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Lest We Forget

Posted on June 13, 2010

Johnny Maestro

Lead singer for The Crests and The Brooklyn Bridge

1939 – 2010

Singer Johnny Maestro, who performed the 1958 doo-wop hit “16 Candles” with The Crests and enjoyed a decades-long career with The Brooklyn Bridge, died March 24, 2010 of cancer. He was 70 years young.

Born John Mastrangelo, Johnny got his start in New York singing with a group of guys on the subway in the mid 1950s.  According to legend, one afternoon a subway rider gave the group his business card.  He was a record executive…and wanted to record them.  They dubbed themselves “The Crests” and cut a few singles for Joyce Records.  However it wasn’t until they signed with Coed Records that the hits came.  One 45 rpm in particular had the “A” side (supposedly the ‘hit’ side) as “Beside You” with the “B” side being a ballad called “Sixteen Candles”.  The “A” side went nowhere.  The “B” side on the other hand made it to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.  (“Sixteen Candles” wasn’t the original name of the song. It was supposed to be called “Twenty-One Candles”.)  Other doo wop hits recorded by the Crests include “Six Nights A Week”, “The Angles Listened In”, “Trouble in Paradise” and “Step by Step”.

Coed tried to groom Maestro as a solo act in the 1960s, but most of his solo work went nowhere.  So in the mid to late 60s he teamed up with another doo wop group, “The Del-Satins”.  (The Del-Satins are best known for their work with Dion DiMucci.  They backed Dion on hits like “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer”. However the Del-Satins also scored some classic doo wop hits on their own with songs like “Teardrops Follow Me” and “Does My Love Stand A Chance”.)

Then in 1968 The Del-Satins joined forces with a Long Island Band known as “The Rhythm Method”.  But what to call this mega group? After all it boasted eleven (or more) members on trumpet, sax, organ, guitars, and drums plus back-up singers. Their manager said that selling the band to promoters would be “harder to sell than the Brooklyn Bridge”.  So they called themselves “The Brooklyn Bridge”.

Their debut album included “The Worst That Could Happen”, which not only made the Top Ten on Billboard, but also went “gold”.  Other hits included “Blessed Is The Rain”, “Welcome Me Love” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

Although the group, re-dubbed “Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge”, continued to record through the 70s, 80s, 90s and even as recently as 2009, the hits were elusive.

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of meeting Johnny Maestro a few years ago when he was part of a package show at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. Johnny couldn’t have been nicer to me.  He shared stories of how his first group got started and how he teamed up with the Del-Satins. But he insisted that I talk with the rest of the band as well, thus allowing me to talk with members of the original Del-Satins as well as the gentleman who was the original touring drummer for “Jesus Christ Superstar”.

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