Crystal Mansion


This month’s Under Appreciated Rock Band, CRYSTAL MANSION – often called the Crystal Mansion – is unusual in that several veteran musicians are involved; normally, the UARB’s are bands that are just starting out. Bandmembers include two men who have individual Wikipedia articles (both of which mention Crystal Mansion), David White – who had been a founding member of the estimable 1950’s band Danny and the Juniors – and Sal Rota – a bandmember in the Soul Survivors beginning in 1979. This band is best known for their 1967 hit “Expressway to Your Heart”, the first hit song by the Philadelphia soul songwriting and production team of Leon Huff and Kenny Gamble. Both men sang background vocals on Bernadette Peters’ first solo album. There are actually three incarnations of Crystal Mansion, each of which released a self-titled album over a 10-year period.
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David White (real name: David White Tricker) comes from a show biz family, performing as a child with his parents in an acrobatic trio called Barry and Brenda and Company. Singing first tenor, White started a doo-wop vocal group called the Juvenaires in 1955 with Danny Rapp (lead singer), Joe “Terry” Terranova (baritone) and Frank Maffei (second tenor). White made contact with another young singer, John Madara (real name: John Medora) who had a hit in 1957 with “Be My Girl” under the name Johnny Madara. The two wrote a song called “Do the Bop” for the Juvenaires and brought it to their vocal coach and record producer Artie Singer. He liked the song and arranged studio time in Philadelphia to record that song and also a ballad that White had written called “Sometimes (When I’m All Alone)”.
At the studio, the Juvenaires were told that they would be singing back-up for John Madara; but as it turned out, his record company turned the song down. Artie Singer took the song to Dick Clark, who suggested that they change the name to “At the Hop”, since “bop” was considered old-fashioned by then. (Cyndi Lauper would later revive the term in a completely different context in her 1984 hit song “She Bop”).
The band changed its name to Danny and the Juniors and. after performing as a last-minute substitute on American Bandstand, had a #1 hit for 7 weeks with At the Hop (beginning in January 1958, and breaking the record among vocal groups). In a classic example of so-called payola, Artie Singer (who also has a writing credit for At the Hop) had to sign over one-half of the publishing credits for the song to Dick Clark (Clark sold the rights to the song prior to the Congressional payola hearings in 1960).
The flip side of the hit single was the David White song Sometimes (When I’m All Alone); according to Wikipedia (as taken from the article on David White): “‘Sometimes (When I’m All Alone)’ became a favorite of a lot of street corner groups just starting out who later became successful, including the Capris, the Chimes, the Cleftones, the Young Rascals, the Del Satins, the Dovells, the Elegants, the Impalas, the Earls, Randy and the Rainbowsthe Tokens. the Vogues, and Vito and the Salutations among others.”
David White wrote another classic song for Danny and the Juniors called “Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay”, the band’s follow-up hit, reaching #19 on the charts. This song has since become a rock and roll standard and was featured in the films Grease and Christine. Danny and the Juniors also released many other songs that are less well known; in all, they have had 9 singles to make the Billboard Hot 100.
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At the Hop though has reached almost mythic status, far beyond even the major hit that Danny and the Juniors made of the song. One of the earliest of the rock and roll revival bands, Sha Na Na (with the name taken from among the innumerable nonsense syllables in the classic “Get a Job” by the Silhouettes) performed “At the Hop at the original 1969 Woodstock festival not long after the group was founded earlier that year. Sha Na Na is perhaps the most unlikely rock band to appear at Woodstock; what’s more, their set immediately preceded that of Jimi Hendrix which included his legendary performance of “The Star Spangled Banner”. At the Hop also appears in the Woodstock film and the triple-LP Woodstock soundtrack album.
Sha Na Na has had a long career, including a syndicated television show called Sha Na Na from 1977 to 1981 (roughly 10 years after their appearance at Woodstock). Wikipedia lists dozens of albums in the band’s discography. The gonzo antics of the best known member of the band, Jon “Bowzer” Bauman were probably the key to the band’s (and the show’s) success. Bowzer did not appear at Woodstock but was in Sha Na Na from 1970 to 1983.
