In the late 1950s, Westmoreland County's Monessen was a jumping little city. It was home to Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel and the Page Steel & Wire Company, and its folk worked hard and played harder.
They'd party at venues like the Dog House, Caminos, the Jumping Jive Bee Hive, the Twin Coaches, the Cougar Canteen, and the Blue Fox, along with the countless fire halls and social clubs scattered across the Mon Valley.
One day in 1957, five street-corner doo-woppers - John Brown, Tony Fafalios, Frank "Pancho" Olivio, "Khaki" Joe Olivio, and Dave Reday - from Monessen (except Fafalios, who was from Rostraver) decided to get in on the action as the Mon-Vales.
Without any agent (or for that matter, a clue on how to produce and sell vinyl), they cut a demo tape at Sadowski's Market in Fairhope, which had a top notch, cottage industry recording studio in its basement. The instrumental tracks were laid down by another local band, Donora's Highlighters.
Next came the hard part, peddling the songs to a record company. A connection in Pittsburgh hooked them up with a connection in the Big Apple. They fronted the guy some benjamins, and when nothing was shaking after awhile, they hopped in the jalopy and motored to NYC to find out where their tunes stood.
Well, the tunes were nowhere. It ended up that the producer had scammed about 40 acts, pocketed their money, and ran to LA. So they began to door-knock on Record Row, demo in hand.
And hey, it worked. Pen Joy Records on 45th Street liked the tape - it consisted of "Why Should I Cry?," "Jump Crybaby," "Carol-Ann," and "Cool Kat And His White Bucks."
Before you could say Daddio of the Radio, the platter "Carol-Ann" b/w "White Bucks" (Pen Joy #502, released 1958) was spinning on Porky's turntable, and the Mon-Vales had a local two-sided hit. John Brown took the lead for "Carol-Ann" while Dave Reday, who was the usual featured singer, did the honors for "White Bucks."
They took advantage of the New York visit in more ways than one, playing clubs there and in the Boston area, all the time honing a frenetic stage act. They even got to play one of Alan Freed's Rock and Roll shows.
The Mon-Vales came home to a busy schedule of hops, high school dances, and the local club circuit. Their high-energy act was center stage at the Stockdale Fire Hall, the White Elephant, the Monessen Italian Club, and the Greensburg Fire Hall, plus whatever Mon Valley gyms or social halls would have them.
But, as with most one-hit wonders, the twilight came quickly. In 1959, Pancho Olivio left to join another Mon Valley group, and that brought down the curtain on the Mon-Vales after eighteen months of fame.
The other members all had real-life responsibilities, and left behind the world of doo-wop for college and jobs. Now, only Khaki Joe Olivio is left from the Mon-Vales, 74 years young and still living in Monessen.
But their record is yet making the rounds. There are several labels affixed to the Mon-Vales' wax; the original Pen Joy, a version on Penn-Joy (perhaps a boot), an issue on Paris, and a 1970s reissue on Keystone Classics (#22), credited to Johnny Blue and the Monvales, carried by Carnegie's D & J Records.
"White Bucks" is on Itzy's PGH-III, and "Carol-Ann" is listed on a couple of compilations: "Doo Wop Honor Roll of Girls' Names" (Adam and Eve #502) and "The Terry Lee Show WMCK" album, also attributed to Johnny Blue and the Monvales.
Hey, musicians come and go, but the music lives on.
(Old Mon thanks Ron Paglia of the Tribune Review, whose 2007 article "Singing Mon-Vales Rocked the Valley" provided much of the background for this post.)
Carol-Ann - the Mon-Vales 1958