Pat DiCesare: The Del Vikings


One night in the middle of sleeping I awoke and had a song running through my mind. I quickly got a piece of paper and a pencil and began writing. The words came to me first. I had written the whole song in about thirty minutes. I called it “I’m Spinning.” In the morning, I went downstairs to the Hammond organ and wrote the music on some scrap paper. The next night, I wrote, “You Say You Love Me.” It was so easy. I wondered why everybody didn’t write songs.


Pat DiCesare: The Beatles 1964

Pat DiCesare: Fright Night at Station Square

Pat can be contacted at [email protected].


A bunch of my friends and I had formed a group known as “The Penn Boys.” We rehearsed in the back room of the Italian Club in Trafford. The members of our group consisted of Don “Dunch” Bray our lead singer, Paul Mediate sang bass — they lived close to each other in Level Green. Queball could sing bass, lead and do falsetto great. In addition, he played drums for the high school band.

Wayne Waltour from nearby Pitcairn sang tenor. I could sing, but I eventually decided that it was best for the group if I took the role as manager, writer, and producer. So, I dropped out as a performer. I quickly introduced the songs to our group. They loved the songs and thought we were ready for the big time.

After we rehearsed some of songs for quite awhile we found a person by the name of John Koloney who lived in Trafford Terrace. He had a reel to reel tape recorder, and we asked him if he would do a demo disc for us, which he graciously agreed to do. We really thought we were something after we had recorded ourselves.


The next week we went to the Boosters dance where Jay Michaels would spin records. Jay was the No. 1 disc jockey in town on WCAE radio. I introduced myself to him and asked him if he would listen to our group. We gave him the tape, and he said he would call us. He did call us back to tell us that he had made arrangements with a New York record producer to come to the studios at WCAE radio at the Carlton House on Grant Street in Pittsburgh to audition several groups. Our group was to be one of them. The date was set a month ahead of time. We anxiously waited for that audition and practiced every day.

I kept in touch with Jay Michaels and he encouraged me to have a lot of original material. “These record producers want to hear new material. Don’t waste their time by singing someone else’s songs,” Jay said. So, I continued to write more songs.

Then the day came for the audition. Paul Mediate had the job of driving. After all, he was older by a few months and had more driving experience. He had a slant back 51 Chevy with fender skirts and a sun visor. It was considered cool. He got us lost on our way to Pittsburgh. That in itself was a big deal, because we hadn’t been to town too many times in our lives. Driving to Pittsburgh was like driving to New York City to some people in Trafford. The new parkway had not been completed. We ended up on Second Avenue, which ran along the steel mills for miles. The smoke pouring out of the mills was heavy and the smell was awful. “This place stinks like rotten eggs, how can these guys work here?” said Cueball.

“If we don’t make it as singers, we’re all going to end up here,” said Dunch.

We finally got out of the steel mill area and found a parking lot on Grant Street. We went to the lobby of the Carlton House and took the elevator to the studio of WCAE radio. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he Carlton House was “thee” place were all the people in the music business including record promoters, songwriters, and record producers were located. It was the Mecca of the recording industry business in Pittsburgh. When we walked into the studio we were surprised. There must have been 50 other people in there waiting for their audition time. A lot of black groups were there. It was fun and interesting to listen and to hear the black artists talk. They had a musical language that we had never heard before. Up to this time, we really hadn’t been in contact with any black groups. Very few black people lived in Trafford.

We waited impatiently for our time to audition. The black groups seemed comfortable. Most of them got together and harmonized in the lobby. I realized after listening to them warm up for a few seconds that they were better than us. They had better range, better harmony, and moved better than us. We could tell that they were better prepared. I felt discouraged. They sounded better. But, even though they were better performers, I still thought that I had written some good songs. I liked their songs, but I wondered if my songs might have more commercial appeal.

