The Mystics History
Written by Bobby Ferrante
Oirginal Founding Mystic member
Back in 1956, Philly, me and a guy named Tony Carosella used to sing some of the "Doo Wop" songs that were popular back then. We used to go to the wash room in the basement of the apartments where I lived on Bay 19th Street, because it had an echo. We recorded our singing on an old Recorder my uncle gave me. Philly and I brought the recordings to Kelly's poolroom and played them for Albee, Punchy (Tony Armato), and the other guys. We agreed to form a singing group, but decided that Carosella would be excluded since we really needed a Bass voice. So Albee got Philly Campano to join.
In 1957 we entered the talent contest at the Loews Oriental on 86th street, but at the last minute Philly Campano got stage fright and quit, so we performed with Phil, Albee, Punchy, Allie and me.
During this same time, Jimmy Hudson, Albie Gallione and Tony Conigliaro (Conig) were trying to start a group. "Conig" who is Allie's cousin wanted Allie in their group but when things did not seem to be working out for them, Conig came to us and told us about Allie and asked that we give him a chance with our group. We all met at Mitchell's Drive-In and Conig introduced us to Allie. Our group were in Albee's car and we told Allie to get in and start singing. We knew immediately that we had found our Bass guy. Now we thought the Overons were set. But then Philly decided to join the Navy so we needed a lead singer. One of the guys from the neighborhood told us about a friend of his named Joe Strobel. Joe joined the group and we started doing small shows all around Brooklyn.
Then in 1958, both Strobel and Tony decided to quit the group. At this point, Phil returned from the Navy and re-joined the group and we added George Galfo to replace Tony. The Overons were finally the group that became the Mystics.
Groups such as Lonnie and the Carollons from Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn would come down to Coney Island to get tattooed and then immediately head for the Bop House. (It's too bad no one took pictures of the happenings at this place, but as Allie Contrera recalls - "If someone did they probably would've gotten the hell beaten out of them"). The re-formed Overons practiced the original tunes that Joe Strobel had written (with the help of the original Overons).
The group knew that they were good and went into Manhattan looking to audition for a record contract. On their first audition they were offered a contract by George Goldner. After speaking to George Goldner, they went home and ripped up the deal he offered, feeling that Goldner was not the right person for them. The Overons would often go into nearby Borough Park to hear The Neons sing and get advice. The Neons had already achieved success with "Angel Face" in 1956 and were the first white doo-wop group to have a hit record. Besides giving pointers on singing, The Neons told The Overons to cut some demo recordings for audition purposes.
Soon a local older fellow who said he had "connections" told The Overons that if they could come up with $1000, he would get them into a recording studio and on their way. The Overons took out a loan and in mid-1958 they went into the Broadway Recording Studio at 1650 Broadway in Manhattan. They recorded, with musical backing, four original tunes: "The Bells Are Ringing", "Prayer To An Angel", "Why Do You Pretend" and "Big Brown Eyes". At the end of the session The Overons realized they were being ripped off because $1000 was way too much too pay for what they had just done. The entrepreneur with "connections" was soon on his way.
But after seeing what happened, the studio owner tried to console The Overons, telling them they were good and offering some free recording time should they decide to come back. Undaunted by the financial setback, The Overons returned to the studio and cut the same four original tunes, but this time accapella. In the studio this day was Jim Gribble, a friend of the owner.
Gribble was a successful lawyer and talent agent down south until his marriage broke up and he landed in Manhattan destitute. It took a while for Gribble to land on his feet, but when he did, he opened up an office in what now is the Ed Sullivan Building on Broadway and started to manage vocal talent. Gribble immediately took a liking to The Overons and told them to stop by his office as he would be glad to help them get started as a singing group. Gribble liked The Overons' sound, and felt he would have no trouble getting this good-looking group signed to a recording contract.
But the name "Overons" had to go. To find a new tag, all five members wrote one new name they liked on a slip of paper, and all the papers were put into a hat. Allie Contrera remembers finding "Mystics" by going through a dictionary. When his piece of paper was drawn out of the hat, The Overons became The Mystics. In late 1958, Gribble secured a recording contract with Laurie Records for The Mystics using the demo tunes the group had cut. Upon finding out that they were going to record for Laurie, the group were ecstatic as this label was the home of Dion and the Belmonts. Word spread quickly in Bensonhurst about The Mystics' good fortune.
