Kingston, NY (with a stop in Lima, OH) 1960-65
For years, the origins of the Monzels who cut "Don't Be Mad"/"Sharkskin" for Prism records was a mystery. Andy Apperson of Prism records had told me they were from out of state, and song copyrights led to a hotel in Lima. Surprisingly, both clues were right, and yet there is much more to the story than just a band staying in Lima. Thanks to Monzels members Tom Fitzgerald and Jay Ward, the true story can finally be told.
Kingston, New York, is roughly halfway between Albany and New York City along the Hudson river. In 1959, a couple of high school students, Bobby Curtis and Jay Godwin, started playing together in Jay's family's basement. Jay wanted to form a rock and roll band, so he found a couple other students, Jay Ward on bass and Tom Fitzgerald on drums. Tom had been in the school's drum core for a few years since he joined at the age of 13. The band, with the dual guitar lineup, was heavily influenced by the Ventures.
The band started playing school dances, but was lacking a name. In the great tradition of band naming, they opened up a world map and threw a dart. The dart landed closest to the Monzel Valley in France, so the band became the Monzelles! The name ended up evolving over the years to the shorter Monzels spelling. In the summer of 1960 they started playing at Sportsman Park in Kingston. During the school months, the band played dances in the area. Over time, they started to do vocals and became a tight, professional band.
Around 1962 the band members had graduated school and decided to 'turn pro' and keep playing. However, Jay Godwin, the founder of the band, decided he did not want to travel, so they had a amicable split and the Monzels, now three strong, took to the road. They signed up with some agents and started playing gigs in New York City and Long Island, along with places upstate. Many of the gigs were at colleges. They also went to Bell Sound in the city to record some demos. While there, they encountered Neil Sedaka in the stariwell wearing a camel hair coat and fedora, without realizing who he was until Sedaka told them. One of the agents they worked with was Nino Bari in Philadelphia. Their first booking from Nino was Hampton Manor on the New York/Vermont border. The place was a big barn with three clubs, catering to the college age set from NYC, upstate, and western New England. When the crowd got going, they would bang beer bottles on the stage! This gig lasted for a few months in the winter of 1964/5.
The Monzels' next gig was way removed from their NY home - the Villa in Lima, Ohio. The Villa was a club/restaurant owned by Ted Anton. Ted was of Greek ancestry, a former Olympic swimmer, and a force in Lima, as the band learned even before they arrived in town. Travelling from NY in their green '62 Chevy, the cops pulled them over just as they arrived in town. After dropping Ted's name in pleading their case, they were let off without a citation. The band moved into a local hotel, which is how that address ended up on their song copyrights. The band played 5-6 nights a week and basically did nothing but play, pratice, eat, and sleep. Not as if Lima is full of excitement. Occasionally they visited Ted's home, which was a big house decorated with Greek marble and statues, with plastic covers on the furniture. Their act at time included 38 of the top 40 songs on the radio, along with oldies, with the group adding 5-6 songs a week to their setlist.
A couple months into the Monzels Lima stay, Prism records contacted Jay and Bobby about making a record. Their offer was to record the band in Dayton, press up 600 copies of the record, and promote the record in five markets besides Lima, with the markets to be determined by the band and Prism. Each market would get 100 copies of the record and the band would get the remaining 100 copies. The band would also make TV and personal appearences in the markets. Early one day the band got their equipment out of the Villa and drove down to Dayton. After setting up in the studio, the band pitched their two sides to the Prism people (probably either Apperson, Floyd Whited, or both) - the songs they chose were "Peanut Butter" and "Love Potion No. 9", right from the Monzels' set. The Prism people told them that they didn't want to do 'old songs' and asked them to come up with some originals. The band went off and came up with a couple - "Don't Be Mad", a vocal that Bob and Tom wrote, and "Sharkskin", an instrumental that Bob wrote. The group went back to the studio, ran through the songs a couple times, and did the final recording. That night, the band drove back to the Villa and did their usual sets. When the records were avaiable, the Monzels did get 100 copies which were put up for sale at the Villa's bar, $1 a piece.
The record did chart in Lima, reaching up to #13, and "Sharkskin" was used for a local TV show. Later, in the early 1970s, the song was used in an ad for the Mattel "Big Wheels" toy. The Monzels never played the songs live, though. Even when they did a TV appearance in Fort Wayne, Indiana, they played "Love Potion #9"! Having a record out did give the band some opportunities to play outside of the Villa, like the Red Garter in Fort Wayne. Whatever Prism did to promote the record, the Monzels had no idea. They had to drive down to Prism and force the label to give them the meager royalty payments.
The band played at the Villa for somewhere around 4-5 months. They were not the only band to play there - as Tom Fitzgerald remembers, Ted Anton booked the Rivieras ("California Sun") one night - they showed up drunk, played so loud that people were moving far away as possible, and Ted pulled the plug and kicked them out after a few songs. The good times had to come to an end though, as the Vietman War and draft eventually caught up with the members. Tom was the first to go - his father called him and let him know he needed to report to the draft board, and that was it - he was in the Army for the next 3 1/2 years, spending the duration in West Germany. Tom's departure was the end of the Monzels. Bobby and Jay returned to New York, and Bobby joined the Air Force.
All three members continued in music after they left the service. Tom ended up in Boston, playing in a band that Bobby eventually joined. The band was a club band that played a variety of music from the 50s rock and R&B that the Monzels started with up to Led Zeppelin. Tom played in bands until 1994, and according to his calculations, he learned 1200 songs and played 1500 weddings! Jay ended up at Dollywood in Nashville. Bobby Curtis settled back in upstate New York.