Photos courtesy of TheAngelsOnline.com
We are honored to present Part One of a JBB EXCLUSIVE Interview with a member of The Angels–Peggy Santiglia Davison, who sang lead on the Number One hit featured in JERSEY BOYS, “My Boyfriend’s Back”!
In Part One of her interview, Peggy talks about her musical beginnings, her early days with The Angels, the group’s monster hit, “My Boyfriend’s Back,” the excitement following the chart-topping hit, and her amazing experience seeing the portrayal of The Angels in JERSEY BOYS!
Jersey Boys Blog: Peggy, we’re so excited to talk with you about your career! How did you become interested in music? Even as a young girl, did you always know you wanted to be a singer? Did you come from a musical family?
Peggy Santiglia Davison: My family was very musical. My mom wrote a few songs, my dad played guitar, clarinet and mandolin, my sister sang, and we had many holiday song fests. Iâ€™m sure my creativity and love of music was inherited. Yes, I knew at a very early age that I wanted to write sing and record. Many younger members of my family are very talented and involved in the arts including pop music, opera, film scoring, journalism, and entertainment law.
JBB: Before The Angels, what did you do? Had you been singing and recording with other groups?
PSD: My first professional recording and performing experience was with my childhood friends Denise Ferri and Arleen Lanzotti (now Gonnella) while still in elementary school. We called ourselves â€œThe Delicates.â€ Guess where we grew up? Yup, the now famous Belleville, New Jersey. We wrote lots of songs, some were theme songs for â€œMurray the Kâ€ such as â€œThe Submarine Race Watcherâ€™s Themeâ€ and â€œMeusurray and Grand Kook.â€ He was a famous New York radio personality and was later pegged as the “fifth Beatle.” We performed as his first original dancing girls in huge rock and roll productions at the Brooklyn Fox and Brooklyn Paramount theaters. Clay Cole, a television personality, also played an important role in our career at that time. Check out his website: claycoleshow.com.
We wrote mostly about boys and cars, probably in that order, and in one song lamented about being â€œToo Young To Date.â€ Don Costa produced and arranged it and many more for us on United Artists. Another of our songs was â€œBlack and White Thunderbird.â€ A few years ago when the movie â€œCarsâ€ was popular, it was recorded and released on a Disney CD childrenâ€™s version. The vocal arrangement is almost exactly as it was when we wrote and recorded it. I guess we should be somewhat flattered for the compliment, but the downside was that we had previously lost the copyright. Once I got over that, I was happy our song had been chosen.
We three Delicates recently renewed our friendship and met in our old hometown Belleville to remember all the good times. We even visited our old school #8 and the houses we lived in then. Weâ€™re gathering our Delicates memorabilia and are planning on putting a website together. I have a picture of us, which was either from The Newark Star Ledger or The Belleville Times, on a Columbus Day parade float sitting behind Connie Francis, the queen. We were the hand maidens or princesses and it was a special day of celebration for us and our Italian American families. Connie went to Belleville High School a few years ahead of us and she became famous so we all, especially young girls, admired her. Remember, this was a long time before “The Sopranos” and all the popular movie and TV shows portraying Italian Americans. Even in the late sixties when I was with The Serendipity Singers, I lost the visual part of a commercial (although they used my voice) because my look was too ethnic.
JBB: What led you to become a member of The Angels?
PSD: I met the Allbut sisters Barbara (Bibs) and Jiggs while they were with Lynda Malzone and Bernadette Carroll as The Starlets. They were singing their recordings of â€œP.S. I Love Youâ€ and â€œPennies from Heaven,â€ looking quite lovely in beautiful full skirted flowing dresses. I was with The Delicates trying to sound funky, although we probably didnâ€™t use that word then, singing the R&B Western Movies and wearing tight red dresses. The funny part is, we thought we were hot stuff, but we were still quite innocent and proper wearing our short red gloves.
The very first time I met Bibs and Jiggs might have been at a record hop or dance, although what really stands out in my mind is an appearance that we all did on the Joe Franklin show. It might have been The Delicatesâ€™ first NYC TV appearance. I remember it for a couple of odd reasons: one because Deniseâ€™s bracelet caught on the back of my sweater while we were performing live and we instantly had to modify what we then called “our steps.” The other reason was because although we, The Angels and The Delicates, were paid by check, we were later contacted and asked to return the money. Can you imagine a company trying to do that now? We were just kids, but we stood up for ourselves and cashed the checks.
JBB: What happened when you recorded “My Boyfriend’s Back”? Did you have a feeling it was going to be such a monster hit?
PSD: I wasn’t sure, but Bibs and Jiggs both truly believed it was going to be a huge hit and they were right. I have to admit I liked some of our other recordings more than Boyfriend, but looking back Iâ€™m thrilled they were right. Most of the others ended up on our â€œMy Boyfriendâ€™s Back Album.â€ I was vacationing at the Jersey Shore with my parents when they called to say, ‘Peggy, youâ€™d better come back–Boyfriend is all over the radio and we have to go on the road now!’ That song, the way we sang it, the touring we did all over the world and the people we met almost instantly changed my life.
JBB: “My Boyfriend’s Back” remained a chart-topper for three weeks in 1963! What was it like and what happened with the group after such a huge hit?
PSD: During radioâ€™s Top 40 heyday, when Boyfriend was on the charts and number one, we would flip from one station to the next and weâ€™d be on all of them often at the same time. We did practically every major variety TV show, toured the US and Canada, and recorded a German song for Phillips while we were in Germany.
