Gary James' Interview With Joe Terry of
Danny and the Juniors
Danny and the Juniors are perhaps best known for the song "At The Hop". That song went all the way to the number one spot. Joe Terranova, a.k.a. Joe Terry was part of the Juniors and is still carrying on in the tradition of the day. Joe talked with us about Danny and the Juniors and how one song led to a life-long career in music.
Q - Where did your manager, Artie Singer, "discover" Danny and the Juniors?
A - Well, actually we were discovered by a guy named John Medora. We were singing, practicing on the street corner one night. He lived in an apartment near us. He said "you guys are pretty good. I'd like to take you to the guy who recorded me." So, he took us to Artie Singer. We subsequently sang some songs for Artie. He liked the group and he liked the way it sounded. He liked a couple of songs in particular, which was a song called "Do The Bop" and "Sometimes When I'm All Alone". So, he took us in the studio and we recorded those songs. Then, he took them up to Dick Clark, who was running American Bandstand only as a local show then. What the producers in Philadelphia would do is, they would produce records. Dick would play the records on the local radio stations and they would sell 50,000 - 60,000 copies. They really didn't care if it was a national hit or not. They were making money doing it that way. And you can make money doing it that way. But in any event, Dick said to him "the Bop...the kids are doing it on our show, but these dances come in and go quickly, why don't you change the name of the song 'cause it's a good little song to the hop." "Record hops", he said, "are gonna be around for a long, long time." So, we went back, re-wrote it and...the rest is history.
Q - Who would make the money on the sale of a record that sold 50 - 60,000 copies? The record company? Or the record company and the group?
A - Well, the record company can make the money. In those days they didn't pay the groups. (laughs)
Q - Did any of the guys in the group play an instrument? How did you write a song?
A - I was in the band. I played trumpet. Danny was a drummer of sorts. David White played guitar and piano. So, he was basically the writer in those days. He would write the songs for the group and we would sing them.
Q - How did life change for you when "At The Hop" went to number one?
A - We had some major decisions to make. Myself, being that I was still in high school, so I had to decide whether I was gonna come out of high school and forego a college education and go into show business. So, life changed drastically. My goal was to go to Drexel University and become a draftsman / architect. That was a big decision that we all had to make. Dave had a scholarship to one of the universities. I don't think Frank had any college plans, nor Danny. We went into a world where we were working tours almost every night for at least a year and a half. So, you give up your teen-age youth and become an entertainer. And that's what happened.
Q - You actually toured as part of Alan Freed's Revue. Is that correct?
A - Yeah. There were two major touring companies in those days, Irving Feld, who later took over the circus...Barnum and Bailey Circus...in fact, his son still runs it, and the Alan Freed Tours. Then later, on the Dick Clark Tours. That's what you would do. Then they had a series of ballrooms in the Midwest where they would line up maybe twenty ballrooms and you would do a twenty day tour. You'd do it by rent-a-car. You'd get there yourself. It would just be you and they'd fill the ballroom with kids and they would dance and you would do your show. There were some nightclubs that started to use rock 'n roll acts, some pretty major nightclubs, because it became big. Like Casino Royale in Baltimore...Latin Casino in Philly...Fairmount Hotels. So there was a multitude of work to do.
Q - Was the Freed Tour like the Dick Clark Tours, where you'd get on a bus and do 30 or 60 one nighters?
A - Yeah, absolutely. You'd shoot all over the country. You'd travel and there'd be 16 acts. Two buses. One for the musicians and one for the entertainers. It was quite an interesting life. (laughs)
Q - How would it be decided who would open the show and who would close the show?
A - Well, Alan Freed would decide that.
Q - What was it based on, do you know? Chart action?
A - Yeah, I would think it would be chart action and then star status. Like Chuck Berry had already had a run of hits and so did Little Richard. And Fats Domino. So, they usually closed. We had one. (hit), then two (hits), so we would be somewhere in that second half of the show. It would tour all over the country, so they would have a couple of country artists. They would open up. They had this girl, Jo-Ann Campbell. She would come on in the first half...just to add a real sexy female. It was good. Each act would do a couple of songs, basically their hits. It moved pretty quickly. People would just scream through the whole thing, every teen-age kid.
Q - Did you like Alan Freed?
A - I never really met him other than "hello Alan...goodbye Alan." He was pretty aloof and always pretty busy. He had a lot of buffers. I did get to know one of the guys who worked for him, Ray Raner, real well, who now has his own agency out of New York City. He (Alan Freed) seemed to be a nice person.
Q - Were you ever on the same bill with Buddy Holly?
A - Yeah. We were on the same bill with Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Paul Anka, Thurston Harris, The Teenagers, Jo Ann Campbell, The Twin Tones, The Rays, Lee Andrews and the Hearts, The Shepherd Sisters, Lil Joe, The Dubs...that was a Holiday Show at the Paramount.
