A Tribute to Johnny Maestro

What do you get when you put together two blacks, one Puerto Rican and one Italian?  You end up with the first racially integrated groups of the 50’s

The Crests

The Brooklyn Bridge

I will be talking about the groups and the loss of the great voice and their leader!

Johnny Maestro

We lost Johnny on March 24, 2010 to Cancer in Florida.

In everything that I have been reading, all of the news media talks about The Brooklyn Bridge, in which he was the lead singer, but not a lot about The Crests.

Well I guess the news media are not really Rock & Rollers, because even though the song “The Worst That Could Happen” was a number 3 hit on Billboard, that was it. And yet, the Crests had earlier placed 5 songs in the top 40, and they would have had a number one hit with “16 Candles” except for those “Chipmunks“, as you will read below.

Johnny also placed two songs under his own name, Johnny Maestro, in the Top 40. So, by editing a lot of information I will try as best I can to tell you about Johnny Maestro (Johnny Mastrangelo) and his career…

The Crests

The Crests

1. My Juanita – Joyce label/first attempt/did not make Billboard top 402
2. Pretty Little Angel – Coed label/regional hit only
3. Beside You – Coed label #506/12/12/58/did not go anywhere until they turned over the record and found –
4. 16 Candles(B side) – Coed #506/12/12/58/ # 2 for two weeks on Billboard
5. Six Nights A Week – Coed #509/4/13/59/ # 28 on Billboard
6. The Angels Listened In – Coed #515/9/14/59/ # 22 on Billboard
7. Step By Step – Coed #525/4/4/60/ # 14 on Billboard
8. Trouble In Paradise – Coed #531/7/18/60/ # 20 on Billboard

My Juanita

Pretty Little Angel

Johnny Maestro

Johnny Maestro

1. Model Girl – Coed label #545/3/20/61/ # 20 on Billboard
2. What A Surprise – Coed #549/5/22/61/ # 33 on Billboard

What A Surprise

A small story I found about 16 Candles:

In the early days of rock, a group would often show up in the studio and their label would present them with the songs they were supposed to record. They didn’t have any choice in the matter. In 1958, Coed gave The Crests two songs for their second single. The first was “Beside You,” a standard Doo-Wop tune that was expected to get radio airplay. “That song was more in tune with what was happening on the radio back then”, Johnny Maestro recalls, “the real rhythm and blues doo-wop stuff. It had more harmonies, I think. It tended to lean more toward what was happening.”

The flip side was “16 Candles”, a teen birthday theme that Maestro remembers as “a little classier,” brought in by staff writers Luther Dixon and Allyson Kent (Dixon co-wrote a ton of rock classics, including “Soldier Boy” and “Mama Said” by The Shirelles).

16 Candles

Although the infamous Payola investigations were just around the corner in late 1958, disc jockeys were still obliviously playing whatever they wanted to, independent of play lists.

Alan Freed of New York’s WINS and Dick Clark on ABC-TV, were two of the most influential deejays in America, and they liked “16 Candles” a lot more than “Beside You.” They both played the song incessantly. Soon other disc jockeys began playing that record, which led teenagers to start buying it, which led to the song becoming #2 in the country. It was a clear-cut chain, beginning with a few important jocks who decided what American kids would want to hear. And that’s the way it happened with many tunes. Today “16 Candles” is considered a classic, but we never would have heard it at all if it hadn’t been for Freed and Clark.

FOR THE RECORD: The Crests’ luck was great, but not perfect. A quirk of timing kept “16 Candles” from hitting #l. When the record was at its peak at the end of 1958, the Christmas novelty tune, “The Chipmunk Song” was in the process of selling about two million copies.

Nothing could’ve knocked it out of #l. 16 Candles” was The Crests’ only Top 10 record, although Maestro was back in the Top 10 in 1968 with a different group, The Brooklyn Bridge, singing his first million-seller, “The Worst That Could Happen (Bob Shannon)

The Crests: Formed in New York City, USA, in 1956, the Crests soon became one of the most successful of the ‘integrated’ Doo-Wop groups of the period, after being discovered by Al Browne.

