Gary James' Interview With Larry Chance of
Larry Chance has been singing since the mid 1950s. He started on street corners and took his voice to the top of the charts. Along with The Earls, Larry Chance enjoyed great success with songs like "Life Is But A Dream", "Never", "I Believe" and "Remember Then".
Q - Larry, what was there about that South Philly (Philadelphia) neighbourhood you grew up in, that produced so many famous singers and showbiz personalities?
A - I really don't know what made it so musical. It just was. I don't know why. Maybe it was something in the water.
Q - The era that you came up in, the 1950s, if Dick Clark and his TV show had not been in Philadelphia, would Larry Chance, Fabian, Frankie Avalon and Chubby Checker have made it?
A - In my case, I would. The Earls didn't make it until I moved to New York. When I was a kid, Bob Horn was the host. I remember being a 15 year old and going onto American Bandstand. It was then a local show and I vowed one day I'd come back as a performer and I did. Bob Horn wasn't the host, Dick Clark was. But, it was one of my thrills to go back to Philly and appear on American Bandstand. That was quite a thrill for me.
Q - As a 15 year old going to American Bandstand, you were dancing?
A - Yes. I went a number of times.
Q - Had American Bandstand originated from another city, do you think we would have seen some other performers go onto stardom?
A - Perhaps. As an example, it was Dick who told Danny and The Juniors to change the lyric to "At The Hop". Originally it was "Do The Bop". Dick was quite a force. He really was.
Q - You moved to the Bronx with your family in 1955 and there were vocal groups on every corner. Why was that? Was that a favorite way to pass the time?
A - I think it was. And it was a way to attract girls. And it kept us out of trouble. But, the main reason for me is, I just love music. I loved making music with the voice. It was wonderful. Once in awhile, one of the guys might bring a tambourine. Another guy might bring a cowbell. It was basically voices. You wanted to be better than the group that was up the street or on the next block. It was kind of a challenge.
Q - So, by 1957, you and five friends got together and formed a group called The High Hatters?
A - Yes.
Q - What was the significance of that name?
A - At that time we thought maybe we'd go out and get some tails and tuxes and high hats and canes and white gloves and spats and call ourselves The High Hatters. But, unfortunately, we couldn't afford the outfits.
Q - Where did the High Hatters perform?
A - The High Hatters performed at the Elks Lodge, The Moose Hall, the Immaculate Conception of dances on Friday nights. Just any place we could.
Q - Did you write your own songs?
A - Yeah, we wrote our own songs.
Q - How did you do that if the High Hatters were a vocal group? Did someone play an instrument?
A - I wrote 'em in my head...still do.
Q - How do you do that?
A - I actually write a song in my head. I write the melody. I write the lyrics and I write the chords that I hear. I'll sit with my guitar player and pretty much sing him the notes that I hear and the chords, which amazes him. (laughs) But, that's the way I do it. The background's already in my head...everything.
Q - You've been doing this your whole life?
A - My whole life.
Q - You don't play an instrument?
A - I play a little, tiny bit of piano. I can play a little tiny bit of drums, but I wouldn't call myself a musician.
Q - By 1960, The High Hatters had changed their name to The Earls. Why The Earls.
A - Actually, we just wanted to change the name High Hatters. Different guys came up with names. The five of us couldn't agree, so I said "let's open up a dictionary and whatever word it falls on, that's what we'll call it." I opened up the dictionary and put my finger on it and it came up on Earl. I said "well, that's it." We're lucky we didn't put it up an eighth of an inch more...we'd be called The Ears. But you know, that's how Lionel Richie did it with The Commodores. I always said if he put his finger up just a little bit more, it would've been The Commodes.
Q - Where were you "discovered"? How and where did you get your first break?
A - Singing on the street corners. Someone came by and handed us a card. It was a gentleman name of Trade Martin who had some recording success of his own. A couple of weeks later, we were in a studio and a few weeks later we were the Champ Record Of The Week, of the night on the Murray "the K" Show on WINS. We won the Boss Record Of The Week competition, which guaranteed us some airplay and "Life Is But A Dream" became our first successful recording.
Q - That's kind of unusual for a singer (Trade Martin) to want to help another singer(s) get a record deal, isn't it?
A - He actually was a musician and producer before he became an artist.
Q - And he got you into a recording studio?
