The Redcoats Are Coming!
Part Five: Suspicions
"I started to sing like John Lennon, and was stopped immediately."
Thanks to Redcoats' producer, Steven Rappaport, The Lance Monthly was able to contact the Redcoats' rhythm guitarist, Zack Bocelle. Though originally approached to participate in an email interview, Zack's first submission was so interesting and entertaining that we thought it best to print it exactly as written. Zack's story will be told in nine monthly installments. This is number five. To read the previous installments, go to our archives page. Meet the Redcoats - FINALLY! John had been right about the school situation. Once the novelty wore off, everything returned back to normal. We got back into our weekend thing with John and Mike. Without Steven, we were pretty directionless. Mr. Spirt's search turned up someone we would come to know as Uncle Jim. He, too, was a relative, so we felt safe enough. Though he was only a carpet salesman in Philadelphia, he was very outgoing, and friendly. He and his wife, Claire, were once entertainers themselves. They did this mind reading act. It was amazing. One day Jim looked at Claire and asked, "Claire - Do you know what I'm thinkin' now?" Claire went into this trance-like state and said, "Yes." Pretty amazing, huh? Actually Jim and Claire were pretty good.
Uncle Jim said we needed to get our hands on some cash so that we could make a demo. He said he knew this very wealthy woman in Philadelphia who, without even hearing us, would be willing to invest $10,000 for us to do so. Not only that, but she was very friendly with this retired record producer, who maintained a studio in Camden, New Jersey. He had been responsible for artists like Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, and Fabian. We'd use his studio to make the demo, and if he liked us, he would consider coming out of retirement. This would be good for us, since he was so well respected within the industry. And we knew we needed a producer. With Steven gone, the body needed a brain. We were all very excited. We decided that we would record "Suspicions." There was always something . . . different . . . about that song. Jim made arrangements for the studio date, and said that our benefactor had requested our parents to be there.
We got to the studio and the engineer got us all set up. We were introduced to the new "brain." This was no Steven Rappaport. This brain ran on alcohol! Man, he was always wasted! Then we were introduced to our mysterious angel, Madam X. From the very first moment, it was right down to business. We should have known that we were in trouble, but we were young and naive to the ways of the business world, and, besides, we were all excited. She had a lawyer with her. We were all taken to the studio office where it was explained to us that, "because you boys are all so young, you are not permitted to sign contracts on your own. And because of the Jackie Coogan law, your parents can't sign for you either. You have to have a court appointed legal guardian to sign for you." Madam X just happened to have all the necessary paper work there with her. You should have seen it. You might have thought we were buying a house! Included in this mountain of paper was a 10 year personal management contract. John was very reluctant about it, but he eventually gave in. Besides . . . all the stuff had been signed by a judge. A judge would never let anything bad happen now . . . would he? Of course not! All we wanted to do was to get back into the studio. And finally, after all the paper work, we did.
We recorded "Suspicions" in about an hour. We were so well rehearsed it was ridiculous. I sang that song like John Lennon, and I would like to think that even he would have been honored. It came out beautiful - really beautiful. Even our producer managed to come out of his drunken stupor long enough to listen. He wiped the drool from his chin and shouted, "It's a hit!" Then he went back to sleep. John did the mix with the engineer, and we all went home satisfied. All we could do now was wait.
Uncle Jim was waiting for me to come home one day after school. He was excited about something, and said we had to go back to the studio. I asked if Randy had to go too. He said no. I asked where John and Mike were, but he told me they didn't need to go either - just me. It was important, and we had to go right away. I wanted to call John at least, but Uncle Jim said we didn't have time for that.
When we got there, Madam X was in the control room. "Mr. It's-a-hit" was passed out in the corner, and the engineer sent me to the vocal booth. I put on my headphones, and I heard the engineer telling me to sing it again, but without the accent, and in my own voice. By that point in time, I didn't even know I had a "my own voice." I didn't even like the sound of my own voice, but I did it anyway, and Uncle Jim took me home.
I called John as soon as I got home, and he was upset. It seemed that in one of his lucid moments, "Mr. It's-a-hit" had presented the song to RCA Victor. They loved the song, but they didn't like the idea of us sounding so Beatle-like. They wanted to hear it "straight."
We went to Wildwood that next weekend, and Uncle Jim told us that RCA wanted us to record the song in their studios. They loved it, and wanted to sign us. We were thrilled. The Redcoats were coming! We went to RCA for a meeting with a gentleman by the name of Bobby Cullen. He was a great guy. Really. He tried so hard to help us. He was then - and I am sure he is now - a good guy. Really. He was our A & R man. He said we were good, but RCA didn't want an English sounding band. They would record the song, using studio musicians. They would guarantee to release the record, and to promote us. Full page ads in Cashbox and Billboard. They would send us out on a promotional tour. The whole nine yards.
