Singer Sonny Geraci had a smash with
the Outsiders, pictured here, and another big
hit as vocalist for the rock band Climax. The
Outsiders included standing, from left, Merdin
Madsen, Geraci, Rick Baker, and Bill Bruno.
Tom King is seated in front.
By STEVE SEYMOUR
Sonny Geraci's vocal on "Time Won't Let Me" caught my attention the first time I heard it in early 1966.
As recorded by the Outsiders, "Time Won't Let Me" became a Top Five hit and is regarded as a rock classic.
Such was my appreciation for the chestnut, a clever mix of British Invasion sounds and Motown soul, that I still perk up my ears when I hear it on oldies radio.
In fact, I own three of the four LP's the Cleveland-based group released during their brief career.
The band consisted of Sonny Geraci (lead vocals), Tom King (rhythm guitar), Bill Bruno (lead guitar), Merdin Prince Gunnar Madsen (bass and harmonica) and Rick Baker, among others (drums).
Although I don't play guitar, I also have a 48-page songbook with words and music to 16 tunes the Outsiders recorded.
As was often the custom at the time, the album contained covers of some recent hits such as Herman's Hermits' "Listen People," the Temptations' "My Girl" and "She Cried" by Jay & the Americans.
Guitarist King and his brother-in-law Chet Kelley were also able to include a handful songs they composed, including "Girl In Love," which reached No. 21 when issued as their follow-up single.
The debut LP's highest chart position was No. 37.
"Respectable (What Kind of Girl Is This)," written by the Isley Brothers, was molded by the Outsiders into their third single. The recording reached No. 15 in the summer of 1966.
Their sophomore effort followed the same formula as their first album. It contains a number of covers, such as "(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet" by the Reflections, "Cool Jerk" by the Capitols and even Tommy James & the Shondells' "Hanky Panky." The Outsiders added their own compositions such as "Since I Lost My Baby" and "Backwards, Upside Down."
The liner notes to the second long-player declared: "There's only one way to describe the Outsider way with music: wild, wilder, wildest!" The album reached No. 90 on the charts.
Looking for another hit, the group recorded "Help Me Girl," written by British songwriters Scott English and Larry Weiss. Not long after, Eric Burdon and the Animals issued their own version of the song and a chart duel was on.
The Outsiders rendition first charted on Oct. 29, 1966, while the rival version didn't register until Nov. 26. Still, the Animals' gritty take on "Help Me Girl" reached No. 29, while the Outsiders' cleaner-sounding recording stalled at No. 37.
With 1966's breakout success, the Outsiders were the subject of a full-page advertisement in Billboard magazine's "1967 International Record Talent Guide."
The Outsiders carried on with their third LP, "In!" The album contained some catchy originals as well as their takes on "Kind of a Drag" by the Buckinghams and "Gimme Some Lovin'," by the Spencer Davis Group. The band gave the English/Weiss team another chance by recording their then-unknown "Bend Me, Shape Me."
Released in 1967, "In!" failed to chart.
"Bend Me, Shape Me" would become a hit, but not by the Outsiders. The American Breed recorded their own version in 1967 and took the song to No. 5.
Capitol Records opted for the Outsiders to release a simulated live album for their next project. "Happening 'Live'" was actually configured in the studio.
Various original recordings were stripped of organ, string and brass overdubs. Clapping and cheering were added to the basic tracks to create a live feel.
The album contains some new recordings, notably "Michelle" by the Beatles and "Good Good Loving," by James Brown. The latter track is credited as the Rascals song "Good Lovin'" on the record label.
With a lack of chart success the Outsiders disintegrated the following year.
Geraci moved to California and issued two singles under the Outsiders moniker, while King was also recording under the same name in Ohio. Legal wrangling ensued over ownership of the group's name and in 1970 it was awarded to King, who had conceived the group.
Consequently, Geraci renamed his group Climax.
Based in Los Angeles, Climax consisted on Geraci (vocals) and Walter Nims (lead guitar), along with various studio musicians.
The act was signed by owner Marc Gordon to the Carousel label, later renamed Rocky Road.
Nims, who was lead guitarist in the Outsiders on their final recordings, penned a number called "Precious And Few." As recorded by Climax, the song rose to No. 3 in 1972, selling a million copies.
The ballad returned Geraci's voice to the high reaches of the charts for a second time.
Billed as Climax featuring Sonny Geraci, the group's follow-up, "Life And Breath" was a minor hit. A 12-track album containing both singles was also released but Climax issued no further long-players.
Geraci even recorded an early version of "Rock And Roll Heaven," written for him by keyboardist John Stevenson, a member of the Climax studio band. But, another hit slipped away as the Righteous Brothers issued their hit version of the tune, as revised by songwriter Alan O'Day.
As the 1970s waned, Geraci left show business.
After being largely away from music, Geraci returned to touring in 2007.
The Sonny Geraci saga continues this summer when the singer is scheduled to perform at Porterfield's Cruisin' Oldies Concert in Marinette, Wis. on Sunday, July 18.
Rest assured he'll sing "Time Won't Let Me" and "Precious And Few," the two Top Five smash hits he had with two different bands.