MAY, 2004

Left to right Charlie Gracie, Mrs. Gracie, Harvey Holiday DJ of WOGL
& Chubby Checker

May 11th, 2004: Over 2,200 people turned out to pay tribute to Philly's first rock 'n' roll success: CHARLIE GRACIE at the ELECTRIC FACTORY. Charlie's lifetime achievement award from PMA was the main feature of the evening, but the 80's rock band: THE HOOTERS were also award recipients. Dozens of Philly performers and musicians who scored international successes were also present. CHUBBY CHECKER attended purposely to present the award to CHARLIE GRACIE. PAUL McCARTNEY, GRAHAM NASH and VAN MORRISION sent video tributes to Charlie reminding the audience of Gracie's influence in Europe and upon their own musical journeys.

Check out some of the photos below! A reminder too, that ABKCO Records will finally release the old Cameo-Parkway masters - the label Charlie made famous and bankrolled with his big hits like: Butterfly, Fabulous and Ninety-Nine Ways. He was interviewed by Jody Klein in late January for the liner notes which will appear in the box set. Finally... a fitting tribute to all the great artists who recorded on the CP label. Stay Tuned.

Charlie Gracie receiving his Lifetime Achievement from Chubby Checker.

Charlie giving his acceptance speech.

Chubby Checker twisting the night away.

The Hooters presenters:
Pierre Robert, Michael Tearson

from left to right:
Eric Bazilian, John Lilley, Fran Smith Jr., Rob Hyman, David Uosikkinen

Wife of songwriter Kal Mann, Dave Appell songwriter & producer for Cameo Parkway Records,
Joe Tarsia former engineer of Cameo Parkway Records & Sigma Sound Studio founder,
Stephen Caldwell vocalist of the Orlons a Cameo Parkway recording act.

George Manney & Charlie Gracie.

George Manney & Stephen Caldwell (of the Orlons).

George Manney & Dave Appell (Cameo Parkway Records producer, arranger & songwriter).

Photos by Mike Fraticelli

Goodness, Gracie
Great balls of fire!
Philly legend finally getting his props


            Posted on Tue, May. 11, 2004 - HE WAS THE FIRST among many, and in some ways the very best of the lot. "But it's not often that I get recognized," admits Charlie Gracie, a special honoree at tonight's Philly Music Awards at the Electric Factory. "That's OK. I'm just happy to be alive and performing, working all over the world. I've buried most of my contemporaries. I'm not complaining."
            Still a fine singer and facile guitar player with a good-rockin' nature and Southern soul finish, the verging-on-68 Gracie was the first and one of the purest of teen talents to break out of South Philly in the late '50s heyday of the "Bandstand" era.
            Here, his fame would be fleeting. But overseas, the man practically became a god and is still revered by some very heavy hitters. Gracie was the first American solo rocker to visit and conquer Britain, and his showmanship sparked such young concertgoers as Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Graham Nash, Cliff Richard, Ray Davies and Van Morrison to pick up an electric guitar and learn how to play.
            Going public with his praise, McCartney covered Gracie's hit "Fabulous" on both the "Run Devil Run" album and his "Live at the Cavern Club" concert DVD. Nash contributed vocals to Gracie's last album, "I'm All Right," released in 2001. (When Nash first met Gracie, Nash showed off a cigarette butt Gracie had tossed away and Nash swears he retrieved at the first Gracie performance Nash saw. Nash had saved it as a souvenir.)
            Musical snob Morrison even featured Gracie as his opening act on a West Coast mini-tour a few years ago. So who exactly is this guy, and why isn't he popping up on those "Golden Boys of Bandstand" tours?
            Born Charles Anthony Graci in 1936, the Philly kid started making rootsy, country boogie and jump blues records when he was 15 for the New York-based Cadillac and 20th Century labels. And he started appearing on "Bandstand" when it was strictly a local TV show under the regime of Bob Horn, "a real gentleman," Gracie recalls, pointedly.
            Later, he was taken under the wing of composer Bernie Lowe after the performer had won, five weeks in a row, on the locally televised Paul Whiteman talent show where Mann led the band.
            Gracie became one of the first artists signed and the first to hit it big on Cameo (later Cameo-Parkway) Records, paving the way for its long string of hits. The label was a partnership of Mann, comedy writer-turned-lyricist Bernie Lowe, producer/songwriter Dave Appell and a couple of very significant silent partners - "Bandstand" producer Tony Mammarella and the TV dance party's replacement host, Dick Clark, who came in just in time to take the show national.
            In March 1957, with heavy exposure on "Bandstand," Gracie actually knocked the newly anointed King of Rock, Elvis Presley, out of the top slot on the singles chart with a rockabilly ditty called "Butterfly," which went on to sell 3 million copies.
            His displacement of Presley's "All Shook Up" was an upset so stunning even Ed Sullivan had to notice. So he invited the diminutive (5 feet 4 inches), now 20-year-old Gracie to perform on his prime-time Sunday night TV show.
            A few more hits followed in the next couple years - the flip-side "99 Ways," "Fabulous" and "Cool Baby" most prominent. Then Gracie had the nerve to demand that the tight-fisted Lowe actually pay him owed record royalties. "Bernie was great in the studio but lousy with the paper," Gracie recalls.
            An out-of-court settlement was eventually reached, Gracie getting $50,000 and his walking papers. And while the singer/guitarist would record many more sides for other, bigger labels, his 15 minutes of fame had passed, at least in the States. He would never get another shot to appear on "Bandstand," though Clark recently denied to this reporter that Gracie was blackballed.
            But overseas, where interests were not conflicted, Gracie scored several more hits and continued to build a following. He still pulls sizable crowds on his annual fall European tour and has an October date to record a new album in Germany for the Rhythm Bomb label. Why, he's even been inducted in Britain's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - though not in the U.S. equivalent. Nor, oddly, has he found a space on Philadelphia's music-oriented Walk of Fame on the Avenue of the Arts.
            Here at home, this still-vibrant rocker says he's content to play mostly small clubs - like his current Friday night stand (5-8 p.m.) at Dominico's in Folcroft - and his summerlong, weekend stint at Moore's Inlet in North Wildwood, N.J., a 24-year tradition that picks up again on Memorial Day.

