Once upon a time in Massachusetts
THE TEDDY & THE PANDAS STORY
by Mike Dugo
From their inception, Teddy and the Pandas had formulated a plan that would allow them the opportunity while performing live to test their original songs on wildly enthusiastic crowds in and around the Massachusetts North Shore. Their plan succeeded for the most part, but The Pandas later found their musical prowess compromised by a production team keen to latch onto the latest misguided musical trend, resulting in the band's eventual dissolving. Yet, despite this and other questionable management decisions, the Pandas succeeded in recording several songs that certainly position the band as one of the very best the '60s Boston rock'n'roll scene had to offer.
Formed in 1963 as the Sensations, the band originally consisted of Al Lawrence on vocals, Billy Corelle on bass, Ralph Cooper on drums, Joe Daley on guitar and Dick Winters on sax. Shortly thereafter, the group added Dick Guerrette on keyboards (Al was dating Dick's cousin at the time) and guitarist William E. 'Teddy' Dewart, while Winters moved on.
As a result of the personnel changes, the group decided a brand new band name was now in order. "Ralph Cooper is the one who should be credited for first coming up with the idea of using Pandas as a name for our group," Dewart reminisces. "At a previous rehearsal, we had all decided to look through the dictionary to find words that might work as a group name, but I believe he was the only one that really did the work on that exercise. Because I was emerging as the leader of this new group, someone suggested using the obvious connection of my first name, Teddy, with the concept of Pandas (i.e., Bears), resulting in the name, Teddy and the Pandas." This has led to confusion throughout the years that vocalist Al Lawrence, the guy out front, was in actuality Teddy, a fact that doesn't bother Dewart. "I never minded because I much preferred my behind the scenes role as leader during our rehearsals, contract negotiations, and bookings," he recalls. Once Jerry Labrecque replaced drummer Ralph Cooper in 1964, the line-up that was to become known as Teddy and the Pandas was finalized.
Like many bands of the era, the group started out performing at the usual school dances, mixers and clubs. "By our second year," Dewart recalls, "we had totally mastered playing Top 40 hits; playing clubs seven days a week from 8:00 pm to 4:00 am, we had every reason to be as true to the original song as possible." Of course, the more seasoned they became, the more in demand they became. "At the time that we began moving beyond local high schools," Dewart continues, "I had started a small Booking Agency with Joe Saia, our first manager. My brother was at Middlebury College in Vermont, and he began advising me how to book us into college fraternities. The earliest plan I remember was to recruit one person from each of the numerous New England colleges (usually living in fraternities) to serve as an agent, and to give them 10% of each booking they landed. It was actually quite clever and, because most of my boarding school senior class went on to college - many right in New England, I had an automatic 'in' with most. So at that phase we played as many of the greater New England colleges as we could: University of Vermont, Green Mountain (Girls College), Clark, Middlebury, Cornell U., Boston College, Pine Manor, etc."
One of the things that separated Teddy and the Pandas from many of the other area combos was their desire to write and perform original material. And, from the outset, Dewart and gang had formulated a two-year goal of testing out their material on live crowds. "We decided to go into the club scene with the explicit goal of learning how to be an extremely tight band, moving, literally, non-stop for four or five 45-minute shows a night. We began at Boston's red light 'Combat Zone'. There we played at the Intermission Lounge, and then moved to clubs all over the greater New England area, ending up in Times Square. In New York, we hired a choreographer to help give us dance routines, something that most of the larger club acts had as part of the show." Far from a standard covers band, the Pandas would try out their songs and newly learned moves during their live performances and, as a result, attracted a devoted legion of fans enthusiastic in grooving to original tunes that no other band was performing.
Dennis A. Blackledge, in his book We Gotta Go Now, offered a glowing testimonial to the Pandas' ability to win over crowds: "Teddy and the Pandas were extremely tight and talented. They never stopped playing. They were inexhaustible, they had stamina, and they had staying power. Once they got the crowd on the dance floor, they were relentless. Panda sets were non-stop parties." Once the Pandas' were confident that they had the moves down, the time was right in the spring of 1966 for the band to enter a studio and lay their songs to wax.
