[After the advent of the British invasion, pioneering audiophile label Audio Fidelity took a crack at the teen market with a NY rock band, The Teemates. Part 1 of John Seetoo’s interview with singer /guitarist Bobby Pulhemus, who went by the stage name of Bobby Palomino, appeared in Copper #53. It’s a story that is both sad and fascinating as it describes the hard life and managerial manipulation of the band. Audio Fidelity doesn’t come into play much in this story, but it’s still a valuable portrayal of the music biz in the early ’60s—Ed.]
J.S.: How did the Teemates wind up getting signed to Audio Fidelity?
B.P.: A label was interested in us but Joe responded by telling us a record deal had been made with Audio Fidelity. Members of the band were not (involved) with the signing of the record contract with Audio Fidelity. I still have no idea how the contract was negotiated and never really cared to find out. For me, a record was a record, be it the Lark label, Telstar, or RCA…
J.S.: How did you feel about becoming one of the first rock groups on a label best known for stereo jazz, Bossa Nova, ethnic music, and sound effects?
B.P.: Again, a record was a record. I never possessed the musical acumen of any distinction of music I listened to other than I liked it or did not like something about a particular record. Stereo was a far off distant planet to me. As far as the musicians who also were on the label, I was a selfish SOB. As long as I was on a recording, who cared who else was on the label? The sound effects were another story. Back then, we rock bands played through straight out tube amplifiers. There wefe volume, bass and treble knobs. But we did learn the secret of turning our guitars towards the amplification giving out a sound what is known today as Gain. For us, it was withering Feedback. It was this effect that my former friend, Jimi Hendrix, used to full advantage. At the time, we did not comprehend the mysteries one could produce in a recording studio, so after the record was produced, I soon learned that the engineer and producer of the recorded tracks used a great deal of echo, especially on the vocals.
J.S.: What were your favorite Teemates record releases of that era and what do you recall about the recording sessions?
B.P.: By far, our original recording of ‘No More Tomorrows’. Shefsky only wrote the lyrics for that song. I created the music highly influenced by the British group, The Searchers. Both Richie and I were the creators of our originals with the exception of “Nightfall’, which Shefsky himself composed using music which I considered not really original at all. None of us enjoyed the lyrics of songs he presented to us, but went along with the game solely in pursuit of a record contract. After all, if bands like The Trashmen could make a hit out of a one word song about a bird or The Gentrys, “Keep On Dancing”, why not us?
I am, however, grateful today that we remained in service to Shefsky’s tunes, as it forced us to not only create music but to compose very original intros to what one would have thought a lost cause in musical ability. ‘Moving Out’, for example, was just a mere copy of the chords from the Isley brothers ‘Shout”. A bit of tinkering with the intro made it palatable to become what is now considered one of the Teemates’ most enduring and legendary recordings.
J.S.: What were the studio facilities like, and were you happy with the setup, or would you have done things differently?
B.P.: I would much rather have recorded our album (LP) Live. I had never been in a recording studio before, other than the Ampex reel to reel set up Shefsky had in his basement. The studio itself was operated by Bell Sound Studios located at the time on 54th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue. A large room supplied with corked closed booth enclosures with an outstanding microphone setup which would soon become a 11PM to early am claustrophobic prison for me in many ways.
A set of steps led up to the recording booth itself where Sid, the Producers, and Shefsky peered down upon us through a wall of glass. Fortunately, we did not require many takes on the 14 tracks as all of the tunes were regular in our performing repertoire. Those that did need re-takes were usually in the vocals, which were recorded on separate tracks. The sound effect employed by the engineers was the only distinction between LIVE and recorded as we never used echo in performing. Apparently, Audio Fidelity had taken the idea of Phil Spector’s LA sound, incorporating as much as possible into our tracks. But then again, the recording was supposed to be a dance album with us musicians being secondary, which AF hoped to market for the new Disco craze. It is without question now upon looking back, Shefsky was desperate for a deal and took what was offered, We were, however, able to secure two 45 rpm recordings for release on their own merits as The Teemates with our 4 Original songs..
J.S.: The Teemates were apparently marketed to be like a New York version of the Beatles with songs like ‘No More Tomorrows.’ However, ‘Movin’ Out’ and ‘Nightfall’ have a much rawer kind of street attitude and a Link Wray cum Dick Dale surf and blues influence. Were there disputes between the band and Audio Fidelity as to the direction of The Teemates’ music?
B.P.: No disputes at all. You are correct in the initial idea of the Beatles but the fact was, we were the First World copy of The Beatles. But then the Rolling Stones entered the picture. Now these guys (the Stones) were certifiable identifiable about who Ritchie, Robbie and myself were all about inside. Grungy, in your face bastards against conformity was a picture that made it possible to finally articulate the real get down on the world. It allowed us to provoke and express the attitude we always had underneath the forced, clean cut image of the Beatles. Bryan, the drummer tried, but, as a scion of a banking and very conservative family, he could not muster the F the world attitudes we all felt comfortable with.
