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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Exclusive Interview: David White of Danny & The Juniors

By Aaron S. Robertson

Milwaukee-area journalist catches up with founder of ’50s-’60s doo-wop group Danny & The Juniors, who went on to have a successful songwriting career that continues to leave a mark on new generations of music fans over five decades later.

He was writing poetry at age 11 and songwriting by 14. Benefiting from free music lessons and instruments offered to him by his elementary school, he took up both the trombone and clarinet. He grew up with a piano in his home, and learned how to play it by ear. And in 1955, at the age of 15, David White launched the group, The Juvenaires, which would soon be discovered by John Madara. As David recalls, “John took us to audition for his vocal coach, Artie Singer, who had a record company with DJ Larry Brown, called Singular Records.”

Growing up, David enjoyed an extensive variety of music, ranging from Glenn Miller, Teresa Brewer, The Four Lads, and The Four Coins to The Penguins, Frankie Lymon, and The Platters. The first time he heard African-American R&B groups on the radio, which he described as “being on the other end of the dial,” came as a bit of a shock to David’s system, as it did with so many others who grew up in that era. “It was such a neat experience. It really was. We were never exposed to that kind of music before,” he told me during our phone interview from his Las Vegas home on April 22.

Danny & The Juniors, Danny and the Juniors, Danny Rapp, Frank Maffei, David White, Joe Terranova, Joe Terry
L-R: Danny Rapp, Frank Maffei, David White, and Joe Terranova. Source: www.dannyandthejuniors.com.

That R&B influence made Danny Rapp an easy choice to fill the role of lead singer for The Juvenaires, later Danny & The Juniors. “Danny had more of an R&B sound, which I was looking for,” David explained. In addition to bringing Danny on board, David also selected Joe Terranova (who goes by Joe Terry) and Frank Maffei after auditioning kids in his Philadelphia neighborhood.

Two of the group’s more well-known earlier hits are “At the Hop” and “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay”, which were released in 1957 and 1958, respectively.

David co-wrote “At the Hop” with John Madara and Artie Singer. Originally called “Do the Bop” and written by David and John, the song was renamed and some of its lyrics changed at the recommendation of Dick Clark because the dance known as the Bop was already fading in popularity around the time the song was released. Hops were the new thing. Artie came aboard as a co-writer of the new version, and Dick was given half of the publishing rights for it.

As David recalls in his own words about that song, “We recorded ‘Do the Bop’ with Johnny Madara singing lead vocals and my group, The Juvenaires, backing him up. Artie took it to Johnny’s label, Prep Records, but they turned it down. Artie then took it to Dick Clark, who suggested the title change to ‘At the Hop’. Aritie changed some of the lyrics and became a co-writer,” continuing, “We went back into the recording studio and this time, my group recorded the song with Danny singing lead. Artie took it back to Dick Clark and gave him half the publishing of the song. ‘At the Hop’ was then released on the Singular label, which couldn’t handle the distribution demands. So Artie sold the master to ABC Paramount.” The practice of payola was not illegal at that time, allowing Dick Clark to get away with securing those publishing rights, David explained to me.

“Rock and Roll is Here to Stay” was written entirely by David.

Before it became "At the Hop", it was actually "Do the Bop".
"At the Hop" "Rock and Roll is Here to Stay". David White is the second singer from the front at the very beginning of this video.
 

Danny & The Juniors, Danny and the Juniors, David White, Joe Terranova, Frank Maffei, Danny Rapp, Joe Terry
L-R: David White, Joe Terranova, Frank Maffei, Danny Rapp. Source: www.last.fm.
With these hits came participation in Alan Freed’s tours. “What a thrill these Alan Freed tours were,” David recalled. “We played all the major cities. Milwaukee was definitely one of them. We performed with Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, so many others. What a thrill it all was.”

In 1959, David tied the knot with his first wife, got a job, and left the group. “That’s how fast our popularity waned,” he said with a laugh. But he would soon be back. Danny & The Juniors regrouped from time to time throughout the ’60s. As he recalls, “I rejoined them a year or so later to record the chart records ‘Twistin' USA’ and ‘Pony Express’ for Swan Records. In 1962, we recorded for Jamie/Guyden Records and in 1964, we recorded for Mercury Records.”

"Pony Express"
"I believe in God. I have a great family. I love my wife. There are a lot of sources for inspiration."