Though details are hazy, Corelle believes that Joseph Saia - prior to opening Triple A Studios - was instrumental in getting the Pandas recording time at Ace Studios in Boston. The group had earlier, however, impressed a friend of Bruce Patch, a promotion man with Mutual Record Distributors, while performing at a club in Boston and, after agreeing to attend a Pandas' performance for himself, Patch was impressed enough to agree to produce the band. Dewart recalls that "Bruce began as a relatively slick A&R guy for Musicor, and a few other labels. He was basically working the New England circuit, including the radio stations to get music played. He liked us, and sold us big time. He talked a long line of people he knew in the industry, and he certainly did know Gene Pitney, so we thought perhaps he was a happening kind of guy. He had heard of us, and approached us at some point when our contract with Joe Saia was sour and/or over, and quickly closed the deal with Teddy and the Pandas."
One of the first decisions made by Patch was to part ways with guitarist Joe Daley. According to Dewart, "Joe had been with the Sensations from the very beginning, long before I ever arrived on the scene. While it was probably obvious to all that Joe was not a particularly good musician, he seemed to add so much to the personality of the group that we all valued him greatly. Yet, when the group's management moved from Joe Saia to Bruce Patch, it came with the provision that there be only one guitar player, and the requirement that Joe had to go." At the time, the Pandas agreed that the move was for the betterment of the group, but it eventually resulted in a setback for the band as the decision resulted in feelings of guilt and shame while it negatively affected their morale. It also, perhaps, foreshadowed other problems that would exist in the Pandas/Patch relationship. In fact, when looking back, Dewart now recalls "I think in retrospect that this 'cutthroat' element brought into the group by management made us dislike ourselves a bit, and no doubt led to some elements of mistrust that reemerged many years later."
The Pandas moved on without Daley in the fold, and their debut single with Patch, 'Once Upon A Time' b/w 'Bye Bye (Out The Window)' was released on the Coristine label in 1966. Teddy Dewart wrote both songs, but shared writing credit on 'Bye Bye (Out The Window)' with Johnny McEwan, the group's road manager. "Regarding Johnny McEwan's role as collaborator, I'd say that would be a bit of a stretch," notes Dewart. "We laugh about it still. In fact, Johnny and I were scoundrels together, shooting around between the States and Canada in his various used MGs. He had studied at the Glasgow School of Art at the same time John Lennon attended, so he had a very similar cynical and sardonic view of the world that honestly mirrored my own. He was not a musician, and never presented himself as such. It happens that the song, 'Bye Bye (Out The Window)', came about while we both were drinking too much in my parent's kitchen. I was playing and joking around on a Stratocaster totally unplugged, while we began to sing together in drunken revelry about how a guy dumps a girl who'd 'done him wrong'. I felt fine making Johnny the collaborator. Hell, it was part of a fun night; I just happened to remember (the song) the following day, and played it for the guys. Musically, it's a nothing song, except for the bridge that takes some interesting changes in chording. We've never written anything (else) together simply because it was a one time thing."
'Once Upon A Time', perhaps Dewart's greatest composition, and certainly the Pandas' signature song . . .
During this time Dewart also proved to be a popular composer for other acts. "I was brought down to meet Don Costa of Musicor Records. Don was the music arranger/producer for Gene Pitney, Little Anthony and the Imperials and Paul Anka - and for many of Frank Sinatra's movies - so at the time I felt I was being received by the Pope himself. Part of the package was for me to sign an independent writer's contract with United Artists, which I did. However, my full intention was simply to write for my group - not others - but to allow them to be published by United Artists. I wrote lots of songs, and a few were written for the Pandoras, a group of girls whose manager tried to capitalize on our group's name. There may have been a few other times, but honestly I can't remember." Dewart also acted as a studio guitar player, mostly for acts that Joe Saia was promoting. "I remember doing guitar work (with Billy, and maybe Jerry) for Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops on their three-album Italian Festival series. I also did session work for a whole bunch of acts that recorded at Joe Saia's small recording studio in Dorchester, where I also ran the booking agency. Finally, at one point I was 'sold' to groups who would pay $35 an hour for me to teach them how to play songs they heard on the radio. I had been a drummer in boarding school, then a guitar player, and always knew basic chords on the piano, so it was easy enough to do."