It wasn't long before the local fellow who had ripped off the group was at Jim Gribble's office, contract in hand, stating that he was their manager. A closed door meeting ensued with The Mystics waiting outside nervously. When the meeting ended, Gribble said he had taken care of the problem and The Mystics were free of the previous contract. The Mystics soon recorded two songs for Laurie, "Adam And Eve", and the old Weavers' tune "Wimoweh". (When members of the original Overons, and later The Passions, used to hang out at Bay 3 on Brighton Beach, they would sing "Wimoweh".
This definitely influenced The Tokens who were from Brighton Beach and who were persuaded to record this song as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in 1961 by producer Bob Feldman. Feldman was also from Brighton Beach). The Mystics first efforts were arranged and produced by Elliot Greenberg. But Laurie was not happy with the results and commissioned Doc Pomus and Mort Schuman to write an original tune for the group. Mort Schuman was friends with The Mystics, as he knew them from Bensonhurst where he also lived. Soon the Pomus and Schuman team came up with "A Teenager In Love" for the group, but The Mystics were quickly disappointed.
Laurie decided to give the material to the already successful Dion and the Belmonts. Laurie executives felt that a song more in the style of The Elegants "Little Star" would be better suited for The Mystics and told Pomus and Schuman to come up with something else. The next day, Pomus and Schuman came back with "Hushabye". Prior to recording "Hushabye" and up to the time that this record became a huge hit, The Mystics did vocal back-up work on several recordings at the request of Laurie Records and Jim Gribble.
The group was very happy doing these back-up vocals, figuring that even if they never did anything else, at least their voices were now on records and they were getting paid for it. For Laurie Records, The Mystics backed up Judy Allen on "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree" b/w "Sentimental Me", Scott Garrett on "Love Story" b/w "Graduation Souvenirs", Rusty Lane (real name, Karl Zeeb Jr..) on "Karen" b/w "Ask The Robin". These four Laurie releases came out in 1959. Connie Francis' manager worked on the same floor as Jim Gribble and The Mystics wound up doing vocal back-up (along with some girls) on one song cut by Connie Francis. Recorded in 1959, this side, "Tommy", was released in 1964 on the MGM label. Also at the behest of Gribble, The Mystics backed up Rocky Hart on "Come With Me" released in 1959 on the Cub label. (The flip side of this record, "Everyday" features vocal back-up by The Passions who were good friends with The Mystics). What's more, the group backed up Rocky Hart on two unreleased tunes that no one now remembers the titles of. (Rocky Hart's release of "I Played The Part Of A Fool" on Glo Records feature neither The Passions nor The Mystics). But once "Hushabye" took off Gribble would not allow The Mystics to do any more vocal back-ups. In May of 1959 Laurie released "Hushabye" b/w "Adam And Eve" and within a few weeks the record was a smash.
Peter Tripp on WMGM radio was the first to play it. Soon Alan Freed started featuring "Hushabye" as the closing tune on his televised Saturday night Big Beat Show. In fact, one night Freed played "Hushabye" four times in a row! At it's peak, "Hushabye" was Top Ten in most of the tri-state area, and nationally it climbed to around #20. The Mystics made an appearance on Clay Cole's TV show which, at the time, was located in Providence, Rhode Island. This appearance had much significance later on. The Mystics became very good friends with Clay Cole and they became close friends with The Tradewinds who also appeared on the Providence show.
The Tradewinds vocal group would soon change their name to The Videls. The Mystics also appeared on Jim Gallant's Bandstand in Connecticut, did record hops in Philadelphia, made Palisades Park appearances hosted by Cousin Brucie Morrow, did Ted Steele record hops, appeared on American Bandstand and on an Alan Freed Stage Show at the Brooklyn Fox. They went on a Cavalcade Of Stars tour run by the General Artists Corporation.
This was followed up tour to the ill-fated one that claimed Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens. It ran from June 12, 1959 to July 5, 1959. Besides The Mystics, this tour featured Johnny and the Hurricanes, Freddy Cannon, Frankie Ford, Barbara Evans and Carl Dobkins Jnr. While on the road doing a string of shows on the strength of "Hushabye", The Mystics started pressuring Laurie Records for studio time to record a follow-up release. Never interested in recording the four tunes written by the original Overons, Laurie came up with "So Tenderly" (the supposed "A" side) and "Don't Take The Stars". Around this time, The Mystics also wanted to record an album of old standards.
