RANDY AND THE RAINBOWS

Denise

Getting a nationwide top ten hit required a lot of compromise from Dominick Safuto and his group known at the time as Junior and the Counts, enough so that they'd undergone a complete style change shortly before the fateful song was recorded. Dominick became Randy, there was a new buzzword (rainbow!) and the song was about a girl none of them had ever heard of. But once the song took off, the new identity became permanent, despite later efforts to ditch it.

Safuto led a quartet as early as 1960, which is not to say he was the lead singer; Rosalie Calindo held that distinction on the act's first and only single as The Dialtones, "'Til I Heard it From You," a sweet midtempo romancer containing bicoastal elements of Dion and the Belmonts, The Mystics and Rosie and the Originals in its soundmix. The whole thing happened thanks to the sheer courage of 13-year-old Dominick, younger brother Frank Safuto and friends Eddie Scalia and Rosalie, all from Maspeth, a neighborhood in Queens. They had marched into multiple record label owner George Goldner's New York office to find him very accommodating...and willing to get them into the studio to make three recordings and release the best results on his Goldisc label (he wasn't even concerned about the existence of The Dial Tones, an R&B outfit from Philadelphia with two singles on the Best label the previous year). Alas, a smattering of airplay in New York, Cleveland a few other places wasn't reason enough to earn the group a follow-up. Not to mention Rosalie was overwhelmed and opted to return to a "normal" life. Dom, on the other hand, wanted more.

Frank Scafuto, Dominick 'Randy' Scafuto, Sal Zero, Ken Arcipowski, Mike Zero

Back in Queens, he and his friend Mike Zero (a baritone) started a new vocal act with five members including lead singer Mike's brother Sal Zero (tenor), Dom's brother Frank (tenor) and Ken Arcipowski (bass); they called themselves The Encores, a good move considering a new Dial Tones band from D.C., led by Vernon Wray (madman guitarist Link's brother), would be popping up shortly. Then, without explaining, the Encores adopted the Jr. and the Counts moniker. They were popular at nearby dances and parties and at some point crossed paths with songwriter Neil Levenson, who hooked them up with The Tokens, hot at the time with their Bright-Tunes Productions, scoring hits for The Chiffons, who were signed to New York's Laurie Records. The company placed Safuto's group on their Rust imprint but insisted they change their name to Randy and the Rainbows. After some brief hesitation (mainly over the notion of Dominick becoming...eek...Randy), the guys went along with it.

Once in the studio, their sound underwent a change as a result of a different studio setup, highly-focused producers, top-flight musicians and an approach similar to what the Tokens had been turning out (though Frankie Valli later claimed they copied The 4 Seasons' style). Levenson had written the song "Denise" about a childhood friend (or crush?) and Randy and the Rainbows gave him just the dynamic 'scooby-doo' performance he'd wanted. An instant hit in New York, the record spread in all directions, hitting the Billboard top ten in August 1963. But instead of a beginning, it turned out to be the group's peak; the next single, Levenson's "Why Do Kids Grow Up," had a near-identical sound and barely squeezed into the national charts near the end of the year.

Successive singles were well-produced, though "Happy Teenager" sounded even more Tokens-ish, a possible reason for their struggles. Pal Vinnie Carella joined in 1964 and the fourth Rust single, an updated take on The Elegants' 1958 chart-topper "Little Star," nudged into national charts but disappeared as quickly. The fifth effort, "Joyride," made an unusual play for a place among the mid-decade drag race hits, but it was released in mid-'65, a little too late as the trend was cooling off. At the end of the Laurie/Rust contract, Randy's crew moved to the Mike label (founded by Eddie Mathews, formerly of Columbia Records), where they took a shot at reviving a South African song, "Lovely Lies" (made famous in 1956 by The Manhattan Brothers in a duet with Miriam Makeba). The Rainbows' other single, "He's a Fugitive," took a 180-turn and the third disc on Mike, "Bonnie's Part of Town" (penned by Dickie Lee), never made it past the promo stage.

Resuming their association with the Tokens, who'd started a new record label, B.T. Puppy, they did a remake of a three-decade-old standard, "I'll Be Seeing You," composed by Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain (a number one hit for Bing Crosby in '44, to boot). Instead of getting them back on track, it became the final Randy and the Rainbows release in the summer of 1967. Dom, Frank, Mike and Vinnie put out two singles on Paramount Records in the early '70s under the name Triangle, then in 1977, inspired by the Tokens, they started their own company (Rainbeaux Productions) and recorded on Crystal Ball Records as Minstrel Street. In 1978, their signature hit came back around in a big way when Debbie Harry and Blondie had a career breakthrough with a U.K. revival of the song, gender-switched to the title "Denis" (pronounced "Den-ee").

A large-scale oldies revival took hold in the 1980s, giving original acts of the '50s and '60s a platform to embark on extensive package tours and relive their glory days. Randy and the Rainbows reappeared, but as two groups...one led by Dominick "Randy" Safuto and his brother Frank, the other by Mike Zero. A routine developed and the individual acts co-existed peacefully (unlike almost all other split groups) for many years. You may have even caught all of them, combined, on at least one PBS Rock and Roll TV special.

- Michael Jack Kirby




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Denise