Q - How much was a ticket to see that show?
A - Probably a couple of bucks. (laughs) It's amazing. We did those shows in the Midwest and they charge the kids a dollar to get in. I think the Freed Show was maybe $2.50. (laughs) You do five shows a night. It would start at 10 in the morning...and this was over Christmas...you'd do five shows. You'd do seven on New Year's Eve. But, you were only doing two songs. It's just that it took up a long day.
Q - What were you doing backstage between shows?
A - You'd go back to the hotel, which was across the street or up the street. Each show took about an hour and a half. So, you'd just go back to the hotel for an hour and a half or get something to eat and come back and do it again.
Q - How long did you work with Alan Freed?
A - We did ten days in New York and we did a forty-four day tour. Then we did the Brooklyn Fox for ten days. Then we went back to the New York and did seven days. Then that Boston riot happened. We were on tour there. That was a Freed Tour and it hit the news and it actually wasn't a riot or much of anything at all. There was a fight I guess, right after Chuck Berry went on. A fight broke out on the side and a sailor got stabbed. They stopped the show. More fights broke out, but it was quickly contained. But the newspaper got a hold of it called it a riot. We were slated for the Ed Sullivan Show and it was cancelled. Our movie was coming out right at that time, and instead of going into the major markets, it went into the small theaters. So, we were pretty hurt by that.
Q - They just hated Rock 'n Roll at that point?
A - That's right. Everybody just backed up from rock 'n roll.
Q - Did you do the Dick Clark Tours?
A - We never did the Dick Clark Tours. By that time, we really didn't have a hot record, when Dick started taking his tours out, except for "Twistin' USA" in the 60s. I don't think Dick started taking tours out till about '62. I'm really not sure why we never did a Dick Clark Tour. We would do what was called GAC (General Artists Corp.) package tours. Sometimes they put five acts (out). You would go by automobile. They started to do that in the 60s, instead of those big tours that were going out.
Q - GAC. That was the agency for awhile wasn't it?
A - Yeah. That was the major agency and we were with them. They kept us working. We had eleven records charted over that time period, so we worked really well except maybe one year. We had one really down year.
Q - How did you survive for that year? Did you have to look for non-musical work during that period?
A - Yeah, actually I did 'cause I had some car payments. I worked in this record shop and then we went back on the road again. We had "Twistin' USA" and we were right back on the road again.
Q - Would you get anybody at the record shop coming in buying a Danny and the Juniors record?
A - Sure, absolutely.
Q - Would you tell people who you were?
A - No. I never told 'em who I was. (laughs)
Q - Danny and the Juniors recorded for Swan Records in 1963.
A - Yeah. That's where we had "Twistin' USA". We went there actually in '61 I think it was. We were there until about '64. Then the Beatles hit. By that time, rock 'n roll had pretty much established itself as the nations music and really overtaken pop. Tons of clubs got into the act, booked different rock bands. So, there was a multitude of nightclubs to work by that time. And, that's what we did. That's pretty much in the early 60s and mid 60s.
Q - What was the difference between rock and pop, as you saw it?
A - Pop was Perry Como and Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett and The Four Lads and The Four Aces. Rock was Elvis and Danny and the Juniors and etc. etc.
Q - Were you happy with the job Swan Records did for you?
A - Actually, they were pretty good promoters. They were a subsidiary of Cameo Parkway. While they were with Cameo Parkway they had a great production network, but then there was a scandal where Dick Clark was a partner in that. He had to give up his partnership because they felt he was wearing two hats. He was making records and then playing records that he made. You couldn't sort of do that back then. So then Swan and Cameo split. I don't think either one of them did well after they split into two different labels. Swan, in late '64 bought a master on The Beatles, which was "She Loves You". I can remember I was a writer at that time. I was writing a lot of songs for Claridge music, which was owned by Frank Slay. They came to me and said "what do you think of this song?" And I said "I don't like it." (laughs) But, they bought it anyway. Thank God they did 'cause they made millions.
Q - What didn't you like about that song?
A - Well, I just thought it was hokey..."She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah". They just kept repeating that.
Q - Did you see a picture of the group after listening to the record?
A - Yeah. You know what happened? I'll give you a brief analogy of The Beatles career. Brian Epstein was having trouble placing the group with any one label over in the United States. They were pretty big in England. They were doing a lot of Chuck Berry material in the clubs over there. So, they were kind of like a clone of American rock 'n roll. They were recording them. When he took their masters over here, Capitol I believe bought "I Want To Hold Your Hand". They sold 'em to four or five different companies. None of them high on the group. When Swan bought the master, it was like "yeah, we'll take a chance." And the same way with Capitol. The Hound Dog in Buffalo had a show that went all the way down the coast to Miami. He started to play some of that Beatles stuff and "I Want To Hold Your Hand" caught on. When that caught on, the other labels all had records on The Beatles. They sent their promotional teams into action, to try and jump on the bandwagon. The Beatles ended up with five records on the charts. So you might want to say they were one of the luckiest groups in the world. Nobody really wanted to take all the masters. Each label took a little shot with them. If one label had taken all the masters, they would've had one hit, then another hit, and another hit.
