"Who Wrote The Book Of Love?"
By Robert Lovinger, Standard-Times staff writer May 19, 1996
Article can also be located HERE.
There is a photo in Todd Baptista's new book, "Group Harmony Behind the Rhythm and the Blues." Shot in 1989, the picture captures the author and Bill Horton, lead singer for the Silhouettes, the group who sang "Get a Job."
Mr. Baptista was 21 when the picture was taken. Mr. Horton, who died last year, was 59. Their arms circle each other's shoulders. You can't see Mr. Baptista's feet, but it's a good bet they weren't touching the floor.
The photo, snapped by the author's wife, Kristen Baptista, illustrates a love story. The young man has adored the songs sung by the old man and his contemporaries for so long, calling him a fan misses the point.
As far back as he can remember, Mr. Baptista has been a captive of the music that gave birth to rock 'n' roll. In a much earlier photo, taken when he was 5, he holds a Little Richard album and beams.
That passionate bond fueled the intense research at the heart of his book, an ode to the voices of R&B. Among the 10 groups profiled are the Spaniels, El Dorados, G-Clefs and Harptones.
Mr. Baptista, a full-time pharmacist at CVS in Fairhaven, published the book himself last month. He paid for the printing, done in Rhode Island, by "dipping into the 401K."
It cost him $10,000 for 1,000 copies.
He estimates spending another $5,000 in seven years of off-and-on research. During that time, the Baptistas were frequently off to New York, New Jersey and beyond, going to oldies concerts, tracking down group members and often growing close to them.
They still hit the road whenever they have a weekend free, catching concerts and maintaining ties.
"I've gotten to meet and form friendships with the idols of my youth and of my father's youth. That's really a special gift," Mr. Baptista says, wearing a G-Clefs T-shirt and sitting across from his wife at their dining-room table.
At times, it was difficult gaining the trust of his subjects. These are, after all, some of rock's worst casualties -- in many cases lied to, swindled, discriminated against, used and forgotten by the music industry.
And so, the author, 28, suffered "tons of wasted research" when groups opted out, sometimes at the last minute.
He's able to forgive. "I can't find fault with someone for not talking with me. I don't know how they might have been ripped off."
"A lot of times (at concerts), I would sit and listen to these groups and cry just seeing them and knowing what they went through," he says. "A lot of them don't even own copies of their own records. You wouldn't believe how many tapes I've made for them."
The book's 220 pages are divided into 10 chapters, one for each group. The author constructs highly detailed histories of the groups' journeys from obscurity to fame, and -- all too often -- back again. Each chapter contains photos, a discography and notes on unreleased recordings. The book is filled with quotes from the music-makers and others. Mr. Baptista's research built files — inches thick on each group.
Asked why he focused only on men, he points out that his subject, R&B in the 1950s and early '60s, was overwhelmingly a male domain. But there were female groups, among them the Hearts, the Bobbettes, and Lillian Leach & the Mellows. If he writes a sequel, they'll be part of it.
Densely packed with names, dates and places, "Group Harmony" is not for the casual fan. It is a book for R&B devotees, and it may be an important one. Other books mention the groups Mr. Baptista has profiled, but none apparently in such depth.
So far, the book is selling largely in vintage record stores like Relic Record Shop in Hackensack, N.J., billed as "the oldest operating oldies store in the country."
George Lavatelli, the store's owner, told Mr. Baptista, " 'I have people who have to have this book.' "
For a self-published work, "Group Harmony" is doing very well 300 copies sold in the first month.
On April 13, a few days after the printing, Mr. Baptista was in Manhattan, autographing copies at the 6th annual United in Group Harmony Association (UGHA) Hall of Fame award ceremony,
UGHA President Ronnie Italiano, owner of Clifton Music in Clifton, N.J., used his shop's most recent newsletter to praise the book "Todd is a young RnB enthusiast, whose knowledge and appreciation for the music is thoroughly expressed in his writings. Interesting reading! Highly recommended! A must for all into RnB vocal group harmony music!"
The author first tried the agent/publishing house route, but quickly changed his mind. For one thing, people told him a publisher would want more recognizable groups. Doing it himself also meant complete control over content and design.
Finally, there was the issue of getting it done while the singers, many getting on in years, were still around. "I wanted as many of them as possible to enjoy it."
That's because, quite simply, he wrote the book for them. "I really enjoy hearing them say, 'Somebody finally told our story.' That's my reward."
He showed the groups his work before it went to press to make sure they were comfortable with it and that there were no errors. If the book turns a profit, 40 percent of it will go to the singers.
"I don't think a lot of them realize how much happiness they've brought to us," he says.
Mr. Baptista can tell you the moment he fell in love with the music. It was 21 years ago in the back seat of his parents' station wagon, on a Sunday afternoon.
In the book's introduction, he recalls, "It was on a winding country road somewhere, when I heard him (deejay Chuck Stevens) introduce and play the Silhouettes' 'Headin' for the Poorhouse.' ... As a 7-year-old, it changed my entire picture of the long-passed but not so forgotten first generation of rock 'n' roll. This music was unlike the hard sound of the early 1970s. It was simple. It was honest. It had come first. And I wanted more."
