One of the quirks of the UK soul scene has always been the acceptance of 'blue-eyed' soul sounds as part and parcel of its many factions. Indeed some 'Northern' classics are sung by white artists and we see and hear many tunes emanating from the Carolina's 'Shag' scene as worthy additions. By and large the tunes must have that 'black' sound reminiscent of the groups and artists from Detroit, Chicago, New York and beyond who are so familiar to us. Whilst most of the blue-eyed efforts easily identifiable, some are more ambiguous and even indistinguishable from their black counterparts. It’s really all about the sound, the beat, production, arrangement and of course the vocals and backing harmonies. One such recording is by the New York come Pittsburgh band The Teardrops, which has had some action in soul venues over the years and remains a firm favorite with collectors. However, it’s not too well known that the story of their song involves one of pop music’s most successful artists of all time.
In the mid-sixties a young pianist from Long Island New York dropped out of high school to follow his dream of being in the music business, but he could never have envisaged that twenty years later he would go on to become an international pop luminary and one of the biggest selling artists of all time. William Martin Joel, or Billy Joel as the world knows him, formed his first band 'The Echoes' in ‘64, who just a year later changed name to the 'Lost Souls' and finally after a further twelve months to 'The Emerald Lords' before disbanding without any real success. Under the guise of the Lost Souls they did however record some demo's for Mercury records, but nothing saw the light of day.
Around '67 another Long Island band 'The Hassles' were changing line ups due to internal disagreements over excessive drug use by some members, who were eventually fired and replaced by Billy Joel and fellow Lost Souls bass player Howard Blauvelt. The Hassles were a psych pop type band, not unlike many others of the period, and were signed to United Artists. They went on to cut two albums, the first containing several soul cover versions, and released a few singles from each with little success.
Joel had always seen himself as a composer and writer as well as a musician and co-wrote their 45 release in '68 called 'Every step I take (every move I make)' released on United Artists UA 50258. The song was co-authored by V. Gormann and one T. Michael's, not be confused with the artist who recorded ‘I love the life I live’ for Detroit’s Golden World label. Their only small success came with 'You've got me hummin', which bubbled under the Top 100 at number 112 for just one week. The band was short-lived again splitting in '69 and Joel moved on to yet another unsuccessful venture, a rock duo called 'Attila' with the Hassles drummer John Small, before eventually going solo around '71, and the rest is history as they say.
The Hassles 45
Meanwhile in a little town called Elmira in upstate New York, a group of young guys were constantly being kicked out of the bars for being under age but come their 18th birthday they were raring to go into the music business. The original band consisted of Dave Paugh, guitar & vocals, Phil Dowd, B-3 organ & vocals, and Wayne Lips, drums & vocals who began playing the nightclub scene all over New York while dreaming of bigger things.
Sam Ippolito was a singer in a rival band which were playing the same club circuit as The Teardrops. Somehow, they met, and Sam invited the band to come to his hometown of Pittsburgh and join forces. Sam had sung with soul, R & B and doo wop groups as well as pop and rock bands. He had a well-seasoned voice and could sing anything from James Brown (he had a brilliant scream) to a smooth Lou Rawls. He had a friend in Pittsburgh called Danny Schegel, who played bass and sang, and approached him to join and Danny eventually became the fifth Teardrops member.
For any band to be successful a strong lead singer and good backup harmonies were a must because the Pittsburgh music scene of the time was very much influenced by soul, R&B and Motown. With Sam leading and the guys backing they had a great vocal blend with tight harmonies, and we were able to cover tracks from the great vocal groups of the day such as The Temptations, Four Tops and Four Seasons as well as the pop material by the Beatles, Stones, and so on.
It was late 1966 and since The Teardrops were new in town, they were not yet able to land gigs at Pittsburgh's hottest clubs. They did however manage to impress the owner of a place called ‘Lashes Lounge’. This was a great out-of-the-way place where they could hone their sound and stage presence.
The Teardrops original line up (L to R: Schegel, Dowd, Ippolito, Paugh and Lips)
They were obviously a talented bunch and it wasn't long before they gained musical recognition as they opened as the support band for many now famous artists including Jay & the Americans, Tommy James, The Foundations, The Shirelles, The Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas, The Drifters, and many others. Achieving this status is difficult for any band, particularly in such a short space of time and it’s worth noting that that these headline artists are predominantly black. Obviously, they had captured that ‘sound’ which complimented the main performers.
The Teardrops with the Vandellas
Rich DePaulis owned ‘General Talent Associates’, located in Pittsburgh's prestigious Gateway Center. DePaulis booked all the big acts for concerts as well as many of the local bands at the hottest Pittsburgh nightclubs. After hearing the name ‘Teardrops’ mentioned several times, he decided to check them out himself. It was a magical night and a perfect match. Rich DePaulis became not only their new agent, but also their new manager. Very soon, under DePaulis’ guidance The Teardrops were playing all the local hot spots Mondays through Thursdays and hitting the road on the weekends to open for countless top recording artists.
