The Devotions – Third Time’s the Charm with “Rip Van Winkle”

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Short career summation on the Devotions

The Devotions are a doo-wop group known for their novelty song “Rip Van Winkle” in 1964. The group consisted of Ray Sanchez, Bob Weisbrod, Bob Hovorka and brothers Frank and Joe Pardo. Originally released in 1961 on Delta Records, “Rip Van Winkle” reappeared on the Roulette label three years later, where it finally entered the Top 40. It was the Devotion’s only charting single, going down to history as a one-hit wonder.

Formation of the Devotions and their signing with Delta Records

The Devotions are a doo-wop and R&B vocal group formed in Astoria, a borough of Queens, New York, in 1960. Originally the group were a sextet but soon they were pared down to just fivesome. The members consisted of Ray Sanchez, Bob Weisbrod, Bob Hovorka and brother Frank and Joe Pardo.

Once formed, the group used to practice really hard, virtually seven days a week in their first six months. Afterwards, they introduced themselves to producer Joe Petralia, who just lived down the street from the Pardo brothers. In turn, Petralia introduced the group to record producer Bernie Zimming who also happened to own a small independent label in New York City named Delta Records.

The initial release of “Rip Van Winkle” on Delta

Wasting no more time, the Devotions auditioned for Zimming, plying him with their renditions of doo-wop classics such as “Life Is But a Dream,” and “For Sentimental Reasons.” Zimming immediately took a liking to them but he was still looking for something else to add some zing into their material. He wanted something more novel that would sell to the record-buying public, most of them teens.

Responding to this, Sanchez wrote a novelty song entitled “Rip Van Winkle” which was then presented to Zimming. Zimming liked the song immediately and wasted no more time to have it put into record. Eventually “Rip Van Winkle” was released as single on Delta label (Delta 1001; the B-side was “For Sentimental Reasons”) in 1961. In promoting the record, the group would dole out copies, even autographed ones.

Despite these efforts, “Rip Van Winkle” failed to chart and rapidly got buried into obscurity. Despite this, it gained popularity among Times Square customers, thanks to an oldies records store who even promoted the record on the radio.

Roulette re-releases “Rip Van Winkle”

Meanwhile, Roulette Records heard the fuss about “Rip Van Winkle” on Times Square and decided buy out the Delta masters. Roulette then re-issued “Rip Van Winkle” in 1962. Still, no chart action for the Devotions and “Rip Van Winkle” although it gave the group the opportunity to appear on Slim Rose’s rock and roll show at New Jersey’s Palisades Park that summer.

Roulette releases “Rip Van Winkle” again — and finally it became a hit!

Roulette issued an oldies “best-of” compilation, Golden Goodies, that included “Rip Van Winkle.” This drew the curiosity of a radio disc jockey in Pittsburgh named Porky Chadwick who wondered why a flop record would be included in the compilation. So he started to promote the “Rip Van Winkle” on his own radio show. Once he played it on the air, he began to get flooded by phone requests. Due to the barrage of demands from the listeners, this prompted Roulette to release “Rip Van Winkle” again. Within a week of the records release, “Rip Van Winkle” sold an astonishing 15,000 copies in Pittsburgh alone.

Three years after the initial release, “Rip Van Winkle” finally became a hit, peaking at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964. And this was no mean feat considering it was released during the time of Beatlemania that was sweeping across America.

Disbandment and reformation

After that, the group re-formed with Louis DeCarlo and Larry Frank replacing Sanchez and Weisbrod, both of whom were working for the armed forces. They toured and released a couple more records, but made no more hits. Roulette released them and soon after they disbanded.

The group reunited in the 1970s, this time with Ray Sanchez’s brother Andy taking over the lead singing. They still actively perform up to the present. Funnily enough they have been performing more songs than they did during the time that they achieved their only hit single.

You can check out their official website in the link provided in this article.

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