David would go on to have a diverse and successful writing career outside of Danny & The Juniors. Among other hit songs, he co-wrote, along with John Madara, “You Don’t Own Me”, which was recorded by Lesley Gore in 1963 and produced by Quincy Jones; and “1-2-3”, recorded by Len Barry in 1965. Len was a co-writer along with David and John on “1-2-3”, as well. David was also a member of two other groups during the latter half of the ’60s, The Spokesmen and The Crystal Mansion.

On April 5, 1983, lead singer Danny Rapp was found dead in his Arizona motel room of an apparent self-inflicted gun shot. About a month short of his 42nd birthday, Danny was originally out in Phoenix for a month-long lounge stint at a resort with another incarnation of “Danny & The Juniors” when he got into a couple of disputes offstage with a female member of the group that soon prompted resort security to intervene and confront him. With two more shows yet to complete, Danny took off and headed to a small town more than 160 miles away. Witnesses saw him drinking heavily in one of the town’s two taverns on Saturday, April 2. At some point during that weekend, he purchased a gun from a private individual.

Twistin' USA

Danny Rapp, Danny & The Juniors, Danny and the Juniors
Danny Rapp. Source: www.imvdb.com.
David recalled hearing of Danny’s death. “I saw him a couple months before his death. I considered joining Danny’s version of the band at that time. I flew out to Tahoe to meet up with him,” David said, continuing, “But I soon changed my mind. I came to realize that touring and being out on the road just wasn’t for me anymore. A couple months later, I heard the news. I was just shocked.” David went on to explain that Danny had developed a drinking problem.     

Continuing to write and participate in the creative arts, David keeps a full schedule that includes working on a memoir he hopes to have out sometime this year. He also recently wrote a screenplay and recorded a few local girls. A film script entitled, “At the Hop” was written by Michael Killen, based on a story by David and John Madara, as well. He writes a lot with his wife, Sandra, who is also into artography and currently seeking a distributor for her work. The two are planning a trip to Europe soon. “My hobby is being creative,” David said.

When it comes to inspiration for his writing, David has an unending supply. “I believe in God. I have a great family. I love my wife. There are a lot of sources for inspiration,” David explained to me, adding, “And if someone gives me a project, that’s inspiration enough.” When he and Sandra are away from their notebooks and computers, the two enjoy dinner, movies, and shows around Vegas.

Asked what his advice is for aspiring musicians and singers, David admitted he didn’t have too much to say on the matter, since his rise to prominence came in an entirely different era. “It’s a lot harder nowadays, I believe. Back then, you would give a DJ a bottle of booze, and he’d play your record. You could just walk into a recording studio. We were making three or four records a week. But I’d imagine if you stick to it and you have good talent, you have a shot.”

Speaking of aspiring talent, I was curious to know if David was keeping his eye on anyone in particular as far as up-and-coming talent. “Well, most of the people we see are already on their way up,” he told me. “I really can’t think of anyone in particular at the moment.” He and wife Sandra do tune into American Idol and some of the other music talent shows, he told me.

"It's a lot harder nowadays, I believe. Back then, you would give a DJ a bottle of booze, and he'd play your record."

On the subject of causes he really cares about, it didn’t take a millisecond for David to bring up the VH1 Save The Music Foundation, which awards grants to public schools across the United States to restore or preserve music education programs. “Music is beneficial to the mind and spirit, and it’s a true shame that budget cuts have cut out so many music programs,” he told me.   

Asked if he had any final parting words, David couldn’t express enough thanks to all of the fans through the years. “Thanks to all of our fans who came to see us and bought our records. Thanks to all of those who continue to buy our music online. It’s supported me and my family for many years, and I just can’t say ‘thank you’ enough.”

Danny & The Juniors has been back together for quite a number of years now, featuring the other remaining original members, Joe Terranova (who goes by Joe Terry) and Frank Maffei. Joe serves as the lead singer of the group, which also includes Frank’s brother, Bob. Visit them on the Web at: www.dannyandthejuniors.com . And be sure to check out David’s own Web site at: www.rockandrollisheretostay.com . Finally, stay on the lookout for David’s memoir!

And Rock ‘n’ Roll is still here, and it looks like it’s here to stay…

What are your favorite songs by Danny & The Juniors? Ever see the group perform? Share your favorite Danny & The Juniors tunes and memories in the Comments section below.

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