Their first concert came in January 1967, when they opened at the Syria Mosque, which seated 3700, for ‘Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs’ and ‘The Spencer Davis Group’ featuring Steve Winwood. This was possibly Winwood’s last gig before starting his band ‘Traffic’. Over the following three years they opened for a lot of great artists, mainly staying within a reasonable driving distance of Pittsburgh, which sometimes meant New York or Atlantic City. Since there were few large arenas in those days, the venues were mostly universities and there was no shortage of colleges to play at around their base. Many of the headline acts were either from the Pittsburgh or Detroit areas, which made it easy for DePaulis to match The Teardrops with the headline act and the performance venue. Along the way, Wayne Lips, Phil Dowd and Danny Schegel were replaced by Denny Hall, Jimmy DePaul and Chuck Walker. This would be the bands final line-up and the one which recorded their 45.
In January 1967, The Teardrops opened at the fabulously named Thunderbird Lounge, owned by Jim Maxim. The Teardrops took over the Tuesday night spot which used to belong to The Raconteurs. Jim Maxim and the Teardrops developed a great rapport over the next couple of years. He saw the Teardrops' potential and eventually decided to put up the money for the band to do a recording session at a local Pittsburgh studio and in January of 1970 the Teardrops recorded ‘Every Step I Take’.
Whilst mentioning The Raconteurs it would be remiss of me not to tell this story. Tommy James, originally from Michigan, came to Pittsburgh in 1966, after learning that a song he had recorded several years earlier was being played on radio stations all over the Pittsburgh area. Tommy's band, the Shondells, had broken up years earlier, so now Tommy was sitting in Pittsburgh with a huge hit developing, but of course Tommy had no Shondells. One night he walked into The Thunderbird Lounge, where The Raconteurs were playing and thought they sounded pretty good, so when they took a break Tommy walked up and asked if they would like to be the Shondells. They said yes and by the middle of 1966 ‘Hanky Panky’ had hit number one in the charts.
Over the years, the Teardrops opened for Tommy James several times. The original bass player, Danny Schegel, already knew Tommy's bass player, Mike Hale, since they were both from Pittsburgh. They used to get together and jam and share bass riffs. One day Mike Hale told Danny that they (The Shondells) were about to record a song called ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’ but he was having trouble coming up with a comfortable bass line for the song. Danny Schegel came up with a bass line that was so laid back it actually dominated the song in the process. Hale loved the riff and used it on the recording and the result can be heard throughout the song. Unfortunately, Schegel was drafted shortly afterward and contact lost.
Back to the Teardrops and the MAX recording. Rich DePaulis was fan of The Hassles and knew their version of the Billy Joel penned 'Every step I take'. He liked the song and considered it a great fit for the band and a hit just waiting to happen. There is no doubt that Billy Joel and his cohorts had written a memorable tune, which builds nicely across the verse and delivers an instantly catchy hook line. Like most good compositions its relatively simple but comparing the two versions there is no doubt The Teardrops took it to a new level with a better arrangement and a musically and vocally better, more soulful delivery. 'Raise your hand' was chosen as the flip as it was an established tune in their repertoire and a fan’s favorite during their live sets at the Thunderbird Lounge. The MAX label was a dedication to Jim Maxim who never asked for a dime of his investment back. Maxim kept the label name and went on to help future bands get started.
Teardrops on Max
DePaulis and Maxim wanted success for their protégées and so the band worked hard promoting the single heavily through concerts and TV appearances, gaining a positive response from the public and music industry insiders alike. As their efforts began to pay off new bookings came in and they were scheduled to open for the likes of Gary Puckett, Mitch Ryder and Grand Funk Railroad later in the year. Unfortunately, they were destined never to fulfill their engagements, release further material or achieve the recognition they richly deserved.
The Teardrops disbanded several months after recording ‘Every Step I Take’. Of course, the fact that the song was written by the great Billy Joel didn't mean much at the time, but it would become a great talking point for the remaining band members years later. During the final days there was turmoil and disagreement within the band, which sadly they simply couldn't overcome. Finally, at one rehearsal, they all agreed that it wasn't going to work out and walked away. Only Dave Paugh and Denny Hall kept in contact.
Dave Paugh headed for California in the early 70's and began doing studio work around the L.A. area but missed the live performances. So, he called up his buddy Denny Hall in Elmira, NY and asked if he would like to come to California where the two started a new band called ‘Duck Soup’. It was the 70's and they were about to discover hard rock, funk, disco and any other genre you’d like to name. As Paugh now says “Duck Soup turned out to be the second-best band I ever played in. The Teardrops was like a bad marriage that you never really recover from.” Sam Ippolito later became the front man for The Jaggerz between ’76 to ’77.
The Teardrops and ‘Every step I take’ was lost for many years and could have sunk without trace, which would have been a tragedy for such an excellent group and song. It seems the band were clearly talented and going in the right direction musically and also in career terms. Maybe the Teardrops could have become the Shondells had Tommy James visited The Thunderbird Lounge whilst they were performing – who knows? Fortunately, some three thousand miles away an obscure music scene dedicated to all things soulful heard it, liked it and kept it alive for 40 years appearing on DJ playlists worldwide and appreciated by thousands of fans. Strangely, the 45 has probably been played in more venues than The Teardrops ever played at and I’m sure they would be proud of that achievement. These stories of potential commercial success followed by disagreement and breakdown seem to be so common across our music scene, but it’s something which keeps the interest alive and the collectors continually looking for that obscure local release which nearly made it, and the groups who had their hopes dashed.
In writing this I’d like to thank Dave Paugh of The Teardrops for his enormous help and input on the band and background, with other material being sourced from various internet sources. Dave is aware of the UK and global soul scene and is thrilled about the interest in the band and 45.