'Once Upon A Time', perhaps Dewart's greatest composition and certainly the Pandas' signature song, was actually written with the assistance of Judy, his youngest sister. "I was sitting at the grand piano at our home in Beverly, playing with chords and their juxtaposition to each other. A product of an all-boys boarding school, I was actually a very shy, romantically inclined boy, falling in unrequited love with every girl I saw, so the childish lyrics really reflected that world view. It was clear boy/girl love, with a touch of melancholy. I must have been 18 years old at the time, which meant Judy would have been 12. She was the youngest in our family of six kids and, at that age, became my biggest fan. So there we were, sitting on the piano stool, me focused on putting the chords together and writing lyrics down, as she swung her legs in joy, poking in little ideas or lambasting me for using a chord she didn't like."
'Once Upon A Time', with its classic harpsichord sound, proved to be a smashing debut for the band, and was successful enough locally to convince Musicor to re-release the single nationally. This in turn led to appearances in May 1966 on Dick Clark's syndicated daily teen TV show, Where The Action Is, and on Upbeat. The song obviously had great potential, so much so in fact that prior to its recording Dewart had received a call from none other Gene Pitney.
"After I had written 'Once Upon A Time', Pitney called me on the phone to entreat me to let him - and not Teddy and the Pandas - sing the song. Obviously, Bruce Patch by now holding at least part, if not all, of the publishing rights, was eager to move the song on to bigger talent. It was a difficult call for a young kid. After all, here's this supposedly 'famous' artist imploring me, at first, flattering me over my songwriting talents (but with me still holding the song for my band), only to be followed with increasing levels of pressure. His pitch was that I could make much more money with him singing my song than (I could) with Teddy and the Pandas (recording it), and that I was being absolutely ridiculous. He was certainly correct, and I knew that. It was just that this song was our first really lucky break, and I wasn't going to sell it to anybody else. He was obviously frustrated and angry with me, but I guess that's when I first knew the power of a simple song."
As the song climbed the charts, the Pandas started to become more in demand by many of the same colleges and universities they had played prior to recording, but this time as part of their Spring Weekend shows. They also started performing at larger venues and, at the Rhode Island State Fair, drew nearly as large a crowd as Frank Sinatra had. It was also around this time that the band began getting booked as far away as Atlanta and Ohio, often times as part of a 'tour' to get to a city where they'd be appearing on a TV show. Eventually, Teddy and the Pandas also played just about all of the large arenas and gardens in the greater New England area.
Obviously now a hot recording commodity, and with Patch again at the helm, Teddy and the Pandas recorded two more singles for Musicor. Perhaps anxious to improve upon the band's initial success, Patch decided to utilize session guitarist Hugh McCracken and vocalist Toni Wine on 'We Can't Go On This Way', the Pandas' follow-up to 'Once Upon A Time'. It's easy to understand Patch's reasoning. Wine, possibly best remembered for later being the female vocalist on the Archies' 'Sugar Sugar', had co-written 'A Groovy Kind Of Love' for Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, while McCracken was a solid studio hand. Dewart recalls that "as a guitar player, I was especially intrigued with Hugh McCracken, and spent any free time he had between takes milking him for information as to how to earn a living in New York as a session man. What he knew instrumentally and, generally, anything he had to say or play was fascinating to me." Studio pianist Bert Keyes also contributed to many of the sessions.
'We Can't Go On This Way' was written by Bob Stone, who also acted as co-producer, while the flip, 'Smokey Fire' - a song about his summer home and experiences in Canada - was again provided by Dewart. Dewart recalls that Stone was "just a little too active. He had every chord, every style of the vocal, every sizzle of the cymbal preplanned, which meant that our rehearsals with him were simply us trying to play his songs as he wanted them played. Bob's stuff sometimes sounded Near Eastern in style, and his and Patch's choice for violin orchestration work was an embarrassment. None of it sounded like the group Teddy and the Pandas." Though 'We Can't Go On This Way' was another huge local smash for the group, its impact on the national charts was minimal.