We also toured numerous Army and Air Force bases in Europe and that was quite a fabulous experience. The troops were and Iâ€™m sure still are the best audiences in the world. It was so much fun, especially the first time. We even overcame the fact that the band was Italian and didnâ€™t speak a bit of English and we didnâ€™t speak Italian or German. I guess after a few shows, the universal language of music took care of everything. It was a memorable time.
JBB: What about the concert tours? What groups did you tour with? What were some of your favorite venues?
PSD: It would be impossible to mention every group and solo artist weâ€™ve ever worked with because that would mean naming everyone from our genre of music including some who had hits before and some who had hits later. We were the only female group touring with the first wave of British male groups such as Gerry and The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, and Freddie and The Dreamers. What a wild experience in so many ways! I think it was after a show at the Maple Leaf Garden in Canada when the female fans nearly knocked our bus over to try to get to the guys. The Royal Canadian Police aimed a huge water hose on them to try to maintain order.
Since this was pre-diva time, usually only one or maybe two female groups at the most would be included in a big concert or on tour, so we did work with almost all the male groups then. At this time, many of us were friends with The Four Seasons and like all of you, loved their music. We often enjoyed creating, recording and socializing, but I donâ€™t specifically recall touring with them. Maybe we were on the same bill a few times. Our main link was that most of us came from Italian American backgrounds. We went to the North Arlington diner for breakfast meeting after our separate shows, laughed at Joe Pesciâ€™s humorous antics, visited at our homes, knew our families, and just generally liked each other. We did, after all, have a lot in common.
JBB: Are there any outrageous or interesting stories from the road that you’d like to share? How would you describe being a young pop star on the road in the 1960s?
PSD: There must be a reason why Iâ€™ve left answering this question for last. Sure, lots of interesting things happened and some outrageous ones too, but I have to save some lures for my book! Iâ€™m sort of kidding, but not completely, because to be in show business in the early stage of rock and roll and to be very young and female wasnâ€™t always easy. Most of us, or maybe I should just speak for myself, were trying to look older and act sophisticated, but for the most part we were innocent kids and at times the door opened to trouble, at least it did for me.
Sometimes I think about my many narrow misses where if I had made just one more turn, my life would have been very different and not wonderful or horrible simply different. I am lucky, in many ways though, considering I would not trade any of my life changing events even the bad ones. All my experiences and the people in my life at those times have helped shape the person I am today.
JBB: Following the chart hits, did you and The Angels continue performing?
PSD: We did continue for a few years doing all sorts of concerts, clubs and television. I left not because of anything Bibs or Jiggs did, but because I was very unhappy about the way we were being treated by our producers. We had such a huge hit and other than our live performance money, we were not being compensated fairly for Boyfriend or the two albums which followed. The producers were young and talented too and probably made their own mistakes, but in my opinion they were not at all fair to us.
Originally, I had wanted to be signed directly to the record company instead of to the producers, because I had heard we would have a better chance of getting a fair accounting and receiving our earned money. That didnâ€™t happen and itâ€™s a shame because we could have gone on to bigger and better times together. Perhaps it would have been better if we had management grooming and looking out for us. The behind the scenes wheeling and dealings of the record business did have its nasty overtones which I felt, but didnâ€™t quite know how to avoid being cheated.
The best part of having such a huge hit was singing and creating together, the learning experiences that come from all the traveling and all the super people we met. One of the downsides was not really having a say about the follow-up choice to Boyfriend or taking part in any decision making. â€œThank You and Goodnightâ€ is another of our songs that is often still used as a sign off for many shows. We even still get requests for â€œWow Wow Wee,â€ which is similar to our trademark formula with the talking in the beginning and â€œA Moment Agoâ€ written by Bibs, which was the flip side of â€œâ€˜Til.â€
I guess it was the same for many young artists from our time period. Many producers included their names on songs that the artists wrote or they wouldnâ€™t include the songs on the album. It may still be prevalent, I just donâ€™t know. I know there are many problems associated with todayâ€™s market and also some pretty fantastic stuff. We know now after recording our own new CD just how different it all is. Talk about enlightening experiences.
JBB: Watching the actresses in Jersey Boys perform “My Boyfriend’s Back” is such an exciting and fun moment in the show! What was it like for you to see the portrayal of The Angels on the Broadway stage?
PSD: As I watched the beautiful and talented young women who portray us in Jersey Boys, I was gripping my theater seat. It felt almost surreal, but I thought they were great. It was so much more realistic than when we were portrayed in the made for television movie My Boyfriendâ€™s Back. The actresses in that movie were famous and talented, but it just wasnâ€™t good. Parts of it were silly, untrue and uninteresting. The group was called The Bouffants; I guess because they didnâ€™t want to have to compensate or collaborate with us in any way. It was, however, so obviously about us and the early part of our career so somewhere along the way people who knew us then had to be involved. If the producers or NBC would have contacted us for the real story i.e., the good stuff, it would have been so much more interesting. Iâ€™m not surprised it wasnâ€™t good.
Watching Jersey Boys on Broadway brought up so many emotions because my life was intertwined with many friends and their families who were being portrayed on stage back when most of us were in our early to mid-twenties. Most of the time, I think I kept a smile on my face as I was filled with all sorts of feelings. I traveled from my home in Maryland hosting two busloads of fans who bought tickets through our local Carroll County Arts Council and we all got to meet the cast. It was a fabulous day.
Thank you so much to Peggy Santiglia Davison for Part One of this fascinating interview! In Part Two, Peggy talks about her years after The Angels, her reunion with the group, the resurgence of “Beggin’,” a song she co-wrote with Bob Gaudio, and much more!