One of the signature songs of the early 1960s doo-wop revival was “There’s a Moon Out Tonight” by The Capris from Queens, New York (not to be confused with a black Capris group from Philadelphia that recorded in the mid-’50s for Gotham Records). A Top 5 hit in 1961, “There’s a Moon Out Tonight” had actually been recorded three years earlier, and when the single broke wide open, The Capris--lead singer Nick Santo, first tenor Mike Mincelli, second tenor Frank Reina, baritone Vinnie Narcardo and bass John Caassese--didn’t even exist because the members had disbanded over a year earlier. But they came back…and kept coming back. In 1982 they recorded an album for Ambient Sound Records that produced yet another classic recording, “Morse Code of Love.” The late Greg Milewski conducted the following interview with lead singer Nick Santo (Santamaria) in 1993.
Greg: Tell us how The Capris came together, Nick.
Nick: The first tenor, Mike Mincelli, started the group and kind of organized everybody. I came in six or seven months after he had started it. I would say probably around early 1958-spring or the summer is when we really got together. Then we had the final member to come into the group, Frank Reina. Shortly thereafter we recorded “There’s a Moon Out Tonight” and it was released in the early part of 1959.
I thought it came out in 1958 originally.
It was recorded in ’58 but I think it came out in 1959, early part of ’59, ’cause I was still a senior in high school when it was released. Had to be 1959.
That was on Planet Records, right?
It came out on Planet. If anybody has the record on Planet, it’s worth anywhere from $500 to $1,000. I don’t even have one. Mike is the only one [in the group] who has the record on the original label.
Where did you record it?
At Bell Sound Studios in New York. We only did two songs, “Moon” and “Indian Girl.”
After the original release, did you record anything else?
No, there really wasn’t anything else. We kind of disbanded. I went into the Army. I came out in July of 1960. Then around October I got a call from an old girlfriend of mine and she told me she heard the song on the radio. Now I knew Alan Frederick’s Night Train [radio show] used to play the song. He had a lot of requests. The fellow who ultimately re-released the record was a fellow named Jerry Greene. He used to work at Times Square Record Store. Because of Alan Frederick’s playing the song, a lot of people used to buy the record from [Greene]. When he ran out of records, he decided to buy the rights from Planet and reissue it under Lost Nite [Records] in 1960. The record went to Murray the K at WINS. He used to have a “Rate the Record” where you went up against five other records. We won one night and we came in second to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” which was a monster by The Shirelles. A week later we were at the Apollo [Theater in Harlem], then we were at the [Brooklyn] Paramount, The Regal in Roanoke, Virginia. We were all over the place.
But the record didn’t become a national hit on Lost Nite though, right?
No, Jerry saw that the record was getting too big for his little operation, so he turned it over to Old Town Records, and they had the hit.
So for all intents and purposes, between the original release and its re-release, was the group inactive?
Right, we weren’t doing anything. I had been in the Army. I came out and then all of a sudden the song became a hit. It came at the right time. We all left [our day jobs] we were doing.
You actually had to reform to do the follow-up single?
Yes, we went into a session right after “Moon” became a big hit. We did a song called “Where I Fell in Love,” “Why Do I Cry” and “Some People Think.” We even did a song called “Girl of My Dreams,” originally by The Four Lovers [actually the song was first recorded in 1956 by Jesse Belvin and Eugene Church as by The Cliques, on Modern Record in Los Angeles], which really started to do well.
Where did you get the name Capris? From the Isle of Capri?
No, we named ourselves after the 1957 Chevy Capri.
Did you know that there was an earlier group with the same name?
No, I didn’t know anything about them until 1961, when my mother brought one of their records home, thinking it was ours. But strangely enough, the first song I ever wrote was called “God Only Knows,” which just happened to be the title of one of their songs [in 1954].
Since everyone in the group was Italian, did you fashion yourselves after Dion & The Belmonts?
No, my favorite singer was Clyde McPhatter. I also loved Shep [James Sheppard] of The Limelights and The Heartbeats]. We sang their songs and I tried to write songs that sounded more black than white. But we did sing behind Dion once on Clay Cole’s TV show.
You recorded a limbo song at one point, right?
I wasn’t with the group then. That was around 1963. I left in 1962. I made a try on my own and it didn’t work out. Then I became a [New York] cop in 1965. Around 1981 a guy named Marty Picar who was affiliated with CBS Records came along. He was able to get CBS to agree to record some of the original artists doing some old-sounding songs on album. That’s where “Morse Code of Love” came in. We recorded twelve songs. Of the twelve, nine were originals. From that point on, we’ve maintained three of the original members. I really didn’t think much was going to happen in 1981, [yet performing has] become a second livelihood for me. We’ve done very well. We’ve performed places now that we never imagined performing in 1961.
Had the group been together in the 1970s at all?
I didn’t do any of the revival shows. We had some people interested. I was always writing. I’m the main writer for the group. I had written some songs in the 1970s which are on the LP. We kind of got together again and did a couple of things, but the turning point for us was the Ambient Sound album. That resurrected the group. We all came back. I was a little apprehensive. I didn’t think there was a market for it, but I was mildly surprised because once I heard the harmonies again and the sound was still there, I was very, very happy.
Were these the same five guys?
No, Vinnie and John were gone by then. We had Tommy Ferrara from The Del-Satins singing bass and a guy named Tony Dano singing baritone.
“Morse Cod of Love” is actually considered a doo-wop standard today.
“Morse Code of Love” is bigger in the New England area than “There’s a Moon Out Tonight.” We have had requests to do the song two or three times in a set. The fact that Manhattan Transfer did it a year later [under the title “Baby Come Back to Me”] was a big help to me because I wrote the song.
|Planet 1010/11||“There’s a Moon Out Tonight”/“Indian Girl”||1958|
|Lost Nite 101||“There’s a Moon Out Tonight”/“Indian Girl”||1960|
|Old Town 1094||“There’s a Moon Out Tonight”/“Indian Girl”||1960|
|Old Town 1099||“Where I Fell in Love”/“Some People Think”||1961|
|Old Town 1103||“Tears in My Eyes”/“Why Do I Cry”||1961|
|Old Town 1107||“Girl in My Dreams”/“My Island in the Sun”||1961|
|Trommers 101||“There’s a Moon Out Tonight”/“Indian Girl”||1961|
|Lost Nite 148||“Little Girl“/“When”||196x|
|Mr. McPeeke 118||“Limbo”/“From the Vine Came the Grape”||1963|
|Ambient Sound 02697||“Morse Code of Love”/“Morse Code of Love”||1982|
|Ambient Sound 37714||There’s a Moon Out Again||1982|
|Collectables 5450||Morse Code of Love||1992|
|Collectables 5922||The Very Best of The Capris||2000|
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