Another Bob Stone original, 'Searching For The Good Times' (also recorded by the Royal Guardsmen), was slotted as the Pandas' third single. Once again, Patch and Stone utilized outside talent - this time in the form of the Tokens, who contributed the backing track. The Tokens - Phil Margo, Mitch Margo, Jay Siegel, and Hank Medress - will always be synonymous with their huge early '60s hit, 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight', but they were also very successful producers and composers throughout the latter part of the decade, and this expertise no doubt appealed to the Pandas' producing tandem.
"We used the Tokens on every song that required a male chorus," Dewart recounts. "We respected them, and enjoyed learning from them." The contributions made by the Tokens are supported by Corelle's contentions that they "were very professional and did a great job. I do feel, however, if given the chance, we could have achieved the same results as we had to perform these songs live!"
'Searching For The Good Times', with its whip-snapping and castanets, proved to be a wide departure from the sound that Teddy and the Pandas had painstakingly forged for themselves. Lawrence provided lead vocals, but Dewart - singing backup along with the Tokens - was the only other Panda to contribute. While bassist Corelle played on all sessions, he believes that the use of outside musicians didn't bode too well for the others. The flip, an original Dewart-Corelle composition, 'Sunnyside Up', was much more representative of the Pandas' sound.
As with 'We Can't Go On This Way', 'Searching For The Good Times', too, failed to dent the national charts. Since neither single was successful enough nationally to warrant further investment in the band by Musicor, Patch decided to record and release still another Teddy and the Pandas single, but this time on his own Timbri label. The result was 'The Lovelight' b/w 'Day In The City', the first Pandas single not to feature a song written by the group. The Pandas were pleased with the way 'The Lovelight' turned out but it failed to capture the imagination of either the local or national record buying public. As Dewart notes, perhaps one reason for the lack of success was that "while our records were clearly distributed in small pocket areas in the states (New York, parts of California, Georgia, etc.), they were also being released in parts of England, Europe, and Australia. I have no idea just what the rhyme or reason was behind such scattering, rather than focus of advertisement and distribution."
In all, Teddy and the Pandas released four singles in '66 - '67, as well as a handful of songs that never saw official release. These included the exquisitely poppy 'Spring Came Early This Year' and 'Girl From California', the good-timey 'City Woman', 'Games', 'Willie Dum Dum' (while arranged by Bob Stone, this song was written in response to the request for a follow up to 'Once Upon A Time') and 'I Want To Be Loved Tonight' - a beautiful ballad that Dewart had originally considered for the Pandoras (who did release a version of 'Games'). All are solid '60s pop songs on par with the Pandas' released canon. Also surviving is an early version of 'Once Upon A Time' utilizing an organ in place of the harpsichord; a backing track to 'The Lovelight'; 'Penny' (unfortunately only a portion has survived), and 'There's Something About You', 'This Time', and 'You're Playing With Fire' - all three written by Dewart after he signed the United Artists songwriter contract. Finally, there is 'Boy's Cry', written by early guitarist Joe Daley. Dewart reflects that "certainly there were many (other songs) that never made it to tape ... and no doubt others that simply remained in my head." Well-remembered titles that were either never recorded or lost to time include 'You Take Me To Paradise' and 'Franny'.
The first three Pandas' songs, 'Once Upon A Time', 'We Can't Go On This Way' and 'Searching For The Good Times', all charted locally - in April, August, and December 1966, respectively - and firmly established the Pandas as a major attraction in the greater New England area.