We caught up with Gracie recently at his home in Drexel Hill (where he lives with his wife of 46 years, Joan) and asked him to ruminate about the good (and not so grand) old days of his career.
            Q: What was the environment like in South Philadelphia when you were growing up?
            A: I was a Depression-era kid, brought up near 8th and Morris sharing a bedroom with my Sicilian-speaking grandparents in a very cramped little rowhouse. We had no heat, no indoor plumbing, but we always had enough food to eat, lots of love and didn't think we were poor because everybody else in the neighborhood was in the same boat.
            When I was 10, my dad and I went shopping for a new suit for him on South Street. He wound up buying me a guitar with the money. I wanted to play a trumpet, but he said I could be self-sustaining, a one-man-band, with a guitar. He started paying for lessons, too - $3 a week, a lot of money when he was only bringing home $27 a week from the Stetson hat factory.
            By the time I was 16, I was playing better than my teacher, who was a cousin of the famed violin player Joe Venuti. And then I really felt like I hit the jackpot when I won a refrigerator on the Whitman talent show. It was our first icebox.
            All the other guys of my era who came out of South Philly - Eddie Fisher, Chubby Checker, Fabian, James Darren, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell - were like me, nice kids, and all wound up doing well. We could have been bums, could have been gangsters. We all came from poor families, and we were all looking to better our lives. And our parents all made sacrifices, gave us the opportunity to become something that they never could.
            My dad had wanted to be a tap dancer, but his father talked him out of it, told him it would be bad for his heart. It was a ploy so he'd get steady work in a factory.

            Q: If you had your life to do all over again, would you change anything?
            A: When I hit the jackpot, I should have kept my mouth shut. But when you come from nothing, you get principles. I told these guys, "I'm not giving up my 2 or 3 cents royalties per disc." Nobody told me Dick Clark was their partner. Or that they had a network, 10 to 12 promotion guys around the country, who controlled the music business, what got played on the radio. Once they said, "Get off it," you were dead. All the big companies did that. And a lot of artists never made a dime from the labels.
            When I left Cameo-Parkway, they replaced me with Bobby Rydell. He kept his mouth shut and got 10 or 12 hit records, instead of just three. Chubby Checker, he's very bitter about how Cameo-Parkway treated him, but he shouldn't be. He still gets big bucks to perform. They gave him a career.
            Me, I went from getting $7,000 playing the Brooklyn Paramount to $300 playing a club. Most guys facing that would blow their brains out. But my agent, Bernie Rothbard, told me, "You put your head up and keep doing your thing." The thing is, you have to look forward and not dwell, 'cause otherwise it makes you sick.
            I worked places you'd be scared to walk into. Eventually, I built myself back up with oldies shows and corporate functions and the European tours. Having the endorsements of guys like McCartney and Harrison - who called my guitar sound "brilliant" - have been so great. And I've always given a lot back, too, through work at charity functions.
            Now I'm at a point where I've got enough. I'm still doing what I love, making music. I've never had to work a day job. And I just don't worry about the rest.
            When I met Dick Clark a few years ago at the dedication of the old "Bandstand" site, we smiled and shook hands like nothing ever happened. My life would make a good movie, don't you think?

            Q: What was it like when you played overseas?
            A: I played enormous places in London - the Hippodrome, the Palladium, headlining the bill, playing to 6,000 people a day. The screaming was so loud you couldn't hear yourself. I was the first American rock soloist to go over there after Bill Haley - a Chester, Pa., guy - had come over with the Comets with his big hit "Rock Around the Clock." Elvis never went over to England [his manager, "Colonel" Tom Parker was an illegal immigrant and feared he wouldn't get back into the United States] but Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent came over after me and also became much bigger in England than they ever were in the States.

            Q: And how did you come to work with Van Morrison?
            A: Van called me out of the blue four years ago, telling me he was a fan from way back and asking if I'd like to open for him in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Reno. All these important people came to see him in L.A. - Jack Nicholson, Dan Aykroyd, Anjelica Houston - and gave me a standing ovation. What a thrill.
            Morrison is a real perfectionist, though he doesn't treat his audience very well, refusing to do his old hits. How could I not do "Butterfly" if somebody yells it out, even though I've done it 50 million times? A guy pays $4 for his beer, you owe him that.
            Van and I jammed on stage and hung out after the shows, too. He told me that if it wasn't for guys like me inspiring him, he'd still be putting up sheet metal for a living, which is what he used to do in Ireland.
            And then he said something that really struck a chord - "Charlie, you're richer than me. You have a lovely wife and children. I go home to an empty room."


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Rockabilly Hall of Fame