The Story Of Reparata & The Delrons
Nobody's Baby Now
"I'M NOBODY'S BABY NOW" is regarded by aficionados as not only the best record REPARATA & THE DELRONS ever made, but also as one of the greatest of the entire girl group genre. But it was not a hit record.
They might not figure too heavily in chart reference books at all, but this exotically monikered outfit are one of the most fondly remembered and highly rated of the 1960s girl group boom. Their lead singer had one of the most distinctive voices of the era; an angst-ridden New York whine rivalled by few outside of the Shangri-Las' Mary Weiss. That handle helps, too. Once heard never forgotten. So where did it come from? Well, believe it or not, the group was so named after a singing nun. Your reporters spoke to the Delrons' ringleader Mary O'Leary (née Aiese), who told us their story . . .
"Originally we were known as simply the Del-Rons; after the Del Vikings, the Del Satins and groups like that. When our second record, "Whenever A Teenager Cries," was about to come out, our managers decided that they wanted a name that was a little more flamboyant, flashy, like Martha & the Vandellas or something. I happened to be lead singer so they asked me my middle name. It's Catherine. Well, Catherine & the Delrons just wasn't exciting enough. I told them that my confirmation name was Reparata. Perfect! So we became Reparata & the Delrons. I had taken the name from the choir mistress at Good Shepherds Elementary School, Sister Reparata, my favourite nun. Little did I realize that it would come in so useful in the years to come."
The Del-Rons were formed in 1962. Original members Mary Aiese, Ann Fitzgerald, Regina Gallagher and Nanette Licari were all classmates at St. Brendan's Catholic High School for Girls in Brooklyn, New York. They loved singing in the school choir and took to harmonizing together at local hops and church functions. "I wasn't really much of a rock & roll fan," says Mary. "But I do remember buying "Why" by Frankie Avalon. What we all really loved was just singing together in harmony, a cappella. We'd perform Peter, Paul & Mary songs, or "Gloria", or sometimes a Dion song; he was a big local hero."
Classmates came and went and by 1964 the group's line-up had changed to Carol Drobnicki, Sheila Reilly, Kathy Romeo and Marge McGuire, with only Mary remaining from the original Del-Rons. The girls were talent-spotted at a Brooklyn hop, which led to an audition with producers Steve and Bill Jerome. Mary, "Steve and Bill had their own store front studio. I thought they liked us but they said they'd call us back in a few months. Well, I thought we'd never hear from them! But they rang the very next day and asked us to go in and record some demos."
No doubt sensing the need for an in vogue girl group to add to their stable of acts, the Jerome brothers signed the Del-Rons – now a trio of Mary, Carol & Sheila – to a production and management contract. The group's first record, which coupled "Your Big Mistake" and "Leave Us Alone", both penned by Ernie "Shout, Shout, Knock Yourself Out" Maresca, was leased to the Laurie label, home to Dion & the Belmonts and the Chiffons. The record "da-doo-ron-ronned" along in a style that was already slightly out of fashion and sales were minimal. Copies are now much prized by collectors.
The next outlet for the now newly re-christened Reparata & the Delrons was Lou Guarino's World Artists label, then enjoying some success with the English 'posh-pop' duo Chad Stewart & Jeremy Clyde. The girls' "Whenever A Teenager Cries," another Maresca-penned number, was issued late in 1964. It captured perfectly the sound and spirit of hot Red Bird acts like the Dixie Cups. Credit must go to the Jeromes, arranger John Abbott and, as the label proudly stated, Hash Brown & his Orchestra. Mary, "Hash Brown's real name was Harry Lookovsky. He was an older man and very talented. He was a brilliant violinist and arranger. Michael Brown of the Left Banke is his son." "Whenever A Teenager Cries" entered the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1965, eventually peaking at #60. Thanks to NY radio stations like WMCA, the song was a much bigger hit on the East Coast than nationally.
