Gary James' Interview With Peggy Santiglia Davison Of
The Angels are perhaps best known for the million selling song "My Boyfriend's Back", which went all the way to number one in 1963. Formed in 1961 in Orange, New Jersey, The Angels were one of the better known groups in the early 1960s.
Angel member Peggy Santiglia Davison talked with us about the group.
Q - Peggy, Barb and Jiggs Allbut formed The Angels?
A - Yes. They're sisters.
Q - How did you enter the picture?
A - I was recording, singing and writing with a group that I started in elementary school actually, called The Delicates. Did you ever hear of "Murray The K"?
Q - Oh, sure.
A - Well, I wrote the original theme song "The Submarine Race Watchers Theme" with one of my school friends at the time, when I was really very young, probably seventh or eighth grade. We played hooky from school and took a bus on the corner to go to New York City and pretended we had an appointment with Murray Kaufman (Murray The K). I'm sure they knew we didn't. We were just kids. I think I remember it was snowing and we just had sneakers on. But, anyway, we were taken right up to the studio, sang the songs and they recorded them. What I didn't know at the time, because I was just a kid and didn't know about B.M.I. or ASCAP*. They loved those songs as radio themes and for that reason, didn't have to get involved with a royalty. But, the fact remains, I went home. That night we heard ourselves on the radio. We were already recording and singing, but we were too young to do anything except record hops. I guess I met Barbara and Jiggs before they were The Angels. I was in The Delicates. We recorded (as The Delicates) "Black and White Thunderbird" and a number of other things. They recorded "P.S. I Love You" as The Starlits. We would meet either doing local TV shows, and 'local' meant New York City, even though we were from New Jersey. That was close to us. A distant cousin from marriage had been singing with them when they first started as The Angels. We would stand backstage and sing together. We liked each other a lot. So, when the person who had been hired by them to sing lead and had been with them, I guess maybe close to a year, wasn't working out, they asked me if I wanted to join them. My contract with The Delicates, we were on United Artists and then Roulette, was coming to an end. They in fact had to be bought out from whomever they were with. At that time FGG (Bobby Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, Rich Gottehrer) brought us "My Boyfriend's Back". So, I was with them actually while I was still in school, a year before we had "My Boyfriend's Back" and wasn't able to travel in the beginning. We recorded "Boyfriend" a while before it came out. We were working on it. So, that's how it kind of was.
Q - Let me understand, the lead singer of The Angels, (Linda) Jansen...
A - Jankowski.
Q - I have it as Jansen.
A - Right. That was her stage name I guess. She was employed by Barbara and Jiggs.
Q - And she didn't work out with the group?
A - Right. It was a personal situation in her life. She broke the contract. She probably still wanted to sing, but, she did not fulfill what she was supposed to with that contract with them. And that didn't work out.
Q - How did the song "My Boyfriend's Back" get into the hands of The Angels?
A - FGG ( Bobby Freeman, Jerry Goldstein, Rich Gottehrer) who wrote it, except for the part we ad-libbed in the studio, which was a bit...we were kind of known for that. At the time FGG brought us "My Boyfriend's Back", we were pretty well known behind the scenes in New York City, doing background work for many other very famous people. We were on a lot of other people's hit records. But, when you do studio work and you're in AFTRA, that's it. You don't get a royalty. Whitney Houston's Mom at the time had a very popular background group. We were one of the others. There were a number of other people. Some went on to have their own hit records. Some didn't. Everybody in New York kind of knew us at that time for doing background work. It was mainly the three of us. On occasion, some of my original group sang with me, but mainly it was Barbara, Jiggs and myself. They brought us the song and thought that we would really be right for it. We really loved it. Actually, I have to credit Barbara and Jiggs because, especially Jiggs really felt in her heart that it was gonna be a hit. And you know, that's what happened.
Q - When that song went to number one, how did your life change?
