Lennie Martin and Lou Guarino were pioneering record producers and promoters who created the Pittsburgh/East Coast Rock sound and who launched the national careers of artists from Pittsburgh and the U.K. Co-owners of three Pittsburgh based record labels: Calico, Robbee Records, and World Artists Records they introduced the world to the music of the Skyliners, Chad and Jeremy, Christine Quate, The LaRells, the El Vinos, Marcy Jo and many more. Through their national distribution deal with Liberty Records they marketed hit selling acts from 1959 through 1965. The three labels combined recorded and released the music of around 50 acts. Many of the acts, like the Holidays, the Tammys, and the Laurels were popular on radio and dances in the Pittsburgh area. Musician Lenny Martin arranged many of the songs and produced the recordings sessions. His arrangement of the Skyliner’s classic hit “Since I Don’t Have You” introduced string accompaniment to Rock and R&B music and influenced Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”. As producers of the Skyliners and other artists Martin and Guarino scored classic Doo Wap hits with “Since I Don’t Have You”, “This I Swear”, “Pennies From Heaven”, “The Jury”, “Daddy’s Little Girl”, “Little Did I Know”, “Ronnie”, “Since Gary Went To The Navy”, “Everybody Knew”, and “Please Be Fair”. The 45 and albums recordings of their three labels are sought out by avid record collectors. The Best of Robbee Records” CD released on Dead Dog Records includes 31 singles from Lougie and the Lions, the Larells, Marcy Jo, Jimmy Massey, the Holidays, and Honorable Fats Wilson.
Lennie Martin was a pianist, composer, arranger, band leader, and vocal coach who worked in the broadcast, advertising, and recording industries. He was born as Rinaldo R. Marino on December 20, 1916. After studying music at Duquense University he worked for KDKA and WCAE radio as a pianist and arranger. He later became a free lance jingles writer for radio and television advertisements. He wrote thousands of jingles. Martin also led the Lennie Martin Orchestra. Martin began in the recording business when he founded the JEM Record label in 1955. JEM artists included the Smoothtones, Patty Troy, and the Wright Brothers. Martin died in 1963 at just age 46.
Lou Guarino grew up in an Italian family listening to his father’s accordion music. A fan of Frankie Lane Lou learned to sing by singing along with Lane’s records. After graduating from High School, Lou was interested in working in either the music industry or politics. Following his interest in politics he took a job as a city public utilities inspector, but later followed his music industry dream to success.
Calico Records and the Skyliners
In 1958 friends Lennie Martin, Lou Guarino, and attorney Al Capozzi founded the Calico Records label to record and promote the music of Pittsburgh musicians. They began a talent search on a Saturday holding auditions for groups on the third floor of Carlton House Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. After listening to groups all day from 10 in the morning to 6 in the evening and not hearing anything good they decided to close the auditions and go home. Lou and Lennie were at the elevator waiting to leave when the door opened. Out bounced five guys and a girl asking, “where’s the audition?” Lennie told them it was over and to look for the next audition announcement. Pleading in tears singer Janet Vopgal convinced Lennie and Lou to hear the group sing. They sang the first few notes of the song “Since I Don’t Have You” and wowed Lennie and Lou. Lou scheduled a recording session with 18 back up musicians in New York for the group. Lennie wrote the string arrangement for “Since I Don’t Have You”. Lou and Lennie produced the sessions that netted three hit singles. Calico Records launched December of 1959 with the release of the Skyliners’ single “Since I Don’t Have You”. Lou flew from New York to Pittsburgh with the master copy of the single and took it straight to KDKA radio’s music director Art Pallen. Impressed Pallen aired the record within an hour and put the song in heavy rotation. “Since I Don’t Have You” became one of the top ten songs of 1959 reaching number 3 on the Billboard Top 100 chart. It has been recorded by over 150 other artists. The Skyliners became the first teen group to place a single in the top 40. “This I Swear" reached number 26 in 1959 and "Pennies From Heaven" climbed to number 24 in 1960. The Skyliner’s first album "The Skyliners" released on Calico Records in 1960 reached the top 50.
With there initial Skyliners success Calico released recordings by the El Vinos, the Donnybrooks, Walt Madox, Andy Taylor, the Pacers, Frank Jussuf, Cally Dodd, Charlie Hicks, The Palisades, The Holidays, and the Empires. Calico hit the Billboard Top 100 with the ballad “Everytime We Kiss” by the Donnybrooks who went on to tour the country with the Dick Clark Cavalcade of Stars tour. According to a story in Variety the Calico Label went into receivership in July of 1961.
