"How Did I Get Here?" A Quiet Legend Revealed
By Todd Baptista © 2012
Gerry Granahan stood quietly at stage left, listening intently to the procession of guests who spoke on his behalf. Sweat still shone on the East Greenwich, RI resident’s temples, a reminder of the recently completed live performance – his first in years- at Cranston’s Park Theater, just a couple of exits north from his home on Route 95 on the outskirts of Providence. On this autumn night, Granahan’s concert preceded his induction into the Rhode Island Popular Music Hall of Fame. “Tonight, the Ocean State claims him as our own,” one guest proclaimed as the Pittston, Pennsylvania native gazed at a mayoral proclamation celebrating “Gerry Granahan Day”.
Bathed in the light and love of his wife, Mary Lou, daughters Tara and Gerianne, and family and friends from his hometown and adopted home state alike, he pauses to ponder the question he’s asked in the silence of his heart so many times. “How did I get here?” he wonders, with the intuitive retrospection of a faith-filled man rapidly approaching his 80th birthday. It’s a journey he rarely dissects.
Promotions department hype notwithstanding, few artists can mirror the versatility of Gerry Granahan. As a singer, songwriter, producer, label owner, arranger, arts and repertoire director, industry executive and talent scout, Granahan’s diverse body of work encompasses rock’n’roll, pop, the girl group sound, rhythm and blues, soul, vocal group harmony, international, comedy, jazz, and classical. His unique ability to blend various musical idioms from his own varied tastes has formed the cornerstone of an impressive, diverse, and lasting body of work.
If Granahan was a name-dropper, he could compete with the industry’s best. He started recording publishing demos for Elvis Presley and later played in some of the King’s infamous Bel Air football games. He dated Connie Francis, shared an apartment with Bobby Darin, toured with Buddy Holly and the Crickets, produced and sang on million selling hits under three different names in a span of less than two years, and produced the first hit by a then unknown young songwriter named Neil Diamond. But for the man who produced national hits and critically acclaimed recordings by the likes of Jay and the Americans, the Angels, James Ray, Patty Duke, Janie Grant, and Luiz Bonfa with Eumir Deodato and the Modern Jazz Quartet, comfort and satisfaction is derived in the studio, not the spotlight.
A recent return to the concert stage, an upcoming CD compilation release of his greatest recorded works, and an impending project with a pioneering Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has Granahan stepping back into the limelight and working at a pace that belies his 80 years. “I hear a Spanish guitar here,” he remarks, resting his bearded chin in the palm of his hand while focusing on a demo recording. It’s obvious Granahan still listens and thinks with the mind of a producer.
Born into a family of 11 children in Pittston, Pennsylvania, on April 20, 1932, Granahan grew up listening to the sound of Sammy Kaye and the orchestra’s singers, Tony Alamo and Don Cornell. As a youngster, he began singing to his young niece, Patsy Ann. “She was born with Spina Bifida and she was always in pain. I would sit with her and rock her and sing ‘Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral’. She would ask me to sing it. One of my brothers said, ‘Hey, you can sing!’, and that’s how it started.”
Soon, Granahan was singing with a local 18-piece outfit, the Frankie Reynolds Orchestra, performing at various resorts in the Pocono Mountains, and also found a day job as a radio announcer at WPTS. By the mid-1950s, “we started going to clubs and I would get up and do Elvis or whoever. A disc jockey in Wilkes-Barre said I should go to New York and a friend of mine got me an apartment to share in Long Island City. When I got there, I only had $45. Eventually, I moved into the Ashley Hotel on 47th Street. I was paying $18 a week. I had no idea what New York was all about.”
One day, Granahan stumbled into Hanson’s Drug Store at 51st Street and 7th Avenue, the New York equivalent of Schwab’s Hollywood Drugstore on Sunset Boulevard. “I was sitting there having a cup of coffee and the next thing I knew, there were these guys in the booth with me talking music. One of them was Bobby Darin.” Four years younger than Granahan, Darin was “very quiet and didn’t have that many friends. His health wasn’t always great. He befriended me and showed me the ropes because he was already on Decca.”
For a time, Darin and Granahan were roommates. “We used to walk the streets until 3 in the morning, singing under the canopy behind the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway to get the echo. Bobby was all about music.” In 1957, Atlantic’s Herb Abramson signed both men to the firm’s Atco subsidiary. “Arnold Goland told him, ‘you’ve got to hear this kid.’ So, I went up and auditioned for Herb. It was an R&B label but they wanted to get into the white thing. Then they signed Bobby as an afterthought. They said, ‘Well, we’ll take these two fairly decent looking guys.’” Gerry’s initial release, “Talkin’ About Love”, was issued as by Jerry Grant and the Rockabilly Bandits. “That was the ethnic thing. They did the same thing with Bobby.” The material was average, and both of Granahan’s Atco singles and one cut for Buchanan and Goodman’s Eldorado label failed to click.
“I was hungry for a little while,” Gerry admits. “I was able to work the Catskill Mountains, and I didn’t have any music. Bobby and Jo Ann Campbell gave me some of their charts and I had them copied in my key so I could do a show. That kept me alive for a while. Paul Case from Hill and Range saw me there and told me to come see him. He said, ‘You want to do some demos? I’ll pay you $25 a demo.’ Lord! That was my rent and a couple of lunches. The first songs he gave me were Elvis songs. I did ‘Teddy Bear’ and some of the stuff from ‘Jailhouse Rock’. Bobby and Jimmy Breedlove were doing some too. Elvis would take the demos and play them over and over with the band and learn it right in the studio. That really kept me fluid for a while.” A pair of Granahan demos were also issued on Mark Records under the name Nick Rome.