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At the Hop was also featured in the nostalgic 1973 hit movie American Graffiti, an early film among the credits for both George Lucas (director) and Francis Ford Coppola (producer).  Unlike the other rock and roll hits featured in the film (which were by the original artists and were found only in the soundtrack), three songs were performed in the film by another rock and roll revival band, Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids.  “At the Hop, “Louie Louie and an original composition by the band called “She’s So Fine” were performed “live” by Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids (under the name of Herbie and the Heartbeats) in the dance party sequence in the film.  “Louie Louie did not appear on the double-LP soundtrack album, 41 Original Hits from the Soundtrack of American Graffiti, though “At the Hop and “She’s So Fine did.
Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids (now known as Flash Cadillac) are still around, having released five albums; three singles by the group made the Billboard Hot 100.
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David White left Danny and the Juniors and formed a production and songwriting team with John Madara called Madara and White Productions. One of their early hits was a #7 song that they wrote and produced in 1961 for Chubby Checker called “The Fly”.
One of their finest and best known songs is the proto-feminist anthem by Lesley Gore called You Don’t Own Me, a #2 hit in December 1963 that was kept from the top of the charts only by the BeatlesI Want to Hold Your Hand. The song was written by David White and John Madara; Quincy Jones was the record producer, and Jones later produced a 2015 remake of “You Don’t Own Me by Australian artist Grace featuring G-Eazy.
David White and John Madara had a second #2 hit song in 1965 with “1-2-3” by Len Barry, who had been the lead singer of the Dovells, one of my favorite early rock and roll groups.
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In 1965, David White and John Madara formed a band called the Spokesmen with a popular Philadelphia disc jockey named Ray Gilmore. They had an “answer song” that year to the Barry McGuire protest song Eve of Destruction that was called “The Dawn of Correction” (“You missed all the good in your evaluation . . .”). I used to play those two singles back to back all the time back in the day. White and Madara produced the song, which was written by all three bandmembers. A cover version of the Beatles song “Michelle” by the Spokesmen was a minor hit in the Philadelphia area.
David White, John Madara and Ray Gilmore also co-wrote a song called “Sadie (the Cleaning Lady)” that became a #1 hit in Australia in 1967 for Johnny Farnham.
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In 1963, David White and John Madara were approached by a Cleveland girl group called the Secrets, who had secured a recording contract after playing at a gig with the Starfires (also of Cleveland and later evolving into the Outsiders).  They used their influence to release a single in October 1963 on Philips Records, “The Boy Next Door” b/w “Learnin’ To Forget” that became a #18 hit.  The Secrets released three other unsuccessful singles on Philips Records that each featured a David White/John Madara penned song.  The “A” side on one single that is shown in Discogs, “Here He Comes Now!” b/w “Oh Donnie (He Ain’t Got No Money)” was co-written by legendary “Philly soul” producer Leon Huff, who also worked with past UARA Mikki
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The single by the Secrets mentioned above also features the Madara White Orchestra; this name (or variations) shows up on other early 1960’s singles, including the 1963 single “Gotta Dance” b/w “At the Shore” by Johnny Caswell, who later became the lead singer for Crystal Mansion.  A version of “La Bamba” was released under the name the Madara White Orchestra, also in 1963.  Additionally, David White and John Madara co-wrote both sides of a 1963 single for an active band called the Visions (also known as Bocky and the Visions), “Tommy’s Girl” b/w “Oh Boy, What a Girl”. 
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Johnny Caswell is mentioned among the greats of Northern Soul, with his song “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” (written by Leon Huff) ranking #152 on the Northern Soul Top 500. His early sides are collected on the above album, The Best of Philly Soul, Vol. 4, with half of the 12 tracks being written or co-written by David White.
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David White and Sal Rota both performed background vocals on Bernadette Petersdebut album, Bernadette Peters (1980); the front cover was one of the final “Vargas girls” paintings by Alberto Vargas. In 1992MCA Records released a CD under the name Bernadette combining 8 tracks from this first album plus 5 from her second album Now Playing (1981) that has a different Vargas painting on the cover; the cover on Bernadette is the same Vargas painting from Bernadette Peters.
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The genesis of Crystal Mansion was in an R&B covers band called the Secrets from Mount Laurel, NJ that was active from 1962 to 1968 – they had the same name as the girl group called the Secrets that David White and John Madara had worked with in 1963, though there was apparently no other relation between the two groups. Early bandmembers in the Secrets included guitarist Ronnie Gentile and drummer Rickey Morley; lead vocalist Johnny Caswell and keyboardist Sal Rota were added by 1968. The band came up with a 45 for Capitol Records, “The Thought of Loving You” b/w “Hallelujah”; at that point, the band changed its name to Crystal Mansion. Several Internet sources speak glowingly of Crystal Mansion, particularly with respect to New Jersey music clubs where they often appeared. The success of the single, which reached #1 on the local Los Angeles charts, led to an album for the label in 1969 called Crystal Mansion.