Laurie liked this idea, but unfortunately for The Mystics, the project was given to Dion and the Belmonts. In the late summer of 1959, Laurie released The Mystics second single with "Don't Take The Stars" doing very well locally and in the tri-state area. Nationally, the record made the top 60. However, at the recording session, The Mystics started getting disillusioned with Elliot Greenberg's arrangements. The group made another TV appearance with Clay Cole. His show was now on Channel 13 in New York. Around this time, The Mystics recorded "Red Red Robin", which remains unreleased to this day, and "Paper Moon" which was released in 1980 on the Crystal Ball LP Laurie Records - A Full House. In the fall of 1959, Phil Cracolici exited The Mystics, leaving them with no lead singer.
At Jim Gribble's suggestion, Paul Simon (aka Jerry Landis), who frequently hung around Gribble's office, became The Mystics' new lead. In January 1960, "All Through The Night" (with five voices singing together with no distinct lead), "I Began To Think Of You" and "Let Me Steal Your Heart Away" were recorded. The Mystics were now more upset than ever with Elliot Greenberg's arrangements. "All Through The Night" b/w "I Began To Think Of You" received some local air play, but soon Paul Simon left the group to pursue other writing and production projects.
Eventually "Let Me Steal Your Heart Away", with Paul Simon on lead, was released on the Crystal Ball LP previously mentioned. On March 9th, 1960, The Mystics appeared on the American Bandstand afternoon show singing "All Through The Night". On April 16th, 1960, the group began a road trip with Alan Freed's final mid-west tour. The other acts on the tour were: Teddy Randazzo, Freddy Cannon, Bobby Freeman, The Fireflies, The Singing Belles, Sonny Til and the Oriols and Eddy Quinteros. The tour only lasted a couple of weeks and went bust. No one got paid. With Paul Simon gone, The Mystics started looking for a new lead voice and had gone through about 15 auditions when they chose Jay Traynor.
It was very easy for the group to audition singers because Jim Gribble had a good reputation as "Manager Of The Stars" that attracted vocal talent to his office. On May 11th, 1960, The Mystics with Jay Traynor on lead recorded "White Cliffs Of Dover", "Blue Star" and "Over The Rainbow" at RCA Studios. This was the first time that Laurie allowed the group to pick and record songs that they liked. Inspired by The Dell Vikings' version, they chose "White Cliffs Of Dover", (The Mystics sang this song often at live shows long before recording it). Backed with "Blue Star", "White Cliffs Of Dover" received (at best) local play. "Over The Rainbow" remained unreleased until the late 80s when Ace Records issued a Mystics album.
On June 23rd, 1960, The Mystics went into Central Park for a photo shoot for an album that Laurie was planning. Unfortunately, the album never came to be and the group never saw the photos. Jay Traynor was soon disillusioned with his job as lead singer, feeling he was never really part of The Mystics. He believed the other four members were just putting up with him, hoping their original lead Phil Cracolici would return - and he was right. When Traynor decided to leave The Mystics, he met with Kenny Vance and Sandy Yaguda, who were members of another Gribble act, The Harborlites. Soon, Jay, Kenny, Sandy and Howie Kirschenbaum went on to form the original Jay and the Americans based in Flatbush. In 1961, The Mystics, once again needing a lead singer, were introduced to Eddie "Shots" Falcone by Lou Rotondo of The Passions.
Eddie had previously sung in Lou Rotondo's unrecorded street group, the Del Rays from South Brooklyn. Laurie felt that "teen tragedy" songs were doing well at this time, so they recorded The Mystics with Falcone on lead singing "Star Crossed Lovers" b/w "Goodbye Mister Blues". Since The Mystics were having no luck with Elliot Greenberg's arrangements, the label brought in Stan Vincent to produce this session. Laurie believed that the younger Vincent might be better able to connect with the teenage market. It was Vincent who gave "Goodbye Mister Blues" to The Mystics.