The inspiration for Granahan’s first million-seller came on a subway train ride he shared with drummer Dave Alldred from Buddy Knox’s Rhythm Orchids. “We were coming back from a date on Long Island and there was something wrong with the wheel on the train. It was making a funny sound but it was right in tempo. In my head, I started doing this thing, and by the time we got to our stop, I had half a song written. We ran back to the apartment, finished it and went into Bell Sound to do a demo and then things started to happen. I was one of the first guys to bounce more than four times. We had two two-track machines and we’d put something on the first track, then something on the second track and then bounce it over to one track on the other machine. I kept one track open all the time. I think I bounced maybe 12 or 14 times. Everybody said, ‘you’re going to lose generations’. I didn’t lose a thing. I did the lead and then I did the harmony and just kept piling the voices on. And Bob, the engineer and owner of Bell Sound was really excited (but) I said, ‘it’s dull’. In the studio at the time were two girls that Gerry and Dave were dating. “They had never sung a lick in their lives. I said to the girls, ‘come here, just do what I’m doing’, and that’s how the girls got on there.”
Having already formed a friendship with Dick Clark, Gerry was invited to promote one of his Atco discs on his local Bandstand television show. “We were chatting in the office and I said, ‘Do me a favor and listen to this.’ Impressed, Clark and producer Tony Mammarella referred Granahan to publisher-accountant-label owner, Bernie Binnick. “They said, ‘A friend of ours started a new label called Swan. Do you want to go over and play it for him?’ I guess they called him before I got there and said ‘grab this record’.”
Although Granahan was still under contract, “Dick said, ‘We’ll give you another name. Don’t worry about Atlantic. I’ll take care of them.’ He was on the phone and kept saying ‘Dicky Doo’, which was his son. Tony said, ‘There’s a great name for you’. I said, ‘Oh, man, you’ve got to be kidding!’ They were bouncing it around and it got funny and they were all laughing. ‘Dicky Doo Does It!’ They tried to come up with a group name and Dicky Doo and the Don’ts came up.”
An immediate smash, “Click Clack” hit #28 on Billboard’s pop chart and Dicky Doo and the Don’ts were in demand for personal appearances. Auditions were held, and from a pool of about five dozen musicians, bassist-saxist Harvey Davis, sax player Al Ways, and guitarist Ray Gangi were hired to join Alldred and Granahan.
The Don’ts appeared on Bandstand frequently. “I split publishing with Dick in Sea-Lark Music. But who cared? We were kids, and I’m on Bandstand and tours. I wasn’t even thinking of royalties. I never saw $20 bills back to back and now I’m on a tour coming home with $2,000. You’d get nothing but accolades from me for Dick and Alan Freed. I just loved the guys and what they did for me. That was the way things were done. It was business. If you don’t know what you’re getting into, don’t get into it. I’d be driving a cab in Pittston if it wasn’t for guys like Alan and Dick Clark.”
At Easter, 1958, the Don’ts appeared with Freed at the Brooklyn Paramount before setting off on a six-week bus tour with Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly & Crickets, Frankie Lymon, Larry Williams, Jo Ann Campbell, the Chantels, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and others. “The tour was a blur. Most of the time we were around (the Crickets,) Buddy, Joe B., and J. I. Everybody had a crush on Jo Ann. She’s a doll.”
In April, while the Freed tour was taking place, a new Gerry Granahan single, “No Chemise, Please” was issued on Sunbeam, a label recently begun by Perry Como’s music publisher, Tommy Volando. “Through Arnold Goland, I signed on with Tommy as a writer for Sunbeam Music.” “Credited to Granahan, Goland, and Jodi D’Amour, “Chemise” was an add-on, cut at the end of a recording session. “Volando said why don’t you write another song and squeeze it in. He just wanted the publishing. So Arnold and I are sitting in an office, and Jodi D’Amour walks in. She was a Copa girl and she was stunning. But she had this dress on. I said, ‘What in the hell is that?’ She said, ‘Oh, it’s the new style. In France, it’s a chemise. Over here, it’s a sack dress.’ I said ‘A chemise, oh my God’, I just put my fingers on the piano, and it came out. When it flows, it happens by itself sometimes. Arnold did the arrangement and he helped me with the melody a bit.”
With just 15 minutes remaining in the session, Granahan and the band recorded “No Chemise Please” in one take. “There are mistakes in that song. I jumbled the words. When they put ‘Chemise’ out, it was the back side of ‘Girl Of My Dreams’. Some deejays heard it and turned it over.” Although “Chemise” reportedly sold over a million copies, reaching #23 pop, the artist never received his due royalties from Sunbeam.
Granahan and his music were Bandstand staples. “I was on Dick’s Saturday night show to do ‘Chemise’, and they started me in the back of the theater when they played the record and had me come down the aisle. When the tempo changed, I’d just walk up the stairs onto the stage. I could see the monitor as I’m walking down the aisle. The kids are looking at the monitor but they didn’t know where I was. When I got to my mark in the aisle and stopped, this little girl was looking up at the monitor. I reached out and took her by the hand and tried to get her to stand up. She only got about halfway up, and she just fainted. The camera got off her and I moved on. That was live TV.”
Three additional Sunbeam 45s failed to chart but by the time “Chemise” was peaking, a second Dicky Doo record, “Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Na Nu Nu”/“Flip Top Box”, began to make noise. Although Granahan produced both sides, it is his friend and fellow songwriter Eddie Dean whose voice is heard. “We all tried ‘Nee Nee Na Na Nu Nu’, but he had the sound. He wrote ‘Flip Top Box’ under his ASCAP name, Marian Smith, and he did the scream and laugh and the lead, imitating me. I was in novelty heaven in those days.” Both sides hit the top 50, competing with one another for airplay and chart action. “That’s Bernie’s lack of knowledge of the business. They should have seen it was getting split play and then split the songs onto different records.”
