling label could handle. When Jerry saw that the record was getting too big for his little operation, he turned it over to Hy Weiss at Old Town Records for distribution.

Old Town Label - 1961

After that one release, the group disbanded. They all got regular day jobs, Mike got married, and the leader, Nick, enlisted in the army.

In July 1960 (almost two years after The Capris originally recorded "There's a Moon Out Tonight"), Nick returned from the army. He received a call from an old friend, who informed him that the song had been playing all over the radio. He and the other group members got wind of their new release. Mike, now driving a bus, came home just in time to get a call from Nick exclaiming that the record was on a New York radio station.

Their song "There's a Moon Out Tonight" ended up in the hands of Murray the K at WINS. He had a show called “Rate the Record.” On the show there were five records going up against each other, one of them being “There’s a Moon Out Tonight” by The Capris. The Capris won one night and came in second to “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which was a major hit by The Shirelles. The Capris had all quit their jobs and reunited. A week later they were at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, then at the Brooklyn Paramount, The Regal in Roanoke, Virginia. They were all over the place and were on the rise. No one believed the song could be a hit on Lost Nite, but when Old Town got involved, the record hit the charts in the first week of 1961, and stayed there for 14 weeks. When it stopped climbing the charts, it had peaked at #3. This was the highest ranking an Old Town record would ever achieve. On January 13, 1961, they appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand in Philadelphia.

The group now re-formed and Hy Weiss, not wanting to lose track of his budding stars, assigned a manager named Charles Merenstein to work with them. (Actually Merensteids duties were more like a baby-sitter's; his real profession up to that time had been a job as a pretzel salesman). By February 27, "Moon" was the number three record in the country, displacing The Shirelles' hold on that same number on the previous week. For all its airplay, however, the song is reported to have sold only about 160,000 copies during its chart run. Since then it's sold three to four times that.

Hot on the heels of "Moon," the group released their recording of "Where I Fell In Love," on Old Town Records. A ballad that received some air play but didn't make the charts.

The group then released another original ballad in the late spring, "Tears in My Eyes," that never charted. In September, they tried again with "Girl in My Dreams," a ballad that spent one week nationally at number 92 before failing. The group continued to work, even doing a 1961 behind-the-curtain backup for Dion on a Clay Cole TV appearance.

On April 1, 1961, the group appeared in "The Easter Parade of Stars" with Clay Cole and Murray the K, at the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre. Other performers were: Dion, Chubby Checker, Ben E. King, the Shirelles, Bobby Rydell, Carla Thomas, Bobby Vee, Johnny Burnette, Jimmy Clanton, Maxine Brown, Freddy Cannon, the Marcels, Rosie, Del Shannon, Little Anthony & the Imperials, the Isley Brothers, the Olympics, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, Frank Gari, Andy Rose, Johnny Tillotson, Johnny Mathis, Chuck Jackson, the Landon Sisters, Bobby Bongard.

By 1962, The Capris had signed to Mr. McPeeke Records and tried to capitalize on the limbo craze with their first up-tempo, A-side, "Limbo." It lasted one week at number 99 and was the last Capris chart record. It was also their last new record for the next 20 years. In the fall of 1962, Chubby Checker recorded "Limbo Rock," which reached #2 on the national charts, becoming Checker's last Top Ten hit, and eclipsing the Capris version.

On September 8, 1962, the group appeared on "Murray the K's Golden Gasser Show of Stars," at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre which featured The Shirelles, Chuck Jackson, the Four Seasons, the Ronettes, Bobby Vinton, Mike Clifford, the Marvelettes, the Del-Satins, Tony Orlando, Little Eva, the Dovells, the Thornton Sisters, Tommy Roe, the Majors, and Fabian.

In 1962 Nick left the group to try to make it on his own. That never worked out so he became a New York cop. Frank took over lead as the group toured with New York disk jockey Clay Cole in "Clay Cole's Twist-A-Rama Revue" with the Ronettes and Lou Dana & The Furys. Later, the Ronettes were replaced by The Delicates.

Clay Cole's Twist-A-Rama
The Capris with the Ronettes

Clay Cole's Twist-A-Rama - 1963
The Capris with the Ronettes

As part of the show, The Capris performed their upcoming recording of the "Limbo," with members of the audience joining in to duck under the limbo pole. They performed the "Limbo" for the next fifteen years as part of their act, with Frank challenging members from the audience to come up and do better than him. He had to give it up when his knees gave in.

Limbo - Mr. Peeke Records

In 1962, while Nick was gone, the group recorded the “Limbo” on Mr. Peeke Records. The Limbo was a popular form of contradancing that originated on the island of Trinidad and which was originally just a dance set to music, but they now added their own lyrics to it. They had previously performed this dance in their club acts.