Mary, Sheila and Carol were all still full-time college students at the time but were granted time off from their studies so that they could accept some of the offers of work that came their way. Most important was a place on a Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars tour, 28 one-nighters on a coach with the Tradewinds, Round Robin, Lou Christie and others. Life on the road was a shock to the system for the three innocent teenagers.
"We didn't even stay in a hotel every night," says Mary. "Alternate nights we'd have to sleep on the bus or in one of the cars as we drove from gig to gig. This was in the 1960s, remember, the Martin Luther King era. There were all these Ku Klux Klan hangings going on and we found ourselves driving through Alabama on a mixed-race coach. We were like a Freedom Bus! We'd pull up to a diner and they'd lower the blinds or put up a closed sign. Eventually I was forced to complain to the tour bus manager about the hotels we were staying in. They were less than excellent. Why couldn't we stay in a decent hotel with a pool or something? I didn't realize that it was because we were an integrated group. On the bus we were all equals. We were friends. But outside of the bus it was a different world. I was so shocked. Being from New York, I hadn't experienced anything like it before."
World Artists were not slow in releasing a Reparata & the Delrons album. At first glance the Whenever A Teenager Cries LP might have appeared just another hit single and eleven soundalike fillers and cover-versions, but record-buyers got much more than that for their dollars. The group's mandatory renditions of such hits of the day as the Chiffons' "I Have A Boyfriend" came close to matching the originals and to boot there were a number of excellent new compositions such as "In My Diary," co-written by the enigmatic Brute Force, and 'Remember When," penned in part by Michael Brown of the Left Banke. So is it really true that Reparata was assisted on some tracks by legendary session group Patti Lace & the Petticoats? "Yes, that's right," says Mary. "And Ellie Greenwich sang on some songs too."
Dick Clark immediately offered the group a spot on his next tour, a 43-date marathon featuring Billy Stewart, the Ikettes, Herman's Hermits, Bobby Vee, Little Anthony & the Imperials, the Detergents and Brenda Holloway. But disaster struck when two members of the group failed to show up for the tour bus. Mary, "We were supposed to all meet at the Sheraton Park Hotel but Sheila and Carol just didn't turn up. Well, as you can imagine, our managers were furious. Sheila and Carol were dismissed from the group and I was forced to go on the tour on my own. By this time our latest record was "Tommy," which is impossible to sing solo. So the other girls' parts were sung from the wings by . . . no, not Brenda Holloway or the Ikettes but the Detergents."
Tommy" reached #92 on the Billboard chart. The next two singles were credited to a reluctantly solo Reparata but, unfortunately, "I Found My Place" and "A Summer Thought" both failed to click with the public. The World Artists label ceased operation shortly afterwards.
The Jerome brothers, now numbering not only Reparata & the Delrons but also the Left Banke and the Fifth Estate among their hit acts, had no difficulty securing Mary a new contract at RCA. The only snag was that Nipper and Co. demanded a non-solo Reparata, thus instigating an urgent search for two new Delrons. Nanette Licari from the group's original line-up was quickly re-enlisted and, with a little additional help from session-singer Lesley Miller, Mary set about recording "I Can Tell." Numerous auditions eventually led to Lorraine Mazzola restoring the group to a trio in time to promote the single.
Lesley Gore also cut a version of "I Can Tell." Did this lead to any rivalry? "Oh, major petulance!" says Mary. "Hash Brown, our orchestra leader, played on both versions, so we were kind of anticipating something. We were booked to appear on Clay Cole's TV show and Lesley was supposed to star. When she found out we were on the bill, she refused to appear at all!"
Next came the Jeff Barry-authored "I'm Nobody's Baby Now," a successful coalition of the lush Phil Spector sound and Shangs-inspired despair. It failed to sell but remains Reparata & the Delrons' magnum opus. The group's RCA releases continued apace with "Mama's Little Girl" and "The Kind Of Trouble That I Love," culminating in mid-'67 with "I Can Hear The Rain," another gem that came close to matching Spector at his own game. "Melba Moore helped out on that session," remembers Mary.