Using the “Battle Hymn of The Republic” melody, “Leave Me Alone (and Let Me Cry)” hit #44 pop and was followed into the Hot 100 by “Teardrops Will Fall”, which utilized another traditional melody, “Our Boys Will Shine Tonight”. “Those were Dave’s ideas because he really couldn’t sing. Things like the ‘Battle Hymn’ and the football song, everybody could do it whether you could sing or not.” Weary of the road and craving the studio, Granahan was glad to relinquish the role of Dicky Doo in concert and, subsequently, on vinyl. Eventually, Alldred legally changed his name and recorded “The Drums of Richard A. Doo” in 1960.
Label owner-producer George Goldner, who founded the Rama-Gee and, later Gone-End record empire, was next to record Granahan. “We got to be friendly and he’d say, ‘I’ve got a great song for you.’ I would tell him, ‘George, I know you’re not going to pay me, so why should I waste my time?’ Finally he said, ‘I’ll give you a couple of grand if you do the session.’” “Let The Rumors Fly” turned into a regional hit in 1959. “We came very close with that record. That’s one I thought was going to make it.”
The next Granahan record that did make it was a demo recording entitled “You Were Mine”. “Jimmy Crane, a jeweler from Providence wrote with my friend Al Jacobs. He had a lot of money and was friends with another jeweler in New York, Phil Tucker. They decided to put a record company together. Allan Kallman approached me and said ‘Jimmy and Phil want to start a label.’ I started with Frankie Gari. His father was my barber and he said, ‘I’ve got a good looking kid that can sing’. I started working with Frankie and then Paul Giancolone came in with this idea. He came in the office and sang me the hook. When we had it finished, I told him ‘I’m going to go in and do a demo.’”
Giancolone, a drummer, came to Granahan through a mutual friend, singer-guitarist and Knoxville, Tennessee native, Lee Reynolds. “When I was doing the Catskills, I went to 1650 Broadway where all the agents were. There were two other guys with guitars, and we were all waiting for the elevator to go up to see, Aaron Toder, a man with a thick accent, who booked all the cabins and hotels in the Catskills. As I was about to get on the elevator, Don Anthony, a singer, was coming off. He said, ‘Don’t bother; he’s looking for groups’. I looked at the two guys, ‘What do you do?’ He said, ‘I play guitar’. I asked the other guy, ‘you play guitar too?’ He said, ‘yeah’. You guys sing? ‘Well, not really.’ I said, ‘Let’s have a cup of coffee’.”
Granahan convinced the two, Lee Reynolds and Vinny Rodgers, to pitch themselves to the agent as a pop-rock’n’roll trio. “They said, ‘What are you, nuts?’ I said, ‘What’s the big deal? Just follow my lead. When I ask you for a chord, give me a chord.’ We went up and Aaron sees me, ‘No, Gerry, no today’,’ I said, ‘I’ve got a group’. ‘Oh, come on in. What songs do you do?’ After hearing them perform a handful of Presley and Belafonte hits, Toder began booking the new trio. “When I heard what he could do with the guitar, I started featuring Vinny Rodgers and we worked the 802 in Brooklyn, all around the little club circuit. When we needed a name, Lee said, ‘I’ve got a name, the Fireflies.’” The first record by the Fireflys (sic) was done without Granahan, an instrumental called “The Crawl” (Roulette, 1958).
As with “Click Clack”, Granahan began by overdubbing his voice four or five times to create the background harmonies on “You Were Mine”. “There was a girl from Jersey that was working for me, and her next door neighbors fashioned themselves as singers. They were 12, 13, and 15, I think. So they asked if they could come to this date I was doing. I said, ‘Sure, tell them to come.’ I started putting on the voices and it was getting dull, so I said, ‘come up here, just answer me, you were mine, you were mine’, back and forth. That was it. One take; and they were on the record. Nobody knows who they are and nobody knows who the girls were on ‘Click Clack’ either!
“I did the lead and all the background except for the girls and I hated myself on it. I didn’t like what I was doing.” Reynolds suggested Gerry try an aspiring songwriter named Richard Ziegler, who went by the name Ritchie Adams, on the lead. “He wasn’t really into singing but when I heard him, I said, ‘Yeah, you’re the guy’. The only voices on there are the girls from Jersey, me, about four or five times, and Ritchie. That’s it.”
Issued on the jewelers’ Ribbon label in August 1959 and credited to the Fireflies, “You Were Mine”, reached #21 pop, Granahan’s third Top 40 hit under a different name in less than two years. Once the record began selling, a touring group was needed. “After it got started it was like, who’s going to go? Vinny didn’t want to go. He had a bad heart and died at 23. Paul couldn’t sing but he was a drummer. Lee played bass and could sing a little bit. He was like a country singer.” Reynolds, guitarist Carl Girsoli, later replaced by saxist John Viscelli, Giancolone, and Adams became the road group.
“The first gig that the Fireflies did was at the Apollo. I had Ritchie go, and the emcee was Bobby Lewis, an emcee and a comedian. Nobody knew he was a singer. He was hawking Ritchie, ‘Do you have any songs?’ Adams offered Lewis an original composition which Lewis turned into one of the decade’s biggest hits, ‘Tossin’ and Turnin’”. “I wanted to kill him,” Granahan laughs. “‘Why didn’t you give it to me? What did you give it to him for?’ He said, “I don’t know. I didn’t think it was all that good!’”
By the age of 27, Gerry Granahan had sang on, co-written, and produced three major pop-rock’n’roll hits under three different names. Drawn to the creativity of the studio, he flourished within its walls, loathed the long tours and babysitting chores that accompanied taking bands on the road in support of the hits. A crossroads was fast approaching.
“One of the guys who was running the publishing at Sunbeam was Neal Galligan,” Granahan recalls. “He got some money from Canada and started the Canadian-American label and brought me in.” Gerry recorded four singles for the firm in 1960-61 including strong versions of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, and “Unchained Melody”, reflecting the singer-producer’s penchant for standards. “Walk” works well in a stripped-down contemporary pop reading. “I loved the song. You hear all the big hits of it now, but then it was just Roy Hamilton.” Bringing the Fireflies to Can-Am, he produced their 1960 disc, “Marianne”, as well. “I made a couple of records and I was going to go to, I think it was Capitol. Neal said, ‘Why don’t you stay here and I’ll give you your own label.”
