Johnny Maestro and The Crests
Two weeks ago I was walking through a quaint little thrift/junk/antique shop over on Colorado’s western slope in the town of Carbondale, an outlying neighbor of the exclusive mountain ski town of Aspen. I came across a small bin of long plays and the first six or seven produced nothing in the way of a YES!!!!! moment.
But then I came onto LP number 8 (or maybe it was number 7?) – Doesn’t matter it was a pleasant surprise – a really pretty darn good condition copy of the Crests 1960 long play on the Coed record label “The Best of The Crests – 16 Fabulous Hits”, the group’s second long play released in 1961 and more scarce than the first (or at least just as scarce).
The Crests formed in 1957 in New York City with founder J.T. Carter, Talmadge Gough, Patricia Van Dross and Harold Torres. Female member Patricia was the sister of soul singer Luther Vandross. In short order, Talmadge added lead singer Johnny Mastrangelo to the group, who shortened his name first to “Johnny Mastro” and later to “Johnny Maestro”.
The group released a couple of 45’s on the Joyce record label in 1957 with little national success – “Sweetest One” on Joyce did manage to dent the charts in the summer of 1957 reaching a meager 86 with a two-week run on Billboard’s Hot 100.
The big breakthrough came with 1958’s “16 Candles” now a rock and roll standard – peaking in the Winter of 1958 at number 2, The Crests’ biggest hit record. Many more hits would follow, 11 more Hot 100 entries with two additional trips into the Top 20: “Step-By-Step” #14 in 1960, “Trouble in Paradise” #20 also in 1960.
The group changed rapidly, Patricia VanDross departed quickly in 1958 before the hits started rolling in (she was only heard on the Joyce label recordings). Maestro would depart as well in 1961 and quickly scored a few solo hits performing as “Johnny Mastro Voice of the Crests” and “Johnny Maestro with the Coeds”. He worked for a time with other singers posing as “The Crests” before becoming singer for a group called “The Del Satins”.
The Del Satins had evolved from a couple of New York groups, “The Yorkville Melodys” and “The Jokers”. Their new name was a tribute combination to “The Dells” and “The Five Satins”. The Del Satins would move on to Laurie records where they became the backing vocal group for Dion who had broken away from “The Belmonts”.
Maestro along with a couple members of “The Del Satins” – Freddie Ferrara and Mike Gregorio – would put together “The Brooklyn Bridge” in 1968. Their second time out with “The Worst That Can Happen” (a Jimmy Webb composition) would become their big moment, a late 1968 number 3 hit. Six additional singles would chart – but the popularity of their recordings fell off very quickly. Their last gasp was 1970’s “Day is Don” scratching the charts at number 98.
Many configurations of Bridge members came and went and they kept the act together for many years. Johnny at times would appear at oldies concerts performing both Crests and Brooklyn Bridge numbers – without any original members of Crests.
Johnny Maestro was born in May of 1937 in New York City John Mastranglo and died on March 24th, 2010. Of the original Crests only founder Carter remains. In 1980 Carter put the Crests back together auditioning more than 200 singers keeping that effort together into the 1990’s before turning over the reigns to Thomas Marasciullo who put together yet another combination of Crests.
Billy Dawn Smith – Composer of Crests Hits….. and More
Billy Dawn Smith was the composer for at least 12 “Crests” compositions including “Step by Step”, “The Angels Listened In”, “Trouble in Paradise” and more. Smith was one a member of the group called “The Billy Dawn Quartet”, who also recorded as “The 4 Dukes and Heralds”. From there he went on to work for Herald Records and then founded the Hull Records label.
He composed songs for doo wop groups “The Heartbeats” and “The Avons”. He wrote Perry Como’s “Just Born to Be Your Baby” which reached number 12 in 1957. It was Smith who along with his friend George Paxton that he needed his own label to promote the Crests and so Coed Records was founded.
Smith composed more than 700 songs for a very diverse range of artists including Lavern Baker, James Darren, Shelly Fabares, Clyde McPhatter, The Platters, Percy Sledge, Ruth Brown and Carla Thomas to name a few.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York
The Crests and Johnny Maestro Discography
The Brooklyn Bridge Discography