“Be My Baby.” “Can’t Take My Eyes off You.” “Stand by Me.” “You Don’t Own Me.” Songs such as these not only defined the era in which they were first written and performed, but continue to resonate today. They’re just four of the classic songs included on an upcoming 7-DVD set from Treasury Collection that serves as a definitive concert anthology of classic American R&B music.
Rock, Pop, and Doo Wop has been curated by executive producer and director TJ Lubinsky from his acclaimed onstage reunions of original artists performing their biggest hits. Lubinsky’s broadcasts have become some of the most popular and requested attractions on Public Television for over two decades. This set, culled from those shows, features 150 songs on 7 DVDs from a staggering “Who’s Who” of beloved artists including Ronnie Spector, Frankie Valli, Four Tops, Martha Reeves, Little Anthony and The Imperials, Connie Francis, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Isley Brothers, and The Righteous Brothers as well as such late legends as Ben E. King, Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Maestro, and Little Richard.
The 7-DVD set is available for pre-order now from Treasury Collection at a special reduced price of $39.98 including shipping and handling. As a bonus, customers who pre-order will receive both an additional documentary special, Doo Wop Discoveries hosted by John “Bowzer” Bauman of Sha Na Na, and two CDs of the live performances.
We recently had the chance to chat with TJ Lubinsky about Rock, Pop, and Doo Wop as well as about his fascinating career in radio, television, and music.
TJ, you come from quite a distinguished musical family including your grandfather, Herman Lubinsky Sr. who founded WNJ Radio and Savoy Records. At what point did you realize music and radio would shape your life, as well?
Well, my grandfather did have New Jersey’s first radio station, and that was operated out of his attic. Of course, Savoy Records was all jazz and gospel primarily. Growing up, I was a big R&B fan. I just loved doo-wop and especially Motown and soul, and the evolution of all three. They’re pretty much the same, it’s just more instruments later on. So, I was in a weird situation. I grew up in Bradley Beach, Ocean Grove, and Asbury Park, New Jersey. Between those three places and Belmar and Seaside Heights, I got WOGL out of Philadelphia and CBS-FM out of New York.
When I started making TV shows, which began locally – long before my PBS projects – in Jersey, I was able to meet all the heritage jocks that were still playing the music: guys like Cousin Brucie or Philadelphia DJ Jerry Blavat, Don K. Reed, and Bobby Jay. I got very close to these guys at a very young age, around 13 or 14. I just wanted to be in the radio station. So, they let me in and they treated me as an equal. They taught me and they schooled me on a lot of things, including as a listener. That’s when they used to have freedom to still play their own kind of local stuff.
That was summertime. In the winter, I lived in South Florida. WOGL [in Philadelphia] had specialty shows every night of the week: a doo-wop Sunday, Motown Monday, sweet soul Thursday, all these things. I was fanatical about this, but I went to Florida and the radio stations would basically play the same 100 songs, and they wouldn’t delve into any of the songs that I loved that were in regular rotation on the oldies stations in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. I would go to these program directors in Florida and I’d say, “Come on, let’s do a Motown Monday, or let’s do a doo-wop Wednesday. Let’s test it over the weekend, if you’re nervous about it.” They would all say, “No, we can’t take that risk, because if we take that risk, then people are going to go to the oldies station up the street and lose us.” The oldies station up the street said the same thing: “If I start to play doo-wop records, we’re going to lose the people to the oldies station down the street.” When one oldie station dominated, they basically said, “Well, now we can’t take any risks because they might go to some other format.”
All of these records that were common in New York by groups were forgotten about, erased, and it really pissed me off. They would tell me, “Well, we can’t play ‘Earth Angel’ or ‘In the Still of the Night’ or any of the songs by The Duprees” – which was everything in Jersey. I didn’t understand why, and they said, “Well, we test the records.” They tested them to a group of 200 people, but I always worked at nightclubs, and both in Jersey and Florida I had 1,000 people on Thursday nights, Friday nights, Saturday nights, always dancing to the deeper cuts, not the same old cuts.
