Step By Step : The Crests©2007JCMarion


The Crests were organized on the streets of the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. The original members were Tommy Gough, J.T. Carter, Harold Torres, and Patricia Van Dross (the older sister of future soul balladeer Luther). The final piece of the puzzle for the completion of the group was the meeting of a resident of Little Italy named John Mastrangelo. The group adopted the name The Crests and they were a truly integrated unit. Black, White, Latino, male, and female .They began to perfect their sound and were put in touch with Al Browne, a well known musician and arranger who had worked with many vocal groups including The Heartbeats and Avons for Hull Records. Soon the group was in front of the recording microphones for a small time Brooklyn based label called Joyce Records. The result was "My Juanita" and "Sweetest One" on # 103 released in late September of 1957. "Juanita" got the initial airplay as a typical jump tune (good for dancing) but soon the attention was given over to the ballad side and "Sweetest One" became a nice sized hit record for the new group. The song is framed at open and close by a bass riff joined in by the rest of the group resulting in a recognizable sound, a bit of music that is so important in making a hit record.

Mastrangelo whose name morphed into Maestro (nice musical touch) led the Crests on their second effort with "No One To Love" and "Wish She Was Mine" on Joyce # 105. This time the young group did not make the grade and the record was soon forgotten. In the spring of 1958, George Paxton formed his own record label working out of the famous Brill Building at 1650 Broadway, and named his new enterprise Coed Records. One of the first acts to be signed to the new label was The Crests. That April Coed released their first side by The Crests - "Pretty Little Angel" and "I Thank The Moon" on # 501. "Angel" was a decent tune but did not get sustained sales and soon disappeared. Over the summer as the group started to get a few out of town dates, Patricia Van Dross left the group and so The Crests were now a quartet. In November Coed released the second issue by the group. A ballad side originally called "21 Candles" was rewritten and retitled "16 Candles" probably due to the teenage public becoming the driving force in record sales across the country. Initially the interest was in the flip side "Beside You", but soon the wonderful birthday song with its understated harmony and strong lead singing by Maestro was a booming hit all across the country. Two people tied into the success at Coed were composer Bert Keys and arranger Billy Dawn Smith. Soon the group appeares with Alan Freed at his Christmas show at Lowes State Theater in New York and made appearances with Freed on TV and American Bandstand with Dick Clark. In January the group does a national tour with Ricky Nelson. As the sales for the record soar, the group is signed for a six week tour with the "Biggest Show of Stars" to set off in mid March which headlines Lloyd Price, Bo Diddley, Clyde MacPhatter, The Coasters, and others.

In March of 1959, Coed # 509 is released featuring "Six Nights A Week" and "I Do". It skirted the lower end of the pop charts and the follow released in May "Molly Mae" and "Flower Of Love" on # 511 was not a success. In June The Crests appeared on the TV show hosted by Philadelphia dj Hy Lit. From there they went to Nashville and a stage show presented by WLAC record spinner Bill "Hoss" Allen. Although the group was constantly on the road and was a good draw they began to wonder if they would have a solid seller again. The answer was not far in coming. In July Coed # 515 presented The Crests on the songs "The Angels Listened In" and a re-release of "I Thank The Moon". "Angels" was a radio gem - a snappy up tempo tune with a memorable melody that was a winner as soon as it was released. As the record continues to sell Coed plans to release a Crests 45 EP in October. "Angels" is a national top fifteen seller for the group. Near the end of the year Coed # 521 pairs "A Year Ago Tonight" and "Paper Crown". It is a moderate hit for the group.

In 1960 The Crests continued on Coed Records and had a good year with two top twenty sellers nationally. "Step By Step" (with "Gee" {not The Crows tune} on the flip side) on # 525 and "Trouble In Paradise" (with "Always You" on the flip) on # 531 kept the group active as hitmakers. Three other records by the group that year did not do very well - "Journey Of Love" / "If My Heart Could Write A Letter" on # 535, "Isn't It Amazing" and a reissue of "Molly Mae" on # 537, and "I'll Remember (In The Still Of The Night" / "Good Golly Miss Molly" on #543 (two covers by the group) closed out the year. In early 1961 Johnny Maestro left The Crests to try his luck as a solo singer. His place as lead was taken over by James Ancrum. Neither Maestro or the new Crests had any success during the early years of the nineteen sixties. The Crests in different variations recorded a few sides for Selma and TransAtlas and then faded from the recording scene. Johnny Maestro formed a vocal-instrumental group called The Brooklyn Bridge in the late 1960s and had a huge national hit with the song "The Worst That Could Happen", and continued to perform with this group for many years even reprising some of his hits with The Crests.

There are a number of CDs featuring The Crests that are available to recapture the sound of the group. They are issued by Collectables, Varese, and Ace (UK). All have a lot of duplication as usual with a wide variety of cds from different countries. In my opinion the two best are from Collectables. "Greatest Hits" covers that ground with 18 tracks, and if you are searching for a more complete audio history of this group then "For Collectors Only" with 40 tracks on 2 cds is for you. It features some unreleased takes and a few Maestro solos, plus all the familiar songs and the Coed sides.

The Crests not only were unique in their racial and gender diversity, they were unique in the sound they presented during the latter years of the R & B vocal group era. Even though they mostly had a more pop oriented approach, The Crests carved out a special place in the hearts of all who love this music and remember them for their vocal efforts that will live on.

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