Q - After seeing a picture of The Beatles, didn't you realize how unique they were with that long hair...those Beatle haircuts?
A - You know what? I never heard them say that this is some unusual group that is gonna be so different that everybody's gonna love 'em. They were only interested in the content of the material and what it sounded like and the fact that they were already making a little noise with "I Want To Hold Your Hand". Then he let me talk to the 'Hound Dog' up there. 'Hound Dog' told me, Joe, I like this record. I'm getting some play on this other one. I played it for some kids and they liked it. That was probably based on their decision to go ahead and purchase the master. But, it was an amazing phenomenon to have five records being charted all at once. You can't buy that kind of impact. It was just amazing. The group just became... "At The Hop" was the hottest record of 1958 and we were the number one group with one record. Imagine being the number one group with five records all at once. No wonder they became The Beatles.
Q - And to sustain that over a number of years!
A - Right. Exactly. They hit with such force. They were very, very smart as far as writers were concerned. They wrote those songs, and the company stuck with them as writers. That normally didn't happen to groups. What happened is, you bring in a group like ours for instance, and Dave wrote the songs. And then suddenly our producer started putting his songs in and our career went in the toilet. (laughs) They should've stuck with Dave White. He was a hot writer. We may have had ten hits in a row...ten number one records. But they didn't. And a lot of companies didn't do that with their artists. They'd take those two first songs, then they'd try to write the hits. The analogy was, anything could be a hit if it was played long enough. But, that's not true. You have to have a great song. In The Beatles case, I thought Brian Epstein was very, very smart to use their material and stick with it.
Q - I'm so happy to hear you praise Brian Epstein. Some people I've interviewed in the past do not speak so highly of him.
A - He was a smart, intelligent guy. Personally, George Martin was one of the best producers of records I've ever heard in my lifetime. He was able to take the talent of those guys and really make those records sound great. You gotta give credit where credit is due. He, to me, was just tops.
Q - Who wrote that line "Rock and Roll is here to stay, it will never die"?
A - Well, actually, we heard that line on a Little Richard B-side. We were having dinner at our house. We were discussing how critics pan the music. My father said "Well, why don't you guys write something...a protest thing." Just as he said that, we were listening to that song. He said "see what that guy's singing? Rock and Roll is here to stay. Why don't you write something like that?" And Dave wrote the song and it became sort of an anthem of rock 'n roll.
Q - Do you believe Rock and Roll will never die?
A - Yeah, I do. In fact I'm actually right about it. A survey was done by Chicago University Institute Of Music or whatever it's called. They actually used us as the barometer group that. Since the seventies, people who grew up on Happy Days, Fonzie, and Laverne and Shirley, and the fifties had a big resurgence in the seventies and eighties, that not only them, but their children would hear the music and that rock 'n roll will probably last somewhere into 2040. That's their projection. And the end of the article said "you'll probably be listening to Danny and the Juniors somewhere in 2040."
Q - I hope rock and roll lasts longer than 2040. That means its popularity didn't even make it a hundred years. And after all, Classical music has been with us hundreds of years.
A - I think it will and I'll tell you why I think it will. It's the simplicity of the structure that makes it...how can I put this? The simplicity of the structure makes it easy to understand. It's a happy form of music. It's almost kind of like Folk music, which has been around forever and ever. It's sort of bluesy folk music to me. I just think it's easy for people to get into it, simple for them to do and to be a part of. So, I would say as in most art forms, the best things are always simplistic. And Rock 'n Roll is simplistic.
Q - At least it was up until "Sgt Pepper".
A - Yeah, it got changed a little bit. I don't think that stuck around for too long. If you look at the rock artists today, the kids who are doing rock 'n roll...I don't know what they call it. What do you call it? Retro something. You turn those stations on and it almost sounds like The Beatles.
Q - The Country artists sound like rock to me.
A - Country is rock now. Travis Tritt is doing Jerry Lee Lewis, etc, etc. Some of the country stuff does sound like The Beatles. There are some alternative rock stations here in New Jersey, where it almost sounds "Beatleish"...like 60s. It's very simple, has a simple chord structure. Young kids listen to it. I liked Rap when it first came out. It was melodic. I don't know what happened to it. In the beginning, there were some good Rap tunes.
Q - How many takes did you have to do for "At The Hop"?