Lou and Lennie founded the Robbee Record Label in 1960. It was named in honor Lennie Martin's youngest son, Robert. The Robbee label released recordings by Rosemay Belan (1960), The Four Seasons (1960), Benny Benack’s “Beat em Bucks” (1960), the La-Rells (1961 and 1962), The Chapelaires (1961), Marcy Jo (1961 and 1962), Lugee and the Lions (1961), Jimmy Massey (1961), Fats Wilson (1961), Italian singer Dino Di Fina, and Joe Negri with Lennie Martin & His Orchestra (1961).
Singer Marcy Jo, born Marcy Rae Sockel, took singing lessons every Saturday for four years at Carlton House Hotel from Lennie Martin. At age 17 Lennie and Lou produced a recording of a song that Marcy wrote about her boyfriend entitled “Ronnie”. Backing Marcy on vocals were Lugee & the Lions comprised of Lou Sacco (Lou Christie), Amy Sacco (Lou’s older sister), Kay Chick and Bill Fabec. Released on the Robbee label in March of 1961 the song quickly became a Pittsburgh hit. Liberty records gave it national distribution. At the end of May 1961 “Ronnie” reached number 81 on Billboard's Hot 100, #64 on the Cash Box charts, and #27 in Variety. Allmusic.com calls “Ronnie” a girl group classic. Marcy Jo toured the East with Del Shannon and Johnny And The Hurricanes during the summer of 61. Robbee released Marcy Jo’s single 'Since Gary Went In The Navy' in 1961 and 'Jumping Jack' in September 1961. After Robbee Records went out of business Marcy Jo signed with Swan Records in 1962. Swan released the singles "I'm A Dreamer, Aren't We All" and "How Softly A Heart Breaks." Teaming with singer Eddie Rambeau Marcy released the duets "Those Golden Oldies" and Lover's Medley" in 1963. Lennie Martin remained her business manager until he passed away in 1963. Marcy released "The Next Time" on Swan in 1963, was dropped from Swan, married her sweetheart “Ronnie” and never recorded again.
World Artist Records
Billboard Magazine announced on February 2, 1963 that Lou Guarino and Lennie Martin had teamed together again to form the new label “World Records”. Wanting to expand beyond Pittsburgh and 1950’s vocal music Lou and Lennie Martin formed World Records, which was later renamed to World Artist Records. Anticipating the British invasion (which launched in 1963 with Beatles) Lou traveled to the U.K. in 1963 to conduct a talent search. Making the rounds of the music clubs and coffee houses in the U.K. Lou heard several new groups and signed them to contracts with World Artists Records for distribution of their music in North America.
Chad & Jeremy
Lou heard the young duo “Chad & Jeremy” in a London coffee house and signed them. Chad and Jeremy had a hit on the UK charts in September 1963 with the single “Yesterday’s Gone”. It was produced by John Barry, who wrote the music for James Bond movies, and was released in the U.K. on the small independent label Ember. Lou Guarino purchased the North American rights to Chad & Jeremy’s recordings from Ember Records. After Lennie Martin’s death in September of 1963, Lou ran the label by himself. Lou Guarino released “Yesterday’s Gone” in the U.S. in May of 1964 devoting all his label’s time and financial resources to promoting it. In May of 1964 “Yesterday’s Gone reached the Billboard top 20. Chad & Jeremy came to the U.S. to appear on The Hollywood Palace, Steve Allen, Mike Douglas and other prime time television shows. They were a hit on American TV. In interviews Chad credits their American break through to the efforts of the World Artists label. He said a major label would have not focused all of its efforts to break one song. Famed producer Shel Talmy was brought in to record Chad & Jeremy’s “Summer Song” and “Willow Weep For Me” for their first album. The “Yesterday Gone” album was in American stores by the end of July 1964, only a month after the recording session.
World Artists released “A Summer Song” the second Chad & Jeremy single in August of 1964. Reaching number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 it was Chad and Jeremy’s biggest US hit. The “Yesterday's Gone” album reached # 22 on the Billboard Top 200. They scored a third hit single on World Artists in November with "Willow Weep For Me" that reached number 1 on the Easy Listening chart and number 15 in the Hot 100. The single “If I Loved You” released on World Artists in 1965 hit the top 40 and reached #6 on the Billboard Contemporary Music chart. Guarino brought Chad and Jeremy to a studio in New York to record their second album the “Chad & Jeremy Sing For You” with producer Jimmy Haskel. They refused to record a version of "It Was A Very Good Year" arranged by Jimmy Haskel. It was to be their next single. Instead they recorded their own folk version of the song that flopped. Frank Sinatra recorded Haskel's arrangement and had one of his biggest all time hits.