A - Well, of course it changed in a big way in terms of the types of places where we performed. Working in Europe...working all over the world. It didn't change as far as what someone might consider a regular life to a performer, because I'd been singing, writing and performing since I was probably eleven years old. I was a senior in highschool by this time. We all had had some chart records before that. They did, with initial recordings as The Angels and even The Starlits. Even the songs I did with The Delicates did get a lot of play around New York and the tri-state area. So, we were used to performing, but, and even in some cases, some big places. The Brooklyn Fox or the Brooklyn Paramount with Murray The K. But, you were treated differently when you were the group that had the number one record. You were very much in demand. It was very exciting at that time. You didn't really have much on FM, if anything at all. We could switch the radio to any of the major stations and we would hear our song time after time after time. That part was very exciting.
Q - When you toured the world, were you headlining or supporting someone else?
A - We weren't really a support group unless it was opening for Frank Sinatra or someone of that caliber.
Q - Did you in fact, open for Sinatra?
A - We worked in Vegas in different rooms and so we met him and worked together that way. Of course, when your song is number one, you're a headliner except at that time it was a long time before divas and female groups. Generally, they didn't have women close the show. That was before a lot of equality stuff happened. You were certainly among the headliners of the really huge shows. I guess it's kind of hard for people to think about now. It's kind of like when you do an oldies show now. You had more time and a better spot. You might be sort of the focal point in a big show. Or, we worked by ourselves when we were traveling Europe. We weren't opening for anybody. We weren't closing for anybody. It was just our concert.
Q - Who were some of the acts you shared the stage with?
A - Anybody that you could think about. You know, we've done thousands of shows. Anybody from that period that had hits. All the originals...and I stress original of course. Our early rock 'n roll music is the only area of show business that has fake people...impostors. And they don't say they're impostors. Some of them don't even say 'Tribute To'. And unfortunately, because people love the music so much, they don't always know if it's a group with the original lead singer. Unfortunately, I can't mention the name because this person sues everybody in sight, but there is someone who is rather unscrupulous about owning the name of a certain group. He puts out many (groups). And there's another person who owns the name of another group that doesn't work any more at all. Unfortunately, original people who maybe weren't the lead on every song but, they were original people who did the recordings, they can't work without getting sued. We're fortunate that we own our own name...very fortunate. Plus, my step-daughter is an entertainment lawyer. She helped us trademark the name. For years, we couldn't get 'The Angels' because a church, a religious group had it. In fact, we were using the name The Angels before the baseball team. When I saw they were winning, it brought me back to years ago when the team first formed. We did a whole publicity shooting with them in California because our names were the same. There's just so much that has happened in our period of music. We just feel fortunate that we still enjoy it. People seem to love coming to the shows. A lot of good stuff has been happening lately. We're in our 50s and you're talking about since we were in our pre-teens. So, I would say anybody who is still doing big rock shows now, we still work with. So, it's Lou Christie, Lesley Gore, The Chantels, The Chiffons, Franki Valli and The Four Seasons. Years ago, Bob Gaudio, who was one of the original members who wrote the songs with Bob Crewe, produced me. When you're a professional singer this long, even though we've recorded different things with different people, we never stopped being The Angels. I was the first female counterpart to Dawn. I recorded as Dusk for the same writers and producers. I had, I guess it was a Top 50, "I Hear Those Church Bells Ringing" and "Angel Baby". If you hear those songs, they're very much in the style of Tony Orlando. I knew him from when he first had "Halfway To Paradise". I didn't have any hit records yet, but I was one of Murray The K's dancing girls. We would sing our theme song at The Brooklyn Paramount. Tony was only fifteen. We were only twelve or thirteen. There's a long, long history for people like us.
Q - Did you ever tour with any of the British Invasion acts? Did you ever tour with The Beatles?