A - 13 takes.
Q - Those were the days of three hour record sessions?
A - Yeah, pretty much so. We would book four hours to do two sides. It was monaural, so you did it live. So if they liked it, they would say "that's a take...that's a wrap." A producer really had to be on his toes and the engineer...whoever was doing the listening per take. In our case, Artie Singer played the bass. So it really wasn't him. It really was a guy named Amil Courson who was the engineer in a studio called Reco Art, who would say "that's a take." It was his ears. He was running the dials. He just said at take thirteen "you got it."
Q - Did he ever tell you why "take thirteen" was so special?
A - Well, probably something wrong with take twelve...take...(laughs) Probably a mistake in some of those tracks. Somebody makes a mistake and you stop. The singer sings a wrong word. There's many reasons. It didn't click. As a producer of records... and I'm a producer of records as well, you know when that's it...that's the take. You just know when it has that something.
Q - I remember reading that Danny Rapp took his own life back in 1981. Did he have some problems that the other band members were not aware of?
A - Danny was an alcoholic. He had some problems. He wouldn't fly. He had a bad marriage. He had trouble getting a grip. This business is so insecure that you're working one month and off another month. It has its insecurities as opposed to working for General Motors and your salary is coming in every week and all you have to do is keep the boss happy and get your productivity level somewhere decent. But, in this business, you can be doing your best job and work suddenly stops coming in for whatever reason. Take for instance 9-11. When that hit, so many artists lost their dates that year and people cancelled. Shockwaves went through this industry. He had a rough time I would think with things like that. He was in love with some girl and that was breaking up. He was in a splinter group at the time. So, I really didn't have close contact with him. He hated to fly and we would fly. He got himself a group and had a girl singer who he was going out with. They would play Holiday Inns and drive all the jobs. And it happened over that time period.
Q - You actually reformed the group in the 1970s?
A - Yeah. We came back in actually 1969. There was a jockey in New York called Gus Gossett and he started to play oldies as a weekend format. Oldies...our music was usually only done one day a week on Sundays by that time. He had a request show and he was getting so many requests that he got the whole weekend and it became the number one show in New York. Subsequently, Richard Nader decided to throw a concert 'cause he was listening to that. He threw the first concert and we were not on that show. It was very successful. Then they threw a second concert which we were on. We headlined and that was very successful. I could tell by the audience reaction. Let's put it like this...you can't take away people's music. It's something you just can't take from them. As music changed and we went from The Beatles to a more hard rock formula, people who liked early rock 'n roll had no place to hear it. And they sought out these little shows that played the music and made them number one in their area, because there's so many people who like rock 'n roll. Suddenly there was a revival. Agents started to book us around the country again. It started happening in cities all over America. By 1971, it was going full steam. Then Grease came out...the play. From that, you had LaVerne and Shirley and Happy Days. 50s style dress became very popular. By 1980, we were back to doing 240 dates a year. We were just taking everything that was coming our way. There was enough work for two groups to work. As you know, Danny took the splinter group out for awhile. It was just sensational. We had a great, great career. We had a great run. Up until 9-11, we were still doing over 100 dates a year.
Q - How many dates are you doing these days?
A - We did 69 dates last year. We're still not over the shockwaves of 9-11. People go out differently since 9-11. They do different things than they did before 9-11. It's changed the tenure of this country and how it thinks. We see that in our travels.
Q - Are you the only original member left in Danny and The Juniors?
A - Frank Mattei is with me. He's an original member and his brother Bob.
Q - How many guys in the group?
A - Three...we've been three since 1962 when Dave White left to write and produce records. He really didn't want to travel. That's what he does now. He lives in Las Vegas.
Q - Any new product out from Danny and The Juniors?
A - We always stayed active recording wise. When Fonzie was on television, we recorded a song called "Here Comes Fonzie", which was picked up by ABC. It was never actually released. We made a deal and then suddenly, as we were making this deal...a record called "The Fonz Song", from England started to get played. Then they thought, we don't want to go up against that. It's already a hit. We've probably done four CDs. We've had some success with one called "The Originators Of Rock 'n Roll". We got it played all over the country on all the oldies stations. We didn't sell much 'cause we had to do it through a 1-800 number, and 1-800 numbers on radio don't work. People are riding in cars and they can't write the damn number down. So, we sold a little bit. We did sell this on QVC, so we were able to break even with it. It was quite exciting. It was a great project. We did a song called "Together You And I". We used twenty-eight artists from across the country. We did five sessions across the country. Frankie Avalon was on it. Bobby Rydell, The Drifters, The Coasters, The Platters...I mean everybody. It was an exciting project and a great song. Three years ago we did a CD that was up for a Grammy. It was 50s and 60s stuff. And, that's the last project we've done. The record business is in disarray since 9-11.