If "Suspicions" hit the top 100, they would want us to record an album, from which there would be another single. The only thing that we had to do was not sound so much like the Beatles. We didn't like the idea, but John said that if we did what they wanted us to do now, sooner or later we'd be able to do what WE wanted to do, so we decided to go ahead with it.
Bobby introduced us to Jimmy Wisner, who at the time was an arranger, and a very talented songwriter himself. He was also a wonderful human being, and he and John hit it off right away. Everything was happening so fast, but with Bobby and Jimmy in control, we were confident that it would all work out all right. We asked if either one of them would at least be our producer, but they said that Madam X had entered into an agreement with "Mr. It's-a-hit." We explained the situation, and Bobby said to not worry about it. He'd be there, too, and he'd make sure everything was done professionally.
RCA treated us like kings. When we went into that studio, we were in awe of the preparations they had made. They sent Randy and me into the singer's booth for a run through. The original plan was that once we were signed, we would do "Suspicions" the way we wanted to anyway. I mean . . . what were they going to do after going through all of this expense, right?
Jimmy was conducting what can only be described as an entire orchestra: horns, strings, and singers. They even had a little guy playing a triangle. We could see John and Mike in the control room. Bobby was running the show because "Mr. It's-a-hit" was already passed out in the corner. The introduction for "Suspicions" EXPLODED in our headphones. They were the same notes we had always played and all, but we weren't expecting anything like that. I remember looking at Randy and yelling, "What the hell was that?!" Jimmy was laughing, and he pointed his baton at me so I started to sing.
I started to sing like John Lennon, and was stopped immediately. I heard Bobby's voice saying, "No Zack. Sing it like this." The demo came through the headphones, and then he said, "Okay?" I also heard my mother telling Bobby to ask me to watch my language, and Bobby was smiling at me. So much for Plan A. "Sorry Ma," I said, knowin' I shouldn't have said that. "Okay Bobby."
We did the song in two or three takes, and it was over. Madam X was there of course, and she seemed very pleased. Jimmy asked me if I knew the words to "More," and sent Randy and me back into the booth. We improvised some harmony, and traded some lines, and it actually took us longer to record that song than it took us to record "Suspicions." We didn't really like the idea that we couldn't play in the studio. We felt like John and Mike should have been in the studio with us, instead of in the control room, but John said that it was time for Plan B.
RCA sent out feelers to DJs and we were called back to New York to be signed. Our court appointed legal guardian was there with Madam X to see that everything was on the up and up. Bobby sent the four of us off to a small studio. They had pre-recorded an instrumental track to "Up On The Roof." It would become the flip-side of "Suspicions."
John and Mike stayed in the control room with the engineer. That didn't even take an hour. Bobby came in and listened. He said it was perfect. He told us that he really didn't care for Madam X, and her constant demands, but he really liked us. We were good kids, even if we did cuss every once in a while. He took us back to his office and told us that they would change the name of the band to the Sidekicks. "Suspicions" would be released in spring of 1966. We weren't happy about it but we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were well into Plan B. We would do things THEIR way until we were big enough to do things OUR way.
We went back into our routine, and waited. In the meantime, the principal of Pleasantville High asked Randy and I if we would do a concert for the student body in the auditorium. We called John and Mike, and they said "sure." It would be fun. It would be only our second live appearance. It would also be our final appearance as the Redcoats. Pleasantville High was then, and is now, a predominately, black high school. But it was a different world then. We had been raised to believe, and still do believe, that if you turn us inside out, we're all the same. And music transcends all that nonsense anyway.
Unlike our first concert, these kids knew us. They knew we weren't English. We started out by doing about a half hour of Beatles songs to help us get back into character, and to help us weave the spell. It worked. The whole place started to go nuts just like the Starlight Ballroom. We were the Redcoats! We started to play "Love Unreturned" and the place erupted. Laurie Records didn't have too much in the way of a distribution department either, but once the record started being played, Steven had seen to it that all the local record stores were well supplied.
We did "The Dum Dum Song," and you might have thought the Beatles were in concert. It was almost scary. We finished playing, and left the stage, but those kids weren't leaving that auditorium until we did an encore. I announced that we would do our new single, soon to be released by RCA, called "Suspicions," and of course I sang it like Mr. Lennon. It wouldn't have mattered who sang that song. John had created magic when he wrote "Suspicions." The place went totally nuts then, and Randy and I were never to walk those hallowed halls again until much later.
RCA found out about it, and arranged for us to have private tutors. They were pleased, of course, that we'd been so well received. Randy and I couldn't be bothered with such trivialities as school work, though. So we dropped out and went down to Wildwood full time. We had to get ready for an experience that would change our lives forever. The Sidekicks were coming! (To be continued)
To experience a bit of Redcoat mania yourself, pick up "Meet The Redcoats - Finally" on Dionysus Records
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