The Double Dates
"We talked about the record and the possibility of becoming famous"
Ben Savage of the Double Dates
Based on interviews with Ben Savage, Sue Rosen, and Tom Hoherty
As told to Albert Leichter
The obstacles to success that faced the Double Dates who recorded "I Love You, Girl" and "Tatoo" for Luck Records in 1959 were similar to those of many other artists of the period. Too little money was put into promotion of the disc, the members received neither copies of the record nor payment for the recording session, and then there were the circumstances that kept the members from staying together after the disc's release.
The story of the Double Dates begins with Benedict Franklyn Savage who, by his senior year in high school, played the guitar, was a member of the instrumental group the Gents, and was serious about having a career in music.
“I guess my interest in making music," Ben Savage recalled, "and making people laugh started when I was about 5 years old. My aunt Anne gave me a harmonica for Christmas that year and I found out that if I listened to a song I could pick out the notes and make music. It was fun and gave me something to do. I lived on a small farm in northeastern Pennsylvania until my father moved us to Glen Oaks Village, Queens, New York, in 1955. I had been educated in a small four room school and wasn't accustomed to the multi-roomed schools in New York like Junior High School 172."
Savage continued, "In Queens I hung out with an Irish boy named Sean Mulrooney. There were nine kids in Sean's family and every one of them danced, sang, or played an instrument. Every weekend aunts, uncles, cousins, moms, dads, brothers, and sisters would get together in the courtyard of the apartments and they would perform until midnight and sometimes later. Although I was of Lithuanian heritage the Mulrooney family eventually accepted me as one of their own. I was happy to be around them and they taught me the importance of music in our world, our society. They even taught me some chords on guitar and some Irish tunes which have since fled my memory.
“In the summer of 1956," Savage said, "My parents purchased a home in Jericho, Long Island. Because Jericho did not have its own high school, some of us went to Carle Place, some went to Oyster Bay or Glen Cove. Once settled in Jericho I hung out with Bobby Jendrejewski and John Bradley. Bobby played guitar and John played drums. The three of us formed the Comets, my first garage band. Feeling like the least talented of the three, I played bass runs on a regular guitar and sang. I did realize that I had somewhat of a talent for putting notes, chords, and words together to create songs. At some point I separated from Bobby and John. They continued as the Comets, after joining up with Tony Fraquiero who could play a really mean saxophone."
Savage continued, “In the fall/winter of 1958, Stan Kiklika entered the story. Like myself Stan had three sisters and no brothers. His nickname was Butch, the same as mine. We had so much in common but our most common bond was the love of music. Stan was quite an accomplished pianist and offered to teach me but I was lazy or maybe the piano didn't appeal to me. I don't know what it was, I guess it was the uncool feeling I got sitting at the keyboards. Oh how I wish that I had let him teach me. Stan's father was a production manager at American Broadcasting Company (ABC-TV) and suggested that I get a group together and write some songs and he could arrange for us to make a demo. I aligned myself with the Perruzza twins. Ronny played sax, Jerry played trumpet, [and] we recruited Sal Pollizotto, sax, Les Skowski, piano, and Pat "Cozy" Cole for awhile on drums, and I plunked along on guitar."
But it wasn't long before the lineup changed. "When one of the members left the group," Thomas Doherty, a junior at Hicksville High School, was added. "Ben invited me to audition. I met with the band and was asked to join." Ben had met Tom at a music shop in Hicksville and they both seemed to get along and had the same aspirations. The Gents were born.
Hicksville High School was also the Alma Mater of Tom's classmates John and Jim Cunningham, the Twin Tones. The duet is best known for the original version of "Jo-Ann" from 1957, which was covered by the Playmates. Later, six members of the group Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge and Billy Joel later attended the same school.
Ben said, "We wrote only instrumentals then: 'Sharon,' after my kid sister, 'Sahara Rock,;' 'Express,' 'El Poco Cha Cha,' "Fade Out,' and 'Drag.' In those days (‘50s and early ‘60s) most of us wanna-be’s were not schooled in music theory, in fact many of us had little instruction or were self taught as I was. Songs were for the most part written in C, A Minor, F, G third progression or a E, A, D, progression. Words were written in a notebook, pieces of paper with chords written on the sheet as well. I recorded my stuff on a home tape recorder so that I wouldn’t forget the melody."
