Nick Cenci

Launched Lou Christie and the Vogues on Co & Ce Records

Nick Cenci is recognized for breaking Lou Christie, the Vogues, and Tommy James and the Shondels on his Co & Ce record label.   

Radio Beginnings

Upon finishing high school, Nick began his career in radio at Pittsburgh radio station WCAE/WTAE.  He began as an office boy working his way up to music librarian, music programmer for the Jay Michael Show, DJ, and finally program director.  Nick was the DJ of a show that ran from 11 PM to 1 AM Monday through Saturday on WCAE in 1950.  He spun a top 40 play list before the days of the Top 40 format. 

Leaving WCAE he worked as a record promotion executive for Fenway Record Distributors.  At Fenway he represented several labels promoting records to Pittsburgh area radio DJs and retail stores.  Nick also advised labels on what songs to release as singles, such as the “Tarantella Twist” by Hugo Montenegro. He also helped local groups get record deals.  

Founded Co & Ce Records

Seeing an opportunity to promote Pittsburgh area musicians, he co-founded Co & Ce records with Herb Cohen in 1962. Nick became the A&R man for the label discovering and signing artists.  He produced recording sessions, promoted records to local stations, and arranged national distribution and promotion deals. The roster of Co & Ce artists from 1962 to 1967 included Lou Christie, The Vogues, The Swamp Rats, the Fenways, Lefty and the Leadsmen, Gary Glenn and the Soul Set, the Four Chaps, The Willies, The Ponderosas, and others. As a record producer Cenci is credited for producing recordings for Lou Christie, the Vogues, the Fenways, Chaz, Gary Boyd, the Delegates, and others. Nick also was the artist manager for several acts.   

The Birth of Lou Christie

In 1962, a young singer named Lugge Alfredo Giovanni Sacco approached Nick Cenci with some demo tapes.  Nick liked Lugge’s falsetto voice and suggested that he listen to the Four Season’s recent hit Sherry.  Lugge and his writing partner Twyla Herbert used the song as a model to write their original song called “The Gypsy Cried”.  Nick produced a recording of the song at Gateway Studio in Pittsburgh paying the band with wine and $500. Nick’s boss at Fenway, Herb Cohen, provided financial backing for the recording.  Luggee had released several Doo-Wop singles on Robee Records under the name of Lugee & the Lions, a group comprised Lou, his sister Amy Sacco, Kay Chick and Bill Fabec.  They had a regional hit with the Doo Wop song “The Jury” and and had backed Marcy Jo on her national hit “Ronnie.  Wanting to create a new image for Lugge Sacco Nick changed the singer’s name to Lou Christie.  Nick and Herb Cohen formed the CO&CE label and released the single in 1963.  Within two weeks Nick broke the record on Pittsburgh radio stations.  It became a hit selling 30,000 copies in Pittsburgh.  

Nick contacted Morris Levy of Roulette Records saying that he had a hit that needed national distribution. Levy published the single on his label but nothing was happening.  Nick called a DJ at WABC in New York who had worked in Pittsburgh asking him to play Gyspy Cried as it was a proven hit.  The DJ said our station isn’t playing music from Routette but I’ll put it on for you. The DJ started playing the single on a Friday.  The following Tuesday Morris Levy called Nick to tell him that New York was going crazy for Gyspy Cried.  Airplay spread across the country and the song became a smash hit at number 24 on the Billboard charts.  Selling over one million copies of the song Lou Christie was awarded a gold record.  Cenci produced additional recording sessions for Christie in 1963 that generated two more hits. "Two Faces Have I" reached number 6 on the charts in March of 1963. “How Many Tear Drops” reached number 46.  Roulette released on album of 12 Lou Christy / Tylwa Herbert songs in 1963 that reached 124 on the Billboard 200 album charts. With those hits Christie joined Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars Tour.  After a two year draft sting in the Army Christie signed with MGM records where he had a number 1 hit with “Lightnin' Strikes" in 1966. 

The Vogues

In 1965 Nick produced recording sessions for the vocal group the Val-Aires at Gateway Studios in Pittsburgh.  The band recorded a cover of the Petula Clark song "You're The One" releasing it on their own label (Blue Star 229).  Nick persuaded John Rook, program director of KQV to play the single. With local airplay and sales it became a regional hit.  Nick signed them to the Co & Ce label give them national distribution. See in advertisement in Billboard for Vogue International Records, he was inspired to change the group's name to the Vogues.   "You're The One" became a national hit reaching number four on the Billboard charts.  Later in 1965 Cenci produced the Vogues recording session of the no. 4 Billboard hit "Five O'Clock World". In 1966 Co & Ce Records released the single "Magic Town" which reached no. 21 in February and the no. 29 hit “The Land of Milk and Honey”.   The singles "Summer Afternoon" and "Lovers Of The World Unite" were released on Co & Ce in 1967.  Co & Ce leased the Vogues to Reprise Records (distributed by Warner Bros.) where they scored a no. 7 hit with the song “Turn Around, Look at Me” (#7),

Hanky Panky in the Burgh

Bob Mack, a WZUM DJ who owned a record store and promoted dances at the White Elephant and Bethel Roller Rink, bought a collection of used records from a Notre Dame student in 1966.  The collection included a forgotten song called “Hanky Panky” recorded by Tommy James and the Shondells in 1964. Liking it Mack played the song at his dances and the crowds went crazy.  Other Pittsburgh area dance DJs started playing the song. In response to requests for the song radio DJs Bob Livorio, Mad Mike, Clark Race of KDKA and Chuck Brinkman of KQV played it own their shows.  Record stores who got requests for the song asked Nick Cenci where they could buy a copy.  The original label Snap Records owned by Jack Douglas in Niles Ohio had gone out of business.  Seeing an opportunity Nick Cenci bootlegged the record under the Red Fox label and distributed it through his Fenway Distributors.  Within ten days it sold 80,000 copies in Pittsburgh. In May of 1966 “Hanky Panky” was the number 1 song in Pittsburgh.   Nick tracked down Jack Douglas and called him saying “You have to bring Tommy James to Pittsburgh.  Hanky Panky is going to be a number one hit here.”  But the Shondells had broken up two years earlier.  Tommy came to Pittsburgh and went with Mack to do a set with a back-up band called the Racontuers.  Tommy hired them to be them to the Shondells. With national distribution on Roulette Records Hanky Panky became a nation wide hit. They were on their way to a successful national career and more hits. Over the next fours year they scored more hits with "I Think We're Alone Now", "Mony Mony," "Crimson and Clover" and "Crystal Blue Persuasion."

Other Artists

Co & Ce Records produced and promoted other Pittsburgh based bands who had regional hits including the Four Chaps song "True Lovers", the Willies tune the 'Williy', and the Swamp Rats cut of "In the Midnight Hour".  The Fenways's singles included "Satisfied" 'A-Go-Go" and "I'm a Mover".

In addition to founding Co & Ce Records, Nick started two other companies.  In 1971 Cenci opened Tri-City Records to distribute and promote Motown records in Pittsburgh and Cleveland.  Closing Tri City Records he worked in publicity and promotions for Motown Records. Nick partnered with DiCesare-Engler in 1980 to form DECCO Records (DiCesare,Engler,Cenci CO - DECCO).

Passing

Nick Cenci passed away in June of 2014


Nick Cenci's Hits