After years of just trying to break into radio in South Florida, they weren’t letting me in. I had pure determination, I said, “If I can’t bring these artists and their history and their songs to the radio, and engage people in what I’m doing, then I’m going to do it on television.”
Was television initially more accepting than radio had been?
The PBS stations wanted to make money with well-produced shows. As long as they made money, then I could do whatever I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do was bring back all these groups I could never see. Most had stopped touring or members died off. So, we brought it to television. My father used to say, “One day, CBS is going to call you and they’re going to want you to do it on a network.” They never called, because they never wanted to deal with the demographics. They used to say “It’s a blip” when [viewers] were in their 60s or their late 50s. Well, how do you explain a blip that’s earned over a billion dollars for PBS, and we’re still here 20 years later?
What set your programs apart?
It was about two things. The first thing is to bring the artists respect they otherwise couldn’t get, primarily because they were black and began performing during an era prior to civil rights. It was much more evident growing up in the South than in New Jersey that these were considered ‘race records.’ The second part of it was to bring the audience back to a time when they didn’t have to worry about old age or health issues…taking away their pain for a few minutes through these songs. Because I worked in clubs and then in doing things on radio and television, I got to know the audience in a way that I don’t think most other people could. I was trying to get as many artists ‘in the can’ before we wouldn’t be able to do it anymore.
Your specials have attracted an A-list of talent over the years.
All of these people were personally selected. There was no group or team of people; these were my fantasy playlists. One goal was to see The Miracles together. That’s what started it all for me. I just love them so much, but recognized that they were five people. Smokey was one part, but you also had his wife Claudette, Bobby Rogers, Pete Moore, and Ronnie White. Together, that vocal blend made the sound of those Miracles records. But people tended to forget that once Smokey was on his own. What happened to The Miracles? That philosophy carried me through every show,
So many of the incredible artists you featured are no longer with us. Could you share any memories of working with The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin?
Everybody said, “You’ll never get her. She’s a diva. She’s impossible.” I thought, “Okay, well if the answer is ‘no’ going into it, what can I possibly do that’s different from what everybody else has done, knowing that I’m going to get rejected?” So, I heard she loved this place called Pink’s in LA, a hotdog place. She was playing at The Garden State Arts Center [in Holmdel, New Jersey]. I went over there with a little paper hat on and a little barbecue, and as soon as she came out of her dressing room, I started flipping the hotdogs for her. As soon as she came out of her dressing room, there’s all these hotdogs that she loves. She said, “Oh, okay, all right, you got me.” From that moment, she was the greatest, sweetest, nicest person that ever was. No diva, no problem, no nothing. She believed in what we were doing. Because she was on board, then we got a lot of the other groups to come on board, but that was later.
Were there any major hurdles you had to clear to get so many groups back together?
For the doo-wop stuff earlier on, the biggest part of the obstacle was getting the groups to reunite. Some guy had a beef with some other guy, and their group divorce happened 10 or 20 years before I was conceived. This was a challenge; how do you get through to people? I remember having a group called The Orioles on, and they go way back. They’re really R&B more so than doo-wop. Their big hit was “Crying in the Chapel.” So, you hire The Orioles, who’ve been going out as The Orioles since 1952, and you think everything’s set. You’ve got them all set to come on the show and do the song you need them to do. Then, you get a call from So-and-So’s Orioles, “and we started in 1943.” They both have the trademark to the name, and if one says no, the other can’t be on. It was all about convincing all these kinds of groups to come along and be part of this stuff. A lot of it is intuition.
I’m in my radio room one night, and on the floor falls a Jerry Butler CD. It just fell on the floor and I picked it up and I put it in. The first track I played was Jerry and Betty Everett’s version of “Smile.” It’s very emotional. Then suddenly, it’s “Let It Be Me.” I tried to find Betty Everett everywhere. Everyone said, “You’re never going to find her. She died years ago.” I called the Vee-Jay royalty department, I called everywhere to try to track her down. One night I get this inkling: maybe if I typed it with two R’s and two T’s, something will come up in a Google search. Sure enough, it did. So, 3:00 in the morning, I’m calling Chicago. I find a guy, he says, “Yeah, she’s my next-door neighbor.” We get her to come out. She had nerves the first night she went on the show, because we taped typically over two or three nights. She had some demons, and she was very nervous. It was serious. Then the next night, magically she came back. We got someone to watch her and be with her to make sure everything was okay, and she performed “Let It Be Me” with Jerry Butler. Everyone was crying. It was a beautiful, emotional moment. Then three weeks later, she dies.