As far as Surf or other genres, we emerged from varying Rock n’ Roll backgrounds. The Ventures’,’Walk Don’t Run’ was a favorite cover we performed, as well as numerous other genres (Blues, Rhythm and Blues).
J.S.: What was it like dealing with Sid Frey?
B.P.: I never had to deal with him. All communication was between him and Shefsky.
J.S.: Did you feel The Teemates were treated fairly then, and do you still feel the same way now or not, and why?
B.P.: That is a tough question, albeit a good one, and I WILL BE VERY FRANK. The Teemates were never dealt with fairly. By anyone. Look, we were kids at best emotionally. Even at the age of 21, I had the emotional equivalent of a 14 year old. I took what they gave me.
The Teemates never made a nickel off any of the recordings. Shefsky comported himself as ‘The Composer’ on the LP when in truth, the music was created by myself and Richie. Had we been represented by a lawyer, things may have turned out for the better, at least as we musicians were concerned. The licenses on the cover tunes we recorded on the album were secured, so that is a rare good bit of news, as those songs by Lennon/McCartney, so one can find a Beatles song recorded and sung by me alone. ‘I Love Her’ is still one of the top unchained melodies of today. In real truth,, I would not have done anything different. I had a record with my name as a musician on that record. I helped create and implement that music along with my bandmates. We all had a good time for a while. Today, I can honestly admit that in America, anything was possible.
J.S.: What happened to the Teemates after Sid Frey sold Audio Fidelity in 1965?
B.P.: The end of the Teemates as a band was not surprising. I personally did not like and never got along with the lead singer, Richie. It was even disclosed to me some years later, the other members urged Shefsky to get rid of me. I find that still a hot button issue as the rhythm section of that band was entirely me. Kudos to kudos, each musician was skilled way before their time. I would have none of the narcissism behavior that I felt Richie displayed. The Teemates happened to break up the same year Sidney sold AF. So, all could be viewed as a live beginning with a short end. Alcohol abuse, nasty habits and attitudes along with lack of commitment to the players all added to the end. Along came Uncle Sam and off to the fields of Vietnam went Robbie along with Richie serving in a safe position with the navy.
But the major contributor of our demise was a huge mistake Shefsky made in a phone call to a top New York deejay at the midst of the Payola Scandal. That scandal brought down renowned deejay Scott Muni, Alan Freed, and others. I will not go into detail about that mistake other than to say: had that not happened, the Teemates would have found themselves in the top 100 Billboard charts.
J.S.: You are now billed as Bobby Palomino and are the keeper of the flame, so to speak, for The Teemates place in music history. What are you doing now in music, and what are some of the ways that people looking to rediscover The Teemates in 2018 or to check your current work can hear it or see you play?
I bill myself as ‘Bobby of The Teemates’ and as a co-founder of The Teemates. Re-establishing the name after decades in obscurity was and still is a reward of a lifetime achievement for me. The other members still say we were a small time once in a blue moon band. Baloney. Many groups of today across the country were influenced by the Teemates. My rediscovery of the band took place in the age of the internet.
My current work goes back about 6 years to a 4 song EP I wrote and recorded in 2011: ‘530 East 87th Street’. The music and lyrics were conceived after my finding sobriety in 1976. Still, my emotional foundation remained shaky until an experience with romance landed me in a hospital ward with unaddressed emotional issues. The EP is all about that event. It can be found on any site including Itunes.
My current performances are limited due to physical disabilities and a long love affair with the wrong potions. Nicotine mainly. I (WE) never did hard drugs, thankfully, and today I am sober for 46 years and use my experience helping others (Including some very well-known legends of music).
At present,I remain in the top 10 within my region of Virginia in the Blues Genre. As I grow older, the voice has become more raspy but is perfect for the genre as well as many of the good old rocking tunes. I am currently distributed by an Aussie based company called Blue Pie Productions and a historical website is in the making for the band. I am also found on a variety of sites. Just google Bobby of The Teemates and choose from any of the 20 to 30 pages that come up.
Despite being 76, I still perform within my adopted city of Charlottesville, VA. My new gang consists of very accomplished musicians, which include Greg Brown on guitar and Reverend Joe Tucker on all instruments, including keys.
I will be forever grateful to all, the good and the bad of my past, as it is clear – Without them, my musical history and affiliation with one of the greatest labels (I really can appreciate now having been amongst the esteemed artists that share the label’s past) would not be possible.
[Thanks to John Seetoo and Bob Pulhemus for a truly interesting interview covering a vital period in American music. Best of luck to Bob!—Ed.]