Monday, June 20, 2011

Gene Fiocca Part 2

I received the following email from Sue Brueggeman Usner (she has recently married but my readers know her as Sue Usner).  Remember, Gene is married to Sue's sister Ann.



Versatiles (Playboys) / Makin' Change

Akron, 1953-76
The Versatiles were started by some University of Akron students to play for school rallies and booster group events. Piano player Gene Fiocca started playing in post-WWII big bands as a young teenager, as did sax/flute player Dick Maloyan. After hearing the sounds of Bill Haley and Elvis, the guys turned to rock-n-roll. The band was rounded out with Tony Taormina (drums) and Newman Williams (bass).
Around 1957 Gene wrote "Sweet Talk" and Gene and Dick collaborated on "Crazy Daisy". They hooked up with Zipp label owner Cliff Rogers and cut the songs at Audio Recording in Cleveland. Dick Maloyan plays sax on "Daisy" and flute on "Sweet Talk". When the 45 was released, the band was called Playboys, just as a way of riding the buzz that name had at the time. The Playboys name was never used for anything but the record, as the group continued to be called the Versatiles. The 45 got some airplay, and Rogers got the 45 to Imperial records, who released the songs, but the record did not catch on. About this time, Gene wrote a song called "This Moment Of Love". Ferlin Husky was riding high with his big hit "Gone", and when Husky was in Akron for a performance, Rogers got him the song, which Husky performed in the movie "Mister Rock and Roll". The song was a moderate hit when Capitol released in on 45.
While the band's recording of "Sweet Talk" was not a big hit, the song did find its way into the book of Boots Randolph, who recorded it, even using it for the title track of an album. The recording even made its way onto a John Belushi lead "Saturday Night Live" skit back in the mid-late 1970s.
The Versatiles were a rock-n-roll band who played clubs in the Akron area, including 3 nights a week at Portage Lakes for several years. They also played at Reds, and for a while, leased a club and served as the house band.
While the Versatiles only released one 45, they were involved with recordings by Akron singers Wayne Perdew and Jonni Sue. Gene wrote Wayne's rocker "Up Beam Baby" and the music was cut by the Versatiles down in Cliff Rogers' basement recording studio. Jonni Sue was a young teenage girl, somewhat similar to Brenda Lee, whom Rogers found. Cliff got financial backing from a guy in Arkansas and cut the songs, written by Gene Fiocca, down in Nashville. Both the Wayne Perdew and Jonni Sue records were released on Zipp. The Versatiles also did some commercials for the Goodyear tire company when it was still based in Akron.
The Versatiles disbanded for a few years in the 1960s, but reunited to play until 1974, when they changed name to Makin' Change. That band lasted until 1976. Gene also sat in with the oldies styled band Rich Underwood (formerly of the Majestics/Styx) and Monopoly. Gene Fiocca continues to play in his own Gene Fiocca band (www.genefioccaband.com), which had included Tony Taormina for many years. The current Gene Fiocca band includes dance band standards that Gene had played back in the Big Band days.



Gene is on the lower right
Gene is in middle

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