A partnership was formed between Granahan, Galligan, and Robert “Hutch” Davie, establishing Caprice Records. Granahan was the label’s sole owner and served as producer, songwriter, A&R man, talent scout, distributor, and, occasionally, artist and promotions man. “Our secretary, Joan Berg, came up with the name. She said, ‘you’re such a capricious little thing’. On paper, Caprice Records was just me. I think I was the youngest record company owner in the business and I learned fast. That’s when I learned about distributors and one-stops. I did my own distributing. I was one of the few guys that would not only produce, (but) get on a plane and go to Cleveland or Pittsburgh, and I enjoyed it. One of the promotion guys we hired was Sonny Bono. We paid him $100 a week to run with our records. Bernie Lawrence, Steve Lawrence’s brother, was with me at Sunbeam, Canadian-American, Caprice, and United Artists. He was one of the top promotions men and one of the funniest guys I’ve ever known.”
Hutch Davie was an industry veteran who launched a studio in his New York City apartment outfitted with a mono recorder and a homemade echo chamber- a 4′ x 8′ metal box in the basement- and recorded Jim Lowe’s 1956 hit, “The Green Door”, and Santo and Johnny’s “Sleep Walk”. “Hutch was good. He listened to everything I ever asked him to do. When we decided to use a tuba on James Ray’s ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’ and do it in ¾ (time)…rhythm and blues in ¾ and no bass. Unheard of! He was like a mad doctor.” The majority of the label’s catalog was cut at Bob Liftin’s Regent Sound Studio.
Caprice began churning out quality material by mostly new talent, occasionally bringing in veterans like the Five Satins, who waxed as the Wildwoods, and sax-playing bandleader Big Buddy Lucas, in 1961. The Allie-Oops Group, Marty Hill, Janie Grant, Jesse Dean, James Ray, and the Angels were all Caprice signings. Grant, a 16 year-old from Paterson, New Jersey born Rose Marie Casili, cracked the top 30 in the spring of 1961 with “Triangle”. “A guitar player that backed me, Ron Striano, introduced me to her and the Angels. Janie was adorable. She wrote ‘Triangle’ and a couple more. The one I thought she was going to have a hit with was ‘Greasy Kid’s Stuff’, but it didn’t happen. When they released ‘Triangle’ in Japan, they asked us for a picture. She had this cute little face and she looked Italian. When we got the sleeve, they had slanted her eyes!”
Granahan went to a Jersey club called the Railroad Inn in an unsuccessful bid to sign the Rascals when he met the Starlets. “I was trying to sign Felix (Cavaliere), and someone from Atlantic got in there. I lost them, but I found the Angels. Bernadette Carroll and Denise Ferri were basically the Starlets with Peggy Santiglia, in those days. They were Murray Kaufman’s girls, they did his theme song. Then Bernadette got together with Linda Malzone and the Allbut sisters, Jiggs and Barbara. That’s when I met them. I told them to come to my office and I would listen to them. They came, and when I heard them I said, ‘Oh, my God.’”
With Granahan producing and Davie arranging and leading the band, the Angels scored a pair of top 40 hits with “’Til” and “Cry Baby Cry” in 1961-62. “I like the blend between Bernadette and Linda and the Allbut sisters. Barbara had a good ear for harmony. Linda could sing. She had a great sound. We used Denise on some things as well.”
Proficient background singers, the members of the Starlets and Angels were frequently employed by Granahan and others to sweeten other artists’ sessions. Through one of these jobs, the Allbuts met Richard Gottehrer, Robert Feldman, and Jerry Goldstein, partners in the FGG songwriting and production company. “My Boyfriend’s Back” was written for the Shirelles,” Granahan explains. “They asked me if the girls could do the demo. Linda had left and the girls were coming loose, but they were still signed. I had the name. So, Feldman says to me, ‘I’ve got a song for the Shirelles. Can I use the girls? I’m going to use Peggy Santiglia with them.’ I said, ‘O.K., just let me know how it comes out.’ I didn’t hear anything from anybody. Then I heard they’re going to sell it to Mercury. I said, ‘How can they sell it to Mercury? Are the girls going to change their name and call themselves the Starlets again?’ ‘No, they’re going to be sold as the Angels.’ I said, ‘No way. I’ll work a deal out with you. I don’t want to go through any hassles. If they want to give up a piece of it, I’ll walk away. My attorney kept saying, ‘I’m working on it.’”
In a convoluted turn of events, Granahan’s unscrupulous attorney worked a deal for himself with FGG, edging the producer-label owner out of the picture. “He sits down with the girls, signs them to Sabina, a label which we distributed then makes a deal with FGG without me knowing about it and sells the name of the Angels to Mercury for $5,000. After the record was a hit, Mercury, in turn, gave the Angels name to FGG and took it out of their royalties. On top of that, when they came out with the first album they took my masters of ‘Til’ and ‘Cry Baby Cry’ and included them without any permission whatsoever.” Soon after, Granahan was paid a visit by a prominent New York hit man. “My attorney had O.K.’d it for this guy to come over and break my legs. He was my best friend and he stuck it to me. I didn’t see all these contracts and he said he had all my paperwork from when he was dealing with them in his house in his basement, with my tapes. Then he says to me, ‘I have some bad news for you. I had a flood and everything got destroyed.’ You sell your best friend down the river all for a couple of thousand dollars? Legally, this is still not resolved since the ‘60s and the girls are fighting them for their royalties, too.”