During the peak period of their success, Teddy and the Pandas performed with some of the very top acts of the time, including Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Dave Clark Five and the Beach Boys. In fact, the band was asked by the Beach Boys' road manager from the William Morris Agency out of New York to head out West to California to tour with the Wilson boys and company, but reluctantly had to refuse the offer due to prior commitments. According to Corelle, "At the time the offer was made to us, we had many gigs lined up for the next several months. It was a lot of money to pass up, I guess. Also most everyone had a girlfriend they didn't want to leave behind. I also think part of it might have been the popularity we had on the east coast and if we went to California, nobody would have known us. I just figured if this manager thought enough of us to make the offer at the time - knowing what was hip out west and thought we would do well - I think we should have gone. I knew it would haunt me for years to come if we didn't. The other guys, it didn't faze them at all. They were wrapped up in themselves, their girls and whatever. I had an uncle who told me at the time, 'nothing ventured, nothing gained.' We should have gone."
One place they did go, however, was on a six-week tour of duty with Gene Pitney (harboring no ill feelings towards Dewart) as well as with the McCoys, the Outsiders, Neil Diamond, B.J. Thomas, Bobby Goldsboro, Chad and Jeremy, Norma Tanega and Len Barry. As a result, 'Once Upon A Time' and 'Bye Bye (Out The Window)' were both featured on the Musicor LP, 'The Gene Pitney Show' (MM 2101).
Sometime in 1967, after the disappointing chart performance of the Pandas' fourth single, Teddy Dewart decided to pursue a doctorate in psychology and opted to leave the band. He had, in fact, applied and was accepted for matriculation at Boston University back in 1963 but - not quite yet feeling prepared for such 'an adult event' - he had requested and received permission to delay his entry. While leaving the band was the most difficult and heart-breaking decision Dewart had had to make up until that time in his life, his hand was forced by B.U.'s Admissions Department; if he continued to delay his entry, he would be required to complete an extra year in order to prove that was ready for university work. That simple fact, coupled with the change in the individual band members growing musical landscape and the lack of control he felt over the Pandas' musical direction, were all determining factors in his decision to leave.
The Bosstown Sound was rapidly consuming the Boston music scene . . .
Dewart was replaced by Paul Rivers. Rivers had been playing in another local band and was spotted performing in a club by Al Lawrence. Though he had to audition along with a few others, Rivers landed the gig and became the Pandas' new guitarist. It was around this time that the Bosstown Sound was rapidly consuming the Boston music scene. Heavily promoted by MGM Records, the Bosstown Sound was 'The sound heard round the world! Where the new thing is making everything else seem like yesterday. Where a new definition of love is helping to write the words and music for 1968.' The Beacon Street Union, Orpheus, and the Ultimate Spinach were the first three Boston bands to be hyped as personifying the sound, and the search for the next wave of groups would extend to Teddy and the Pandas.
(As an interesting aside, 1968 also witnessed the premier of the Steve McQueen / Faye Dunaway movie, The Thomas Crown Affair. Filmed in and around the Boston area, members of the Pandas had decided to audition for bit roles. Tipped by one of Dewart's Entertainment Corporate Attorneys that the film production was seeking 'Beatle-haired kids', Dewart was too shy and embarrassed to be in a movie but did alert the other Pandas. Jerry Labrecque is seen briefly in the movie in the role of a car thief. Corelle, however, recalls that although he auditioned for the part of Labrecque's partner, he "lost out to a nephew of someone who was big in the actors' union in Boston at the time." However, Dewart now believes it could have been his attorney's nephew that actually got the part!)
The result of the Pandas' studio time was their 1968 LP, 'Basic Magnetism' . . .
Well aware of record companies' newfound interest in Beantown bands, the Pandas actively began seeking a new record deal. After visiting various companies, and even recording a demo (title long forgotten) at Columbia's New York studios, the Pandas were eventually signed by Capitol Records.
Assigned to Tea-Pot Productions, a Bruce Patch company, the result of the Pandas' studio time was their 1968 LP, 'Basic Magnetism', recorded at Olmstead Studio in New York City. The Tea-Pot team featured Larry Jaspon as executive producer and Joe Renzetti (with assistance from Bobby Weinstein) as arranger, while Bill Radice engineered the sessions. Both Jaspon and Radice had recently completed work on another Bosstown LP, 'The Cambridge Concept of Timothy Clover', and Jaspon provided the financial backing for the recordings. The fact that the Timothy Clover album failed to have any real impact on the charts apparently did not dissuade Jaspon and Radice from pursing the same type of results with the Pandas.
