Nowadays the Criterions are chiefly remembered for being the launching pad to the 70s success of Manhattan Transfer, but they boasted a distinctive career in their own right. Essentially a doo-wop group from Belmar, New Jersey, USA, their origins can be traced to 1956 when Tim Hauser (lead) visited a Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers concert in Asbury Park which ended in a riot. Hauser escaped the trouble by making his way into the stage wings, where Lymon himself invited him into the dressing rooms. That meeting was to prove pivotal, and encouraged Hauser to form his own neighbourhood vocal group. By 1958 he had recruited St. Rose High School classmates Tommy Picardo (top tenor), Jimmy Ruff (second tenor), Steve Casagrande (baritone) and Phil Miller (bass). They began rehearsing together after taking their name from a local restaurant, quickly replacing Miller with Joe Ernst. Growing in proficiency, they approached several New York labels, eventually making the acquaintance of producer Al Browne after a failed audition for End Records. They entered the studios with Browne in September 1958, recording live staple ‘Nita Juanita’ (a cover version of the Crests’ ‘My Juanita’) and an original composition, ‘Don’t Say Goodbye’. However, this brace were rejected by a succession of labels, resulting in the introduction of a new lead vocalist in John Mangi (ex-Point Pleasant), with Hauser switching to first tenor. After declining a contract from home town label Arc Records they eventually signed with Cecilia Records in April 1959. Their debut single was ‘I Remain Truly Yours’, which was picked up for airplay immediately by disc jockey Alan Freed (unsurprising perhaps, as Cecilia Records’ boss Marty Foglia was Freed’s sound engineer). It became a local success, but not enough of one to dissuade the Criterions’ members to defer their impending college careers. A revision of ‘Don’t Say Goodbye’ was their next release. Sessions held with the Fabulous Dominoes, which resulted in the latter band enjoying a hit under the guise of the Viscounts with ‘Harlem Nocturne’, failed to produce any results. The proposed Criterions single from this time, a sizzling arrangement of the gospel standard ‘Over The Rainbow’, instead became a Top 20 US chart success for the Dimensions in 1960. The Criterions played a few more shows and backed singer Jerry Perci’s record for Cecilia, but never recorded afterwards. Picardo went on to become a noted producer and writer (especially through his work with Jim Croce) while the other members, Hauser aside, left the music business. Hauser formed Manhattan Transfer in 1969 and enjoyed global success, though in a direction far removed from his earthy R&B roots.
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