Finally, we were called into the studio to audition. We didn’t have any instruments, which I quickly sensed was a big mistake. The other groups had a guitar or piano accompaniment, which made all the difference in the world. We had to depend on our own voices. It didn’t help that we were all so nervous and that Paul, our bass vocalist, started off flat and drew us all off key. Who could blame him? The pressure was on. After we were done singing the first song, the producer tried calming us down. “Don’t be so nervous. Take your time. Try another song. Relax,” he said. But we couldn’t. We sounded terrible and we knew it. When we finished our third song, we received a very polite. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”


We didn’t mind that we weren’t selected. We were just excited to have been in Pittsburgh at the radio station and had a New York record producer actually listen to us. We were excited and motivated. We came back home to Trafford more determined than ever to be successful.

I wasn’t discouraged. When you come from nothing, you expect to get nothing. It was a way of life for me. Good things didn’t happen to me. With luck on my side I might be able to make things happen. But, back then I hadn’t experienced luck yet.

Saturday night we went back to the Boosters dance in East Pittsburgh and Jay Michaels was very polite and helpful to us. He said that he was sorry that we weren’t selected. But, he wanted me to meet another record producer who had managed a group called the Del Vikings.

The Del Vikings had just had a million-selling hit called “Come Go With Me.” I loved their song and sound. They were one of my favorite groups.


In 1956 all the members of the Del Vikings were in the Air Force stationed in Pittsburgh. They had set up an audition and rehearsal with Barry Kaye, in the basement of his home. Barry liked what he heard and sent the tape to Joe Averbach. Joe was the owner of R B & S, a Pittsburgh based record distributorship. R B & S were the initials for Rhythm, Blues and Spirituals, which was the type of music he promoted and sold.

Joe Averbach was Jewish promoted and sold only black artists, which wasn’t unusual. Almost all of the record distributors were owned by Jewish people. Joe really liked the type of music he promoted. Most of the top white radio stations wouldn’t play blues or spirituals. They were referred to as “race” records, which meant only blacks listened to them. White stations didn’t want “race” records on their air.

However, Joe had a lot of success with acts like Little Richard and others like that on Specialty Records.

Barry Kaye played records by mainly white artists and only played black records that were considered to be accepted by white listening audiences. Barry approached Joe Averbach with the demonstration tape that the Del Vikings had recorded acapella in the basement of Barry’s home. After Joe listened to the tape he thought that the group had potential. Of course it helped that one of the top DJ’s in Pittsburgh had an interest in the group no matter what color they were. Barry was never known as one who did something for nothing. But, I guess we’ll never know if Barry got anything for delivering Joe what would become a million-selling record.

Joe continued to work with the group and arranged for a makeshift studio at a downtown hotel. The group was able to get some of their Air Force buddies who played instruments to “back up” the group for their recording session. Joe thought since he had a distribution company and that was the main part of the business, he would form a record label and start looking for other recording artists/singers. He formed Fee Bee Records, named for his wife.

In the early part of 1957, Joe Averbach released “How Can I Find True Love” as the A side on his Fee Bee record label. For the B side he selected “Come Go With Me.” Typically the B side was a “throw-away side,” just anything to put on the other side of the ‘hit.’ Generally, no one ever turned the record over to play it. But in no time, DJs started to air it as the A side. They got instant reaction. The record was so “hot” that Joe had to have national distribution. His small Fee Bee label could not promote and sell nationwide. So, he contacted Randy Wood at Dot Records to distribute it nationally. The record landed in the top ten in no time. The Del Vikings and little Fee Bee Records were an instant success.


In the early summer of 1957, Joe had released the Del Vikings next record, “Whispering Bells,” which went on to be their next chart topper. In the meantime, Joe started looking for more new material for his hit group, and more groups to sign on his label.

Jay Michaels was kind enough to send me to meet with Joe Averbach at his R B & S Fifth Ave office in the Pittsburgh area people back then referred to as “Jewtown.” I played our tape for Joe and as he listened he said to me, “You know, I like your music, but I don’t like your singing group. Would you let me have your songs for the Del Vikings to record?” I was pleasantly surprised. Someone of importance in this business said, “I like your songs.” That sounded great. However, I really didn’t want to do that because I wanted my group to record the songs.

When I told them of my meeting with Joe Averbach, they were very excited to hear what Joe had to say about us. We had a rehearsal set at my brother JuJu’s place of business, “Your Cleaners,” located in Level Green. Having driven there straight from Pittsburgh, I thought I’d get there early so I would have time to eat before the rehearsal. But, all the guys were eager to hear the news and showed up early.

