Alice Jean & The Mondellos©2004JCMarion

In May of 1957 it was announced in the record industry trade press that Don Barksdale, former basketball star (Boston Celtics) and San Francisco radio personality, would form a new record company to be called Rhythm Records. Barksdale was no stranger to the label name as he worked with former owner Bob Geddins who took over the catalog from the original head of the label Dave Rosenbaum. Now Barksdale is the proprieter of the label, and the Oakland station KWBR's disc jockey will concentrate on local bay area talent. Barksdale will also act as A & R man and produce sessions for the label.

One of the first acts signed to the label was a vocal group from Pittsburgh, located Northeast of Oakland near the Concord Naval Weapons Center. The group was known as The Mondellos and was formed early in 1957 by Ollie McClay and Charles Jackson. The two were students at East Contra Costa County Junior College in nearby Pleasant Hill. A third member from the college became part of the fledgling group at that time named Gary Williams. A church choir member who knew McClay and Jackson from high school named Ron Lawson became the fourth member of the group, and Lawson recommended a fifteen year old girl from school who could sing and play piano. Her name was Alice Jean Wilton, and she impressed everyone with her musical ability and so now there were five. The last added attraction was someone to play drums for the group, and that person was Ernie Pettucci from Lafayette, south of Pleasant Hill . Now the group was set as a self contained vocal - instrumental unit, rare for that time.

During the spring of the year the new group practiced their music and began to get small time jobs in the area such as school and club dances. Soon the group who chose the name The Mondellos, felt that they were ready to make a record. The first place they went was to San Francisco label Music City Records. Best known for the Four Deuces "W-P-L-J", the people at the label showed very little interest in the Mondellos. Then some successful networking took hold and helped the new group. The father of McClay's girl friend knew "Big Don" Barksdale and soon arranged an impromptu audition for the group. Barksdale liked what he saw and set them up to record for his new version of Rhythm Records. They got together with the combo fronted by Peewee Kingsley and sang a song given to them by Barksdale called "One Hundred Years From Today" which was originally recorded a decade before by The Jones Brothers. For the flip side the group recorded "Come Back Home. The record was released as Rhythm #102 in late May of 1957 as by Alice Jean & The Mondellos.

After the record was introduced it got airplay and some sales in the bay area but not much outside of their home base. Soon the group's drummer Ernie Pettucci, left the group. Plays of their record was enough to get them some decent bookings with some of the better known performers on the R & B circuit close to home. Travelling to one date the group was involved in a very serious accident on the road which cost Gary Williams his life. McClay was badly injured and the rest of the group was very shaken by the experience and took some time off from their pursuit of music. When they resumed, they went back to the recording studio for Rhythm Records. "Never Leave Me Alone" and "Over The Rainbow" was released on #105 as by Ollie "Yul" McClay & The Mondellos. Alice Jean returned as lead singer on "Daylight Savings Time" on # 106, and the flip side was "That's What I Call Love" with Rudy Lambert on lead. The next release by the group was on Rhythm Records #107 with the songs "Happiness Street" with Ollie McClay on lead and "Hard To Please" with Alice Jean returning for the lead vocal chores. None of the subsequent recordings by the group did as well as their first release of "One Hundred Years From Today" (which was covered in the late fifties by The Spaniels on Vee-Jay #328).

The Mondellos recorded twice more for Rhythm Records, both times in backup roles for other singers. On #108 they appear with well known R & B performer Little Willie Littlefield on the song "Ruby Ruby", and #110 features the song "Never Let Me Go" sung by Bob Jeffires (sometimes spelled as Jeffries). By the middle of 1958 it was reported that two Los Angeles area labels were interested in the group - Aladdin Records, and Dootsie Williams Dooto (formerly known as Dootone) label. There was also a rumor (never confirmed) that the Bihari brothers wanted to sign the group because they thought they could market the group as an answer to the Six Teens. Whatever the truth was, further records by The Mondellos were not in the cards as both Ron lawson and Charles Jackson entered military service after the summer of 1958 and that was the end for the group. They were not heard from again, and to this day they remain a favorite of vocal group fans who go for the good but obscure records from back in the day.

The original records are very hard to come by and are seldom seen at auctions or collector shows. The side with Little Willie Littlefield shows up on the album "The Best of Bullseye Records (Bullseye #101). The definitive history of The Mondellos on record can be found on an obscure (of course) CD called "Rhythm And Rock - The Don Barksdale Masters : vol 1" released as Rhythm #1000. The album contains all four original releases by the group plus alternate takes of "One Hundred Years From Today" and "Come Back Home". Two sides apparently unreleased also are incuded - "My Heart" with Rudy Lambert on lead, and "You'll Never Know" listed as by The Mondellos. The recording of "Never Let Me Go" with Bob Jeffires is also on the CD. So there is a little piece of recorded history out there, from a place in time in the San Francisco Bay area, where The Mondellos still weave their magic.

[ ed. note : Some of the information in this article came from an interview with Charles Jackson by Bob Ferlingere]

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