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Steve Alaimo

by Ben McLane, Esq.

The multi-talented Steve Alaimo has been involved in literally every phase of the music business. Like a chameleon, he has evolved with the times. (Quite successfully I might add.) Beginning in the wake of the dawn of rock and roll in the 1950s, at different points in his career Alaimo has been a music publisher, agent, manger, performer, movie star, TV star, recording artist, songwriter, producer, recording studio owner, and record company owner. Alaimo traces his unique story below, thereby proving that he is a genuine Hercules in the world of music.

Alaimo was born in Omaha, Nebraska on December 6, 1939, and moved to Rochester New York when he was five. After high school, he went to the University of Miami as a pre-med student in the late 1950s. While at the University of Miami, Alaimo joined his counsin's instrumental band, The Redcoats. "I joined the band first as a guitarist and later became the vocalist," explains Alaimo. "We played record hops which were popular then." Henry Stone and Bob Green (a then popular Miami disc jockey) - who held their own record hops - were impressed and Stone signed The Redcoats to his Marlin record label. According to Alaimo, "Green first managed me, then he left to manage Anita Bryant. Stone then became my manager." "I Want You To Love Me", released in 1959, became the first regional hit for The Redcoats.

That same year, when Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars came to Miami, Clark needed a band to back up artists such as Connie Francis, Fabian, Frankie Avalon, The Everly Bros., Jesse Belvin, Duane Eddy, and Lloyd Price. The Redcoats became that back-up band. Says Alaimo, "Dick Clark was very thankful that I did him that favor, and he never forgot me when years later he decided to do the 'Where The Action Is' TV show." Unfortunately, The Redcoats broke up around 1960. Thereafter, "I went solo doing R&B, with an all black back-up band," states Alaimo. With his new act, in 1961, during the middle of the Twist craze, Alaimo took up residency at a popular club called the Eden Roc.

At around this same time, Alaimo remembers "I worked for Henry Stone's distribution company called Tone as a promotion man. Through this job I became acquainted with independent record companies such as Atlantic, ABC, Vee Jay, Chess, Imperial, and Warner Bros., all of which were distributed by Tone. I knew the key people at those labels because I did the promotion for their labels. When it came time to put a record of my own out, I got to pick the label I wanted to be on."

In 1961 Alaimo signed his first major record deal with Checker, a subsidiary of Chess. Eventually, this led to his first sizable national hit, "Everyday I Have To Cry" [BB #46, '63]. Although Alaimo was the first to record this tune, the song was later cut by such diverse artists as Arthur Alexander, Dusty Springfield, The Gentrys, and The Bee Gees. "Bill Justis [of 'Raunchy' fame] produced that record in Nashville, says Alaimo." Alaimo also adds that "Burt Bacharach produced some sides on me while I was on Checker." In 1963 Alaimo switched to the Imperial label, but his stay there was short and generated only one minor hit called "Gotta Lotta Love" [BB #74, '63].

In 1964 Alaimo joined the ABC record fold. His stint there was a bit more fruitful than Imperial, landing him three lower rung hot 100 placements, the biggest being "Real Live Girl" [BB #77, '65]. While at ABC, Alaimo's string of working with notable producers continued. According to Alaimo, "Felton Jarvis produced for me at ABC. Also, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart did some sides [e.g., from 1966, 'Once A Day' b/w 'Bright Lights Big City']."

