DANTE & THE EVERGREENS
The Other Alley Oop
by Gary E. Myers
Based on an interview with Don Drowty in Oroville, California, August 1989. Thanks to Mr. Drowty and to John Stallberg and Bill Liebowitz for helping this writer to contact him. Originally published in Goldmine, October 1995.
Those who remember “Alley Oop” (the song, not the comic strip) probably associate it with the Hollywood Argyles (a memorable name no matter what they had done), but they weren't they only ones to score a hit with this novelty tune. The song, written by Dallas Frazier, actually had three chart versions in 1960. Of the three, only Dante & the Evergreens, led by Don Drowty, managed to chart a follow-up record. (Dallas Frazier, by the way, also wrote “Elvira” - maybe you noticed a similarity).
Drowty was born October 5, 1939 in Chesterton, Indiana, about 15 miles east of Gary. Growing up with an alcoholic father was a difficult experience and one that would shape his later endeavors. In 1946 the family moved to Santa Monica where the youngster later attended University High and Santa Monica High. It was during these years that Drowty formed the associations that led to his hit record.
“We used to sing in the johns with Jan and Dean and a lot of guys like that,” Drowty recalls. “We all grew up together. Actually, Dante & the Evergreens got our break from Jan & Dean. Dean Torrence introduced us to Herb Alpert and Lou Adler. At that time they were managing Sam Cooke and producing records for him and a group called the Untouchables. Herb and Lou called us on a Tuesday night and wanted to know if we wanted to make a record the next night. We made 'Alley Oop' on Wednesday and we were on the Dick Clark Show in almost eight or nine days. We did a lot of Dick Clark Shows, Buddy Deane, a station in Chicago, Wink Martindale in L.A.”
Apparently the Hollywood Argyles original of the song was beginning to break locally. Alpert must have figured he could get out a cover version that stood as good a chance nationally, since neither the Argyles nor their label (Lute) were well known. “We loved the idea of covering their record and I'll tell you why,” Says Drowty. “We went to school with a couple of those guys (in the Argyles) at University High. Morally the guys in my group were all pretty much either surfers or playground directors working with kids, so we were diametrically opposed to the Hollywood Argyles. At that time they were a major problem as far as an example for kids. They've all changed a lot since then. Gary Paxton (Argyles lead singer) went on to get involved in Christian music.”
The Evergreens consisted of Frank Rosenthal (5/21/41; Flushing, NY), bass; Bill Young (3/27/41; Santa Monica), baritone; and Tony Moon (11/20/41; New York City), tenor. “I think we had a really good vocal group,” says Drowty. “We became dangerous dancers. We had a ball. Our biggest influences were the Jewels, Turks, Platters, Penguins - guys we would keep running into around L.A. Also, a really great group called the Untouchables. They didn't have any hits but they were incredible.” On tours the Evergreens appeared on shows with James Brown, the Drifters, Coasters, Olympics, and Little Anthony & the Imperials.
The “Alley Oop” chart battle ended with the Hollywood Argyles reaching Billboard's top spot during a 15‑week run beginning on May 30, 1960. Dante & the Evergreen entered the same week, climbed to #15 and lasted 13 weeks; while the Dyna-Sores (on Rendezvous) joined in a week later and made it to #59 during a three‑week stay.
The Evergreens' follow-up was, of course, another novelty. “Time Machine,” with a story line about going back to see Cleopatra, was written by ever-present hit makers Barry Mann and Howard Greenfield (lyricist partner to Neil Sedaka). It peaked at #73 during a six‑week chart trip. “We were really glad,” laughs Drowty, “because of our not-acknowledged rivalry with the Hollywood Argyles.”
Drowty expressed happy memories of the tours. “We played the Apollo (in New York) and they used black lights, and we'd wear white shoes and white gloves. People would really think we were a black group until they announced us and the lights would come on, and here's an all white group of surfers from L.A. The people were far better to us than many white people were to blacks. When we were on the road we'd visit kids in hospitals and we'd do charity concerts. We just had a great time. I learned a lot from Lou Adler that helped me in charity work.”
They also learned, however, that two novelty records do not make a career. “We came back from our first tour so broke,” he recalls. “Herb (Alpert) sold me a '52 Pontiac for $50. We were all going to college in between.” As the end of 1960 approached, the Evergreens turned more serious, with a nice version of the standard ballad, “What Are You Doing New Year's Eve.” Both sides of the record placed on Billboard's Bubbling Under chart.
After one more shot on the soon-to-be-defunct Madison label, Drowty went over to Imperial as Dante & Friends. The first release, “Something Happens,” got a little action but failed to chart nationally. “That's one of my favorite songs that Herb Alpert and I wrote,” he says. “In small areas it was number one for weeks. We sang it at the World's Fair when it was big in Seattle.”
Next came “Miss America,” which the Beach Boys covered on their first LP. Drowty says he co-wrote the tune but sold his share. The final Imperial release, “Magic Ring,” was reportedly covered on a Jay & the Americans LP. “Over the years,” says Drowty, “I wrote a lot of songs with Herb Alpert, Bobby Mellin, Bert Berns - guys that I just loved a lot and really became good friends for the rest of out lives.”
The singer then did a recording for Phillips under the name Emerald City Bandits. He says he recorded many songs under other names but declined to elaborate, saying only that he “would never do that again.” His final release teamed him back up with Alpert, this time on the latter's A&M label, for a remake of the Cadillacs' “Speedo.” Around this time Drowty shifted into the publishing side of the business, running Robert Mellin's West Coast office and administering songs by the Isley Brothers, Jay & the Americans and many others.
(There were other “Dante's” on record in the 60's - on Tide, Darrow, Mercury and Decca [Dante Storace], but none have any connection with Drowty. This writer is interested in any information about these other artists).
Drowty had wanted to be a teacher and in time that came to pass, with jobs in Santa Monica, Arizona, New Mexico and Japan. The teaching has evolved into major charity work for abused and disabled children. With the ongoing help of Alpert and Adler, Drowty has obtained the services of many recording stars for his American Music Project, which goes out to 70,000 schools and 21 million children. Participation has come from the Beach Boys, Rita Coolidge, Amy Grant, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, the Carpenters, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans, Iron Eyes Cody and many more.
Married with two children, Drowty resides in the small Northern California town of Paradise and teaches in Oroville. He has a two record EP set available with his two hits and six additional songs. The proceeds go to help visually disabled children. It can be obtained by contacting the Don Drowty Youth Foundation, PO Box 878, Paradise, CA 95969.
“It's been more fun since I got out of the music business - and that's saying a lot because it was fun then,” he states. “It was kind of a Cinderella story. I had no idea how to save money. But you tell somebody you sang 'Alley Oop' and they don't care who was first or second. It gets me though the door to where I can get so much help for children. I owe everything to Dean for introducing us to Lou and Herb, and to Herb and Jerry (Moss) and Dean for being friends all of our lives.”
& 2009 by Gary E. Myers/MusicGem, PO Box 4777, Downey, CA 90241-1777