By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon
Last week we talked about the solo career of sultry siren April Stevens, the former Carol Tempio from Niagara Falls. Today we follow the subsequent career she had with older – by one year – brother Antonino Tempio, who we know as Nino Tempo.
From its start in 1951 April’s solo career reached its apex with her 1959’s suggestive “Teach Me Tiger” and began a downslide ending with 1961’s similar “Love Kitten”, probably issued after she’d already left Imperial Records to begin recording the new duet act for United Artists.
Meanwhile Nino’s career was starting take off. He’d been a talent show winner at age four, appeared on TV with Benny Goodman at age seven, and worked as a child actor in 1949’s “The Red Pony”. A multi-instrumentalist, he parlayed his tenor sax skills into work as a respected player in the jazz world, with Maynard Ferguson and many others.
An acting appearance in the classic R&R film ‘The Girl Can’t Help’ led him to think about the pop and teen audiences, as did studio session work. He worked to move from mostly behind-the-scenes to solo releases under his own name.
In the late Fifties he got the chance Solo singles aimed at the teen pop audience followed, featuring both his vocal and sax skills. RCA Victor issued singles from 1958-1960, some as by Nino Tempo, some as by Tony Shepperd. 1959 saw an RCA album release. 1960 he signed on to United Artists for more singles.
At the same time he was becoming a member of the circle of top session men known as The Wrecking Crew, recording for Phil Spector and others. Usually he played his sax but on some sessions played guitar, drums and piano; and sometimes Spector called him down just to have another pair of tuned-in ears behind the board.
In 1961 the first duo single appeared on Capitol Records credited to just “Carol & Anthony” but from 1962 on out it was the familiar “Nino Tempo & April Stevens”, now on Atco Records. Many singles and albums followed with lots of chart success but early on (1963) they hit their highest mark with “Deep Purple”, a Number One hit on both R&R and Adult Contemporary singles charts. It also won a Grammy winner for “Best Rock & Roll Record Of The Year”!
“Deep Purple” established a pattern for many of their follow-up singles in which April Stevens spoke the lyrics in a low, intimate voice while Nino sang them. This was an accident that happened during the session. Nino forgot the words and April was helping him along. The track was intended to be a B-side and so was cut without rehearsal, in just 14 minutes remaining at the end of the session. But some ‘ears’ present thought it had a certain charm. Ahmet Ertegun disliked it, calling it “embarrassing”, and barely wanted it as a B-side. But feedback from radio programmers proved otherwise and it was made the A-side.
Ahmet’s intended A-side – “I’ve Been Carrying A Torch For You So Long That It Burned A Great Big Hole In My Heart” – became a B-side. It ended up having the longest title of a flipside of a Billboard number one record until Prince beat them out in 1984. (I erroneously attributed it to the B-side of “All Strung Out” last week, a mistake).
Subsequently they recorded a number of standards in similar style for Atco. The last Atco releases came in 1966 when they moved to the up and coming new label White Whale. It was there, at the home of The Turtles and many other pop-psychedelic and folk-rock groups, that they recorded their magnum opus. “Deep Purple” had been a lucky accident, but “All Strung Out” was worked on and fretted over with great detail, as Phil Spector would have done. Nino, like Sonny Bono (with whom he often worked) learned a lot from his friendship with and working knowledge of Spector.
The difference was “All Strung Out” had to be done on a budget. So it was recorded in bits and pieces, whenever some cheap studio time could be obtained. Favors were called in and Wrecking Crew players were used. Nino tried to mix it himself but ended up having to get help. The result – ‘Spector on a budget’ – has been called “one of the greatest Phil Spector-inspired productions of all time” (prominent critic Richie Unterberger).
They recorded more for White Whale, later for Bell and A&M (a minor hit), later still seperately. Nino scored “his” last hit in 1973 with an instrumental as Nino Tempo And 5th Ave. Sax. “Sister James” was probably the first instrumental disco record to score on the national charts. His continued session work included adding sax and doing arrangements for John Lennon’s 1975 “Rock ‘n’ Roll” album. Quite a varied career, but always musical, and with more high points than many entertainers can boast.