Gary James' Interview With Nick Marinelli Of
The Shades Of Blue
In the Spring of 1966, a suburban Detroit vocal quartet known as The Shades Of Blue skyrocketed to the top of the charts with a song called "Oh How Happy". That song led to a cross country US tour and appearances on Dick Clark's Where The Action Is TV show. Nick Marinelli was and is the lead vocalist of The Shades Of Blue. His story is the story of Rock 'n' Roll in the '60s.
Q - Nick the obvious question, after as many years with The Shades Of Blue, why did you strike out on your own? What are you looking to do that you couldn't do before?
A - Well, where did you get the information that I struck out on my own? (laughs)
Q - I thought I read it online. You're still with the group?
A - I have a new group. I have eliminated some personnel. (laughs)
Q - Are there two The Shades Of Blue groups out there?
A - They should be presenting themselves as a Tribute to my old group, Andy Alonzo, Stuart Avig and whoever else they got to fill in. We had a little tete to tete with the lawyers and they're actually breaking the law, so I'm just going on about my business. I'm the only original member of the original group. As far as promoters go, all the promoters I've talked to said we only deal with the original members because of the truth in music and entertainment. I'm standing on solid ground. So, I just continue on. If they want to play their little games, then, well they'll play their games.
Q - How do you bill your group then? Nick Marinelli And The Shades Of Blue?
A - The Shades Of Blue, SOB Entertainment, which is my company. As I talk to promoters, they find out, OK, I see what's going on. So, I'm basically in the right. They're in the wrong. We just let things play out the way they are. I've been with numerous friends of mine who have been through the same situation, like The Contours, The Reflections and on and on. They're all good friends of mine and they said don't spend the money on legal stuff because it's a waste of time and money.
Q - I believe in New York State, there's some kind of law on the books that says you have to have at least one original member in a group to use the original name of the group. Is it like that elsewhere?
A - The 27 states that I'm aware of that are now on line, it says one original artists of the original recording who had the original hits or hit. So, that still holds. I know there's gotta be five groups that are The Platters. You've interview enough people. You know what's going on.
Q - Oh, yeah. It can be really confusing. You have to know who was in the original group and who's now standing on stage.
A - Right. But I've re-grouped and basically changed the format of the group somewhat. It used to be we'd go out and I'd carry four to six pieces band wise and of course us four singers, OK. Well, in today's climate when you take nine or ten people out there with you, there's not many venues that are going to support it anymore. So, what I've done, I've got musicians, friends of mine that have been working with me for years and I ask "would you want to re-group here?" That's kind of where we're at. So, I have members of the band that also can sing and harmonize very well. So, if we do a concert where they have a house band, we just use the singers. If not, and we have to do our regular show, then they also play and sing. So, it does cut down on expenses and it presents a very good show.
Q - And where are you performing at these days?
A - Basically all over the United States. We do cruises and all kinds of stuff right now. I'm building up the bookings for 2010. We'll be out in California for a couple of shows. We've got a couple of things pending. Last year we probably did 35 shows for the year. And that was cut back from the year before that because of the economy. On average we try to get out once a weekend. We stay pretty busy.
Q - Were The Shades Of Blue a very popular group in the Detroit area in the mid-1960s?
A - Yes.
Q - You would be performing at nightclubs?
A - Yeah. A lot of club venues because back then. There was The Twenty Grand, The Grande Room and The Rooster Tail. There were all kinds of venues that were really open to the music.
Q - What happened to the group when "Oh How Happy" became a hit?
A - Oh, wow. Three of us guys were in college. Linda was not in college. We had a girl in the group. We had to hit the ground running 'cause we had recorded the song in like the December - January area and by April (1966) it was topping the charts. It was number one in probably 50% of the US. We were doing very, very well. So, by the time May rolled around, it was like get out of college and hit the ground running. So, that's basically what it was. I wasn't home for a whole year from the time it really hit.
