Bob Knight Four

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The Bob Knight Four were one of thousands of doo wop groups whose sounds illuminated the street corners, teen clubs, and local dances of New York and dozens of other American cities from the late '50s…
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The Bob Knight Four were one of thousands of doo wop groups whose sounds illuminated the street corners, teen clubs, and local dances of New York and dozens of other American cities from the late '50s through the mid-'60s -- a handful, such as the Belmonts, achieved national fame and even international recognition, while most never got heard outside of their own neighborhoods; the Bob Knight Four were somewhere in between, a Brooklyn-based act from Bedford-Stuyvesant, no less (when Bed-Stuy still had a significant white population), who got their work recorded and released by a major label, but never ascended higher than the lowest region of the Billboard Hot 100. The group's origins go back to an amateur outfit called the Dolphins, based at Franklin K. Lane High School in East New York, formed by Ralph Garrone, Louie Martino, John Roper, and Joe Nappier. They got to record an original song of John Roper's called "Hymn of Love," which didn't do much apart from showing its author and Ralph Garrone some potential for music, though not with that lineup. Soon they were looking for serious local talent to work with and eventually put together a group with Bob Bovino -- already a kind of local celebrity from his stint on a pre-teen talent showcase called Star Time -- on lead and Paul Ferrigno as first tenor, while Garrone took second tenor and baritone and Nappier sang bass, and a fifth member, Charlie Licata, filling the gaps between them; they also took on a new name, the Bobby Dells. They began performing regularly in their neighborhood and building a reputation, and also recording demos, going after a coveted recording deal. There was one major change along the way, with Licata getting drafted and leaving the group in 1959, leaving the Bobby Dells a quartet.

With help from a local manager and a local promoter, they were introduced to Tony Sepe, the owner of Laurel Records, who was willing to record them but wanted a new name for the quartet. Thus was spawned the Bob Knight Four, the name under which they released their debut single, "Good Good Bye," which turned into a regional hit, charting in New York (where it made the local Top Ten on some listings), Philadelphia, and parts of California. Their next two records failed to perform to expectations, in part -- in the case of the initial follow-up -- because of a split in the airplay between the A- and the B-sides. But biggest opportunities were beckoning for the group -- an old friend, Michael Eichner (later a vice president at Columbia Records), who worked for Jubilee Records, got them a recording contract with his label, and in April of 1962 their fourth single, "Memories" b/w "Somewhere," was released. Amid their activity for Jubilee over the next few months, the group suddenly found themselves competing with their older sides as Laurel started licensing their older songs, often with re-recorded backings and unrelated B-sides, to other small labels. They also kept busy recording demos for various songwriters and artists associated with Jubilee, most notably the song "Cara Mia," written by Bob Nemser, which was later turned into a hit by Jay & the Americans. Nemser became the manager of the Bob Knight Four during the mid-'60s, a period in which the original group splintered amid the burgeoning British Invasion and the accompanying decline of interest in harmony vocal music. Former Bobby Dells member Charlie Licata joined Garrone and Nappier in a new version of the Bob Knight Four, with Eddie Delmar and Frank Iovino on lead. They endured into 1966, crossing paths with the Tokens at the time. They hoped to record for the latter's B.T. Puppy label, but that never worked out -- yet a version of the group survived into the early '70s, in time to cash in on the oldies revival. They even got a greatest-hits LP out, issued on the Kape label. The group was still performing on the oldies circuit in the '90s at the time that Garrone lost his battle with cancer, and they continued performing into the middle of the decade with his younger brother filling his spot.