“Christmas break, December 29, 1958," Ben continued, "We conveyed to Manhattan. At ABC-TV they transferred the songs to 78RPM demos, which I still have. Early in January 1959 we made the rounds on Broadway trying to push our stuff. At 1650 Broadway we were on the 6th floor when we walked into the office of Leo Rogers who managed the Royal Teens of “Short Shorts'" fame." (It has recently come to the attention of this writer that the introductory words following the wolf whistle, "Ooh man dig that crazy chick" were spoken by disc jockey Alan Kurland who was, and still is, a friend of Bob Gaudio who formed the Royal Teens.)
"We were met by Vinny Catalano who told us that Mr. Rogers was on the West Coast promoting a new group that he was managing called Jan and Dean. Vinny appeared to be in his late 20's or early 30's and said that he would listen to our stuff but told us that instrumentals were fading from the rock and roll scene, did we do any vocals? He said that he had a composing partner named Kenny Kuluga who was presently under contract."
According to Ed Engle who has reissued many of Vinny's productions including the Double Dates sides, Vincent Catalano was born in New London, Connecticut. His first recording effort was as a member of the Echoes who did "Ding Dong" on Gee Records in 1956, a cover of the Packards' original on the Pla-Bac label. Kenny Kuluga was the lead singer of the Echoes. Having recorded for Gee, Catalano was able to develop a relationship with label owner George Goldner and subsequently placed a number of his songs with him. He also recorded as Vinny Catalano, Vinny Downes, Tom Swift, as part of the Lonely Boys, Vinny and Sue, Vinny and Kenny (Kenny Kuluga), Vinny Catalano & the Day Dreams (aka Donnie and the Dreamers as well as Kenny and the Whalers), the Acorns, the Class-Airs, and Bea & Bee & the Buttons. Catalano served as an A&R (Artist & Repertoire) director at 20th Century Fox and its Studio subsidiary where he also placed some of his acts. He co-owned C&A Records with Pete Alonzo. He was the A&R man at Cheer Records. He then started Wilshire Records. Catalano also worked with groups on the Whale and Mermaid labels. Catalano was registered with BMI and SESAC and wrote under a number of different names, including his mothers’. Despite Catalano's extensive experience writing and working with various acts he only had one song that approached being a national hit and that was "Coney Island Baby" recorded by the Excellents. It was issued in April of 1962 on Blast Records and reached No. 51 on "Billboard." The song did much better in regional markets such as New York City where it was played extensively and sold well to the point where there were several pressings issued. His last label would be Hammer Records.
One of several albums issued by Vinny Catalno on his Hammer label
(Courtesy of Spin Stop Wax Records)
"Catalano and Kuluga," Ben remembered, "had some songs that they had written which they could not record; it was the wrong venue for them. He brought out a demo recording of 'Tatoo' that they had done with the sheet music and words and played it for us. He also had a demo of 'I Love You, Girl' and asked us if we thought we could do anything with them. He gave us the demos and asked us to get back to him. The six of us returned to Long Island with our tails between our legs after just having our hopes dashed that our compositions would ever be recorded and actually played on the radio. I was still interested [in a recording career] but couldn't get any of the other members interested except for Tom Doherty. The Gents were finished, done over."
While the breakup of the Gents was a disappointment, Ben's drive continued as strong as ever. He spent most of January 1959 listening to the demos Catalano had given them. Ben said, "In a way I felt that there was something missing from both songs so I did some rearranging. In 'Tatoo' they just sang 'Tatoo, Tatoo, Tatoo,' so I added the bass line of 'Boom, boom,' etc. 'Tatoo (over the ocean blue, Tatoo every port I knew, what am I gonna do, Tatoo get another Tatoo).' On 'I Love You, Girl' there was no intro so I added the female harmony parts, used them as background to the basic song.“ The story behind the spelling of "Tatoo" is the attempt to bring special attention to the numerous tattoos this sailor had.
Ben remembered, “Sue [Susan Virginia O'Rourk] and I were going out with each other during our senior year in high school. She was in chorus and she had a pleasant voice. I asked Sue if she would want to sing and if she knew another girl that might want to be part of our group and Sue Crave's [Susan Elizabeth Crave] name came up and she was also interested in singing. Sue Crave also had a pleasant voice and both could carry a tune and could also harmonize." Tom Doherty rounded out the group.
It was Ben who thought up the group's name. Ben noted, "I have always had a way of coming up with names for things, little poems, etc. and I thought of the name 'The Double Dates.' Tom and the two Sue's agreed that it was a catchy name and the Double Dates were born.”