Q - What year were you in college - Freshman? Senior?
A - First year. I completed one year of college and hit the road. (laughs)
Q - Did you do the Dick Clark tours?
A - Yes.
Q - Who were you on tour with?
A - One tour we were on with The Rascals, B.J. Thomas, all the Action dancers and of course (from Where The Action Is TV show) Steve Alaimo, Keith Allison, The Critters, The Knickerbockers were with us. We hit it off very well with The Rascals 'cause they were right in our same bag, R&B stuff.
Q - That must've been a rough life. From what I've been told by various performers, you didn't always get the opportunity to stay in a hotel.
A - Well, that's true. On our tour, I think we hit a hotel every other night. On that one tour we did 42 shows in 32 days or something like that.
Q - You probably only got to perform about 3 songs.
A - Yeah, that's about it, and then you got to watch the rest of the show, depending on where you were in the line-up. At that time I think B.J. Thomas' band was backing up pretty much all the people except The Rascals and The Critters. They were self-contained. That was fun. I enjoyed touring, so that's the first thing. A couple other guys in the original group weren't too fond of hitting the road. I had a ball.
Q - Why did you like it so much?
A - I enjoy the crowds. I enjoy entertaining. I guess that's the best part of it for me. I enjoy being out there and doing my thing. Basically, I tried to lead a clean life. I didn't do drugs. I didn't stay out late. I didn't drink and carouse. When you can take of yourself, life on the road isn't so bad. But if you're staying out 'til 2 o'clock in the morning and then you gotta get on the bus the next day and you have a hangover, pretty soon you're wore out.
Q - You were pretty smart about how to take care of yourself on the road.
A - It's probably how I was raised. I was raised in a very conservative Italian family. It's part of my upbringing I guess and it just stuck with me.
Q - You're one of the lucky guys that didn't get involved with all the temptations the road has to offer.
A - Yeah. I consider myself lucky. One of the other guys, Bobby, died 3 years ago now. Bobby got caught up in the drugs and alcohol and the ladies. His life took a turn for the hardships.
Q - The ladies took his money and the drugs took his health.
A - Well, exactly.
Q - The drugs were probably the worst part of the '60s. Music was interesting. Fashion was interesting. Politics were interesting. Movies and TV were interesting, but drugs were the worst.
A - Absolutely. I had a lot of friends that I made in the business that basically disappeared. They dropped out of sight. They tried a number of times to come back and their voices were all shot and couldn't live up to their reputation.
Q - Did The Shades Of Blue get ripped off by either a manager or a record company?
A - Absolutely. I was 19 at the time. The families we came from knew nothing about the music business. So here we were caught up in the music business and contracts. Unfortunately, we never got our names put on certain pieces of paper that needed to be. We were co-writers of "Oh How Happy". We sat down and recorded "Oh How Happy" on my recorder in the studio. So, we haven't been recognized as co-writers. Management wise, back in the day, you would get a contract from the booking agency and one of our agencies was Capitol Booking at the time. They would send in 50% deposit to the office and then when you did your show, you picked up your other 50% at the gig. Well, when we got back to the office, we never got the other 50%. When you got your statement at the end of the year, you end up owing the recording company, which was Imperial Records at the time. You ended up owing them money. You go "How do we do that?"
Q - Who was responsible for all that?
A - Well, it was the management. Our manager at the time was Harry Balk. He had Johnny And The Hurricanes earlier, Del Shannon and evidently ripped off those guys too.
Q - After you got off the road, did you go back into the studio?