I explained what Joe said. When I told them that I told Joe, “I will talk to my group and hear what they say and get back to you,” the group knew what was going on. They all said, “Don’t be a fool. Don’t hold yourself back for us.”


In the summer of 1957 The Del Vikings had a disagreement and the group split into two. One group went to Mercury Records and kept the spelling The Del Vikings. The other group with Kripp Johnson stayed with Dot Records and Joe Averbach. They also called themselves The Dell Vikings but added the extra l in Dell.

I decided to stay with Joe and let the Dell Vikings record some of our music. In the fall of 1957, The Dell Vikings released “I’m Spinning,” which Don Bray and I wrote. I now had to attend the rehearsals of the group to teach them the songs.

The Dell Vikings rehearsed at the Irene Kauffman Center, which was located in The Hill District. It was a great facility, but even the Dell Vikings considered it a dangerous location. I loved it though. I really enjoyed working in that environment with those guys, but I sure did have to learn my way around the block coming from small town Trafford.

One day the Dell Vikings were doing a show at a dance in Market Square in Pittsburgh, and they asked me to come to see them perform. I was very excited about this and Don Bray and I went to the dance. The show and dance was held on the second floor of this facility, and it was an all-black event. We didn’t realize that until we got there. As we walked up the steps we must have looked like two hillbillies. We were two white guys from the suburbs — the only two white guys in the whole place. As we were walking up the steps and reached the first floor landing, two black guys approached us and said, “If you are going to the dance, you need to buy tickets here,”

“Okay how much is it?” we asked.

“Two dollars each,” one of them said. We pulled out four dollars and gave it to them.

“Just go ahead up and walk right in,” one of them said.

When we got to the top of the steps we saw the card tables, police, ticket sellers, and ticket takers. We started walking in and one of the takers said, “Where’s your tickets?”

“We already paid for the tickets to the two guys downstairs,” I said.

The police took off ran down the steps to try to get the guys but they disappeared. But at least the people at the door were kind enough to realize that we were two dumb white kids who shouldn’t be there anyway. They let us in without us paying again. We told them we were with The Dell Vikings. They brought us to the backstage area and they and The Dell Vikings made us feel like very special people at the dance and everybody there was kind to us. This was my first taste of what it was like to be ‘behind the scenes” in the entertainment business, and I liked it.


Joe Averback released “I’m spinning” with the Dell Vikings on Fee Bee in Pittsburgh first and then Randy Wood released it on Dot Records nationally. Joe rushed our record because he wanted to beat the Mercury release of The Del Vikings. Within weeks, Mercury Records rushed out a release by their Del Vikings. So there were two Del Viking (or Dell Viking) albums out at the same time. All the Pittsburgh jocks were kind to me and usually when they played the record they gave me credit as the songwriter. This helped get to me established. It was, of course, very confusing to have two groups with the same name releasing two albums on two different labels. Nevertheless, “I’m Spinning” climbed the charts and did become a national hit. I always felt that it would have climbed higher if we had beaten the Mercury release by a few months.


I asked Joe Averback if he could get me a job in the record business. He told me he didn’t have any job available, but that he knew someone who might need a stock boy. At the time, I was disappointed that my connection with a big shot in the record business landed me grunt work as a “stock boy.” But as luck would have it, this would prove to be the biggest break in my life since the stock boy job was with my future mentor – Tim Tormey.

“I’m Spinning” was on the billboard Top 100 charts and was an even bigger hit in the Pittsburgh market. Other artists had started contacting me to give them songs. I started my own record company. My first releases were “Halellujah I Love Her So” and “Twilight Time” by Bobby Vinton.

We got pounded by the Ray Charles version and the Platters. Bobby Vinton used that as a spring board to get on Epic and recorded his first million-selling single – “Roses Are Red.”

I got the “stock boy” job with Tim Tormey and within a few years we became partners, which led to producing many concerts together with Tim including The Beatles, and of course led to my career on my own as “Pat DiCesare Productions” and then with Rich in “DiCesare-Engler Productions.”

I never made a penny from The Del Vikings recording of “I’m Spinning.” But that’s the way the record business was in those days.