Palisades Amusement Park -1962
Vinnie and John perform the "Limbo Rock" on the free act stage

By 1965, Vinnie (d. 30 December 2008) and John had left the group. To replace them, in 1966, they recruited John Apostol (d. 24 December 2003) to sing bass. For the next three years, the group performed in various local clubs, and since they were only a three member vocal group, hired various local backup musicians to work with them.

In May, 1969, John Apostol, wanting to have a more stable and permanent show group, approached Bill Chefalas, the lead singer and bass player of The Carasels, a New York City area, top-40, show group—formed in 1965—and asked him if he would be interested in combining groups, and thus, the Capris became a seven member, self-contained show group. They now consisted of Frank Reina (Lead Singer), Mike Mincieli (First Tenor), John Apostol (Bass), Bill Chefalas (Falsetto, Bass Guitar, Music and Show Arranger), Al Dimone (Second Tenor, Guitar), Mickey Henry (Keyboard), Johnny Harris (Drums). Before playing bass guitar, Chefalas received formal piano training, studied drums with Louie Belson, and played with various jazz groups. He sang backup falsetto on many recordings by Help Truth and the Portraits and was formerly the lead singer and bass player with The Resounders. The group now again had five vocalists that could cover the range of the original founding group, of which, two of them were also musicians.

The Capris - 1969[edit]

Top R to L: Al Diaz, Mickey Henry, Johnny Harris; Center L to R: John Apostol, Bill Chefalas; Bott. L to R: Mike Mincieli, Frankie Reina

The newly formed group rehearsed for a few months and on July 10, 1969, recorded the “Freedom Medley” at Town Sound Studios in Englewood, NJ. The recording was a combination of “People Gotta Be Free” and “Abraham, Martin and John” and was produced and arranged by Chefalas. To this day, it was the only studio recording the Capris ever made that used a full orchestra, including violins. It was submitted to six record companies but never picked up. The recording they were told, did not have the "oldie" sound and was too contemporary. On September 6, 1969, the new Capris, ready to go on the road, performed their first night club act at the Quiet Village in Levittown, NY. From then on, all the club shows were arranged and scored by Chefalas.

In the early 1970s there was a renewed interest in America for oldies music from the 1950s. You can thank “American Graffiti” and the TV show “Happy Days” for helping the revival thrive. And with this increased interest came a desire for fans from the sock hop era to see their heroes in concert one more time and for new fans to discover what all of the fuss was about. Soon, a series of “rock and roll revival” concerts were held in New York City, and on November 29, 1969, The Capris were the opening act at Richard Nader’s Rock & Roll Revival, Volume II, at Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum, which headlined Jackie Wilson, and Bill Haley and the Comets. Nader died on December 9, 2009.

Album Cover - Recorded Live

Mirasound, in an unusual recording session, went to Madison Square Garden armed with telephone lines and microphones that connected directly to their 57th Street Studio’s main board, and recorded the show, which became part of Buddha’s rock and roll revival series.

Rock & Roll Revival-Volume II 1969
Program Cover with Ticket Stub

In March, 1970, Mickey Henry, the keyboard player left the group and was not replaced. In December 1970, Andy Katchianos replaced Johnny Harris (d, December 1972) on the drums.

For the next eleven years, the group continued to perform over four hundred shows in numerous night clubs, concerts, and private affairs in and around the tri-state area and along the east coast. On June 2, 1972, the group performed at Richard Nader’s Rock & Roll Spectacular, Volume VIII, at Madison Square Garden, which headlined Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Chubby Checker, and a surprise appearance by Little Richard. The show was recorded and released as “Live at Madison Square Garden 1972.” That performance, which was reportedly released two different ways—the original Warner Bros. LP was heavily sweetened in the studio, where the subsequent reissues were made from untouched tapes from the original show.

Andy Katchianos was replaced by Al “Baby Al” Puglisi on drums in 1975. In 1976, Al left to join Tommy James and the Shondells and was replaced by Tony Danno on drums. In 1982, Danno switched places and became baritone singer with The Capris and consequently left the group in 1985 to join Lenny Coco and the Chimes. He now sings with The Manhattan Skyline. Tony was the original drummer for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and played on many of their albums.

In 1976, Tom Ferrara, who had been an original member of the Del Satins (Teardrops Follow Me), which had become Johnny Maestro (d, March 24, 2010) & The Brooklyn Bridge, replaced John Apostol. Tom's brother Fred, was also a member if the Del Satins and went on as a member of the Brooklyn Bridge. Apostol died December 24, 2003. John was well known in the entertainment industry, with more than 25 years of experience as a performer, booking agent, personal manager, concert promoter, theatrical producer and publisher. In 1972, he formed Banner Talent Associates, through which he represented artists such as Gary U.S. Bonds, The Brooklyn Bridge, The Five Satins, The Belmonts, The Capris, Chubby Checker and The Drifters. He managed the careers of The Brooklyn Bridge, The Belmonts, The Dovells, The Crystals, Bullet, Jay and The Americans, Tommy James and The Shondells, and Wild Cherry. Apostol had promoted concerts at Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum and various other venues in the New York metropolitan area.

