Gary James' Interview With Ernie Sierra of
The Eternals charted their first song, "Rockin' In The Jungle" in late 1959. That song was a favorite on the New York radio stations, climbing all the way to the number 11 spot. Nationally it went to number 78 on the Billboard chart. Their second record release was something called "Babalu's Wedding Day", which really put them on the map and is responsible for the continued interest in the group.
Original member Ernie Sierra talked about his group and their struggle for success.
Q - Ernie, according to Norman Nite, (author of "Rock On") your lead singer, Charlie Girona felt the group would have to write its own material to make it big. That was quite a novel idea back then wasn't it? Didn't most of the 50s groups sing other people's material?
A - Yeah, but that's what made us. As a matter of fact, the manager of my brother's group, his name was Bill Martin, I thought of the group when I was thirteen. Then Charlie came in like four years later. As a mater of fact, he tried out for my brother's group, but they couldn't use him, they had enough guys. We weren't looking for nothing. We were just kids harmonizing. But we only had four guys. And Charlie came in. We were singing standards. There was a couple of songs we were trying to come up with, without Charlie..."Night Cloud". It was one of those things that we had. But when Charlie came in, he started doing baritone. I used to do second and lead. Charlie was two years older. That's a lot at that age when you're eighteen and the other guys are sixteen. Charlie was pretty damn educated. I think he finished college by correspondence. That's hard to do. He started making songs. Charlie started thinking about doing our own songs. This guy who wrote "Night Cloud", I forget his name, wasn't coming to too many rehearsals. Charlie started with "Babalu". One of the guys that sang with my brother, Sammy, knew that we were working on our own material. He wanted to introduce us to Bill Martin, their manager, which he did. "Rockin' The Jungle" was coming up already too. I wrote "My Girl". When he found out that we were not just singing standards, but had our own material, that's what did it for us.
Q - What was the name of your brother's group?
A - The Trails.
Q - Because you guys were writing your own material, is that the reason Bill Martin got you a deal with Hollywood Records?
A - Yeah. He knew somebody. He knew Bruce Morrow. (Cousin Brucie) That's who he knew.
Q - So before "Babalu's Wedding Day", no one in the group had written a song before?
A - No. Only Aldo, but he didn't last too long. He had this song "Night Cloud", which was pretty...I think so. But, he didn't record with us. He was gone before. As a matter of fact, that's when we brought in Freddie Hartz. We used to call him "Pineapple". Don't ask me why. That was his name. Freddie took Aldo's place. Now we had the originals.
Q - You performed at the Murray The K and Bruce Morrow Shows at the Palisades Amusement Park. Who else was on the bill with you?
A - I remember singing with The Skyliners. I remember doing a show at the Plainview Country Club in Long Island with Frankie Avalon. We did a show with Roy Hamilton. The Mystics. The Passions. I met Dorothy Collins from Your Hit Parade. I'd been watching her since I was seven and now here I was on the same show. Now we sing a lot with Johnny Maestro, The Cadillacs. We never sang with The Spaniels until now or The Solitaires.
Q - Where do you perform today?
A - The Oldies shows...the concerts. We do Long Island. We're doing Manhattan. We hardly ever do that. We do Connecticut. We'll be there Memorial Day weekend. We do car shows. We've done Atlantic City. Pittsburgh. I think we've done that about four times since '94.
Q - Did The Eternals make money on their records or were you cheated?
A - We were cheated. As a matter of fact, in the late 60s, early 70s, I received from the I.R.S. that we got paid $160 when we did the TV show with Clay Cole and I never reported it. I never got paid nothing. I called them and said this is good, I'm glad you guys got in touch with me, because we were cheated. I explained to them, but they didn't want to hear it. We took it personal at first. We were the only Hispanic group. We happen to be all Puerto Ricans. We were the only Hispanic group to hit the charts. This is before "Menudo" and all this other stuff. We happened to be Puerto Ricans from the South Bronx. Not too many people know this. As a matter of fact, when they bring us on, I want them to know. One time they tried to get rid of our bass, Alex Miranda. He was a terrific bass. He sounded much older. He was only seventeen. We were trying out for Everest Records. They had a meeting with us and they wanted us to get rid of Alex 'cause Alex was dark. He looked more like an Indian. Very dark. A good looking guy though. We were kids and we told the guy, F--- you! That's our friend. We're together. We're the Eternals. We were never called back and we weren't interested in getting rid of Alex. They (Everest Records) had a lot of connections in the South.
