By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon
Frankie Nestro’s name may be familiar to music fans or anyone who attended record hops in the early 1960s. In fact, you may have heard him on the radio too, or seen him on TV. His name may be familiar to local record collectors too, but equally puzzling. Records bearing his name turn up but few people have seen all of them or even know how many there are! And a couple others seem to be related to him but are mysterious.
Mr. Nestro graciously agreed to meet with me, sat down and allowed me to ask him some questions. I think I can call him Frankie now, so – Frankie it is. He also brought along a scrapbook which was helpful in allowing me to mentally picture the teen music scene of the times.
Frankie was raised on Buffalo’s West Side. Born Frank Aguglia, he attended Grover Cleveland High School (and eventually the University at Buffalo, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves). He became interested in pop music of the day and formed a group called the Del-Tones. By the time they had attracted the interest of a man who wanted to get them into a studio, they were reduced to just two members. I believe the other Del-Tone was one ‘M.Gideli’, who shares the writing credit with Frankie on their first record. You’re The One / You’re My Love was recorded and issued in 1960.
The label was called Count Records. Frankie believes it was a New York City label. But he explained to me that at this young age (still a teenager) it was a big deal just making a record, and his interest wasn’t in who was running the business end; it was getting your name on a record, walking down the hall and having classmates look at you in a whole different light!
My belief is that Count Records was not a ‘label’ per se, and was actually locally-based. Count Records #100, credited to just The Del-Tones, was custom-pressed by RCA which suggests it was a one-off release, not part of a continuous series by an established label. The only previous release on a Count Records which seems similar was one by Ithaca’s Bobby Comstock. That 1958 release was also an RCA custom pressing. Comstock’s previous (debut) release was on MarLee Records which is associated with Buffalo radio DJs Tom Shannon and Phil Todaro; and the Del-Tones record has a publishing credit of Shan-Todd, another Shannon-Todaro side business. I wouldn’t be surprised if Shannon and Todaro were involved with Count.
The radio connection is important. Early on Frankie hooked up with DJ Lucky Pierre, appearing at his sock hops as a singer. Frankie knew enough about the music to understand the live deejay job, and eventually was asked to fill in for Pierre spinning records. Thus a dual career was born.
The next Nestro release was also on Count Records, showing a different numbering system (Count 1009). Credited to Frankie Nestro & The Fascinates, I Don’t Wanna Wait is a teen Rock’n’Roll track, while the standard Day By Day shows Frankie as more of a traditional ‘singer’. The Fascinates were both an instrumental and vocal backing group.
The record release story gets complicated here. Besides The Fascinates, Frankie also worked with a group called the Belvederes. The next and last Count Records release is just the Belvederes with a great two-sided instrumental single- From Out Of Nowhere / Tormented. And yet another numbering system (no actual number, only what looks like mastering numbers- 88611 and 88612). One side was co-written by Nick Ameno and the other side written by his father Charles Ameno. Nick Ameno got his start here. Later he would be one of the mainstays of long-lived locals Kathy Lynn & The Playboys – also know as The Buena Vistas and other names.
The Belvederes reappeared on the next one. Without Your Love / You Cheated, You Lied bore a credit of The Fabulous Frankie Nestro & The Belvederes. I covered this one in an article a couple weeks ago, so I’ll recap and just note it’s a Rocker backed with a cover version of The Shields’ doo-wop ballad.
The most interesting angle now is that it was the first appearance of a new label name, Fran-Co Records. Frankie doesn’t remember much about this label. The label looks exactly the same as the previous release on Count Records. I’ll speculate that it was really a continuation of Count, now renamed for FRANkie and COunt. Maybe this was done because there already was another Count Records out of NYC starting to have some success.
Fran-Co 1000 was followed by two records credited just to Frankie Nestro, My Love / Shimmey Twist (Fran-Co 1003) and Carolyn My Darling / My Love For You (Fran-Co 1004). Interestingly both sides of each of these are numbered 1003 and 1004, but the later bears ‘1004’ in large text on each side so we can assume that’s the intended number. This is the kind of confusing detail that small/ independent labels do – that makes record collectors tear out their hair!
While all this recording activity was going on Frankie was continuing to make personal appearances as a performer, but also working more and more as a live DJ. At some point the opportunity arose to become a radio DJ and Frankie took it. I’ve seen references to him being on WNIA, WUSJ and WLVL. Eventually he landed a couple TV shows, one of which was a trivia game show on Channel 29 which lasted 13 weeks. I believe the other was a kind of Bandstand-type show. Frankie remembers ALMOST making it on to the real American Bandstand. Most likely that, and some other breaks that didn’t come, were the result of not having the right management – and not making sure the music business wheels were greased, as was often necessary in those days.
Frankie started also dabbling in record promotional work. In 1961 he became the promo man for Motown Records for the western half of the state – an important market, for an exploding label. He held this job for quite some time. One of his most-intersting accomplishments was convincing Motown to flip Stevie Wonder’s I Don’t Know Why I Love You and push the other side. He believed My Cherie Amour was the hit side. Motown told him if he could get DJs to play that side they’d do it. he did, they did, and it was a smash.
Ultimately, nothing dramatic happened to end Frankie’s performing career. His other pursuits in the music business just took more and more of his time until he was no longer a performer. His music-making career ended around 1963 if not 1962. One more Nestro record did come out, in 1973, on Dayton Records – I haven’t seen it!.
Well, he didn’t give up ‘performing’ completely. About 30 years ago he connected with Royal Caribbean cruise lines and became a DJ for them. He still does this work to this day. He’s one of those rare people who found a (great!) niche in the music business and made it work for him.