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By Jan H. Kennedy
There were no appearances on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.”
We didn’t buy pink Cadillacs for our mothers like Elvis did and no company paid us outrageous money to wear their tennis shoes. That was not what fate had in store for the Del-Royals.
Who were the Del-Royals?
Many of you reading this remember us. We were three lads from Dellroy who briefly chased musical fame in 1959: Sonny Tanner, Eddie Baggott and me, Jan. H. Kennedy.
Sonny Tanner’s death in January left me as the last man standing in a way. Kinda like Uncas, the Last of the Mohicans in James Fennimore’s 1826 novel of the same name.
In my case, I’m the last living member of the Del-Royals. Eddie died much too young, about 30 years ago.
Here’s the backstory:
I first met Norman Austen “Sonny” Tanner when my family moved to a farm outside Dellroy in the summer of 1951. As we moved through classrooms in the old Dellroy School, we soon learned we had something in common – pretty good athletic skills. We became the two best players on our middle school team, often rivals, at least in Sonny’s mind.
By our junior year, now at Carrollton High School because students in Dellroy had to move up to Carrollton for our sophomore year. Eddie, a year younger, joined us that year. At Carrollton, we met Jerry Glasser, the youngest of 10 Glasser family kids. His older brother, Richard, professionally known as Dick Lorey, had a Top Ten hit and was on American Bandstand.
Another brother, Pat, known as Pat Shannon, also appeared with Dick Clark on Bandstand. Jerry, with brothers Teddy and Bobby, recorded as The Three G’s, whose song, “Let’s Get Ready for Summer”, sold well in the New England area, but nowhere else.
Jerry’s tales of his family’s careers led Sonny, Eddie and I to form the Del-Royals. The name reflected not only our hometown but was fashioned after a successful group called the Del-Vikings.
We’d rehearsed at my family’s home. None of us played an instrument, so we recruited Jerry, who was very proficient on guitar already, to play as we rehearsed. He didn’t own a guitar or amp so he would borrow one from his brother Richard.
Six months later, Richard was able to get us a contract with Warwick Records, whose Johnny and the Hurricanes had a Top Ten hit. So off we went to a recording studio in Cleveland to record “Barbara”, written by Fern Britton. On the B side was one of Richard’s songs, “I’d Wait Forever.”
We were scheduled to go on a national tour with Johnny and the Hurricanes the spring of 1960, so I took extra classes and graduated in three and one-half years, at the end of the first semester. The summer of 1959, we did numerous record hops with disc jockeys at KYC in Cleveland, the top rock station in the country, at least for breaking new Rock ‘n Roll songs. We were usually paid our travel expenses only, but that’s what they call “paying your dues” in the music industry.
Our main problem was that if Richard had a gig the same night we did, Jerry could not get the guitar and we’d have to cancel. I sold my 4-H beef calf and went to Gattuso’s Music Store in Canton and bought a bright red single-pick-up Gibson electric guitar and amp. Now, we were on our way.
I’d watch Jerry play during our rehearsals. When everyone left, I’d get out my Doc Williams Guitar Book and practice chords and try to imitate what Jerry was doing. I was never advanced enough at that time to play when we sang, but kept at it and eventually got where I could accompany myself.
One of the disc jockeys played “Barbara” on his late show one night after a performance in the Cleveland area. It was a segment where a new song was previewed and people called in their opinions, taking usually 25 calls.
We waited outside the station in my car talking about anything we could think of to keep our nerves calm. We understood the importance of that moment. It would make or break us. That is when we first heard our song played on the radio. I’ve been a writer most of my life but hearing our song on the radio for the first time was something I cannot find adequate words to describe.
It seemed like a day passed (probably only an hour) but the disc jockey finally came down with the news: they had taken 29 calls and 24 liked it.
“Well boys, it looks like we have a hit on our hands,” Sonny said, way too premature as Sonny was known to do.
The station, and several others in northeast Ohio where we hand-delivered records, started playing “Barbara.” That night and the next three weeks would be the acme of our career.
The thrill would be short-lived.
In those days, stations would play a record where people showed interest in it, but only for so long, like maybe three weeks, unless sales showed people buying it. Unfortunately for the Del-Royals, Warwick Records had not set up a distribution plan, so those wanting to buy the record could not find it in stores.
Richard Glasser sent a copy of the record to Dick Clark, who was always asking on his show why no one ever recorded a song called Barbara, his wife’s name. We thought we might kick things off, but we found out later from a man associated with Clark that, for a hefty percentage of future income, Clark would hold up any record named Barbara until one group had its song ready. You may remember it: “Ba-Ba-Ba…Ba-Barbara Ann.” It was recorded by some California group no one ever heard of…Oh yeah, the Beach Boys.
Could that have been us if Clark had played our record first?
So, with the world ready for only one song named Barbara, the Del-Royals softly faded into the obscurity from which they had risen. Following graduation, Sonny and Eddie were Navy bound. I went to Canton and started college.
Sonny, eventually, after joining Jerry in drag racing, became an over-the-road truck driver, returning to live in Dellroy later in life. Eddie worked at Republic Steel until his weak heart finally gave out on him. Jerry, who was never officially a Del-Royal, but without whom we couldn’t have happened, opened his auto body repair shop on SR 43 east of Carrollton. He died a few years ago of cancer.
I eventually went on to become a singer, guitarist/songwriter. In the 1970-80 period, I was under contract with two more recording companies and had five records released.
No, you never heard them unless you were a relative or close friend. But traveling around the country and playing for audiences was great. Feeling the energy and feed-back of an audience was like winning a million-dollar lottery every night. But the cut-throat side of the business – not so great. I eventually soured on it and settled into another life as a reporter and columnist and a murder mystery dinner theater playwright.
Now, here I sit, the last of the Del-Royals. I am looking at our record and some of the pictures from our hey-day, remembering too much and too little.
I have decided to start performing again. So, if you walk into a bar or a restaurant or winery and I’m playing, it’s ok to buy me a drink and we’ll raise a glass and say a toast to The Del-Royals. They were the wannabes and neverwases of a tiny little town in Carroll County.
Dellroy has more than the Del-Royals to brag about.
Other successes include Jeff Day and his father, Harley, who reached the pinnacle of drag racing and Brian Merrick, also known for racing.
The Del-Royals never reached the success they did, but for that one brief, shining moment, the Del-Royals found Camelot. Their light glowed only briefly, but 70 years later, enough remnants of that light linger to create faint shadows if you look closely enough.
And now there is one.
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