Later that year the group were signed to Larry Utall's Mala label, debuting with a version of the evergreen "I Believe." Reparata & the Delrons' next release, "Captain Of Your Ship," featured more gimmicks than you could shake a stick at; with clanging bells, foghorns, morse code, megaphoned vocals and tempo changes galore, not to mention enough nautical metaphors in the lyrics to sink a, erm, ship. It reached #13 on the UK charts in 1968, doing much to establish the Bell label in Britain.
Once again our subjects' studies were put on hold as they flew in to London to promote the record. "There was a big reception laid on for us," recalls Mary. "The Beatles, David Niven and Lulu were all there. Then we went off and played about every city in England. We represented the USA at the Polish International Song Festival and went over to Germany too. But it must have been a public holiday, or something, because Germany was closed! There were interviews, parties and constant travelling. We were mentally and physically exhausted." Lorraine went AWOL during the group's European jaunt, leaving Mary and Nanette to return to the States without her. "Coming back to New York was such a let down. It was such a strange feeling to come home to Brooklyn and be nobodies again."
With Lorraine safely back in the ranks, the group went on to release three more singles on Mala. Although none of the sides were hits, several of them, like "It's Waiting There For You" and "Panic," along with some of their earlier RCA sides, would go on to achieve popularity on the British northern soul scene.
Nanette was the next Delron to take temporary leave of absence, which coincided with another label change, to Kapp in 1969. The straw that broke the camel's back came late that year when their third 45 for the label, a remake of the Ronettes' "Walking In The Rain," was outsold by a rival rendition by Jay & the Americans. Etched into the run-off grooves of the Americans' hit version was the message "Sorry Reparata." Mary, by now married and keen to start a family, chose this moment to quit the group.
Mary gave her blessing for the group to continue without her. Lorraine Mazzola took over as lead vocalist and the addition of new girl Cookie Sirico brought the line-up back to three. The group released 1970 Rock & Roll Revolution, a quickie album of girl group oldies for the Avco Embassy label, before disbanding in 1973. Lorraine went on to work as a backing vocalist for Barry Manilow.
Meanwhile, Reparata, although now a happily busy mother and wife, continued to release occasional quirky solo singles like "Octopus's Garden" and "Jezebee Lancer The Belly Dancer." In 1975 she made a surprise return to the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with the absurdly catchy "Shoes."
Things turned sour when Mary spotted an announcement in Billboard magazine that claimed she was an impostor and that the real Reparata was then presently fronting a group named Lady Flash. The group in question was Barry Manilow's back-up trio and the claimant was none other than Lorraine Mazzola. Mary, "As you can imagine, I was upset about this. When I left the group, I had no objection to them continuing without me. But I never dreamed that someone would then try to stop me from using my own name. I know that we weren't in the same league as the Supremes, but it would have been like Mary Wilson calling herself Diana Ross! Lorraine and I had been friends for years and here she was trying to steal my name. I was personally offended. I considered that Reparata was my real name. It wasn't a name that was invented. I had personally chosen Reparata as my confirmation name after my choir mistress at school. I 'phoned Lorraine and she told me that the story in Billboard was all Manilow's idea and that she would speak to him about it. Next thing I knew I was contacted by his attorney and the writs started flying." Mary and Lorraine are no longer friends.
Reparata - the REAL Reparata, Mary Aiese-O'Leary - and her latter-day Delrons continued to perform live in the New York area until recent times. "Those songs are near and dear to me", says Mary. "They are my teenage years. I will always want to hear them performed properly, with love and care."
Recalling REPARATA & THE DELRONS' classic "I'M NOBODY'S BABY NOW," Mary – now a schoolteacher of long standing – says, "Sometimes we'd be given a demo disc to listen to and learn, but with this song Jeff Barry was there in person at the piano. He played "I'm Nobody's Baby Now" from start to finish. I knew it was something special straight away. Of all our recordings, this is the one I'm most proud of."