Buckeye Beat

Bands and Performers
About the site
Contact Us

the Outsiders / Tom King and the Starfires

Cleveland, 1958-70

Cleveland's most succesful recording act in the 1960s was this group of veteran musicians, who worked in various bands for 4+ years before hitting the top of the charts with "Time Won't Let Me". In one timeless classic, the Outsiders nail the "Cleveland Sound" mix of British Invasion guitar powered energy, doowop harmonies, and teen rock melodies.

Tom King and the Starfires were started by Tom King and his brother Don King (no connection to the other Clevelander Don King of boxing fame), both guitar players. Mert Madsen joined the band on bass in late 1958, a few months after the group started. At the time he was playing an upright bass. The band made their 1st  45 in 1960, recording for the Rescue label which was based out of Maryland, although the record was recorded at Audio Recording in Cleveland. Besides the three members mentioned, the other players on the 45 are not known.

The King brother's uncle Patrick Connely had started Pama records and it was obvious that the Starfires should make some records. During 1960-2 they made 3 45s for Pama, the first two were vocal records in the style now called "teener". Tom King was the main singer. During this time, the band included Tom, Mert, Howie Blank on drums, Walt Nims on lead guitar, Dennis Slifko on tenor sax, and Ray Gallette on alto sax. Don King was no longer playing as he became the band's manager. The 1st 45 they made, "Ring Of Love", was recorded at A&R studios in NYC. 

The only constant during the band's 12 years of existence was personnel changes, and a couple key ones happened in 1963. Dennis Slifko left to join Joey and the Continentals and Tony Sawyer, a  Cleveland Heights High School student, replaced him on sax. Not long after that, Howie Blank left and Sawyer asked his HS classmate Jimmy Fox to join.  Walt Nims left and Ray Miller replaced him on lead guitar. Later in 1964 they recorded a 45 on their own label, E.M.K. records. Ajax cleanser had a jingle with the tag line "stronger than dirt", and the Starfires (primarily Ray Miller) worked up a full instrumental song for it. This record was another local success, However, the British Invasion and the evolution of Cleveland's greaser bands meant that strong vocals were neccessary to keep popular. Ray Miller left to start his own band, the Twilighters. The Starfires were losing popularity to the new sounds and a change was needed. 

Mike Geraci was a sax player who had been playing with the band on occasion. He introduced his younger brother Sonny Geraci (his real first name is Emmett, if you're wondering) connected with Tom King and a new lineup was formed that included King, Sonny Geraci, Madsen, Ron Harkai on drums (formerly of the Pilgrims) and Al Austin on lead guitar. Jimmy Fox lef the band in the summer of 1965 when he graduated high school, and the Pilgrims had disbanded, so Harkai joined. This group recorded a song that King wrote with a friend, Chet Kelly, called "Time Won't Let Me". The song was recorded at Cleveland Recording in the fall of 1965. Evan Vanguard, mainly a session musician, played trumpet and Mike Geraci played baritone sax. Cleveland Recording engineer Ken Hamann needed to do some tape speed doctoring to match the keys of the horns to the track. 

With Hamann's help, they contacted Roger Karshner, a Capitol records sales rep in Cleveland. Karshner really liked the recording and called up his bosses in LA and a deal was arranged. The Starfires name would not do for Capitol so they offered the band the name "Outsiders" as that was first name that Capitol had available in their list of band names for which they had a legal claim. King jumped at it, later saying that it fit his image within his family, as he was now somewhat estranged from Connely. 

The record was released in early 1966 and took off immediately in Cleveland and then the national charts. Capitol wanted follow-ups so the group returned to Cleveland Recording. Al Austin had a falling out with Tom King and joined another band. He was replaced by Bill Bruno, who was working in a band in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Ron Harkai played drums on some of the follow up sessions but because he had decided to join the Air Force and not commit to the band, King dismissed him and had his image airbrushed from the LP cover photo (his image is at the far right). Jimmy Fox, who was a freshman at Ohio State, got a call from King asking if he could fulfill the recording and live shows, so he quit college and came back to Cleveland. Fox made a few live and TV appearances before he decided that he was into a different style than the band. Randy Benson was a short lived replacement (he does not play on any of the recordings) before the Outsiders found  permanent drummer in Rick Biagola from the SenSationS. Rick became known as Rick Baker.