After several major television appearances, their 4 hit singles, and a hit album on the World artists label Chad & Jeremy moved to California. John Hartman, of the William Morris agency, impressed with their performance on The Hollywood Palace signed them with the promise of more television show appearances. On the advice of the John Hartman they signed with manager Allen Klein who managed several other major British invasion acts. Klein negotiated a buyout of their Ember Records contract winning a new deal for Chad and Jeremy with Columbia Records. But they had to pay half of their Columbia advance to Ember Records to get out their contract. World Artists released the second album “Chad & Jeremy Sing For You” in January 1965, before the Columbia contract went into effect. Chad & Jeremy went on to appear on the Dick Van Dyke, Patti Duke, Batman, and other television shows. They released three top 40 singles and two albums on Columbia before they were dropped from the label and broke up in 1968.
Reparata & the Delrons
World Artists Records produced two hit singles and an album for the 1960s girl group Reparata & the Delrons from Brooklyn, NY. In 1965 they had two Billboard Hot 100 hits with “Whenever a Teenager Cries” reaching #60 and “Tommy” reaching #92. They gained national exposure appearing on two Dick Clark Caravan of Stars tours. Their album “Whenever A Teenager Cries” recorded by World Artists in 1964 has become a collectible. Reparata had another minor hit in 1975 with the song “Shoes” that was originally released on World Artists by Felix Harp in 1973. Reparata’s 1975 version used the original Felix Harp backing track that was produced by Lou Guarino on his NAMI (North American Music Industries) label. Guarino is listed as co-producer of Reparata's “Shoes” recording. "Shoes" reached #92 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a hit in U.K at #43 and in South Africa where it reached #6.
World Artists released U.K. teen singer Christine Quaite’s single "Tell Me Mama." It peaked at number 85 on the Billboard Top 100 in May of 1964. World Artists also release Quaite’s recordings of ‘In the Middle of the Floor’ and 'Mr Stuck-Up' in the U.S. In 1963 World Artists released recordings by Bernie Terrell, The Peacemakers, Luke Gordon, the Lateers, Jimmy Interval, Peeple, The Coachmen, The Stereos, Tubby Oliver, Betty Johnson, and Joe Sherman and his Orchestra. The year 1964 brought more World Artists releases from The School House, Ty Lemley, The Shevelles, The Aztecs, Don Charles, The Moments, Hamilton King, and Bobby Guitar. In 1965 World Artists release music from Sherri Weine, The Oxford 12, Barry Darvell, Mickey Denton, Windsor Scott and The Devonshires, and Darin D'Anna.
American Music Makers
After closing the World Artist Label in October 1965, Guarino formed a new label, American Music Makers with offices at the Carlton House Hotel in Pittsburgh. The label roster included Simone Jackson, Rich Engler’s band Grains of Sand, the Presentations, Music Combination, Kelly St. Claire, Steve Leeds, Fruit Machine, Mickey Denton, Joey Dallas, and Patty Jerome.
Other Music Industry Ventures
In1969 Guarino formed CEMI (Creative Electronics Musical Industries) to create and record music for television advertising. CEMI was responsible for the memorable “Things Go Better With Coca-Cola” commercials and the US Army's recruiting spots “Be All That You Can Be.” CEMI also collaborated with John Abbot on the catchy commercials “Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut” (Peter Paul Almond Joy), “Have it Your Way” (Burger King) and the 2006 Super Bowl aired “Summer Song” (T-Mobile). Lou opened the Western World Recording Studios in 1972. Located in the Hammond Industrial Park of Carnegie it housed a 24 track studio, a 16 track studio, a record pressing plant, and tape duplicating equipment. NAMI (North American Music Industrys) was formed Guarino in 1972 and purchased the world’s largest music pressing plant from EMI/Capital Records saving 420 jobs in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The plant produced records for several major labels, classical music labels, and artists such as Julio Eglesias. Billboard reported that the plant closed in June of 1979 due to lack of orders for vinyl records as clients had shifted production to lower cost plants.
Lou Guarino now operates WAE Records which is producing the “Sing-a-language” educational tool for teaching English. Sing-A-Language is a series of DVDs featuring popular music songs to teach the fundamentals of the English language using sing-along illustrated karaoke music tracks that encourage young students to sing, pronounce and articulate each word of the song in American phonetics. The DVDs are offered in Spanish, Italian, Chinese and other languages.
Lou Guarino and Lennie Martin
Lou Guarino in Billboard Magazine
Reparata & the Delrons