One of Granahan’s greatest signings was James Ray Raymond, a 20 year-old Washington, D.C. native who stood just over 5 feet tall. Ray had made one 1959 single and was homeless and destitute, living on a rooftop in Harlem when he was discovered by songwriter Rudy Clark. “Rudy used to come in and play me songs constantly. He wasn’t a good singer. I said to him, ‘Rudy, you have great songs and you’re not presenting them properly. Why don’t you find somebody who can do a Ray Charles type of song and teach him your songs’…because that’s the vein that he wrote in.” Clark soon returned with James Ray.
“ I had come in late and was walking to my office and the doors to the music room were closed, and I heard this incredible sound. It sounded like somebody had a microphone or was singing through a megaphone. I peeked my head in and there was this little guy in there and he was all disheveled, dirty. He sang a couple of songs for me and then Rudy says, ‘Listen to this song, I just finished it, and he plays me ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’. The second one he played me was ‘Got My Mind Set On You’. When I heard this kid singing I said, ‘Don’t let him go anywhere.’ I took him back to my apartment. He took a shower, got cleaned up. I started giving him clothes and I’m 5’ 5’’- my clothes were too big for him. He really looked emaciated but when he opened his mouth, it was all over. When we recorded him, I hardly had to use any equalization on his voice. Just put a little touch of echo on it. I thought his singing was every bit as good as Ray Charles. I loved the way the kid sang.”
Saxophonist and bandleader Big Buddy Lucas was brought in to play harmonica on “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody”, which cracked the Hot 100 the week of Thanksgiving, 1961. “Got My Mind Set On You”, a favorite of Beatles’ George Harrison and John Lennon, “Itty Bitty Pieces” which hit the charts in the spring of 1962, and a strong eponymously titled album followed. “On the album cover, that’s my suit, my shirt, and my tie he’s wearing,” Granahan admits.
Despite his producer’s warnings, Ray quickly became his own worst enemy. “I got him an apartment and said, ‘I don’t want you uptown, man, because you know what’s going to happen, they’re going to know you have money and they’re going to be giving you stuff and then you’re going to get sick’. He didn’t have drug problems then. “It was after he started. He played the Apollo and a couple of places. He started getting noticed and the record was a hit. We were paying him every two weeks and paying for his apartment. We didn’t want to give him too much money. It kept him out of trouble for a while but then I got a phone call from the police. They said, ‘We have a cadaver here with no identification and we found your card on him.’ I went down there and as soon as I saw the little body under the sheet, I knew it was him. Then we called his mother. I said, ‘Are you James’ mother?’ She said, ‘yeah, yeah.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve got some terrible news for you. James passed away. We’re going to take care of everything. I’m going to come down to D.C. and we’ll bury him for you.’ She said, ‘Oh, that’s not necessary. Just bury him up there.’ I said, ‘Are you his mother?’ She said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘And you don’t want me to bring him down?’ ‘No.’ So we buried him on Long Island. I liked him a lot. He was a fun little guy.”
Like the majority of small independent record labels churning out hits in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, Caprice struggled to collect timely payments from their distributors. “If you had a hit, you had better come back with a good second record! Then you could say you’re not getting this record until I get my money! Joan Berg talked like a truck driver. You’d hear her on the phone, screaming at the distributors. She got her money.”
Caprice’s untimely end came in 1963, when Granahan learned that his quiet partner, Neil Galligan, was selling records off the books for cash. “I had just come off the road and one of my distributors who liked me said, ‘I’ve got to tell you something. I’m buying cash, and it’s not coming from your pressing plant, it’s coming from Jersey.’ I sat Galligan down and said, ‘You’ve got two ways to go, man. Either you walk out the door or I’m going to have somebody come in and throw you out the window. It’s your choice.’ That’s how we broke up. He didn’t have anything to say. I just folded it. I still own it and the masters. When the whole thing split, Neil gave the tapes back to the investors in North Dakota. They were bankers and they had no idea what they had and people started calling them. They sold ‘Sleep Walk’ for $500. They sold Linda Scott’s ‘I’ve Told Every Little Star’ for $500. Now, we’re sitting on the rest of the catalog.”
Walter Hofer was both our lawyers and sat us down and said, ‘So you don’t have any problems, why don’t you split it up someway.’ I said, ‘I’m not splitting it, it’s my label and I’m taking it.’ So he said, ‘how about the publishing?’ I said, ‘Just tell me what you want in the publishing.’ He said, I want ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool’ and ‘Got My Mind Set’. At that time, I had no vision of George Harrison recording it. About six months later, he sold it. When I heard George do it, I felt proud. I wished I had the publishing. The thing that really made me happy was when I got a call from Virgin Records. They said, ‘You own the master to ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody’? I said, ‘Yes’. He said, ‘We’d like to use it.’ It’s a normal thing that I hear all the time, but he went on to say that we’re doing a thing called the John Lennon Jukebox. All the songs were his favorites and they were in his jukebox in his house. ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool’ was in there. That made me happy.”
After briefly relocating to California where he appeared in the motion picture Racing Fever, Gerry and his wife, the former Mary Lou Kiernan, a singer-dancer-actress who toured briefly with the Angels and recorded for Epic, Vel-V-Tone, and United Artists under the name Kerri Downs, settled in her home state of Rhode Island. During the week, however, Granahan lived and worked in New York City, where he accepted a job as Arts and Repertoire Director for United Artists Records. In addition to his A&R duties scouting and signing new artists, Gerry composed, arranged, and produced for the label as well.
At UA and its subsidiaries, Veep and Ascot in 1965-66, Granahan worked with the Four Lads, 5 Shades, Andrea Carroll, the Belmonts, Charlie Starr, Diane Renay (“Dynamite”), First Team, Jackie & Gayle, Samantha Jones (the lush, overlooked gem “I Deserve It”), the Reasons, and Ray Pollard, whose “The Drifter” and “It’s A Sad Thing” are Northern Soul favorites today. His two most successful- and colorful- associations of the era were with Patty Duke and Jay & the Americans.