Ben recalled, “Sue and I graduated that June and we had practiced the songs for some time. I contacted Vince Catalano and asked him if he wanted to hear what we sounded like. He did. The four of us made the trip to 1650 Broadway and up to Leo Rogers’ office to see Vince. There was a guy sitting behind the piano who we later found out was Bob Gaudio of the Royal Teens."
Sixteen year old Gaudio was the co-writer of "Short Shorts," but had tired of touring and wanted a change. He would soon become a member of the Four Seasons whose first hit would be "Sherry" in 1962.
Ben added, "I gave him [Gaudio] the new sheet music and he started playing "Tatoo.' Halfway through the number Vince waved his hands and said he loved what we had accomplished and asked Bob to play 'I Love You, Girl.' We started doing 'I Love You, Girl' and another man came into the room. We later found out his name was Mike Shepherd, who was a partner with Sammy Fields in Luck Records. We knew nothing of Luck Records until we recorded. We were told Mike Shepherd would manage us and would also promote the record."
Ben noted, "As we finished singing I noticed he [Mike Shepherd] and Vince Catalano were talking quietly in the corner and Mike asked if were interested in recording the songs. I believe we all said 'yes' in unison. They asked if we could record in two weeks and we said we could.
“We arrived," Ben said, "At the studio around 7:00 p.m. for an 8:00 p.m. session. It was the 3rd or 4th week of July, 1959, a very hot night. We were greeted by Vince, Mike Shepherd, and Sammy Fields. They asked us if we could rehearse a little, which we did. Around 10:00 p.m. Vince Catalano, Bob Gaudio and the Royal Teens, who would be the backup group for the session, started to rehearse the instrumental parts of the songs. I guess it was 11:30 p.m. or so before they laid down the tracks for the instruments and the musicians left and we started taping the vocals."
Tom Doherty remembered, "Ben was lead on 'Tatoo,' I was lead on 'I Love You, Girl.' The female leads were switched with Sue O’Rourk lead on 'Tatoo' and Sue Crave lead on "I Love You, Girl.'"
Ben related, "I would say that after the 15th taping Sammy Fields who was in the control room, said he felt confident that we were finished taping. We were all exhausted from approximately 12 hours in the studio between rehearsing, recording, and listening back to the recording session. Mike Shepherd took us downstairs to a little coffee shop for some breakfast and we talked about the record and the possibility of becoming famous. The four of us returned to our respective homes and CRASHED.“
There were no other recordings by this group and no publicity shots were taken. However, here are the Double Dates photos from their high school graduation year books:
Susan (Sue) Elizabeth Crave
Susan Virginia O'Rourk
The Double Dates made one appearance in a Jersey City, New Jersey theater but none of the members could remember its name. Ben and Tom appeared on the Clay Cole television show (which premiered September of 1959 and was first called "Rate The Records") where they lip synced "I Love You, Girl" and "Tatoo." According to Tom, Dion and the Belmonts also appeared on the bill.
Despite the fact that Ben had re-worked "Tatoo" and "I Love You, Girl," he did not receive any credit for the compositions. The writers and composers are credited to Catalano and Kuluga on "I Love You, Girl," and Catalano, Gaudio, and Kuluga on "Tatoo." As was common at the time, the group received neither payment for the recordings nor any free copies once the record was released.
The October 31, 1959 issue of "Cashbox" magazine announced the record's release in the "Record Ramblings'" column, which read "Also on the phone was Mike Shepherd, Luck Records Director, who's on an entire East Coast promotion for 'I Love You, Girl' b/w 'Tattoo' by the Double Dates, skedded for 10/26 release." In its November 28, 1959 issue, "Cashbox" magazine carried a review of the two songs on page 10 . The review of "Tatoo" read "Good Latinish rock-romancer by the songsters. The Sammy Fields combo supplies the fine backdrop. Could get some action" and rated it a "B+." The review for "I Love You, Girl" stated, "Songsters are nicely sentimental in another Latinish setting appealingly painted by the Fields crew" and gave it a "B." Overall, quite good reviews for a rock and roll record.
Cashbox Magazine, November 28, 1959, review of the record
Billboard picked "Tatoo" as the promising side in the
November 16, 1959 issue (courtesy of Tony Fournier)
Ben continued, "My mom (God bless her) bought 150 records so that we would have sole distributorship for Long Island. We did manage to get a couple of dozen copies into Newberry’s in Mid-Island Plaza. In those days payola was the way you got your record played so the only people compensated were the DJs and station managers. In those days if you were an upstart group or artist you didn't get paid, your public appearances were to advance your career so, no we did not get paid for our appearance in New Jersey or the Clay Cole TV show." Sue Crave also remembers that the record received some action in Boston. With the fall of 1959, the group broke up as they went their separate ways.