This song was also recorded by Billy DeMarco and the Renditions on the Up label - probably before The Mystics' version. The Mystics did a few record hops off this release, but the record didn't even dent the charts. Shortly thereafter, Eddie Falcone was out of the group. The Mystics often hung out and sang at Frankie & Johnnie's bowling alley on 86th Street and 16th Avenue. It was here that the group was approached by a young Ralph Lizano with "Darling I Know Now", a song he wrote and wanted them to sing. The Mystics liked it, and asked Ralph to sing lead with them on it. The group went into the studio and cut "Sunday Kind Of Love", "Darling I Know Now" and "Again". All these songs featured Ralph Lizano on lead. Laurie released "Sunday Kind Of Love" b/w "Darling I Know Now", but this disc received absolutely no airplay. "Again" remained unreleased until the aforementioned Crystal Ball LP. By mid-1961, Bob Ferrante and Albee Cracolici decided to call it quits and The Mystics stopped recording and performing.
Late in 1960, The Mystics were approached by Pete Andreoli and Vinny Poncia whom they had met in Providence, Rhode Island in 1959 (Tradewinds) and were asked to record an original tune, "Mr Lonely", which Andreoli and Poncia had written for The Mystics. The Mystics declined, so Andreoli and Poncia recorded it with their own group, now called The Videls. Of course, The Videls had a big hit with this release on JDS Records. But by late 1961, The Videls had broken up, so Allie Contrera and George Galfo of The Mystics and Pete Andreoli and Vinny Poncia of The Videls joined forces and performed as both The Mystics and The Videls. Albee Cracolici also sang with this group for a short time.
At one point they added a girl named Rose to help them emulate the sound of The Skyliners. To help with personal appearances, Pete and Vinny borrowed brown suits from two of the inactive Mystics, and the group appeared on Clay Cole's show as The Mystics singing "Darling I Know Now". The next week they returned to Cole's show (in the same brown suits) as The Videls. At first Clay Cole had a fit and told them they couldn't possibly go on the show. But Cole relented and so the same guys appeared first as The Mystics and then as The Videls singing "A Letter From Ann". (This Videls tune was recorded for Kapp Records with Pete and Vinny over dubbing their own voices).
In late 1963, Pete Andreoli and Vinny Poncia released "Hand Clappin' Time Part 1 and Part 2" on Big Top Records. There is a vocal group on this release made up of Phil, Albee, Allie and George of The Mystics. Pete and Vinny also recorded some singles under their original name, The Tradewinds, on Red Bird Records in 1965 and had a hit with "New York's A Lonely Town", Red Bird also released "The Part Starts At Nine", a collectors favourite. It's no wonder that this is a very collectable record because the group backing Pete and Vinny up here are the same Mystics members that backed them up on their Big Top release.
Around this time, The Mystics recorded "In My Faithful Heart" and "Save A Dream". The first song remains unreleased to this day, but in 1980 Crystal Ball Records released a Videls album that mistakenly included "Save A Dream". This song was on a master tape that came from a box with "Videls" written on it. The original Mystics were inactive from the mid-'60s until the rock and roll revival hit in 1969-70. For a while, the original five members did the revival circuit. Shortly thereafter George Galfo moved to Florida and the group needed new members.
For a while, the replacements were Joe Esposito, Bruce Sudano and Eddie Hockinson. They sang and played musical instruments. During the early 1970s, Allie Contrera received a call from Andreoli and Poncia who had relocated to California. They wanted Allie to come out west for a big project they were working on. Allie declined the invite, but in his place he sent Joe Esposito, soon followed by Bruce Sudano and Eddie Hockinson. These three were known as "Brooklyn Dreams" and wound up being Donna Summers' back-up group. Bruce Sudano eventually married Donna Summers. Kenny Vance used Brooklyn Dreams as The Planetones in the movie American Hot Wax and they are still performing as Kenny Vance and the Planotones
From the mid-1970s to 1990, the main replacement singers in The Mystics were John Tarangelo, Joey Napoli and Emil Stuccio. (Emil being the original lead singer of The Classics). In the winter of 1981, The Mystics cut an album called Crazy For You for the Ambient Sound label. For these recordings, the group consisted of Phil Cracolici, Albee Cracolici, Al Contrera, John Tarangelo and also original member Bob Ferrante. On this album The Mystics recut three Overons original tunes: "Prayer To An Angel", "Why Do You Pretend" and "The Bells Are Ringing". In June of 1982, Bob Ferrante moved to Arizona.
In 1989 the album entitled "They Sang In Brooklyn" was released. This album featured all unreleased sides from the 1950s and early 1960s by some of the old Brooklyn groups. The Overons' 1958 accapella version of "The Bells Are Ringing" is the lead off song on this LP, and epitomizes what a white Brooklyn streetcorner group’