I’m sure it was meaningful for her to have one last hurrah in front of a loving and appreciative audience, TJ. You preserved that little bit of history, and now you’re sharing that performance again on the DVD collection. You’ve always been quite faithful to the artists and their legacies.
A big part of it is the audio. In the days of multi-track recording, we used 72 tracks for every session we did. Then, once Pro Tools came along, forget it. It was unlimited what we could do. I never viewed these as TV concerts, per se. I always thought of them as recording sessions that just happened to have a live audience there. My approach was to always get exactly as close to the record as we could. So, if you do Phil Spector stuff with Ronnie or La La Brooks, you want that Wall of Sound. Well, how do you get the Wall of Sound? Thankfully, I knew someone that got me the multitracks [for the original Phil Spector productions] and I could have my orchestra take apart each part of the stems so we could recreate them in the current keys that the artists were in. It meant ebony castanets, several horns, the strings. You’d do the strings with six people in a room. There might be 12 people on stage, which is in the mix, but you’d also record six people playing the string chords eight times in different rooms, so you get a different flavor bouncing off the walls. I think that was our secret sauce. No one else was doing that on TV. We were trying to recreate the records exactly, on every occasion. If there were background singers, we had background singers. We did everything that was on those records.
Where did you record the concert specials?
Most were shot in New Jersey – either in Elizabeth at The Ritz Theatre or Asbury Park at Convention Hall – or in Pittsburgh or in Thousand Oaks, California. The Ritz is a gorgeous theatre. We’d go in there for a week and we’d shoot 60 groups or 80 groups. Pittsburgh became big because I just happened to land here.
When I did club gigs, which were a big, big part of what I did, there was a record I always played to get people to do the electric slide, and it was called “Anyway You Wanta,” by Harvey, who’s [late Motown legend] Harvey Fuqua of The Moonglows. It was only a hit in Pittsburgh. I could only find a copy of it in Pittsburgh. I happened to come here one weekend to go to the record store to buy old CDs and vinyl. While I was here, I met with the PBS station and they said, “Why don’t you come here? Yeah, you can do this doo-wop thing, but make sure Yanni has his keyboard, make sure John Tesh is happy.” Because that was my job as a fundraiser for them. So, they gave me some hours of airtime to do whatever I wanted to do with the music. We put it on the air, and I think their highest night [prior to that] I was close to $80,000, and suddenly we raised $150,000 in three hours just playing the doo-wop CDs and bringing local groups in. PBS still wasn’t convinced, so I had to do it in South Florida. They still weren’t convinced. I had to go to WLIW in Long Island, and they still weren’t convinced.
Finally, something broke. I think I tested it somewhere outside of what they call the Rust Belt, and then suddenly they said, “Oh, okay. You can do your little doo-wop show,” but no one believed in it. They didn’t know what the music was if they didn’t come from Jersey or New York or Philly or Chicago. They were hoping for maybe $30,000 and we raised over a million dollars that first night. That got people to pay attention. The partnership was that “if you give PBS the money, we’ll come back and do more shows.” That’s been the promise for 22 years now. They could put on Suze Orman or they could put on Wayne Dyer or other things that would make a lot of money for them, but if this didn’t compete in the top dollars, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity. So, it was a good partnering between me and PBS.
‘Rock, Pop, and Doo Wop’ showcases many styles of music even within those broad genres. But you’ve diversified even further in recent years.
We “younged” things up with Dionne Warwick, British Invasion, folk rock, disco. As the older shows stopped airing on PBS, I would get, “when are you doing your next show?” The answer for that is never – because [so many of the artists are] all gone. So, the next thing is, how can I get a hold of the old shows? I thought, “All right, let’s put together a greatest hits package.” That’s how this DVD set came to be.
