When you talk about the truly great voices of rock and roll – the artists who can really sing like Elvis, Jay Black, Bobby Hatfield and Roy Orbison – you must include Johnny Maestro. His strong and distinctive voice has entertained millions for over 50 years. He was part of rock and roll's early days and is still at the very top of his game.
The group consisted of Maestro, Harold Torres, Talmadge Gough, and J.T. Carter. (Patricia Vandross, older sister of Luther Vandross, became a member the following year). The wife of popular bandleader Al Browne heard them and introduced the group to her husband. Maestro told The New York Times, “He helped us sign a record contract. It said we could make a record. It didn’t say anything about getting paid. The Crests never made any money on record.”
“Sweetest One” was their first record on the Joyce label, but it was the B-side, “My Juanita” that was a local hit on the R&B charts. In ‘58 they signed with Coed Records, and released their second single, “Pretty Little Angel” along with the B-side, “I Thank the Moon.” Their next release was “Beside You,” but Alan Freed decided to play the flip side and soon “Sixteen Candles” became the first Top 10 hit for The Crests, peaking at #2 on The Billboard charts.
From “American Bandstand – Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock & Roll Empire” by John A. Jackson: “Johnny Maestro and The Crests, who made their national TV debut (on The Dick Clark Show) the Saturday night they performed “Sixteen Candles” had already run through their afternoon dress rehearsal, at which time they lip-synched the song. The group was then informed of an additional rehearsal to be filmed for a kinescope, scheduled to take place prior to the actual TV production that night. But the Crests were erroneously told to be at the kinescope performance and hour later than they should have been and ‘When it came their turn, the curtains opened and we weren’t there,’ recalled Maestro with a hearty laugh. (Dick) Clark did not laugh the night it happened, however. “They had to start the whole show over again,” said Maestro “and Dick never let us forget about that.”
The group was integrated and Dick Clark was the only TV producer who allowed them to perform on nationwide television. The Crests also had problems when they appeared as part of Clark’s live road shows because Southern audiences were segregated. Depending upon the venue either the whites or the blacks were confined to the balcony. In other theaters a rope ran down the center of the audience separating the two. “Black on one side and white on the other side,” said Maestro. “And I would have to perform on the side with the whites, and the other guys would be on the black side.
In the South The Crests were refused service in diners and Maestro had to sleep at a hotel with the white artists and his group in another with the black artists. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Maestro. “And there was nothing I could do about it.”
The Crests followed up the success of “16 Candles,” with “Step by Step,” “The Angels Listened In,” and “Trouble in Paradise,” but in ‘61 Maestro left for a solo career. “Nobody really knew what to do with us” he stated. “We were integrated. We couldn’t appear on television together.”
Their manager heard that Dion, who had split with The Belmonts, was looking for a new backup group to record with and The Del-Satins auditioned with a tune called “Beside My Love.” A short time later Dion and the group recorded the #1 smash hit, "Runaround Sue," which was followed by “The Wanderer,” “Lovers Who Wander,” “Little Diane,” “Love Came to Me,” “Ruby Baby,” “Donna the Prima Donna,” and “Drip Drop.” Dion and the Del-Satins were a winning combination yet the backup singers never received any credit as these were Dion’s solo hits.
What happened next is rock and roll history. On the concert DVD titled, "Johnny Maestro and The Brooklyn Bridge – Pop Legends Live," the group explains how they got together.
Impressed with each other's skills and talents, The Del-Satins and the Rhythm Method decided to join forces, but there was still one unresolved task, and that was coming up with a name for the newly-formed unit. From The New York Times: “We were sitting around the office and someone said: 'this is going to be difficult. We have 11 people. That’s a hard sell. It’s easier to sell The Brooklyn Bridge.' We said, “That’s the name.”
They became a hot attraction especially at The Cheetah, one of the hippest nightclubs in Manhattan at the time. Wes Farrell who was involved with The Cowsills and The Partridge Family wanted to produce the band and Neil Bogart signed them to Buddah Records in ‘68. Their first single was Jim Webb’s dramatic ballad, “The Worst That Could Happen,” a tune recorded by The Fifth Dimension on their “The Magic Garden” LP. Maestro said, “I liked The Fifth Dimension. We took the song and put our own arrangement on it.”
Their version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” featuring Maestro’s emotional lead vocal is simply the best-ever recording of that tune. It is equal in its production and performance to anything ever done by The Righteous Brothers and yet The Bridge did it without Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.
They remained hot for the next several years with chart singles “Welcome Me Love,” “Blessed Is the Rain,” “You'll Never Walk Alone," and the controversial “Your Husband, My Wife.”
A few years later when the hits stopped, The Bridge downsized to a five-man group with the vocalists playing their own instruments. Later when the Rock and Roll Revival took hold they became an eight-piece group and their set included The Crests, Brooklyn Bridge and even the Dion hits that The Del-Satins had performed on.
In 2006, the band was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. They are also members of South Carolina’s Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame, the New England Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and Harmony Group Hall of Fame, and recently the group earned a star on the New Jersey “Walk of Fame.” They are worthy of a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.