The resulting LP - released by Tower, a subsidiary of Capitol - featured seven songs provided by outside songwriters, and three songs written by either the Pandas or by Teddy Dewart. Dewart assisted greatly with the LP, though technically he was no longer a member of the group. In addition to composing 'Debutante's Ball', Dewart collaborated with Corelle on 'Running From Love' (actually written before the LP sessions, which explains why it represented the Teddy and the Pandas live sound more so than any other cut on the LP) and with Corelle and Lawrence (with Patch lifting songwriting credit) on 'Raspberry Salesman'. Teddy also provided a lot of the guitar backup and vocals, and contributed some keyboard. He was billed as a 'guest artist' on the LP jacket.
Corelle personally thought that the Bosstown sound was over-hyped and that most of the Boston bands were mediocre at best - but his opinion of Larry Jaspon was a little less complimentary. "I couldn't stand Larry Jaspon but he was the one with the money. The others were okay and easy, good to work with. Larry was just too vocal, loud and boisterous for me. I still don't think he knew anything about music or recording but, like I said, he had the money." Similarly, Dewart recalls that "when we saw that Larry had actually dedicated 'Basic Magnetism' to his mother, we all felt ill."
Dewart, too, has less than complimentary recollections of Patch and his team. "Bruce was part of an aging group of guys, about 6-10 years older than us, all sort of stuck back in the late '50s/early '60s music, and desperately trying to catch up to the English sound. Nevertheless, at that time we were an obvious choice, but God, his bedfellows were a disjointed and odd group of stragglers. Knowing the world now I can tell you they were all terribly small bit players in the music industry who never lived up to their publishing contracts. That's why I never received a penny for any song I ever wrote." This view of Patch's team, however, hasn't completely soured Corelle's views of 'Basic Magnetism'. "I thought overall the recordings were well done. I think with more exposure and promotion, it could have done much better than it did." Indeed, the song selected to push as the first single, 'Childhood Friends' (Dewart describes the orchestration as an "example of what could make Gustav Mahler sink into an even deeper, phlegmatic malaise on beautiful Lake Como"), most likely suffered as the result of competing versions that same year by both the Yellow Payges and the Fourmost Authority.
Not completely satisfied with the results, Corelle's further disenchantment with the direction the group was heading led in 1969 to him forming his own blues and jazz band. "I was fed up with the style of music we were playing and the lack of creativity from the others. They became complacent playing Top 40 stuff." Sharing Corelle's views, Paul Rivers decided to join him and, too, left the Pandas. Hooking up with Dick Winters and Ralph Cooper - both original members of the Sensations but at this time playing together in the Warlocks - the quartet then formed Dr. Feelgood. Dr. Feelgood later recorded an LP, titled 'Something To Take Up Time', on the Number One label.
In effect, this succession was the direct end of Teddy and the Pandas. After Corelle's and Rivers' departure, the Pandas completely ceased playing together. In addition to Corelle's and Rivers' post-Pandas activity, Al Lawrence hooked up with some studio musicians and recorded a 45, 'Everyday/Peggy Sue' b/w 'Detour On Dead End Street'. The single was credited to Lawrence and the First Love. Jerry went on to be a studio engineer in Maynard, Massachusetts for a while along with Teddy. While there, Dewart produced 'Wondering Why' by the Royal Aircoach. Dick Guerrette left the music business entirely and went to school to learn hairstyling.
Billy Corelle recalls that playing with the Pandas was a "lot of fun, a lot of learning about life - good and bad. It was a great experience. The only thing I wished we had done differently is we should have gone to California when we were asked ... I think if we did we could have eventually been big."
Teddy Dewart is a bit more philosophical: "We dreamed together, we practiced together, we worked and we sweated together ... our dependency upon each other was absolute. I never loved, or trusted, a group of men so much in my life, and certainly never again experienced the level of creative enterprise that I came to enjoy with this remarkable group that we called Teddy and the Pandas."
PRESENTED BY THE SPECTROPOP TEAM