A - He and a partner named Johnny Powers. They took us into the studio. They presented it to Bill Buchanan of Buchanan and Goodman fame, who had a record label called Triadex. Trade Martin and Johnny Powers wanted their own label, so Triadex decided to distribute the Rome label.
Q - You never actually had a big label behind you in those early days, did you?
A - No.
Q - So, how did they break the records for you?
A - American Bandstand...Connecticut Bandstand...The Clay Cole Show. We did numerous record hops in the New York area. We went out and did some record hops with Hy Lit in Philly, with Jerry Blavet in Philly. Did the Buddy Dean Show in Baltimore. Things of that nature. You know...whatever it took.
Q - How about touring?
A - Well, we did a lot of bus tours. We did one with Hy Lit...Dick Clark. Those were fun, but they were tiring. But when you're young, you bounce back right away.
Q - How many days would you be out on the road?
A - Oh, 30-35.
Q - Do you remember some of the people you were on the same bill with?
A - Oh, sure. Gary Bonds...Bobby Lewis...Anthony and The Imperials...The Shirelles...The Mello Kings...The Five Satins...Caesar and The Romeos. When you're a kid, it was wonderful. You know, you're very impressionable. Here I was working with some of my heroes. It was wonderful.
Q - When the bus tours ended, did you make the transition to supper clubs, as many of the acts from that era did?
A - I'll tell you exactly what we did. When the British Invasion came along, we decided we would add some horns to the group and we just changed the name. We were talking about this section of the Bronx that had a few factories with huge smokestacks. We said "let's change the name of the group to Smokestack." We had at least three horns and we began to work places like the Peppermint Lounge and the Wagon Wheel in Manhattan, and The Headliner and Club Maxim in the Bronx and the Riviera Lounge in Yonkers, New York which was the happening place. And we did that for a number of years. Then of course, in the late 60s, early 70s, there was a revival. I never liked the name revival, because revival means something that was dead and has come back to life. I don't think it was ever dead. It might've been dormant, but it was never dead. Even as Smokestack, and we were a pretty hot swinging dance band, we always got people going "We know you're The Earls. Do some of your old stuff." So, it was never dead and I always resented that expression "revival".
Q - Did you ever play a place in Syracuse called Three Rivers Inn?
A - Yes I did. I worked there with Johnny Ray. I worked there two or three times. I remember the first time was with Johnny Ray.
Q - Do you remember the year?
A - Oh, it was possibly '61, '62 or '63. In that era, I worked there two or three times. It was a wonderful place to work and I was thrilled to work with Johnny Ray for the first time.
Q - Why is your name ahead or above The Earls?
A - I didn't do that. Here in New York, there's a radio station called CBS-FM and some of the disc jockeys there began to call the group Larry Chance and The Earls. I think because some of the later records said The Earls, featuring Larry Chance for one, and number two, we have a situation which is still ongoing of many groups not having original members. So people like Lenny Coco and The Chimes, Vito Piccone and The Elegants, Larry Chance and The Earls, Herb Cox and The Cleftones, Nicky Santo and The Duprees decided to use their names because we wanted to show, not only we're their original members, the original lead singer is who you're gonna see if you see this act.
Q - Besides yourself, what other original members are in the group?
A - I'm the only original left, but one of my members, Bobby Tribuzio, the second tenor and drummer, he's been with me 42 years. The bass player, he's one of the newer guys, he's with me 23 years. So, we've been together a long time. But I'm the only actual one all the way back.
Q - So what happened to the original Earls?
A - Two passed away. I dedicate our version of "I Believe" to one of the gentlemen who passed away in the service, when he was just a young man...Larry Palumbo. And Bob DelDin died recently. Jack, the original baritone bass left the group and moved out to the West Coast many years ago and Eddie left the group and moved up to Saugerties and decide to open a sawmill. I see them occasionally.
Q - Do they miss the business?
A - Oh, I think so. I don't think you ever lose the desire to make people happy. I just knew in my heart I couldn't do anything else. I've never done anything else other than I was in radio for a short time with Don Imus. I did many of the characters on his show. I did "Rainbow Johnson", "Geraldo Santana Banana". That was quite an experience. I did that for ten years. I've always been a frustrated comic. If you come and see The Earls, you see a lot of comedy. It's a complete show. It's a fun show.
Q - What are you doing these days?
A - Oh, still keeping busy with the guys. We're always around and we're always busy.