His parents took him to oldies shows in Providence in the mid '70s. "My mother would bring a pillow so I could see over the person in front of me."
To Todd's ear, R&B sounded more raw, more authentic, than the popular music of his own youth. It excited him.
Both of his parents helped with the book. Carol, his mom, is a former English teacher. His father, Randy, is an engineer. "She's responsible for all the commas in the book," Todd says of Carol.
But the book owes its existence to Randy and the passion he communicated to his young son. Todd recalls his father excitedly thumbing through "Record Exchanger" magazine. He remembers hunting for obscure records in music stores. "I can still hear him finding something and saying, 'This is the one!' "
That's why Todd dedicated the book in part to him, "for keeping the music alive so that it could reach my ears and from whose editorial skills bloomed the fruits of my labor."
His parents hosted a coming out party for the book a week after it was published. William "Dicey" Galloway, an original member of the Harptones and a one-time New Bedford resident, was there. He sang to one of his songs on a jukebox at Todd's parents' home.
The book got its start in 1989 when Mr. Baptista was a full-time student at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston. He landed a part-time job taking pictures at concerts for a rock show promoter. Through the contacts he made, he soon found himself writing brief group biographies for "Gold Mine" and "Echoes of the Past" magazines and the short-lived Doo-Wopp Hall of Fame of America.
(This wasn't his first writing experience. He covered the Seekonk Speedway for local newspapers before heading to college in Boston.)H
e graduated in 1990, started work as a pharmacist, and kept writing. The articles didn't pay anything, but gave him great satisfaction. He was gaining recognition for men who'd been taken advantage of and who'd given him such joy.
"I wanted it to be said that these articles were the most accurate, complete thing that's been written about them," he recalls. "I wanted the artists to be able to say to their families This is the way it was."
Originally, he planned a simple discography, but expanded the project when he realized that would just be recycling material already out there. "I found myself drawn to the real story, to the men who made the music. That no one had ever given them a chance to tell their story stunned me."
Suddenly, he had a totally different book on his hands.
Along the way, Kristen, 27, became key to the project taking photographs, providing support to her husband and to the singers, falling in love with the music.
Like her husband, she exudes an intensity and freshness. The two don't smoke, drink or eat beef. But, says Todd, "We work hard and play hard." It's easy to see how the singers might have been charmed by the couple's quiet confidence and determination. They seem a hard pair to say no to.
She works as a cardiac nurse at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence. The fact that she's a nurse and he's a pharmacist has meant that more than once they've sat with aging R&B singers while the artists took out their pills and eyedrops and asked questions about interactions.
Mr. Baptista sometimes wishes he could involve himself with the music full time. "But it's only because of my pharmacy job that I can travel and meet these people and publish this book," he says.
Kristen has her own strong personal pursuits, some of which she's drawn Todd to. One is Walt Disney. The couple named one of their two dogs Nala (a character in "The Lion King"). Framed cels from "Aladdin" and "Song of the South" hang in their living room.
Another passion of hers for a while was photographing rock stars up close, in concert (not necessarily with permission). One wall of the couple's basement is filled with her shots of such people as Elton John, Tina Turner and Bruce Springsteen. Not far away are shelves of CDs and records and a display case filled with Beatles memorabilia. Not surprisingly, the Baptistas love rock most directly influenced by the R&B groups of the 1950s.
The couple points out that most of their friends share their musical taste, which seems strange until you find out that most of them are their parents' age.
The author is taking time off from research and writing, but he knows there are other books to be written. "There are lots of groups (including those with women) whose stories haven't been told."
When Bill Horton died last year, the Baptistas went to his funeral in Philadelphia. They had grown close to him, and his death had a profound effect on Todd. He has a difficult time talking on the phone to Mrs. Horton.
The Silhouettes, Mr. Horton's group, are putting out a new CD, filled mostly with songs recorded shortly before Mr. Horton died. Mr. Baptista will write the liner notes.
"Even to this day, I can't put on his music. It's hard," the pharmacist/R&B historian says, his voice trailing off, his eyes taking on a distant look. Maybe he's reflecting on the fact that he will see all the men behind the rhythm and blues die in his lifetime.
But soon, he brightens, a broad smile breaking across his face as he recalls a ride he and Kristen gave the Silhouettes in their car a few years ago.
During the drive, the group broke into song. It was the last time the original Silhouettes ever sang together.
And the song was "Headin' for the Poorhouse," the tune Mr. Baptista first heard sitting in the back of his father's car.
"Group Harmony Behind The Rhythm and The Blues" is available for $19.95 at Baker Books in Dartmouth. You can also get it by mail Send a check for $22 to TRB Enterprises, PO Box 50962, New Bedford, MA 02745.
Photos by Kristen Baptista
Todd Baptista of Westport, in the white shirt above, is surrounded by members of the Harptones, one of the subjects of his self-published book. At right, he poses with the late Bill Horton, lead singer of the Silhouettes.Staff photo by Hank Seaman
Todd and Kristen Baptista display some of the albums containing their cherished music. Mr. Baptista and William "Dicey" Galloway of the Harptones will be at a book-signing today.