SLY AND THE VISCAYNES-YELLOW MOON: THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS 1961-1962.
Sly and The Viscaynes-Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962.
Label: Ace Records.
By 1960, there were only two high schools in the city of Vallejo which is situated in the northeastern corner of San Francisco Bay. St Vincent’s and the Vallejo High School which was where the members of The Viscaynes would matriculate.
This included Charlene Imhoff who was born and brought up in the city and was a student at Vallejo Junior High School. In 1958, she was invited to sing with a vocal group that had been formed at the local junior high school, The Viscounts.
At the time, its lineup featured drummer Herb Schouse, pianist Mike Stevens. Charlene Imhoff was the first of several new additions. Soon, the nascent group was joined by Art Bignoria and Frank Arellano who at the time was in a group called The Whinchats at Franklin Junior High. The two new additions were keen music fans and spent their evenings listening to groups like The Platters and Five Satins on the radio.
By the autumn of 1958, the members of The Viscounts had moved to Vallejo Junior High School where they were joined by Charlie Gebhardt who was a friend of Frank Arellano. This new lineup featured in the Hi-Laffs school show on the ‘22nd’ of May 1959.
That night, the competition was fierce with The Webs and The Avondales two of the top bands. However, The Viscounts’ cover of the doo wop favourite You Are My Girlfriend was well received and their nascent career continued.
It was without Art Bignoria and Mark Kennedy who both left The Viscounts. Jim Kozier was recruited and joined the group as a new chapter in their career began.
One day The Viscounts were rehearsing for a talent contest when a student entered the room and started to listen. After a minute Sylvester Stewart said: “doesn’t anyone here sing harmony? You’re all singing leads.”
When Charlene Imhoff heard this she said to the rest of the group: “Why don’t you ask Sly if he wants to join our group?”
Frank Arellano went and asked Sly Stewart: Can you give us your opinion” and then after he worked with the group for a short time asked: “Maybe you would like to sing with us?”
After thinking about this for just a short time he returned and agreed to join the group. The new lineup agreed that they should rehearse regularly and then made their debut at the Vallejo Rangers Hall.
Straight away, Sly Stewart became the unofficial bandleader and the group’s lives revolved around rehearsals. Soon, the group had the confidence to enter a contest for groups in the Bay-Area which was sponsored by Dick Stewart’s Dance Party.
By then, Dick Stewart was working six days a week and needed someone to help organise the contest. He was friendly with record promoter Pete Martino who also represented various record labels and agreed to help organise the contest. When he was looking for the most talented singers and groups he organised coattail parties. This where presidents of junior high schools and high schools would recommend the most talented singer and groups their school had to offer. The Viscounts were one of the best bands at Vallejo High School.
The Viscounts were selected for the contest on the ‘3rd’ of March, and were due to appear in the Solano County heat on March the ‘13th’ 1961, However, Charlene Imhoff wasn’t available when the newly named group made its debut in the contest. They were now called The Original Viscounts and featured Maria Boldway. She was part of a vocal sextet which was still accompanied by pianist Mike Stevens
When The Original Viscounts entered a regional heat of the talent contest hoping and dreaming that they would be the lucky ones who progressed to the next round. This they knew would only be the start of a long journey.
After The Original Viscounts won the regional heat on the ‘13th’ March 1961 and then made their debut on Dick Stewart’s Dance Party in San Francisco where they encountered Joe Piazza and The Continentals. They backed The Original Viscounts as they sang Blue Moon during the first round of what was a victory parade.
The Original Viscounts needed to win their way through a number of rounds before they reached the final. However, this wasn’t going to easy as there were so many other talented vocal groups in the area and they had all entered the competition. The competition was fierce which wasn’t surprising given what was at stake.
All the groups wanted to win the first prize which was a recording contract and a trip to Hollywood. They knew that music offered them an escape route from small town America and the opportunity to enjoy a better life.
Having made their way through the various rounds, The Original Viscounts made it to the final which was held at San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium in May 1961. Just before the final Jim Kozier was replaced by Charlie Gebhardt’s brother Vern. The group had also changed their name to The Viscaynes because there were other groups called The Viscounts. This avoided any confusion in the future and was something they had been advised to do when they signed with Martino Enterprises.
The Viscaynes won the final at San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium and the recording contract and trip to Hollywood. This the group hoped would transform their lives and be the start of a career in music.
