Monday, September 7, 2009

"I sang my heart out on that one."

It was 1959 and three students at Santa Monica City College decided to form a vocal trio. Don 'Dante' Drowty, Frank Rosenthal and Bill Young became friends with fellow student, Dean Torrence (of Jan and Dean fame), and eventually were introduced to Dean's managers, Herb Alpert and Lou Adler.

The guys met Tony Moon while hangin' out at Herb and Lou's office above a Chinese laundry on the Sunset Strip. "Tony was a trained musician who taught us vocal harmonies and did arrangements," remembers Don, who had the strongest voice and, accordingly, became lead singer.

The group was dubbed Dante And The Evergreens as an emulation of Dion And The Belmonts. "We went gunning for Dion and the Belmonts," said Don. "We knew we could out-harmonize and out-sing them, plus we had a more diversified look. Bill was a blond surfer type, Frank an athlete, Tony played guitar and I could sing lead on anything from Pop to Country to Blues."

1960 brought the group a 'curse and blessing' when their recording of Alley-Oop, a novelty, pre-rap/spoken-sung/ode to the caveman-comic strip character that became a world-wide hit, but forever branded them as a novelty act. The hit made them instant stars and got them booked on radio and TV programs, package tours, club dates and theater shows. They even were one of the first white acts to play traditionally Black venues like The Apollo (New York), The Uptown (Philly), and The Howard (Washington, D.C.).

In spite of their novelty act reputation, the group had developed their performing and harmonizing abilities and recorded an album of contemporary covers (Hushabye, Dream Lover) and originals (Dreamland, Think Sweet Thoughts) that demonstrated their vocal skills and cast them in a Belmonts, Mystics, Passions mode. The Evergreens toured extensively for the next few years, but their well crafted, White doo-wop and pop singles were generally under-appreciated by their novelty-seeking audience.

The group disbanded in 1964 after Frank contracted an illness that lasted about six months and seriously curtailed the group’s touring. Frank returned to college on an athletic scholarship and even became a professional athlete for a time. Bill fooled around in music and movies for a while, but eventually left the business. Tony ended up in Nashville as a respected arranger, writer and producer. Don, however, stuck to it. He recorded six sides for Imperial as Dante And His Friends, using The Rivingtons as the background group.

To this day, I love Something Happens," said Don. "That record should have been a huge hit. It's a great doo-wop ballad that I sung my heart out on."

Don worked extensively with Herb Alpert, who wrote and sang background as one of Dante's Friends. One of the sides they did, Little Miss America, was covered by The Beach Boys.

He went on to work as a writer/producer for Bert (aka Bert Russell) Berns' Mellin Music Publishers (Twist And Shout, A Little Bit Of Soap, Cry Baby, etc.) working with The Isleys, The McCoys, and many others. He recorded some things for A&M Records, including a strong version of Speedoo.

However, for the last 20 years, Don has devoted himself almost full-time to working with disadvantaged youths, underprivileged children and Southwestern Native American Indian tribes. He is currently employed as a grade school teacher and is the proud father of two children. His various activities are usually provided free and can be reached at: Don Drowty Youth Services, P.O. Box 1533, Santa Monica, CA 90406.

Now, I hope you enjoy Miss America (Imperial 5827, 1962) and Something Happens (Imperial 5798, 1961) by Dante And His Friends, just a couple of the 100,000+ songs you'll hear on MusicMaster Oldies!

1 comment:

  1. This music was so wonderful. I used to play my transister radio all day and all night listening to wonderful music like this. When I was young my radio and I were inseparable! Don, your voice was more wonderful than I can express. You were truly amazing. It is songs like these that made me want to sing and I have all my life.