Gary James' Interview With Warren Gradus Of
Before Dion And The Belmonts there were The Belmonts. The Belmonts recording career dates all the way back to 1957. You couldn't really talk about the history of Rock 'n' Roll unless you talk about The Belmonts.
Belmonts member Warren Gradus spoke with us about the group.
Q - Warren, there's Dion. There's The Belmonts.
A - Right.
Q - But there is no Dion And The Belmonts as there used to be. Now, why would that be?
A - Actually, in the beginning there were two separate contracts. Dion had a contract and then we were signed with Laurie Records under an individual contract. They produced a few records with us and when Dion's contract was up and our contract was up, we just sort of went our separate ways. It was never one group. It was individual artists. Dion was his own artist. The Belmonts were their own artists. The record company put us together.
Q - In the public's mind, it's Dion And The Belmonts.
A - Absolutely.
Q - That being said, wouldn't Dion And The Belmonts on a marquee be a bigger draw then just Dion or The Belmonts?
A - I think so.
Q - So, has anybody ever said let's put this together?
A - Sure. In roughly 1970 we did about four shows, one of which was at Madison Square Garden. It was a reunion show, Dion And The Belmonts. We did Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. We did Nassau Coliseum. So, we did get together.
Q - And after that, you went your separate ways again?
A - Yeah.
Q - So, you joined The Belmonts in, what year?
A - '63.
Q - And The Belmonts have been together for how long?
A - At that time, The Belmonts had been together for five years.
Q - Did you replace someone who left the group?
A - Actually, I replaced Carlo (Mastrangelo). Originally it was Angelo D'Aleo, Freddy Milano and Carlos and Dion. Dion left and then Frank Lyndon came in the group, singing lead. Actually Carlo sang lead on "Come On Little Angel" and "Tell Me Why". Then when he left, I replaced him. So the group was Angelo, Freddy, Frank and myself.
Q - Did you guys do the Dick Clark tours?
A - I think we did one Dick Clark tour. Really, there wasn't that many gigs at that time, believe it or not. It wasn't as good as it became when the revival hit, which was around '69.
Q - When you'd perform, you wore tuxedos?
A - Sure.
Q - Certainly supper clubs were around at that time. There must have been a circuit of supper clubs you could play.
A - There was The Copa. Yeah, there was some supper clubs. But you have to remember that in those days it wasn't like today where you have these huge venues to play. In the very beginning with "I Wonder Why", there were only really record hops. There were some shows, but smaller venues because the audience, believe it or not, was not old enough to go to nightclubs. Until the audience grew up with us and were able to go into nightclubs, there weren't that many gigs. There were some shows. By the time the revival hit in '69, everybody was able to go into clubs, so there were tons of gigs in nightclubs and of course then there were some shows. Richard Nadar came along.
Q - You must have been able to play State Fairs.
A - Yeah. There were State Fairs. Absolutely. But it really got busy in '69.
Q - How long was Dion with The Belmonts?
A - He was with the group for two years. He left in '60.
Q - If there were very few gigs when you were in the group, how did you support yourself?
A - Well, we would do gigs and we would do other things. I was a studio musician.
Q - You played what?
A - I played guitar. I played drums. I played keyboards. I played everything. And I do vocals. So we used to work with Ernie Maresca at Laurie Records and we used to do demos for everybody. So, I was doing odd gigs. If somebody wrote a song and wanted a demo, I would do it with Freddy and we'd get paid by the record company.
Q - You must have met everybody in Rock 'n' Roll during those years, wouldn't you say?
A - I would say. (laughs)
Q - Do you remember any "names" that you did demos for?
A - We did a million demos. I can't even begin to tell you who they were for. First, we did all Ernie Maresca's stuff, and we did other demos for everybody from Julie Stein to Hal David without Burt Bacharach. We did all the writers. Writers you wouldn't even consider Rock 'n' Roll writers, like Julie Stein.
