THE FRANKIE RECORDS STORY
by Paul Bezanker
The following interview is copyright 1976 and 1989 by Paul Edward Bezanker and used with permission of the copyright owner.
(The following history of Frankie Records is based upon an interview with Jimmy and Johnny Mastrio in 1978. The author wishes to thank the Mastrios for their generous sharing of time and information.)
Small independent record labels have played an important part in the history of recorded music. This is particularly true in the field of rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll music. The independent labels – commonly called “Indies” – provided an outlet for showcasing local talent and their promotion as well.
Frankie Records was one of the many Indies in Connecticut in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Founded 28 years ago by Jimmy and Johnny Mastrio, the company went on to release nineteen singles while amassing total sales of approximately 100,000 records! The scope of recorded material included a wide variety of styles: pop vocals, rhythm and blues vocal group, comedy/novelty, instrumentals and rockabilly!
Named after Johnny’s nephew, Frankie was launched in August, 1957 with two vocals by the Johnny Mastrio Quartet. “Drugstore Baby” and “I Wish” are both in the pop vein and were recorded in one take at the home of Harold Colt, whose hobby was recording. Backing the quartet on GB-704 (See accompanying discography) are Ray Cassarino on organ and Artie Paretta on drums. The second release on the label was also issued at this time. Marianne Greco’s vocal efforts reached the top ten in Atlantic City and Washington, D.C.
“Asiatic Flu Blues,” a novelty recorded by Hartford’s Johnny and Pete DeLisa as The Classmates, was covered by Ebe Sneezer and The Epidemics on Colonial #436. The second side, “I’ll Send Her Roses,” is a beautiful ballad, and was named as the WPOP Pick of the Week when released. The song was also played at the Brussels World’s Fair and was aired on the BBC radio station. The rhythm and blues group The Cadillacs wanted to record the song as well, offering to pay the company $500, but the owners decided to release their own version.
Ricky Hale, a New York native, recorded two pop-oriented vocals in late 1957 on Frankie #FR-4. Two strong performances by a black vocalist are on the next release. John Jackson had won a contest at Hartford’s Hoffbrau House Club which included a recording contract with Frankie Records. Both sides of Frankie #FR-5 were recorded and mixed by Fred Locke, with Ray Cassarino on trumpet.
The Aladdins, a white vocal group from Hartford’s South End, recorded two excellent sides for Frankie Records in 1958. “Dot My Love” is a fast doo-wop, while “My Charlene” is medium-tempo with a catchy spoken bridge. Unfortunately, there is no unreleased material by the group.
A popular artist with country and western fans, Jim Flaherty performed often and helped organize and promote country music in New England with his concerts as well as through his position as manager of the successful Belmont Record Shop in Hartford. Jim recorded a country-ish cover of Elvis Presley’s hit “Are You Lonesome Tonight” on Frankie #FR-7. Jim also recorded two fine rockabilly tunes on a rare single on Jenn Records #J-101, “Real Gone Daddy”/”This Old Bomb of Mine” with vocals by Howie Stange.
Johnny and the Baa Baas’ novelty “I Just Can’t Sleep” had the benefit of full page ads in Cashbox and Variety magazines and was promoted on the Joe Franklin Show on New York’s WOR-TV.
Versatile Ray Cassarino released two piano instrumentals on Frankie #FR-9 in the style of Liberace. Nancy Ann’s “Big Jim” on #FR-10 is a medium paced rocker with Nancy sounding like JoAnn Campbell.
The next single on Frankie proved to be the biggest seller on the label. “Dimmi Tu” sung by Pete DeLisa and backed by The Johnny Mastrio Quintet quickly became very popular in New England. The record’s success was helped by the group’s performances at DeLisa’s, then a popular night spot in Hartford. The song was almost recorded by Perry Como, Al Martino and Dean Martin, but arrangements with the respective managers and labels failed to materialize. Capitol pressed the first 2,500 copies, and Columbia pressed “a few” thousand. The song interested Ralph Carmichael at Capitol, who produced the session of Phyllis Perri singing “Dimmi Tu.” Capitol promoted Phyllis as the next Connie Francis, and her version was played in Canada and Japan as well as the U.S.!
Tony Dante’s “Rock-A-Roo” has a trumpet choir which includes Tony Dinardi (formerly with Jimmy Dorsey), Carl Angelica (formerly with Benny Goodman) and Joe.Talone (of the Hartford Symphony). Frankie #FR-15 was reissued on the Markinto label of New York City.
“Promise” by Frank Murphy (#FR-16) is an answer record to Gordon MacRae’s hit, “The Secret” (Capitol #4033), done in a pop-rock style. Dick Pardi’s “The Wiggle” furthered another dance in 1963, with Dick sounding like Bobby Rydell.
The double-sided vocal by Johnny Mastrio (#FR-18) sold out after the first week of its release! The popularity of the single, which included many spins on jukeboxes, is “Roman Guitar” sung in Italian by Johnny.
The last single on Frankie is a rock ballad by Dick Pardi about the former First Lady, “Ladybird” Johnson.
Frankie Records also released a promotional album by Connecticut’s Al Jarvis and his Orchestra titled “Al Jarvis Plays.” Also, Ray Cassarino had an album on Cotillion or ABC Records titled “Scotch and Soda.”
Several other records are related in one way or another to Frankie Records. Nancy and the Millionaires used the Frankie logo to release “Atooka, Okla.” which is a fast rocker done in the style of Janis Martin. Danny Vincent sang “Carolyn” about John F. Kennedy’s daughter. The single released on Roulette in 1961 was recorded with The Johnny Mastrio Quintet at Adelphi Studios in New York. Danny was booked to go on tour with Del Shannon and Bobby Vinton, but at the last minute Danny decided to quit singing. The Marie Sisters recorded two up-tempo songs with the backing of Johnny Mastrio group. Their single on Brunswick was played often in Jamaica as well as Connecticut. Jimmy and Johnny Mastrio played guitars with the Hartford Symphony on “Nancy’s Song” by Joe Russo, Jr. (billed on the Nightingale single as J. R., Jr.). Jimmy Mastrio also played on Ray Pacheco’s single (see discography) on Intro Records which was recorded at The Gallery in East Hartford.
Frankie Records released nineteen singles (all recorded at Capitol Studios in New York City) of a wide variety of music by talented “locals”. Although the label is no longer in business, the recordings are still enjoyed today by listeners and in some cases (#FR-6), and avidly sought after by collectors.