Headed by the lead tenor of Johnny Maestro (Johnny Mastrangelo, 7 May 1939, USA), the rest of the band comprised Harold Torres, Talmadge Gough, J.T. Carter and Patricia Van Dross.

By 1957 they were recording for Joyce Records and achieved their first minor pop hit with ‘Sweetest One’. Moving to the new Coed label, The Crests (without Van Dross) recorded their signature tune and one of Doo-Wop’s enduring classics, ‘16 Candles’, a heartfelt and beautifully orchestrated ballad.

It became a national pop hit at number 2 in the Billboard charts, paving the way for further R&B and pop successes such as ‘Six Nights A Week’, ‘The Angels Listened In’ and ‘Step By Step’.

Six Nights A Week

The Angels Listened In

Step By Step

Trouble In Paradise

At this time the band was almost permanently on the road. Following ‘Trouble In Paradise’ in 1960, the band’s final two chart singles would be credited to The Crests featuring Johnny Maestro. However, this was evidently not enough to satisfy their label, Coed, whose priority now was to launch the singer as a solo artist.

Maestro’s decision to go solo in 1960 (subsequently calling himself Johnny Maestro) weakened the band, although they did continue with James Ancrum in his stead.

Maestro made the charts with ‘Model Girl’, still with Coed, in the following year…

Model Girl

… before re-emerging as leader of The Brooklyn Bridge, an 11-piece Doo-Wop group who are best remembered for their 1968 single ‘The Worst That Could Happen’. (Oldies)

The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge

1. Worst That Could Happen – Buddah label 75/1/4/69/ # 3 on Billboard

The ’60s pop outfit, The Brooklyn Bridge, was led by Johnny Maestro, the former frontman of The Crests. The group was formed on Long Island in 1968 from the ashes of local rivals the Del-Satins (a vocal quartet including Maestro, Fred Ferrara, Mike Gregorio and Les Cauchi) and the Rhythm Method (musical director Tom Sullivan, guitarist Jim Macioce, organist Carolyn Woods, bassist Jim Rosica, trumpeter Shelly Davis, saxophonist Joe Ruvio and drummer Artie Cantanzarita).

Upon joining forces as The Brooklyn Bridge, the group issued their self-titled debut album in 1969, scoring their first Top Five hit with the Jimmy Webb composition “Worst That Could Happen.”

Worst That Could Happen

Subsequent singles like “Blessed Is the Rain” and “Your Husband–My Wife” failed to recapture the debut’s success, however, and albums like The Second Brooklyn Bridge and 1970’s Day Is Done also fared poorly.

While the group’s contract with the Buddah label ended in the wake of 1972’s Bridge in Blue, they continued performing live throughout the decades to follow, with Maestro, Ferrara, Cauchi and Rosica remaining from the original lineup in the ’90s. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide.

Johnny Maestro, who co-founded and led two great groups — The Crests and The Brooklyn Bridge — has died of cancer at age 70. Maestro and The Crests were groundbreaking as one of the first successful interracial groups, and had the smash hit “16 Candles.” And as part of Brooklyn Bridge he sang now classic hit, “Worst That Could Happen.” A New York native, Maestro continued to perform right up until last month. He was a great voice and an historic pop and soul figure. He will be missed. Maybe now he will be considered for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


7 responses to “A Tribute to Johnny Maestro

  1. A few corrections: Maestro died on March 24, 2010. The list of recordings by The Crests should read that “16 Candles” was in 1958. Johnny Mastrangelo was born in 1939.

  2. Hi Lois
    Thank you so much for the corrections. If you want to double-check, I hope I got it all right now.
    – Russ

  3. Thanks so much. I run an Internet fan club for Johnny Maestro on Yahoo, and I like to see the facts straight concerning his life and career. We have indeed lost a man with a golden voice, but we have his music to keep forever.

  4. one of the best..thank god we have his music forever god bless….


  6. I so loved “Welcome Me Love” and “Blessed is the Rain.” I still listen to them all the time. Johnny Maestro – the greatest voice I have EVER heard.

  7. l. p. deacosta

    First saw johnie and the brooklyn bridge at the reading fairgrounds around 1970.T he fairground are closed now,and my mind still wonders back to that magical day.His memories will always be fond ones.Bless you brother,you were the greatest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.