In his Allmusic review of Crystal Mansion’s 1971 album, The Crystal Mansion (though granting that album only two stars), Joe Viglione calls their 1968 single The Thought of Loving You “a little mini-pop masterpiece” and “a timeless pop song”.  This song, “The Thought of Loving You” was released by Cher in 1968 (as a single only) and was later recorded by the Jimmy Castor Bunch, the Manhattan Transfer, Spiral Starecase, Lou Christie, Astrud Gilberto, and Wayne Newton.  Unfortunately, the earlier Capitol album Crystal Mansion (1969) sold poorly – Allmusic describes it as “an album that turned out a disappointment for all involved” – and information on the Internet about this album is hard to come by.
Billboard magazine placed the band’s 1969 album Crystal Mansion as the lead-off review in their “Merit Picks” section in the April 19, 1969 edition: “Capable of scoring on both AM and FM, the Crystal Mansion debut with their chart disk, ‘The Thought of Loving You’, and a melodic pop package of David White-Johnny Caswell tunes. Strong, individual vocals highlight ‘For the First Time’, ‘It Takes My Breath Away’ and ‘Somethin’ for You’ as this seven-man pop group bid for dual market honors with the same winning sound that struck pay dirt for groups like the Buckinghams.”
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After being dropped by Capitol Records, Crystal Mansion finally added a bass guitarist, Billy Crawford and released a single in 1970 for Colossus Records, the same label that released records in America by the Dutch band Shocking Blue, including their mega-hit Venus, also in 1970. The 45 was released under the name Crystal Mansion Featuring Johnny Caswell, with the “A” side being the James Taylor song “Carolina in My Mind” and an original song (by Johnny Caswell and Sal Rota) called “If I Live” on the flip. When Collectables Records reissued the 1971 album The Crystal Mansion on CD in 1994, Carolina in My Mind was included as a bonus track.
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Carolina in My Mind” is one of James Taylor’s best known and most critically praised songs and is a frankly homesick remembrance of growing up in North Carolina (Chapel Hill specifically). He wrote the song while recording at the Beatles Apple Records studios in London. The song appeared on his 1968 debut album for Apple, James Taylor. Wikipedia says of this song: “Strongly tied to a sense of geographic place, ‘Carolina in My Mind’ has been called an unofficial state anthem for North Carolina. It is also an unofficial song of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, being played at athletic events and pep rallies and sung by the graduating class at every university commencement.”
While attracting little attention initially, the song was covered frequently not long after its release. North Carolina country music recording artist George Hamilton IV had some success with his version of “Carolina in My Mind” in 1969. Probably the best known version of the song other than Taylor’s is that of Melanie, who included “Carolina in My Mind on her classic 1970 album, Candles in the Rain. Other recordings of the song have been made by the Everly Brothers, Evie Sands, John Denver, and Dawn (later known as Tony Orlando and Dawn). Glen Campbell and Linda Ronstadt performed a duet of the song on his TV show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour; the song was ultimately released in the 2007 video Good Times Again.
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The next year, Crystal Mansion became one of the bands added to the roster of the Motown Records subsidiary Rare Earth Records that featured white acts. This album, The Crystal Mansion has virtually the same name as their 1969 album Crystal Mansion and is the one that I have. Bandmembers for this 1971 release are – in the order given on the back cover – Rick Morley (percussion), Sal Rota (organ, piano, vocal), Ronnie Gentile (guitar), Mario Sanchez (conga, vocal), Bill Crawford (bass), and Johnny Caswell (vocal, piano). Under his real name, former bandmember David White Tricker appears courtesy of Bell Records and co-wrote three of the songs.
Tepid opinions of this album [The Crystal Mansion] are fairly commonplace on the Internet; besides the two-star review by Allmusic already mentioned, Badcat Records also grants the record only two stars. Crystal Mansion is compared unfavorably to the namesake of the Motown label, Rare Earth; while Johnny Caswell certainly lacks the propulsive pipes of their drummer and lead singer Peter Rivera, Caswell and Crystal Mansion are after a completely different groove on their album.