Which performers or performances on this collection still stand out for you?
Without a doubt, Johnny Maestro. He was at the top of his game. He of course, was with the Brooklyn Bridge. But before that, he was with The Crests. He was a force to be reckoned with. He was the only artist that didn’t need any support around him. Typically, when you do a show and you’re trying to make it like the record, you need the exact chords and harmony of the record. So, you may need five other guys or six other guys, and you have to sweeten it with girls and do all this kind of stuff. [Johnny’s “Worst That Could Happen” and “The Angels Listened In” are both on the new set.] Mel Carter’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” was absolutely amazing. There are so many standouts on this collection, and they all have so many memories attached to them. Gene Chandler and “Duke of Earl.” He came out with his cape and he did that whole duke thing!
There was Jay Black. Outside of New York, no one knew Jay Black’s name. He wasn’t promoted as [a solo artist in the way] Jay and The Americans were. He could kick the ass out of anybody. I mean, he was just incredible. [He sings his 1965 hit with that group, “Cara Mia,” on the DVD set.]
There is definitely “something for everyone” on this collection.
You have a lot of pop, rock and roll, in addition to the doo wop. Can I tell you a quick story about Little Richard [featured with “Good Golly Miss Molly”]? We knew he was going to destroy the piano he was playing…he was going to get up with the high heels on and all the sparkly everything. But I remember he wouldn’t do “Tutti Frutti” on the show. I said, “Richard, come on man. You’ve got to do ‘Tutti Frutti.’ You’re doing ‘Good Golly Miss Molly,’ you can do ‘Rip It Up,’ come on, man.” He said, “Lubinsky, I’ll do anything for you, but I don’t know if I could do ‘Tutti Frutti.'” I said, “Come on, Richard, what’s it going to take?” He says, “All right, I’ll ask Jesus.” What do you do when Little Richard says to you, “I don’t know if I’ll do it, but I’ll ask Jesus for you, because I know Lubinsky, you’re going to the synagogue! So, I’ll ask Jesus if it’s cool.”
Three hours later, he comes to the show. I said, “Well, Richard?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Did you ask Jesus?” He said, “Yeah, I talked to Jesus about it this afternoon and he said no.” What do you do when Little Richard tells you Jesus said no to “Tutti Frutti”?!? When they made A Mighty Wind, [the filmmakers] asked me some of the stories about the folk shows we did. I wish they had asked us about what we were going through with the other shows!
I’m glad you’re representing those shows now with this package.
This is the first time we’ve had a “greatest hits” of anything that everyone’s been able to buy. The other thing is the price. Remember, we love PBS and they’re wonderful, but at the time these shows were on, you’d have to pay $250 just for a few DVDs. So, if you wanted the whole series of all these things that these are from, it would have cost over $5,000 to collect them all…if people were able to give that many times within the year, because we did four shows a year or whatever it was. So, now you get the whole thing for this pre-order price of 40 bucks.
Everyone here at The Second Disc wishes you tremendous success with this project. Can you share any hints about what else to expect in the future?
Well, we did a show two years ago in Asbury Park, New Jersey called Doo Wop Generations. My idea was that even though the original artists are dying, there’s some that are still with us. What if we got them to pass the torch to kids that we found? We did an international talent search. It was very popular, so much that a new version is coming out in March. We’re about to start the talent contest for that. We’ll have as many of the old folks as we can get back, and we’re trying to find new kids that sing the same way. They have to choreograph themselves the same way, the record has to be the same arrangement, and they have to really show us that they can actually sing to the tracks that we select for them. So, that’s kind of a cool thing.
We certainly agree! It’s been terrific speaking with you, TJ. Best of luck with all of your future endeavors.
Thanks very much, Joe. I appreciate it!
Pre-orders are open now for the 7-DVD set Rock, Pop, and Doo Wop at this link. Below you’ll find a list of highlights from the collection and a preview video!
