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September 24, 2008

Encounters can still doo-wop it like 1963

New York Daily News:

They're an echo of old Brooklyn comin' right back atcha. This doo-wop group lives up to the declaration on the first page of its Web site: "The Encounters will bring you back to a street corner in Brooklyn, where the group originated in 1963."

And 45 years later when I listen to them I still can see and hear the guys I saw all over Brooklyn as a kid, singing in subway stations, in apartment-building hallways, under lampposts, chasing an echo, or snapping their fingers and harmonizing in front of swooning girls.

"The Encounters started in Bushwick," says Pete Milazzo, a Wall Street headhunter by day who still sings with The Encounters on weekends. "It was a blue-collar Italian, German, Irish neighborhood of six-story apartment houses with about 150 kids per block. The el ran right behind my house. We had a club on Wilson Ave. called The Sportsman."

There were a lot of storefront social clubs in those days because there were a lot of gangs in the area and the police from the 83rd Precinct didn't let you walk in groups of three or more.

"The Sportsman had stickball, softball, and football teams that played other clubs," Milazzo says. "We had about 30 members and about 150 girls used to come to our social nights for the dancing as we spun 45s on a record player. And one night in early '63 one of the fellas started singing. I started harmonizing with him. Two other guys joined in. And soon we formed a group. That's how it happened all over Brooklyn."

To meet chicks, the group started singing in Grove St. Park and because the subway in their neighborhood was an elevated train they'd walk all the way down to the Myrtle Ave. subway stop to catch an echo.

Then some local guy who knew a guy over in the city who knew a guy in the record business heard the guys from The Sportsman club and sent them to audition for a guy named Joe Venneri.

"Venneri was the guitar player and a vocalist for The Tokens," says Milazzo. "And he was starting a producing career. He heard us and by the end of 1963 we had a recording contract with Swan Records and we recorded an original song called 'Don't Stop,' written by Venneri and Billy Carlucci, of Billy and The Essentials." But Swan Records also had another single called "She Loves You," by some obscure British group called The Beatles.

"We were running around doing live gigs all over the place to promote the record," says Milazzo. "Then we got the news that they were gonna book us on the Clay Cole Show. We couldn't have been more excited. Four guys from Bushwick on Clay Cole! Then a week before we were gonna be on we got a call that we were canceled because Swan Records wanted to put their promotion behind this new fad called The Beatles. We were so disappointed. But we were told we'd get our chance when this fad blew over. But of course the fad called The Beatles never blew over."

Posted by acapnews at September 24, 2008 12:09 AM

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