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."