Granahan produced Duke’s first two national hits, “Don’t Just Stand There” and “Say Something Funny”/“Funny Little Butterflies”, in 1965. “She was a screwed up kid,” Granahan candidly admits. “When I cut her in New York, she was 18. I was in the booth and she was on the floor. I would say, ‘Patty, don’t worry. I’ll take care of it,’ because she couldn’t sing. In California, I had Peaches (Francine Barker), stand right in her ear, so when you hear her records, you’re hearing a double voice, and you think that’s Patty’s double-tracked voice. But you were hearing Peaches singing in her ear, keeping her on pitch and in rhythm. But I didn’t have that in New York. Before the session, I would tell her, ‘Don’t worry about the singing. I’m going to bury you in the music so don’t worry about it.’ Then she started, ‘I can’t hear myself…’ I said, ‘Honey, it doesn’t matter’, but she didn’t get it. She kept on me, and so finally I squeezed the mike and said, ‘Miss Duke, I will not tell you how to act. Don’t tell me how to make records, O.K.?’ She started to cry and ran out. Then I went outside, and I said, ‘Patty, let me explain something to you. That’s your money in there. You’re paying for that. It’s going to come out of your royalties. So either you go back in and do it the way I want to do it, or go back to the hotel. It doesn’t matter to me.’ I had already had a hit with her with ‘Don’t Just Stand There’ and I thought this was going to sour us, totally. She went back home to L. A. and I talked to (UA President) Mike Stewart, and I said, ‘I don’t think she’s going to want me to do any of her records.’ He said, ‘On the contrary, I offered her Jack Gold and she said, ‘No, no, I want Gerry’.’ It shocked me.”
Jay & The Americans had already scored six Hot 100 hits including “She Cried” and “Come A Little Bit Closer” when they were paired with Granahan in 1965. “When Jay Traynor left and Jay Black came to audition for the group, he sang ‘Cara Mia’, but not the way we recorded it. He was doing an opera thing. After they went through Leiber and Stoller, and Mike and Jerry would not do the song, and Artie Ripp did not want to do the song. So I was their next producer, and I went to the Village to see them doing a gig and they sang it. I said, ‘I like it, but I don’t like the way you’re doing it.’ Jay was so happy that I said I liked it. Then my arranger, Arnold Goland, and I sat down and took three days to write that chart, but it was worth it.”
Originally a 1954 hit for English singer David Whitfield with Mantovani, “Cara Mia” peaked at #4 during a 13-week chart run in the summer of 1965. Opening with a tolling chime and a hushed layer of sustained strings and driven by bright auxiliary percussion and Hal Blaine’s authoritative drumming, the highly-crafted arrangement served as a perfect vehicle for Black’s operatic tenor. “I had so much of me in that ‘Cara Mia’ track. It made my career, and it made theirs.”
Working for United Artists Records in 1965-66, Granahan achieved some of his biggest pop music successes with Jay & the Americans. To follow the brilliant “Cara Mia”, Granahan chose the South Pacific chestnut, “Some Enchanted Evening”, which reached #13 on the pop list in the fall of 1965. “I was a standards freak,” he explains. “If I needed another song and couldn’t find it from a fresh songwriter, I would go back. That was arranged by Arnold Goland and me. I never gave an arranger a song and said, ‘Here, write a chart’. I would say tell me when you’re going to start writing, and I would go to his office or his house and sit there for hours because Arnold wrote Broadway. He didn’t know rock’n’roll. You can see where my heart is musically. When I listen, I want to hear dynamics. I want to hear things happening. The chimes on ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ and ‘Cara Mia’ were all cut live.”
The team produced four additional Hot 100 hits through the summer of 1966 including Neil Diamond’s first major hit as a songwriter, “Sunday and Me”. “I used to come into U.A. every day, and the waiting room was next to the elevator, so I couldn’t get in and out without passing songwriters. Every day Neil would be sitting there. He wanted a Jay & the Americans record. He must have played me 200 songs. One day, he played me that song. I said, ‘Go downstairs and make me a guitar demo’, and he did. We went to California and did it and came back with it plated. Neil was almost crying. He said, ‘Oh, you did it just the right way’. He went on and on and started promising me things. He said what can I do? I said, I’ll tell you what, if it comes out as a single, and makes the charts, I want that black guitar you have. He had a beautiful, black acoustic. He said, ‘you’ve got it, you’ve got it.’ The record came out, made the charts, I never saw the guitar!”
A financial pinch brought on by Black’s chronic gambling resulted in the recording of a full length solo album which was never released. “Jay needed a large amount of money to pay a debt. He said, ‘Can we work something out?’ I went to (U.A. President) Mike Stewart and made up a story. I said, ‘I think the group’s going to break up. Maybe I should take Jay into the studio and get sides on him’. He said, ‘Do that, yeah.’ I went to Jay and told him what I did and he said, ‘Wow, O.K.’ The album is still sitting at Universal. I cut 12 songs with him, got him his money, and he paid off his debt. I recently got a copy of it. There’s no group, it’s just Jay cold. I didn’t mix it. I didn’t do anything to it. I finished it, got him his cash and that was the end of it.”
Granahan confirmed Belmonts’ tenor Freddie Milano’s story that he, fellow Belmont Angelo D’Aleo, and the producer used their own voices to sweeten the Americans’ background harmonies on their hits. “The Belmonts had good harmony and they always came prepared. When I mixed Jay, I also used to wrap the capstan with a little piece of splicing tape, just wrap it and it would sharpen his voice right up. If you sit down with the piano you’ll see it comes out just a little sharp. I used that a lot on 8-tracks.”