After High School, Ben worked at R.H. Macy and went to CW Post College at night. At Macy's he met a girl named Patty McCauley who played the drums; "At the time," Ben noted, "We were having a hard time finding a good solid drummer. Patty came to a rehearsal and knocked our socks off, she not only played drums but she also had a pretty good voice. In 1962 we became Patty and the Gents and played local bars and colleges. Patty left in 1963 and formed an all girl group in Canada called the 'Girl Beatles.'" In January1963 Ben joined the Army National Guard for six months of active duty. He married in 1965, adopted two children and went into various businesses eventually moving to Virginia where he and his wife opened a bridal shop which they operated until retiring in 2010. Ben died August 25, 2014.
In the fall of 1959, Susan O'Rourke went off to college. Sue Crave remembered, "Susan and I were best friends since first grade. She was one year ahead of me in school. We went to college in Allentown, PA at Cedar Crest College, a 4-year women's college, where she got a BS in Medical Technology. She married a wonderful guy from Lehigh University after graduation who was killed in Vietnam while serving as a Green Beret. She had one son from that marriage and a daughter from her next marriage. She died of an embolism at age 54."
Upon graduation from Hicksville High School in 1960, Tom Doherty's ambition to be an artist led him to Parsons School of Design in New York City. However after his first year at Parsons, his advisor recommended he consider civil service. Tom agreed. He went into the service and was stationed in Korea. Upon his return to the U.S. he joined the New York City Police Department and retired after 20 years as a detective. He then worked for himself in several businesses including running a construction business, a bar, a Rita's Ice franchise, an engineering firm, and a home inspection business until fully retiring in 2010.
Tom Doherty was a member of the Hicksville Babe Ruth League
(middle column, second name down)
Sue Crave returned to Carle Place High School for her senior year and graduated in 1960. Her first love was always opera so when she followed Susan O'Rourk to Cedar Crest College she studied voice and was a soloist in the college choir. After college she forgot about being a singer and married Paul Rosen. While raising 4 sons, at age 34 she started studying voice seriously with soprano, Barbara Gombos. She sang with "Opera on the Sound" for several seasons and the Long Island Philharmonic Chorus until she moved to Virginia. In Mathews County, two friends convinced her to get her voice in shape again and they gave several "Three Sopranos" concerts. Sue and her husband Paul then moved to Staunton, Virginia where she became a painter. Sue said, "Being a singer, is like being an athlete...you have to practice every day and must rely on accompanists and other singers. Painting is great since you really only have to rely on yourself."
Denise and the Double Dates who recorded "That Halloween Night," according to Ed Engel, is a German group of more recent vintage and unrelated to the group who is the subject of this story.
The story of the Double Dates is a common one. The record company did not or could not promote the record adequately to the point where it might have received radio and listener interest. However, 1959 was the year that the payola investigations broke open in the music industry and made it more difficult to "pay for play." The group members went off in different directions following the record's release so getting back together later would be difficult. Ben Savage received no recognition or payment for his contribution to the songs. The Double Dates didn't receive copies of the record or any other compensation.
The Double Dates
I Love You, Girl/Tatoo 10/26/59 Luck 103
Special thanks to everyone who made this story possible including:
Ben Savage and Tom Doherty who shared their memories as members of the Double Dates. Special appreciation is also expressed to Sue Crave Rosen who made me aware of the other members of the group. Appreciation is also expressed to Ed Engel who provided information on Vinny Catalano's career. Thanks to Robert "Buffalo Bob" Casale who operates HixNews and provided the graduation photo and the Hicksville Babe Ruth League information on Tom Doherty. Thanks also to Ferdie Gonzalez, author of "The Disco-File" who supplied information on Luck Records. Thanks to Spin Stop Wax Records for the photo of the Hammer LP. Thanks also to Tony Fournier of http://www.vocalgroupharmony.com/ for the Billboard information and for the scan of the "I Love You, Girl" side. As always, I appreciate the editorial assistance of my wife Helene and daughter Michelle.
Al Leichter is the author or several music articles and books, most recently Tommy Dee: Three Stars Still Shining, The Story Behind the First Tribute Song to Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens.