The Night The Music Rocked
Deardra Shuler | 1/15/2014, 3:09 p.m.
If you are a lover of Rock ‘n Roll, your doo-wop and rock ‘n roll dreams will be answered on Saturday, January 18th at 8:00 pm when Rock ‘n Roll will be here to stay at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx. Groups like Fred Parris and the 5 Satins, The Belmonts, The Chiffons, Larry Chance & the Earls, Shirley Auston Reeves and Danny and the Juniors will take center stage to rock your world.
I had the opportunity to talk with Warren Gradus of the Belmonts who at 16 years old was already singing with a doo-wop group on the street corners of the Bronx. “I joined the Belmonts in 1963. I am nearly 70 years old now,” recalled Warren. “Although some of the guys have passed on, the Belmonts are still going strong. I was singing and playing the drums with my group when I was approached by someone who was looking for a drummer for the Belmonts. They were a fairly young group consisting of Carlo Mastrangelo, Fred Milano and Angelo D’Aleo, so I agreed and we made a record together. I later joined the group full time. The group was primarily comprised of guys from the Belmont section of the Bronx so we named ourselves after Belmont Avenue in the Bronx” explained Warren.
The Belmonts made a few hits before the Beetles gain popularity and what was known as the British invasion happened. For a while the Belmonts disbanded. But then there was a Rock ‘n Roll revival prompting some of the old groups to revive. “The Belmonts had a revival and did some gigs with Dion DiMucci who was an act by himself. Dion was signed to Laurie Records and needed a background group. The Belmonts were signed to the same label. The label put us together and it became Dion with the Belmonts. Then we were called Dion and the Belmonts, although we were actually two separate groups.”
The two groups performed together until their contract was up and then went their separate ways. The Belmonts had a hit entitled “Tell Me Why.” Then Dion did “Run Around Sue.” Later the Belmonts worked with Freddie Cannon and had a hit called “Lets Put the Fun Back in Rock ‘n Roll.” The Belmonts’ first hit was “I Wonder Why” released in 1958. Other hits included “The Wanderer,” “No One Knows,” “A Teenager In Love,” and “Don’t Pity Me.” “When we first got our hit we didn’t realize the impact “I Wonder Why” had. We were singing on the street corner like everyone else. All we knew was the Bronx and Arthur Avenue, so thought it was only a hit in the Bronx. But as it turned out the hit went all over, so we started getting gigs everywhere,” recalled the drummer/singer.
“You know a lot of folks believed the Belmonts were on the plane that crashed with Buddy Holly in Clear Lake, Iowa. I wasn’t with the group on that tour,” stated Warren. “But the way it really went down was that the heater on the tour bus kept breaking down. In fact, the bus was so cold the musicians kept getting sick. The drummer on the tour got frost bite and had to go to the hospital. Buddy Holly abandoned the bus and began taking a plane for the last few gigs on the tour. It was called “The Winter Dance Party Tour.” That particular night was a snowy night and Buddy had room on the plane. J.P. “The Big Booper” Richardson had developed the flu, so he swapped places on the plane with Waylan Jennings. Tommy Allsup lost his place to Ritchie Valens when they tossed a coin for the plane seat. Dion was also invited on the plane but he decided he didn’t want to spend the $36 fee to get on the plane because in those days, $36 was considered a lot of money. You could pay your rent with $36 back then. Besides, we weren’t headliners like Holly was. The Belmonts remained on the bus and didn’t even know about the plane crash until later when we heard the report that the Belmonts had also been on the plane. Right away The Belmonts called their families and everyone to let them know that Dion had not gotten on the plane. The plane crash that killed the pilot, Buddy Holly, The Big Booper and Ritchie Valens was later dubbed The Night the Music Stopped. It’s really sad because the weather was so bad that night, the plane should have never flown but I guess Buddy was thinking lets just get to the next gig so we can relax and grab some sleep.. But well, that never happened,” said Gradus relating the tale of that fated night.
“We have worked with the Chiffons, Larry Chance and the Earls, and Danny and the Juniors before. But on the 18th of January, Fred Parris and the 5 Satins, and Shirley Auston Reeves, will also join the Belmonts to share the stage at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts on Bedford Park Boulevard West in the Bronx. I am especially delighted because I graduated from Lehman College. Therefore, I will be playing to my classmates and homeboys in the Bronx. I graduated from Lehman with a 3.99 average which is summa cum laude status,” said Warren whose latest release is entitled “100 Pounds of Clay.”
For tickets to “Rock ‘n Roll is Here To Stay,” call the Lehman Center Box Office at 718-960-8833 or go on line at www.Lehmancenter.org