Between 1965 and 1971, Granahan recorded singles for a variety of labels under various aliases including Gerry Patt, Jerry Thomas, Gary Williams, and Christopher Sunday. “I would just do things and see if I could sell them. Sunny Skylar was an older man, a terrific, guy, who wrote ‘Besame Mucho’ and was with Southern Music, a big publishing firm. He also occasionally wrote stories for Reader’s Digest. We were sitting at Dempsey’s Bar one time having a drink. He asked me about something and I told him a story about my hometown. He said, ‘That would make a great fiction story’. About six months later, he gives me the Reader’s Digest and he said, ‘Read this. I wrote it all about you, and I called you Christopher Sunday.’ So, one time I needed a name I thought about Sunny and I said, ‘Christopher Sunday, why not?’”
One of the most infamous missteps of Granahan’s production career involved the Troggs’ 1966 chart-topper, “Wild Thing”. “Jordan Christopher was a real handsome kid. He sang O.K. I liked him and liked working with him. I was trying to find songs for Jordan. I called Chip Taylor and he said ‘Who is it for?’ I told him Jordan Christopher and the Wild Ones. I guess the Wild Ones stuck in his head. He had not written the song yet. When he played it for me, he only played half a song. But when he hit that ‘chong chong’ (opening), I said I don’t care what comes after this. He finished it, gave me a demo. I taught it to Jordan. The problem was I did three other songs on the date and that was the last song I was looking for. I didn’t have the right instrumentation for it. I wanted to hear three guitars, like the Troggs record. I thought it came out O.K., it wasn’t bad. After I did it, we sat and discussed what we were going to do for a single. I said, ‘Well, definitely this has got to go out as a single’, and Mike Stewart disagreed with me. Chip said, ‘Mike said it wasn’t going out, so I showed the song around’. I said, ‘Well, that’s what you have to do,’ and it ended up that the Troggs did it. That was discouraging. Because I think it still could have been a hit, although not as strong as the Troggs, because they made a much better record than I did.”
Granahan often found himself at odds with U.A. President Mike Stewart. Learning of the tension, friend and fellow producer Tommy “Snuff” Garrett and Dot Records’ Vice-President Larry Welk, son of orchestra leader Lawrence Welk, offered Gerry the position of Head of East Coast Operation For Famous Music-Dot Records/Paramount Pictures in January of 1968. He accepted the lucrative offer, which morphed into a Vice-Presidency four months later. “They got behind me 100% . I could do anything I wanted. Little did I know they were actually destroying the label. The head of promotion spent three days gambling in Las Vegas every week. I said, ‘Who’s running the show?’ I went to distributors to check on everything. That was not my job. But I wanted to meet them. I happened to walk by the elevator shaft and I looked down and saw Pat Boone and Lawrence Welk albums in the shaft. I asked them to change the whole promotion department, and there was no way. They weren’t going to do anything. I did memo after memo, and nothing worked. Here we are, Paramount Pictures. We’re putting movies out, and Andy Williams on Columbia is doing the title song. We have a label. Why aren’t we doing them?’”
Lack of effective promotions notwithstanding, Granahan managed to sign, record, and produce several critically acclaimed artists at Dot. “One of the most creative was Lee Greenwood,” Gerry states. “I really respected him because of his talent. I produced his sessions on Dot. Phil Flowers, I thought I had something with him, too.”
Granahan also produced two successful and much-admired albums with Brazilian composer and guitarist Luiz Bonfa in 1967-68, Bonfa, and Orpheus Impressions. “That was fun. About the second album, he wanted to use this kid from Brazil. He was telling me how talented he was. It ended up being Eumir Deodato. So I had Eumir on keyboards, and the Modern Jazz Quartet playing with him. I did that at RCA in New York. Luiz played a song and said there’s going to be Portuguese vocals. When it was time to do the vocals, he said, ‘Come on’. I go out there with him and he said, ‘Well, you know the song.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but I don’t know Portuguese.’ So, he wrote it phonetically for me and I’m singing Portuguese on that. Unbelievable!”
At Dot, Granahan discovered, signed, and produced a wide variety of talent including classical pianist Kellie Greene (A stellar 1969 LP, Color Her Classic, Color Her Jazz), Lyn Roman, (the soulful 1968 album, The Greatest Roman Of Them All) and worked briefly with composer John Williams, who asked to work with Christopher Sunday before learning the artist was actually Granahan himself. “Later on I told him it was me and he was hysterical. He tagged a movie with one of my songs. He was a sweet guy, a super-talented man.”
A live album with comedian Pat Cooper (Spaghetti Sauce & Other on U.A.), and records with Greg Morris, Rosie Grier, and Ike Cole all bore Granahan production credits. He brought his friends, the Belmonts, to Dot, and sang lead on several of their sides. “When you look at the stuff I did, it’s ridiculous. I went from rock’n’roll to all different types. Young Brass was my brass group on Dot. Split Level had a California sound and were great musicians…I couldn’t get them off the ground. People wouldn’t accept them.”
Revisiting the stories of acts and records Granahan thought should have made it and didn’t is still an agonizing experience for the producer. “There were a lot of people that I worked with, and it hurt me more than it hurt them that I couldn’t get them off the ground. Take Samantha Jones. Good Lord, that record should have made some noise for her!” Lauding the talent of Lyn Roman, his voice trails off with exasperation at the memory of her stellar Dot album, doomed by an anemic promotional campaign.” We needed to get the disc jockeys to accept the fact that R&B records and hip records could be on Dot, but we didn’t do that.”
Dismayed, Granahan quit his position at Dot and returned to his adopted home of Rhode Island in 1970 to spend more time with his wife and children. “I had enough of the whole business at that point,” emphasizing his disgust with a quick wave of his hand. “I just walked away from it. I lost my confidence with that label. I said, ‘I can’t make records anymore.’” Unable to suppress his creative drive, Granahan continued writing and recording demos and gained some regional action on a new Christopher Sunday release, “Come Back When You’re A Woman”, on U.A.’s Avalanche subsidiary in 1972. He formed a local act, The Gerry Granahan Show, which successfully toured Sheraton and Hilton Hotels nationwide for several years.
