Wednesday, February 24, 2021

TOMMY FALCONE & THE CLEOPATRA LABEL


From a basement in New Jersey, Tommy Falcone remade himself into a DIY Phil Spector. From 1962 to 1970, he founded and ran Cleopatra Records. With a whirlwind imagination and an omnivorous approach to genre, Falcone discovered and mentored young Garden State talent, wrote songs and produced wild studio effects, and quit his day job to promote it all himself.

     





The story of Cleopatra is first a romance, then a tragedy—a tale of obsession, invention, and mortality that spirals out to include rapping cops, karate-chopping robots, and suicide-inspired religious conversions. With an interest in everything, Falcone tried anything, chasing the popular trends of the era and anticipating a dozen more: surf, soul, doo wop, girl groups, garage rock, novelties, exotica, pop, crooned balladry, teen idols, protopunk, psychedelia, and more. Songs ranged over topics as wide as lovestruck ducks, sexual predators, and meta-commentary on the music industry itself. But the officially released material was only a small fraction of his relentless output, and many of Cleopatra’s best tunes remained unheard and unreleased, scattered for decades on dusty reels and lost acetates.


Tommy’s first official release came in April 1960. It was a time of smash hit novelty records, and he loved them all—the Cleopatra master tapes are littered with oddball tracks, many never officially released, and it’s fitting his career began with the strangest novelty of all.
Credited to the Ducklings, “Wacky and Quacky” featured Tommy and Charlotte as crazy-voiced ducks in a take on the then-popular craze for high-pitched sped-up vocals that had brought Alvin & the Chipmunks such huge success in 1958. The single came in a picture sleeve that misspelled the title, with a cartoon male duck in a top hat looking through swirling hearts at a dancing female duck in a bonnette. The flip was an instrumental credited to Tom Falcone and the Starlighters. The track was an early success for Tommy, garnering enough interest to see release on 20th Century Fox and earn a mention in Billboard, which compared it to Donald Duck and rated it “★★ – Moderate Sales Potential.”



All of their material was written by Falcone or D’Amato or both, 1961’s “Ship-To-Shore” b/w “Like Weird,” on the Design label, is the only release credited to Tommy Falcone & the Centuries, likely because Falcone himself played the wild bouncing organ riffs on the tracks. It would be the second and last release to feature his name as an artist. The group was also used as the Cleopatra house band for a time, backing up other singers and releasing material under different names.
“Like Weird” is a perfect title for Falcone and his genius for sound. These early sides demonstrate his talent for inventing mutant sonics and throwing them into otherwise ordinary tunes, demonstrated by Carragio’s tuba on “Chihuahua Cha Cha” and the faux-exotic vocals on “Polynesian Paradise”—provided by Harriet Rogers, the stage name of opera singer Harriet Wagenheim. Falcone’s instinct toward novelty occasionally found him inventing the future: the spacey noises of “The Outer Limits” and the theremin on “4th Dimension” are among the earliest known uses of electronic sound in rock ‘n’ roll.Falcone’s wizardry in the studio and appetite for bizarro sonics found him pioneering psychedelic sounds before LSD and acid rock were popular.



 “You could see that he struggled. I don’t know how he did it, but it seemed like he ate, slept, did everything around producing music.” 


"With a cigarette burning on every amplifier, Falcone worked to polish the motley group into a diamond-hard professional unit. “When he had us rehearsing down in the basement, he was a ball of fire,” said Tony Scalzo. “He was on each instrument making changes to us. What he did with us was pretty amazing.”
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After Cleopatra folded, Falcone had his hand in producing, including the Inmates’ excellent “You Tell Lies” on Columbia and the Shoestring’s “Candy Andy”. Unfortunately Tommy Falcone passed away around the age of 40 circa 1970 from a heart attack after playing an accordion concert.

Among the contracts and sheet music, the business cards and copyrights, was hidden a final set of lyrics that Tommy left in a moment of prophecy, a time capsule Charlotte (his wife) discovered forty-six years later. “He obviously knew he was on limited time,” she said, “because he wrote the lyric as a farewell to me.” In part, it reads:



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Other sources:


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Cleopatra Girls


01. Bernadette Carroll - Laughing On The Outside 
01. Vickie - I Wanna Be A Winner 
02. Bernadette Carroll - Heavenly 
03. Vickie - Baby I'm Crying 
04. The Falconettes - After All 
05. Bernadette Carroll - When We're Older 
06. Vickie - True Love 
07. Bernadette Carroll - Care A Little 
08. The Falconettes - My Funny Valentine 
10. The Falconettes - This World We Love In 
11. Vickie - Outcast 
12. Bernadette Carroll - Humpty Dump 
13. The Falconettes - Same Mistake 
14. Harriet Rogers - Parting Kiss 


Cleopatra  Guys


01. Dick Thunder - Don't Let Her Know 
02. Tony Pacicco - I Wanna Be A Winner 
03. Tommy Manno - I Am 
04. Kar Simone - I Want 
05. Russ Raymond - The Chosen Few 
06. Joe Templeton - Lover Be Fair 
07. Johnny Silvio - How Would You Feel 
08. Jimmy Crane - Too Many Irons In The Fire 
09. Gary Marlow - Promise Of Love 
10. Kar Simone - Tell Me Why 
11. Russ Raymond - Playing The Role 
12. Johnny & His Guitar - Only With You 
13. Wayne Fauross - Sweet Dreams & Promises 
14. Johnny & Franco - Char 


Cleopatra In the Garage


01. Killer Joe Piro's - Kangaroo 
02. Dick Thunder - My Shadow Do 
03. The Griffins - I Can't See Nobody 
04. The Wyndows - Stronger Than Dirt 
05. The Sticks & Stones - The Wrong Side Of My Dreams 
06. Jimmy Davis - Take Back My Ring 
07. Richie Dennis - Gloria 
08. The Tabbys - Physical Fitness Blues 
09. The New Jersey Turnpike - Boomerang 
10. Killer Joe Piro's - Lonely Little Girl 
11. Jimmy Davis - I Can't Love You Anymore 
12. The Inn Crowd - I Want 
13. Tommy Manno - Glug-Chug-A-Lug 
14. The Reminiscents - Please Lie To Me 
15. Four Hits & A Miss - She Wobbles 
16. Unknown - I Don't Mind (Demo) 

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