Fri, 21 November 2014
A few years ago I became more deeply involved in the Hawaiian music and hula community across the river from my New Jersey home – in New York City. I was pleased to accompany such talented hula dancers that I previously had no idea existed. In the green room of a theater before a first performance with a hula troupe with which I had never worked before, each dancer greeted me enthusiastically in turn.
A tall, tan, and lovely young lady – who, if I didn’t know she were a hula dancer, could have been the real life girl from Ipanema – introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Skye! Skye Randazzo.”
I introduced myself in turn and replied, “That is an unusual name.”
She said, “You mean Skye?”
I said, “No, Randazzo. You never hear that name, but there was a famous songwriter and producer in Hawai`i by that name. And before that he was huge on the mainland.”
There was a tear in Skye’s blush when she said proudly, “That’s my dad.”
And once again I was in the presence of Hawaiian music greatness. And, in fact, music greatness in general. For before Teddy Randazzo made a life in Hawai`i, he was first a teen heartthrob – a Justin Bieber for the 1950s, but with the noteworthy difference of possessing real vocal talent and unmanufactured charm and good looks. And then Randazzo became one of the great, yet underrated songwriters of all time – charting time and time again with his own records as well as writing for other budding music legends who put their own special touch on his compositions. One blogger puts Randazzo’s compositions on a par with those by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio. I concur. The same writer refers to him as an “angst-cranker,” and while there may be a hint of hyperbole in it, Randazzo undeniably specialized in heartache and drama – each song a mini-symphony, a requiem to love and loss.
You have no doubt heard Linda Ronstadt’s version of “Hurt So Bad.” Yes, that Teddy Randazzo.
Regular readers of this blog know by now that I typically celebrate Hawai`i’s legendary entertainers on their birthdays. But I awoke this morning and started the day as I often do by scrolling through Facebook when I read a post that lived up to the title of the Randazzo song. In the latter part of his career, the New York City-born Randazzo met and fell in love with a Hawaiian girl, an extraordinary hula dancer and – as I have come to know her – an equally extraordinary spirit, the former Rosemary Shelly Kunewa. And when you get to know Mrs. Shelly Randazzo, you realize at the first mention of her husband that the love that she shared with Teddy was supernatural – powerful enough to fill a thousand universes, stop a thousand wars. And those who understand both the love the Randazzos shared and the music he made throughout his lifetime must have some difficulty reconciling the contradiction. Was the lovelorn Randazzo merely a put-on for fans of the once teen heartthrob? Or did meeting Shelly simply turn his life around? Regardless, flipping through Facebook for comic relief but finding instead my friend Shelly’s rededication of her love and life to her beloved husband on this – the anniversary of Teddy’s passing – hurt so bad. And while I was in the middle of writing about other artists today, I changed course – seemingly having no choice, led not by logic but by the heart – and decided to write about Teddy instead.
I like to think there were three equally important and equally beautiful sides to Teddy’s career. Let’s start with Side 1: Teddy Randazzo The Voice.
In the early 1950s, three guys from Brooklyn, New York got together and formed The Three Chuckles. Depending on your source, some say that they took their name from the once popular candy of the same name, while others assert that it was because they started out as a comedy troupe. Either way, when their accordionist left the group, they recruited another – Alessandro Carmela Randazzo – to round out the trio again. They recorded two sides for Boulevard Records – “At Last You Understand” and “Runaround.” “At Last” was intended as the “A” side, but it largely flopped. It was the “B” side that struck gold for the group. With lead vocals by Teddy Randazzo, “Runaround” (which you hear first in this set), was a smash – reaching #20 on the U.S. charts and earning them a spot on The Ed Sullivan Show.
And the rest – as they say – is history.
Teddy forged on as a solo artist and landed three more singles in the Billboard Top 100. The highest charting tune, “The Way Of A Clown” (the second song in this set), peaked at #44. I recall daughter Skye mentioning this song to me apropos of nothing, and I responded, “Yeah, the one based on the aria Vesti la giubba from Pagliacci.” Astonished, she asked how I could possibly know such a thing, and I responded, “I told you I was a fan.”
Such was the versatility of Randazzo as songwriter and arranger. Who else could write such angst-filled mini-operas as someone well versed in opera himself?
While he was enjoying a career as a solo artist through the 1960s, Randazzo was also composing, arranging, and producing other artists of the era. If you have never heard of Randazzo, you have no doubt heard of the artists he helped make famous.
Next time: Side 2: Teddy Randazzo The Composer…
Dedicated with loving aloha to Shelly, Skye, and the entire Randazzo `ohana on this most difficult of days.