Alaimo's career skyrocketed in 1965. That year, he moved to Los Angeles to be the host of the now infamous ABC music television show "Where The Action Is", a Dick Clark production. The show aired for two years in 1965-66. Explains Alaimo, "I was hired to be the male singer/host; Linda Scott was the female singer/co-host; Paul Revere & the Raiders was the band; and, the Action Kids were the dancers. The original theme song 'Action', written by Boyce & Hart, was performed by myself, Linda Scott and the Raiders specifically for the show and was played for the first six months of the show. For some reason, none of us recorded the song as a single. Later, Freddy Cannon had a monster hit with his version of it [BB #13, '65]. Since I was the music director for the show, I unfortunately did not focus on plugging my own records on the show. TV then (and now) was a great place to promote a record. I could have gone on TV and sang my new record every day, but I did not put many records out during that period. The Raiders, on the other hand, did, and that is why they had eight or nine big hits. As for the Raiders, I helped them go into their funny bag because clowning around was part of 'Action' and this made them more than just a rock band. That comedy bit is still part of Paul Revere's show today. I was also part of the 'Action' tours, performing with artists such as Gary Lewis & The Playboys and B.J. Thomas. There was a lot of Comraderie on those tours."

Interestingly, many years later Alaimo helped put together Paul Revere's new line-up once Mark Lindsey had left. "Carl Driggs, the singer from the 1970s band Foxy ['Get Off' BB #9, '78], who had recorded for Dash/T.K., and the drummer from Peach, another T.K. band, Omar Martinez, later joined Paul Revere & The Raiders in the 1980s. Carl had written 'Get Off' with Ish Ledesma, also from Foxy. I own the music publishing on that song."

Thereafter, Alaimo became the label-mate of such huge stars as Bobby Darin, The Bee Gees, and Sonny & Cher when he signed with Atco, Atlantic's pop sister label, in 1966. Says Alaimo, "I liked the way Atlantic promoted records and I wanted to go to Atlantic. Jerry Wexler signed me." Alaimo released a plethora of singles, but no albums, while at Atco. Alas, however, he did not break into the hot 100 during the Atco years. While at Atco, he worked with name producers such as Dan Penn (producer of The Box Tops), Chips Moman, and Herb Bernstein. Even future Billy Joel producer, Phil Ramone, engineered some Alaimo sessions for Atco.

While at Atco, Alaimo produced and recorded a covert hit with a studio group called The Unknowns, a star trio which consisted of Alaimo, Mark Lindsey, and Keith Allison, the latter two of The Raiders. Confirms Alaimo, "Mark Lindsey and Paul Revere had co-written a ballad called 'Melody For An Unknown Girl' [BB #74, '66]. However, this was not a song that the Raiders could do. It came out on Marlin first, distributed by Parrot, then on the Parrot label. The saxophone solo on that song was played by none other than Bill Justis."

While at Atco, Alaimo really came into his own as a producer. Yet, The Unknowns was not the first act he produced. As far back as the early 1960s, Alaimo produced the 45 "My Love Belongs To You" for Sam & Dave on Marlin. During the Atco years, Alaimo owned a studio in Miami called the Zoo. During this period, many of his productions were in partnership with Brad Shapiro. Relates Alaimo, "Brad Shapiro was the bass player in The Redcoats. After he got out of the army, I got Henry Stone to hire him, and I taught him how to be a producer. We did production together. I used to come back to Miami from Los Angeles every two weeks and Brad and I would make records. I would bring back songs to produce."

In this era, circa 1967-68, Alaimo produced some early pre-Allman Brothers recordings by Duane and Gregg Allman. He also produced The Birdwatchers, who released several memorable pop/rock singles (e.g., "A Little Bit Of Lovin'", "Mary Mary") on Mala. Ironically, Ish Ledesma, later of Foxy was at 16 the lead singer of The Birdwatchers. Alaimo also produced the cult classic "Can't Stop Loving You" by the Last Word on Atco [BB #78, '67]. The Last Word later waxed the Mark Lindsey/Terry Melcher composition "Mor'een".