- 16 Candles – Johnny Maestro & The Brooklyn Bridge
- A Sunday Kind Of Love- The Harptones
- A Thousand Miles Away – The Heartbeats
- A Thousand Stars – Cathy Jean & The Innocents
- Ain’t Too Proud To Beg- The Temptations
- Angel Baby – Rosie & The Originals
- Baby I Need Your Lovin’ – Four Tops
- Barbara Anne – The Regents
- Be My Baby – Ronnie Spector
- Blue Moon – The Marcels
- Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley
- Can’t Take My Eyes Off You – Frankie Valli
- Cara Mia – Jay Black
- Chapel Of Love -The Dixie Cups
- Charlie Brown – The Coasters
- Come Go With Me – The Del-Vikings
- Come Softly To Me – The Fleetwoods
- Could This Be Magic – The Dubs
- Crying In The Chapel- The Orioles
- Da Doo Ron Ron – Lala Brooks
- Daddy’s Home – The Limelites
- Dancing In The Street – Martha Reeves
- Do You Love Me – The Contours
- Duke Of Earl – Gene Chandler
- Earth Angel – The Penguins
- For Your Love – Ed Townsend
- For Your Precious Love – Jerry Butler & The Impressions
- Gloria – The Cadillacs
- Goin’ Out Of My Head- Little Anthony & The Imperials
- Going To A Go-Go – The Miracles
- Good Golly Miss Molly – Little Richard
- Goodnight, Sweetheart Goodnight – The Spaniels
- The Great Pretender – The Platters
- He’s So Fine – The Chiffons
- Heart & Soul – The Cleftones
- Hey Baby – Bruce Channel
- Hey Paula – Paul & Paula
- Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me – Mel Carter
- Hurt So Bad – Little Anthony & The Imperials
- I Believe – Larry Chance & The Earls
- I’m Your Puppet – Bobby Purify
- In The Still Of The Night – Fred Parris & The Satins
- Let It Be Me – Jerry Butler & Betty Everett
- Life Is But A Dream – The Harptones
- Mashed Potato Time – Dee Dee Sharp
- Maybe – The Chantels
- My True Story- The Jive Five
- Oh What A Night- The Dells
- Once In A While – The Chimes
- One Summer Night – The Danleers
- Our Day Will Come – Ruby & The Romantics
- Over The Rainbow – The Demensions
- Peppermint Twist – Joey Dee
- Please Love Me Forever – Cathy Jean & The Roomates
- Please Mr. Postman – Gladys Horton’s Marvelettes
- Poetry In Motion – Johnny Tillotson
- Rama Lama Ding Dong – The Edsels
- Rescue Me – Fontella Bass
- Respect – Aretha Franklin
- Rhythm Of The Rain – The Cascades
- Romeo & Juliet – The Reflections
- Save The Last Dance For Me – The Drifters
- Sea Cruise – Frankie Ford
- Sh-Boom – The Chords
- Shimmy, Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop – Little Anthony & The Imperials
- Stand By Me – Ben E. King
- Ten Commandments of Love – Harvey & The Moonglows
- That’s My Desire – Earl Lewis & The Channels
- The Angels Listened In – Johnny Maestro & The Brooklyn Bridge
- The Lion Sleeps Tonight – The Tokens
- The Twist – Hank Ballard & the Midnighters
- Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye – The Casinos
- There’s A Moon Out Tonight – The Capris
- Tossin’ And Turnin’ – Bobby Lewis
- Twist And Shout – The Isley Brothers
- Unchained Melody – The Righteous Brothers
- Up On The Roof – The Drifters
- Venus In Blue Jeans – Jimmy Clanton
- Venus – Frankie Avalon
- Where The Boys Are – Connie Francis
- Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On – Jerry Lee Lewis
- Why Do Fools Fall In Love – Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers
- Will You Love Me Tomorrow – Shirley Alston Reeves
- Worst That Could Happen – Johnny Maestro & The Brooklyn Bridge
- Yakety Yak – The Coasters
- Yes I’m Ready – Barbara Mason
- You Belong To Me – The Duprees
- You Don’t Own Me -Lesley Gore
- You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ – The Righteous Brothers
- Zoom – The Cadillacs
All photos courtesy TJL.