Soul Serenade: The Exciters, “Do-Wah-Diddy”
The reality is that it was probably longer, but it seems to me that I was in my first band about a week after that Ed Sullivan Show. The fact that I couldn’t play an instrument, other than the trumpet, which was useless in that context, was not a deterrent. I simply became the lead singer. My parents were also kind enough to eventually buy me a Kent bass guitar and a Kay amp (or was it the other way around?), so that I could prepare myself to be the band’s bass player.
We called ourselves the Superstitions. We had business cards made that featured the name, a crudely drawn red guitar, and the slug line “Music For All Occasions.” Steve played keyboards, and he was something of a prodigy. He also owned one of the early Wurlitzer electric pianos. Larry played guitar, but he didn’t know that many chords. So when it came time to play one that he didn’t know, we told him to just pretend he was playing. Bobby held down the drum chair.
By the following year we had not just the Beatles, but also the Stones, the Who, and a whole British Invasion to keep track of. Times changed, and so did our name. We decided to call ourselves the Mods because it seemed to make sense at the time. We didn’t have cool clothes or anything, but we did have a cool name. I was still the lead singer because my bass studies still had not prepared me for the role of bass player. Larry knew all of the necessary chords by then, and we had added another guitar player. I think we had a different drummer too. We were all set for the 8th grade talent show.
In true Mick Jagger style I set myself up with not one but three pairs of maracas. I also had a harmonica holder around my neck that held a harmonica that I didn’t play. Our competition included the Epsilons, which featured none other than Max Weinberg on drums, the Wildcats, and a girl named Maria who played the accordion. Despite all of the bad ass rock and roll talent arrayed on that stage, it was Maria who won the day. We comforted ourselves by saying that the teachers/judges just didn’t understand.
I think we played three songs that day, but I only remember two of them. One was “House of the Rising Sun,” inspired by the Animals version of the song which, after all, was the only one we’d heard. The other, for which I became somewhat famous, was our take on Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy.” For months after the performance kids would approach me and mimic my performance of the song. In fact, I’ll bet if I ran into some of those kids today, more than 40 years later, they would do the same thing. It was something of a compliment, at least that’s what I tell myself.
None of us had any idea that the Exciters had released the original version of “Do-Wah-Diddy” in 1963. We knew the Exciters from their huge hit “Tell Him,” and I had seen them open for the Beatles in 1964. The song was written by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. The Exciters version didn’t meet with much success despite the fact that it’s a killer record, but the Manfred Mann single released a few months later raced to #1 on the US and UK singles charts.
“Do-Wah-Diddy” has been covered many times, with notable versions by Reparata and the Delrons, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, and Andrew Gold. Despite all of the wonderful recorded versions of the song, for many people “Do-Wah-Diddy” brings to mind Bill Murray in the classic service comedy “Stripes.”