Q - According to Billboard's Book of American Singing Groups, "had their manager not over zealously sued a competitor, the group might have made the big time." How accurate is that?
A - Remember, we were kids. Bill Martin was the one that arranged everthing, the music. He taught us our steps. Him and his wife were professional dancers when they were young. Rehearsing in the basement in the Bronx. Then we went and signed a contract with Bruxe Morrow...Cousin Brucie. I remember signing the contract and it was three records. They were gonna give us one year. That's six sides. The contract was signed by Bill Martin. That day, they didn't give him a copy. I don't think it was done purposely. We liked the Morrow family. They treated us good. Even Cousin Brucie's brother. So, Bill Martin went home without a contract, but it was signed and it was for one year. Years later, Bill Martin said we stabbed him in the back. We didn't even know what that meant at that age. They called us in, to bring over our mothers to sign a new contract with somebody else. That was true. We wanted to be stars. We were kids. We brought our mothers. One guy brought his grandmother. He didn't even speak English. Years later, we used to laugh at that. But, at the time we signed with anybody. Of course we didn' tell Bill Martin. And Bruce Morrow wasn't there at that meeting. Nobody from the Morrow family was there. But, they said they had authority from them. So, we signed our contract for five years. They were promoting or managing The Genies. They took our record "Today" off the charts as soon as Bill started suing them. The other side was "Blind Date". It was another novelty (song). That guy Ed Rudy, we didn't even know, put his voice into it, "Hello Tarzan, I want you to meet your blind date." When we left the studio, that wasn't there. Nobody had said that. They messed up the record. It was a good novelty. A guy going on a blind date and met up with a monster. These guys were real crooks. Then they took cheap pictures of us against a dirty wall and they made cards. To us that was big time. We gave 'em to all our friends. Bruce Morrison's brother bought us outfits and brought us to a professional studio. I don't know who gave him the authorization to do this, but these are the pictures I have on my wall. This is the original five Eternals. When the payola bit came out, everyone went south and some guys got caught and some guys didn't. I don't have anything against Bruce. I just think he got mixed up with the wrong people.
Q - What do you like about performing today?
A - I like it so much. Years ago we were kids and the audience were kids too. They were wild. They really didn't listen. Now you go to these concerts and there's some people our age and they sit there, especially in Pittsburgh. Man, they are nostalgic. They're great. We love it. You're talking about nobody really likes The Eternals opening up for them no more. We were the opening act for a lot of people. I'm patting us on the shoulders I guess, but it's the truth. We are more polished than any other group out there. I don't care how big the names at that time! I'm not talking about The Temptations. We opened up quite a bit at Westbury, Dick Fox, but he only used to give us six minutes. And you better get off that stage in six minutes!
Q - Now, you became a police officer. How does the job of a police officer compare with the job of being in a hit singing group?
A - Well, it was more secure. I had a family to take care of. The song I wrote, "My Girl" was just a flipside to "Babalu's Wedding Day". They didn't know which song to put out. I wrote "My Girl" for my wife. She was my girl at the time. I say this in every show. I don't sing the song unless I say it. We all lost somebody. My wife died in '87. We were married for twenty-seven years and three years of going steady.
Q - How'd you come up with the name for the group?
A - Bill Martin brought out the Bible. He and his wife were very religious. He came out about eternity and all that and I said "The Eternals". When you're that age, you think this going to last forever, we're gong to be together forever. We ate all that up. It was The Eternals. We're gonna sing forever. That's how The Eternals came up.