The group appeared as a closing act at many New Year's Eve celebrations at the Colonie Hill Resort in Hauppauge, L.I., including 1977 with Gloria Gaynor, 1978 with Enzo Stuarti, 1979 with Robert Goulet, and in 1981 with Frankie Avalon.

In 1980, Chefalas and Dimone retired and left the group, and in 1982, Nick Santo rejoined and resurrected the group and they went into the studio to record a new album, “There's a Moon out Again,” for Ambient Sound (Records). Besides doing covers of some doo wop classics, The Capris also included a couple of original tunes. One of these was a song called "Morse Code of Love," a song that Nick had started writing in 1961, but never finished until 1981. It was also released as a single in 1982, backed with "There's a Moon out Again," and featured Nick singing lead, Tommy Ferrara singing bass, Mike Mincieli singing first tenor, Frankie Reina singing second tenor, and Tony Danno singing baritone. Although a new record, oldies stations started picking up the song (after it was released as a single), as the tune sounded like it came right out of the late '50s, and thinking it was a hot oldie they had overlooked, "Morse Code Of Love" eventually became the number one requested "oldie" in Pittsburgh, Boston and Philadelphia. The song got even more exposure when it was covered by the Manhattan Transfer, as "Baby Come Back To Me" in 1985. This version peaked at # 83 on Billboard.

Over the years, "Morse Code of Love" has only grown in popularity and has become one of the most requested tunes on oldies-type radio stations. Once again, The Capris scored a home run with a 1950s sound that touched the heartstrings of the listeners and evoked the spirit of a time when life was simpler.

On December 1, 1996, The Capris performed as part of a super reunion benefit concert at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, on Long Island. The concert, hosted by Bruce (Cousin Brucie) Morrow, featured over forty rock & roll artists and groups of the previous forty years. The net proceeds were used to help offset the medical expenses of LaVern Baker (d. 10 March 1997), who in 1955, recorded Latin-tempo, "Tweedlee Dee."

The Capris - 2003
L to R: Nick Santo, Frank Reina, Tom Ferrara, Tony Sergi, Lou Esposito

The group was featured on the PBS special DOO WOP 50 show with Santo, Reina, Ferrara, Sergi,and Esposito. The show, at The Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, PA, in May 1999, featured some of doo wop’s greatest groups.

"DOO WOP 50" was a PBS national production by WQED Pittsburgh in association with Rhino Entertainment and showcased once-in-a-lifetime performances recorded over two nights. More than 20 of the original groups and performers popular in the 1950s and 1960s appeared, making this the most comprehensive live doo wop show ever. Many of the original groups reunited specifically to perform in this 50th anniversary special. These performances brought back special memories for those who grew up on doo wop, and the excitement, energy, and sheer fun of the whole thing that won over young fans as well, introducing them to singers and songs that have stood the test of time.

Currently[edit]

Of the original members, first tenor Mike Mincieli is retired and living in Florida, second tenor Frank Reina is a traffic forwarder at JFK International Airport, baritone Vinnie Naccarato was in the moving business, he died on December 26, 2008 at the age of 66, bass John Cassese owns a company making hair pieces, and lead Nick Santo was retired from the 112th Precinct Forest Hills Division of the New York City Police Department.

On November 6, 2008, The Capris were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame;Class of 2007.

The Capris - 2007 Vocal Group Hall Of Fame induction ceremony

As of 2007, they were still performing for public and private bookings. However, at an appearance in Las Vegas in November 2007, Santo announced his retirement, effective immediately, and the dissolution of The Capris, due to health reasons. Tom Ferrara left the group shortly thereafter, and was replaced with John Monforte, who sang bass with the Impalas.

As of 2010, The Capris are back performing. Frank Reina (who along with Mike Mincieli, are the legal owners of the group name), has hired a new lead singer (Wayne Smith), along with Lou Esposito on guitar and baritone vocals since 1997, and Tony Sergi who has been the Capris drummer since 1985 and sings first tenor. They appeared on March 13, 2010, in Westbury, New York, as part of a "Dick Fox" doo-wop show.

Nick Santo (Nick Santamaria) died on December 30, 2010, from heart failure, at the age of 69.[2]

Discography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ O'Donnell, Michelle. "CITYPEOPLE; Remember Then", The New York Times, May 11, 2003. Accessed November 11, 2007. "...at which members of long-forgotten groups like the Elegants (from Staten Island) and The Capris (Ozone Park, Queens) examined the Italian-American influence on doo-wop."
  2. ^ Thedeadrockstarsclub.com - accessed December 2010

External links[edit]