A - No. We never toured with The Beatles. When the first wave of British acts came here, Billy J Kramer, Freddie and The Dreamers, Gerry and The Pacemakers...we were the female group that toured with them on their first American tour because our record was number one. When we were in Europe doing Army and Air Force bases, I remember that the gentleman that was in charge of putting our itinerary together, asked if we wanted to meet this male group. I don't even remember what the name was at the time or if we even asked. He said they were going to the US and there was going to be a big hype about them and everything is planned. Well, we really didn't have the time. We were never the type of performers who were aloof about anything. We always enjoyed meeting new people. They were literally working us so hard. We were doing shows during the day...at night...just lots and lots of travel. It was exhausting, especially since the band didn't speak English and we didn't speak German. Well, I later found out that, that group later became The Beatles.
Q - Since you were in Las Vegas, did you ever meet Elvis.
A - Not in Las Vegas. I met Elvis when I was very, very young, before I was ever with The Angels. It was at a famous person's private party. I can't say I spoke to him 'cause I could hardly catch my breath. But, I did see him and meet him. I got a little closer than across the room, let's put it that way. You have to realize that when you're thirteen or fourteen or whatever I was at the time...and Elvis Presley! I could barely think, never mind speak.
Q - What happened when you tried to do a follow-up to "My Boyfriend's Back"?
A - Well, it wasn't a matter of trying. It was a matter of we did not have a say. It wasn't our choice what song came out next. We disagreed vehemently with the producers. But, that was that. So, of course "I Adore Him" got on the chart and pretty high up (#25), more or less just on the coat tails of "Boyfriend". I think the producers were trying to sort of imitate a bit of a Phil Spector style with "I Adore Him". There were a couple of other songs that we, meaning Barbara, Jiggs and myself, would have liked better as a follow-up. But, we really didn't have regrets about that because so much happened at that point, who knows? That's right when The Beatles hit really big. Even male groups and single male artists who were teen idols got wiped out of box. So, everybody did.
Q - Have The Angels always been performing or was there some down time when you went out and did something on your own?
A - There was never a time when we all went off and did something else. There were times when we took turns for different reasons, sometimes health reasons, sometimes because Jiggsy was pregnant, other times because we needed to stretch a little bit, whether we wrote with anybody else or sang with anybody else. But, all three of us were never totally split all at once. There was always two and maybe a fill-in person until one of the originals came back. But, we did for a number of years, change our act dramatically, when we no longer had chart records. "Boyfriend" took on a life of it's own. Every year, little kids hear about it. So, it was kind of a phenomenon, that song. We still worked all the time, but we did much more of a supper club act. We toured Europe. We toured Canada. We toured the United States. But we played top nightclubs. We were one of the last groups to play the Copa Cabana. We were there with Al Green before there were big oldies rock 'n roll shows. There was always big rock 'n roll shows. Often, Jerry Lee Lewis was the headliner. So, oldies didn't exist yet. We were young, but we weren't thirteen, fourteen years old, so we weren't doing shows strictly for kids anymore. We had a beautiful act choreographed. So, we had dancing and show tunes. We did include the hits we had as The Angels, but it was more in a medley, or that was the focal point. But, it wasn't a rock 'n roll show. That kind of bridged that time for us. There was a time when I sang with The Serendipity Singers, when Barbara and Jiggs weren't touring. I did lots of collage concerts with The Serendipity Singers for years. One of the things now that is very good for entertainers and also for fans, is the whole Native-American casino thing. Those places have taken the place of those big, beautiful supper clubs. I love working in the casinos because not only do the Native-American casinos do an awful lot for young people, but it's also a wonderful thing for the community and the entertainers.
The Angels reached the Top 40 twice before Peggy joined the group.
"Til" was a number 14 hit in Dec. 1961 and "Cry Baby Cry" made it to number 38 in April 1962
The Angels also sang background vocals on Lou Christie's 1966 hit, "Lightning Strikes"
*ASCAP and BMI are organizations that help composers, authors and publishers collect payment for their work.
AFTRA is The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a national labor union representing performers and other artists.