By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon
Russ Hallett, Aldo Brozzetti and Jack Sinchaski worked as a trio in their local area – Binghampton / Johnson City – until word got out that they could rock the joint. They started getting offers for good paying gigs if they were willing to travel. Soon they were hitting the college circuit (from local Cornell to Dartmouth) and the Catskills circuit.
They were mostly known as the Russ Hallett Trio but sometimes as Russ And The Rockets, Russ Hallet’s Rockets or even The Nomads. And eventually they expanded beyond a trio.
Along the way they got a manager who sent them to Buffalo to record, in 1958. They were in the process of cutting 8 or 9 tracks – including “Frosty” – when Buffalo deejay Tom Shannon walked in.
Liking what he heard Shannon asked them to make up a jingle for his WKBW radio show. They did, and thus recorded the familiar tune we know as the “Tommy Shannon Show” vocal theme, which was used extensively on-air. Tom took them with him to sock hops and shows in the Buffalo area and Toronto where they played their tunes but always got their best reaction to the Shannon Show Theme. It became a crowd favorite yet the idea of cutting it as “a record” didn’t occur to the group.
Local teen combo The Rebels started playing an instrumental version of it and eventually asked Shannon for permission to record it. Recorded as “Wild Weekend” in 1959, the record was a regional hit and even got them an appearance on American Bandstand.
The record died but a Syracuse deejay rediscovered it in 1962 and used it as HIS theme. The record was picked up by Swan, released again in December of 1962, and became a worldwide hit. This time it was credited to The Rockin’ Rebels.
Meanwhile the recordings the Russ Hallet group had done lingered unused. A newspaper article from their area bllied them as having a single on VIM (Variety In Music) Records and even gives the title (“Only Love” / “Love Me Little Girl”) yet this seems to have never actually been released.
However one day the group was surprised to hear their song “Frosty” on the radio. It wasn’t quite the version they’d recorded. Their instrumental now had Shannon’s vocal dubbed over the top, though his ‘vocal’ is really just Tommy talking a little (about a ‘frosty’ chick) over the top of it.
The group claim to have had no advance knowledge this release was coming, though they recognize that their agent might have dropped the ball on this. The flip was a forgettable version of “Blueberry Hill”. But “Frosty” is some good R&R action.
“Frosty” was a local hit, of course receiving local airplay. It DID come out on the VIM label (October 1959) but even this is confusing. It seems to have simultaneously released on local PhiTom Records. I’m not sure how this could happen, as the New York City-based VIM – though a relatively small label – was distributed by Clock Records and surely was run by tough experienced music business folks who wouldn’t have allowed any shenanigans.
For what it’s worth both labels are pink, look similar and have the same matrix numbers (indicating they were pressed at the same time, by Columbia Records’ plant). Al Brozzetti has stated he got copies of both record labels at the time of release.
If you’re wondering, PhiTom Records was named by combining the first names (Phil and Tom) of Shannon and his partner, deejay Phil Todaro, In the same way they created Shan-Todd Records; and The Rebels’ first label was MarLee, a combination of Phil and Tom’s girlfriends’ names.
“Frosty” bears the unwieldy credit of Hallet-Rockets-Todaro-Shannon. Confusing, if you look at the PhiTom release, which credits the Russ Hallett Trio; but the VIM release credits Russ Hallet’s Rockets.
No other releases were forthcoming but Hallet and his associates kept gigging. They hooked up with Binghamptom wailing sax specialist Pat “The Cat” (Monoforte) who had released a great Rockin’ record out of Auburn in 1856 as Pat The Cat & His Kittens. They intended on recording but this never came to fruition. Unfortunately after this no more was heard from the Russ Hallet or his group.