Q - You were based out of New York, weren't you?
A - Yes.
Q - That means you didn't go out to the West Coast very much?
A - We did on occasion, mainly for TV shows. Like we did Solid Gold and The Mike Douglas Show.We would do some gigs occasionally. But I would say most of the gigs were on the East Coast. Some of 'em were in Chicago. But I guess you could say most of 'em were on the East Coast.
Q - Have The Belmonts been recognized by the Cleveland Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?
A - No.
Q - Why would that be? You guys have got a "name".
A - Well, yeah. I think Dion is in the Hall Of Fame, right?
Q - I don't know.
A - Yeah. Dion is in the Hall Of Fame, but they chose to put Dion in without The Belmonts for whatever reason they have. I don't know. I really don't know. But we're in The Doo Wop Hall Of Fame and The Vocal Group Hall Of Fame. So, that's good.
Q - That's very good.
A - Hey listen, we don't have to be in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. (laughs) If they put us in, it's because of them. They need to put us in. They didn't need to put us in at that time. If they need to put us in, they'll put us in and it'll serve their purposes. For us, it really doesn't do too much.
Q - How much work is there these days for The Belmonts?
A - We're working a few times a month. Of course, there was much more work in years gone by and our audience has gotten a little older. There are gigs, so we are working a few times a month, which is great. It's fun to go out there and do these gigs.
Q - Dan Elliott from Syracuse, N.Y. is part of The Belmonts.
A - He's a great singer. They grow great singers up in Syracuse. He's a great lead singer.
Q - Dan has a solo act, he has a duo act, he's part of the Rock group The Monterays, he was singing with The Glenn Miller Orchestra, he works in radio and he's with The Belmonts. Since The Belmonts have a "name", shouldn't more effort be given to The Belmonts?
A - Well, The Belmonts are The Belmonts, right? Everybody has another life besides that, so we all do other things. We all have a lot of things that we do.
Q - At one particular gig Dan Elliott does with The Monterays, an outdoor gig, people will throw Frisbees around, sit around in circles and talk, and it seems to me he isn't being given the respect he deserves. Maybe they don't know what he's done.
A - That's what it is. They don't know what he's done.
Q - It bothers me.
A - I can understand that because the guy is an absolute monster. He's an out and out monster. I mean, he toured all over the world with Glenn Miller, the Glenn Miller Orchestra and he's been all over the world with The Belmonts, made records with us and he's made his own records, The Monterays. I just think they don't know what they're seeing. Eventually they'll realize it though. He deserves to be acknowledged for what he's done.
Q - Do The Belmonts have new recorded product available?
A - Yes, we do.
Q - You sell it where? On your website?
A - Yeah. I think we do. It's really hard to get like a "hit" nowadays 'cause it's hard to even know what a hit is. Things have changed as far as how you promote a record and who will play your record. Radio isn't exactly what it used to be. Radio just kind of follows the trend. Things are happening on the Internet and radio kind of follows that, like YouTube and all this other stuff. One good thing is if you make a record that's irresistible, I think it'll be a hit. I don't think there's a way to stop it. So that's why we keep recording and we have things we're recording right now. So yeah, we're always recording.
Q - Did you ever meet Buddy Holly?
A - Well, I didn't, but the group was on that last Clear Lake, Iowa show. Freddy was there. Freddy's just passed away, buy the way.
Q - I saw that. How does that affect The Belmonts when you have a long time member like Freddy pass away?
A - Well, it's not really great for morale. It kind of lets you know you're not immortal, although the music will go on in one form or another. But we kind of put things together musically and still go out there and perform, which I'm sure Freddy would have wanted us to do that.
Q - When the British Invasion happened, did you like it?
A - I liked it. I did like it. I didn't like the fact that it was kind of pushing us to the side, but I did like the music. The music was absolutely great.
Q - Is there any way you could have seen that style of music coming?
A - Not really. It just sort of came out of the clear blue sky.