In 1969, Alaimo had one of his biggest hits as a producer. The group was called Mercy. The song was the either you love it or hate it haunting soft rock smash "Love (Can Make You Happy)" [BB #2, '69]. "They were from Tampa, a weird little group that showed up at my studio," says Alaimo. "I liked the song and recorded it." Originally, the song was supposed to be in the film "Fireball Jungle", but the film never came out. Continues Alaimo, "the record initially came out on Sundi, a Henry Stone label. It did well locally, and Warner Bros. picked it up. I was surprised it became a big hit." Jack Sigler, Jr., the group leader, wrote the song, but the group never could follow-up. Alaimo offers a suggestion as to why Mercy disappeared: "the most difficult thing to deal with in life is not failure, but success. You take some kids who had nothing. They get lucky and have a hit record. Now they have money and cars and can't deal with it. That's what happened to Sigler."

Thereafter, in 1969 Alaimo started up the Alston label. States Alaimo. "Alston was a label Henry Stone gave me. Betty Wright ["Clean Up Woman" BB #6, 1971] recorded for it; so did Clarence Reid ["Nobody But You", BB #40, 1969]."

In the late 1960s, Alaimo also began to dabble in serious acting with several film credits. He appeared in exploitation films which still run on the late show: "Wild Rebels", a hot rod film; "Hooked Generation (aka Alligator Alley)", drug dealer film; and, "Stanley", a rat film like "Willard".

Alaimo's last chart activity as a performer occurred in the early 1970s on Entrance, Chips Moman's label. One of the best cuts from that period is his version of "Nobody's Fool", a song that Dan Penn wrote for his own solo album. (Alex Chilton also later covered this song.) Proclaims Alaimo, "that was my last shot at recording, after that I only did record producing. I went to Chips and we made a record. He had just done a record on the band Cymarron called 'Rings' [BB #17, '71]. On the strength of that record, I helped make the deal for the Entrance label to go through Epic. This allowed Chip's to have a label, and he put me on it."

"In about 1973 I started the T.K. label with Henry Stone, says Alaimo. "It was right after we put out a record on Glade by Timmy Thomas called 'Why Can't We Live Together' [BB #3, '72] through Atlantic. We made so much money on that record that we decided to go on our own." Continues Alaimo, "KC [later of The Sunshine Band] answered the phones and he wanted to record, so we let him record in the studio at night with Rick Finch. One night I was recording an album on Gwen McCrae and her husband George was with her doing background vocals. KC played me this song called 'Rock Your Baby'. He said he needed a singer for it. I said try George, he has a high voice. He put George on the song and the rest is history. Originally, George and Gwen were married (they later split up), performed as a duo, and I recorded them as a duo. Then, I made a record on Gwen by herself which became a hit. George decided he would become her manager and not sing anymore. Ironically, 'Rock Your Baby' became giant hit for George McCrae and T.K. [BB #1, '74]. Gwen needed another hit, so we cut 'Rockin' Chair' with George singing background and it too became a giant hit [BB #9, '75]." While at T.K., Alaimo was also involved with the smash "What You Won't Do For Love", written and recorded by Bobby Caldwell for the T.K. subsidiary, Clouds. ("I own half the publishing on that song."). In the mid to late 1970s, T.K. was a hit factory with bands like KC And The Sunshine Band. Unfortunately, according to Alaimo "T.K. went under in 1980. I was devastated and had to start all over again."

His next business excursion, which is still ongoing and based in Miami, began when he hooked up with producers Ron and Howard Albert - who had worked with the likes of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Eric Clapton - to start Vision Records in 1987. Explains Alaimo, "Vision has released a lot of rap and R&B. We have recorded Jimmy Cliff, a Steven Still's solo record, and the reggae band Inner Circle. With Ron and Howard producing, he is involved in a rock project now with Zakk Wylde, Ozzy Osbourne's former guitar player. At Vision, we are always looking for a hit record, no matter the style."

After being associated with so many hit records, Alaimo concludes by giving his philosophy of a hit song: "if a record is a hit it makes it. I do not believe that any hit record ever got lost. Eventually, if a song is a hit, somebody picks up on it. Some records are out for years and suddenly become hits."

Copyright 1996, Ben McLane
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