Before that, Pete Marino had another of his signings Gary Stites coach The Viscaynes before they entered the studio for the first time. After this period of preparation they would journey to San Francisco to make their recording debut.
The recordings they made in San Francisco are among those that feature on the new Sly and The Viscaynes compilation Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962 which was recently released by Ace Records.
Having journeyed to San Francisco, The Viscaynes made their way to Dick Camp’s studio A-V Productions. At its hearts was a two track tape recorder. Charlene Imhoff sang the lead vocal on Stop What You’re Doing and the rest of the group then overdubbed their vocals. Then Charlene Imhoff and Maria Boldway duetted on I Guess I’ll Be. Other tracks recorded at the session were Don’t Cry Soldier. These tracks feature on Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962 and are a reminder of The Viscaynes first recording session.
Later in 1961, The Viscaynes released Stop What You Are Doing on the Tropo label with I Guess I’ll Be on the B-Side. On the second pressing Real, True Love featured on the flip side. However, this doo wop single failed to find an audience and it was an disappointing start to the group’s career.
In September 1961, The Viscaynes with the first version of the novelty record Uncle Sam Needs You which was released on VPM. On the B-Side was Yellow Moon. However, there’s second pressing of Uncle Sam Needs and Yellow Moon which also features on the compilation. It was one of the tracks recorded when The Viscaynes rerecorded at a session in LA. Sadly, after the trip that was the end of the group.
Still Yellow Moon was released as a single on VPM, with the romantic sounding Heavenly Angel on the B-Side. It’s also included on the compilation. After this, it was another two years before The Viscaynes released any more music.
Meanwhile, Charlene Imhoff and Maria Boldway recorded the single Hully Gully Papa which featured I’m Coming Home on the B-Side. They released the single on VPM in November 1961 using the moniker Jasper Woods. The single is a rarity and is welcome addition to the compilation.
By then, Danny (Sly) Stewart as he was billed embarked upon a solo career and released A Long Time Alone as a single in November 1961. On the B-Side was I’m Just A Fool which was another L and M Production. However, just like The Viscaynes’ singles commercial success eluded the group’s unofficial bandleader.
In June 1962, Sylvester Stewart as he was now billed as released Help Me With My Broken Hear with Long Time Alone on the B-Side. However, still commercial success eluded this slice of poppy soul when it was released on G&P. It was back to the drawing board.
By 1963, Sly Stewart had severed his ties with the Motola-Page production team. Despite that, an alternate version of Danny (Sly) Stewart’s Do You Remember aka I’m Just A Fool featured on a compilation released by the Sutton label. So did The Viscaynes’ You’re My Only Love. This brought to an end a two year period where The Viscaynes and Sylvester Stewart enjoyed their introduction to the music industry. However, it’s not the end of Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962.
There’s also five previously unreleased tracks on the compilation. This includes The Viscaynes’ Don’t Cry, Soldier which they recorded in 1961. It’s joined by Goodnight Brown Eyes which was recorded by vocalist Gary Stites who was hired to school The Viscaynes before they made their recording debut.The other unreleased track is Sylvester Stewart’s While I’m Gone which is the only track to feature the singer’s real name. It’s also the start of what would be a long and successful career for a man who would become one of the most innovative musicians in the history of modern music. That was all in the future.
During his time with The Viscaynes fame and fortune was something that Sylvester Stewart and the rest of the band dreamt about. They managed to win their way through the contest for groups in the Bay-Area which was sponsored by Dick Stewart’s Dance Party. The first prize was a recording contract and the trip to LA. This they hoped would change their lives forevermore.
Sadly, that wasn’t the case and by 1962 The Viscaynes had split-up. By then, they had released several unsuccessful singles which only found an audience after Sylvester Stewart became Sly Stone and found fame with Sly and The Family Stone.
All the tracks that The Viscaynes recorded feature on Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962 which was released by Ace Records. They’re joined by the tracks Sylvester Stewart recorded as well as contributions from Jasper Woods and Gary Stites. Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962 is the most comprehensive retrospective of Sly and The Viscaynes’ music.
This lovingly compiled compilation is also the story of a group of young friends who met at high school and bonded over their shared love of music. They time they spent making music and in pursuit of commercial success was akin to a musical apprenticeship for five members of the group. Charlene Imhoff turned her back on a career in music although she occasionally sang in public. The rest of The Viscaynes continued to make a career out of music.
Sixty years after The Viscaynes released their debut single Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings is a welcome reminder of the group’s two year recording career and the music they made.
Sly and The Viscaynes-Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962.