Captiol released a follow up single "Girl In Love" which was a nice ballad reflecting the greaser roots of their early singles. During 1966, the band made a tour around the US, getting out to the west coast and several stops in between. They did tours supporting Paul Revere and the Raiders, Chad and Jeremy, and Gene Pitney  Meanwhile, they recorded a second LP at Cleveland Recording, which included several King/Kelly original songs along with covers of songs like "Respectable", which was a respectable hit on its own. 

By the time 1966 came to an end,  Roger Karshner wanted out so he returned to freelance productions and hooked up with Richie and the Fortunes to be his next big thing. Without Karshner, they recorded several songs for a third LP, with the lineup of Geraci, King, Madsen, Bruno, and Baker. The LP was recorded with the intent of releasing two songs as 45s, "Help Me Girl" and :"Bend Me Shape Me".  Despite an assurance that they would not release it as a US 45, the Animals' recording of "Help Me Girl" meant that it was fighting the Outsiders version on the charts. Capitol then decided not to release "Bend Me Shape Me" only to watch as the American Breed had a huge hit of it several months later. The LP also includes what many  people consider the band's best recording besides TWLM,, "I'm Not Trying to Hurt You". 

After the release of the third LP called "IN" in January of 1967, the band experiences whosale personnel changes. Mert Madsen left as he wanted to get married. His hiatus from bands was not long as he joined the Originals (with Ron Harkai as the drummer). He then returned to his native Denmark. Rick Baker and Bill Bruno left as well and they were replaced by Rich "Mugsy" D'Amato on bass and Rich D'Angelo on drums and Walt Nims returning on guitar (according to an article in the Plain Dealer from August 1967, Walt had 'just replaced' Bill Bruno). Before D'Amato took over, the band did a tour with the Seeds, McCoys, Shadows of Knight, and ? and the Mysterians. The band used a temporary bass player, Pete Shelton, from the UK.  Sometime during or after this tour the band cut "Gotta Leave Us Alone" with Shadows of Knight guitarist Joe Kelley playing the lead. Capitol had planned for a fourth LP with this song as the title track, but presumably the lack of success for the 45 meant the LP was shelved. From this time, the band released 3 more 45s on Capitol, with the personnel (other than Geraci and King) on the records becoming confusing and unclear. Later in 1967 Capitol released a "Live" LP that were basic recording tracks with overdubbed applause. On the LP recording, the bassist and lead guitarist are introduced as "Mugsy" and "Grumpy". "Mugsy" was Rich D'Amato, we don't know if "Grumpy" was Nims or someone else. On the LP cover the gutiarists' face is not seen. 

Sometime in 1968 King and Geraci had a split. The result was the formation of two bands called the Outsiders, one led by King and one by Geraci. Geraci's band included Walt Nims and Jon Guttman, a drummer from Akron who had been in several bands including the Chambermen and the Lime. King's band included a singer named Jon Simonelli and a lead guitarist Bill Cavanaugh. Geraci and Nims decided to relocate to Los Angeles and in 1969 they were signed to Bell Records. In order to distinguish themselves from the King Outsiders, they used a peace sign for the 'O'. The band released one 45 on Bell.

Meanwhile, the Tom King Outsiders made a 45 for Kapp records and they sought legal action against the Geraci band to stop them from using the Outsiders name, peace sign or not. The King people won the right to the name and the Geraci band renamed themselves Climax. More on Climax can be found under that name. It's not clear if the King Outsiders were ever a performing band or just a studio one. Either way, the Kapp 45 was not a hit and the people went their seperate ways. Bill Cavanaugh later played in Century (with Simonelli on keyboards), Mariner and got into recording and engineering, which became his career. 

Over the years King and Geraci have performed, seperately, as the Outsiders for different one off shows. Geraci went on several oldies tours where he would perform TWLM and a couple other songs