My own theory is that Crystal Mansion suffers from the same “problem” as last month’s UARB, the Human Zoo:  The band has real variety in its material and doesn’t sound the same all through the record.  The Allmusic article on the band, by Lars Lovén, starts off:  “The Crystal Mansion’s relatively short story is that of a white R&B band moving towards groovy psychedelic rock in the ’70s.”  Joe Viglione writing for Allmusic grudgingly acknowledges this about the final track:  “‘Earth People’ is reminiscent of ‘Calling Occupants’, the hit for the Carpenters and Klaatu.  It is the highlight of the album.  Let’s call it Crystal Mansion’s ‘I’m Your Captain / Closer to Home’.”  The reference of course is to the closing song on the Grand Funk Railroad breakthrough album, Closer to Home (1970), “I’m Your Captain”, although Crystal Mansion was able to craft their memorable song in barely one third the playing time of the Grand Funk track. 
Billboard magazine has an appreciative review of the album in their May 27, 1972 issue: “A fluid rhythmic feel permeates the texture of the Crystal Mansion album. Johnny Caswell has a strong, although not overpowering, voice that he uses to good effect. Their arrangements are uncomplicated and clean, their sound chiefly blue-eyed soul. Standout cuts include ‘Boogieman’, ‘Satisfied’ and Earth People.”
The Crystal Mansion has R&B, funk, country, psych, progressive, and pop influences sprinkled among its 10 tracks.  The stronger material is on the album’s second side, with “Earth People” preceded by a foreboding trio of introspective tracks, “Someone Oughta Turn Your Head Around”, “Boogieman” and “Let Me Get Straight Again” (with the first and last being penned by the band as a whole), followed by the calming “Peace for a Change”.  But Side 1 also has several good cuts, such as the opening song “There Always Will be More” and the catchy “Satisfied”. 
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Crystal Mansion had one more shot with a third self-titled album in 1979, Crystal Mansion (also called Tickets) that was released on 20th Century Fox Records, the same label that released Milan’s only LP in 1964, I Am What I Am.  A notice in Billboard magazine calls the band “a new record act” and notes that some of the “top veteran local jazzmen” have been recruited to accompany them, among them “saxophonists Jim Horn, Bill Green, Bud Shank, Buddy Collette, Marshal Royal, and Tom Scott; bassist Richard Davis; trumpeter Jerry Hey; trombonist Bill Watrous; keyboard man Steve Porcaro; and percussionist Alan Estes”.  Three-time Grammy winner and album producer Brooks Arthur (who was the engineer on the band’s other two albums) is quoted as saying of the band:  “I feel so strongly about Crystal Mansion’s musicianship and ability, I felt only guest artists of that caliber could perform well enough with this band.”
Allmusic’s Joe Viglione gives this 1979 release Crystal Mansion a somewhat higher rating of 2½ stars and says: “‘Lonely, Faraway, Missing You’ is a snappy opener, more appealing than Ambrosia, Player, and the Atlanta Rhythm Section, but falling short of the brilliant pop of Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds. However, that’s the market this band reached out to, not gritty enough to be Rare Earth and too hard to appeal to the fans of Debby Boone, who sings on the wonderful ‘Gather My Children’. The Crystal Mansion were a more than competent pop band that got lost in the rock & roll shuffle. ‘Place in Space’ is another stellar track – FM adult contemporary, if you will. The problem is that there wasn’t a format for solid adult pop music that didn’t make it to Top 40 prior to the invention of AAA [adult album alternative] radio.”
(August 2015)
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Items:    Crystal Mansion 
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These are the UARB’s and UARA’s from the past year (2014-2015), and as usual, I am pleased with the variety:
December 20142000’s American surf revival band THE SILENCERS 
January 20151970’s American garage-rock revival band THE CRAWDADDYS
February 20152000’s-2010’s American singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist BRIAN OLIVE 
March 20151970’s-2010’s American singer/songwriter/guitarist PHIL GAMMAGE 
April 20151970’s Russian R&B band BLACK RUSSIAN 
May 20151960’s British R&B band MAL RYDER AND THE PRIMITIVES
June 20151960’s American psychedelic band HAYMARKET SQUARE 
July 20151960’s American garage/psychedelic band THE HUMAN ZOO 
August 20151970’s American psychedelic/R&B band CRYSTAL MANSION
(Year 6 Review)
Last edited: April 7, 2021