Operating his own GPG Studios in Warwick, Rhode Island in the 1980s, he produced various local artists and released his own Easy Listening album in 1989, An Old Fashioned Christmas with Gerry Granahan’s Strings, the proceeds from which helped fund a playground for physically disabled children.
For a time, Granahan took up residence in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Even in the Sunshine State, he wasn’t far from his rock’n’roll roots. “There were so many funny stories with the Belmonts. They would call and say, ‘What are you doing this weekend? You still have your tux? We need a guy.’ When I was living in Fort Lauderdale, Freddie (Milano) called and said, ‘What are you doing Saturday?’ I said, ‘I’m going to see you guys.’ He said, ‘We have a problem. We’re going to need you.’ I said, ‘Oh, Freddie, please.’ Finally I said O.K., I’ll do it. I’ll pick you up at the airport.”
“I go to the airport and this tall kid walks over to me with another guy and says, ‘Gerry? We’re the Belmonts’. I said, ‘Really? You don’t look like the Belmonts.’ ‘Freddie sent us and said you would take care of everything.’ I rehearsed with them in the car all the way to the hotel and wouldn’t let them out of the hotel. Rehearsed and rehearsed. Then we get to the gig at Sunrise Theater, and I kept going over the songs and the guitar player was there and fortunately had a good ear. Somehow the Belmonts had been double-booked. Freddie and Warren (Gradus) went somewhere else and I was with two strangers. I have no idea who they were. There was a disc jockey there that used to do all these shows. I had done some of the shows that he emceed. He says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the Belmonts!’ and when I went by him, he said, ‘Was that Granahan that just went out? He told me later, ‘I thought I had introduced the wrong act!’ We did the show and got a standing ovation!”
While working in California about 1965, Granahan met and formed a casual friendship with the man whose demos he had recorded years earlier, Elvis Presley. “I ran into Johnny Rivers, and he said, ‘I just got invited up to one of Elvis’ football games in Bel Air. He doesn’t know you’re in town, and I’m sure he’d like to meet you’. So, we went up and got involved in a football game. He almost killed himself. There were benches on either end of the park and Elvis went out for a pass, and kept going and went right into the bench. Then everybody went back to his house. The guy was incredible. If anybody is sweating too much, go in my closet. There was a big room all done in white and trimmed in blue. He had this big, old jukebox in the corner and some of my demos were in the jukebox. Now, the room is filled with people and everybody was either actors or actresses all trying to outdo the other one, and Johnny and I are sitting there and I said, ‘listen to this is crap, man’.”
“All of a sudden, the place went dead. It was too strange not to notice, and I turned around and he’s standing in the doorway. I’ll never forget the sight. Elvis was standing there with black boots on, a pair of tight, black pants, and a red silk shirt opened down the center. He was all cleaned up nice. He just walked in and stopped the room cold. Just his presence was absolutely amazing. I never forgot that vision of him. I went up to his house twice. Both times we played football. When you got around him, on the playing field it was Pat Boone and Ricky Nelson and his brother David, there were so many names there, and he melded right in. He was the monster, but he was just a guy playing football- and serious! There was no fooling around. He was playing football. Don’t treat me like Elvis Presley. I liked the guy. He was up on everything. There was nothing stupid about him.”
In recent years, Granahan, who eventually gained back control of all his master recordings, has licensed many of his classic productions to various labels for international release and currently is putting the finishing touches on a compilation which will include several previously unheard recordings.
He’s coached l aspiring young artists, including an American Idol finalist, reemerged on the vintage rock’n’roll concert circuit, and was honored with induction into the Rhode Island Popular Music Hall of Fame in 2011. Plans are also in the works to return to the recording studio, producing a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. “My career would have never happened without my family. My family was always there, no matter if I was a good guy or a bad guy. I’m like the actor that would start doing a scene when you struck a match. I love watching the oldies shows and I should be doing those to keep me fresh. I love the studio. I just got back into a studio that I’m comfortable in, and I think we’re going to do some really good stuff.”
While he has trouble defining the Gerry Granahan Sound, he is quick to articulate the role of the producer in creating a hit record. “People have no idea what a producer does. When you’re struggling with arrangements behind the scene, the public doesn’t see that. The singer gets the credit. The credit should go to two people: the writer of the song, because without the song you’re not going to have anything, and the producer. I’m not saying this because I am a producer. Just mixing it and getting the right sound is a job, and the only producer that took credit and got credit for what he did was Phil Spector. Some people kind of matched me with Phil. I read articles where one was an insult and the other one was a match. One article said, ‘He’s not quite Phil Spector, but…’ That type of thing. You can see my taste. I like the big sound. I like Phil Spector and Bob Crewe and Tommy Dowd. If I was going to put them in order, Jimmy Webb would be number one.”
At a recent 80th birthday celebration given by his daughters, Granahan basked in the warmth of several hundred family and friends. While the spark in his eyes is always evident when he’s discussing music, a truly special glow envelops him when he’s around children. As more than a dozen little ones run to wrap their arms around Grandpa and Uncle Gerry, he crouches down, arms wide, bathing in the love of their embrace. It is in this role, father, grandfather, uncle, husband- family man- that the Quaker State native truly understands his calling.
Swiftly deflecting the spotlight or discussions of his own achievements with self-deprecating humor, Granahan openly struggles to understand his role in pop music history. “I don’t even know who I am, to be honest. I don’t have the foggiest idea. I just do what I do, I did what I did, and I’m a religious person. If you said to me as a kid, ‘you’re going to have hit records one day’, I would have said, ‘what’s a hit record?’ I had no idea. When it happened, it was just, boom! The fact that I’m not super-wealthy is because I had no idea what I was doing. Everyone took advantage of me, and everybody made money off me but me. But every time I go see Jay and he sings ‘Cara, Mia’, when the first words come out of his mouth, the audience stands up. When that happens, I say, ‘My God. That is amazing.’ It makes me feel really good. God has been so good to me. He is my guide through everything, and I know I’ve truly been Blessed.”