A - As we got off the road, occasionally we'd come off the road for a weekend, they'd say "Let's go into the studio. We've got this song to do." In the midst of all that, we put together an album and of course part of the album became singles. We had "Happiness" and "Lonely Summer", which charted. "Happiness did pretty well for us. Impact Records also had other artists like Mitch Ryder and a few other groups. We were finding out a year or two later after we were performing with Impact, a lot of the money we made, bringing into the company, was going into other people's records and their promotion. And pretty soon, promotion was lacking on our part. As one thing leads to another, we just kept going. We had a good four year run with Impact Records, but in late 1967 I believe it was, maybe early '68, sometime around there, Impact was sold or bought by Motown Records. Impact and Golden World Records, where The Reflections were, bought up by Motown. They were buying up their competitors. Our whole catalog ended up with Motown. Well, being the step-children we were with Motown, none of the promotion money came our way. They kind of bought us and put us in a corner. They kept booking shows for us, but we weren't high on the promotion list. In late '69, early '70, we decided to leave the whole Impact business. We just kept out on our own, doing our own thing, almost kind of the early Indies. But one thing led to another, so we dis-banded. I kept busy doing television stuff and doing some single stuff. I got into Country and Contemporary Christian music. I produced a local Bozo The Clown show for about a year.
Q - The group didn't get back together until 2003?
A - No. I put the original group back together in '77. I've got probably a half dozen songs we recorded. But again, Bobby was doing the snow man stuff. They weren't really serious about going ahead with the project. I said OK, fine. I had invested the money in it, so I had the masters. So, I just continued on and put together a group of guys and we were going out doing some Shades Of Blues stuff and staying busy. We were out as a trio. I had two back-up singers and then I got involved with the original guys from The Reflections. The Reflections had split. Two of the members still continue today, Tony and John. They're out there. We do shows together all the time. The other three guys that were part of the original group which I grew up with in Livonia. I knew the sisters. They actually got me involved in Golden World and got my feet wet in the music business. Ray Steinberg and the guys, I got together with them. We were doing a couple of shows, but then one of the guys said "I don't feel like getting up onstage any more." I said OK, fine. In the meantime there was a local group out here called The Valadiers. They had a mild, local hit called "Greetings (This Is Uncle Sam") back in '64. They had lost a singer to The Reflections, to the ones that are out there working right now. So they were short and looking for people. I hooked up with the guys and said we can do this. We went out and did a show as The Valadiers 'cause they had something booked. I said I'll sing with you. They said how about if we do "Oh How Happy", and I said fine. They learned the parts. We went out and did that in Middletown, near Washington. We did "Oh How Happy" and there was about 5,000 people and everybody stood up. It was just like the whole place exploded. It was great. The other guys in the group, The Valadiers, looked at me and said "What would you think if we became The Shades Of Blue?" I said "OK, here's what we gotta do." So that's the way that one came together. We've been together since 2003 I guess. We were doing a lot of Doo Wop shows. We were doing cruises. We stayed very busy.
Q - So what does the future hold for you and The Shades Of Blue?
A - Well, I have a couple of new CDs in the works. One of 'em will be called "Blue Moon Over Texas", which is gonna be a compilation of Country tunes. Actually I have one I'm trying to push and see if I can get it on the charts, which is "Blue Moon Over Texas". John Durell, who writes with Billy Joel and Bonnie Raitt, wrote the song for me. It's just gangbusters. My heart's always been into some Country music. Country music goes along with R&B. It's soulful music. I'm a very eclectic guy 'cause I like all kinds of music. Part of the reason I made the change in the group is these guys I was with, they just wanted to stay in that Doo Wop bag and keep doing forty year old songs. I said we have to move along here because the audiences are getting older and they're not gonna come to concerts. So, I presented a couple of things to 'em and I said I want to do these Country songs and this, this and this. They just said no, we're not really interested in doing that. I said Well, I guess we'll just have to part ways. Back in August '09 we did our last performance at Freedom Hall, which is a big concert venue. And that was our last show together. So, they're going their way and I'm going mine. We're working on stuff from Freddie King, an old Rascals' tune, "Mustang Sally", the way we do it, of course we've got my new stuff. A little bit of Diamond Rio. We're expanding the show and trying to reach a larger audience.
Q - Nothing wrong with that.
A - You gotta keep moving. If you stand still, you get run over.