This could be considered a bonus edition of my Echoes series because my gifted guest went on to become a solo artist and made some of the greatest girl group and Spectorian Wall-of-Sound recordings of the Sixties.
I am proud to present my exclusive two part interview with a good friend and one
of Philly's Phinest, Chi Chi!
S.D. KNIGHT: Welcome to Shady Dell Music & Memories,
Chi Chi. I am thrilled to meet you!
CHI CHI: Hello, Shady! It was very exciting to hear from
you and find out what you do. I still get pins and needles
whenever I'm told someone has an interest in our group,
the Stereos, the Tams and finally the Hippies, and you have
used several different names personally and professionally
including Carole Varleta, Carole Devine, Chi-Chi McCauley
and Chi Chi. Can you sort it out for us?
Devine, died 16 yrs. ago. Varleta was my maiden name.
My father was Filipino. My mother Scotch and Welsh.
Chi Chi is my nickname, given me
by my father. My family and close
friends have always called me that.
Jerry Blavat started calling me
Chi Chi and the name "stuck"
with the public.
S.D. KNIGHT: Your group started out in 1956 or '57 as the
Impalas. Who were the members and how did you meet?
CHI CHI: The members of our singing group consisted
originally of four. Howard Boggess aka Boggie (who wrote
"Memory Lane"), Jack Felker, Nancy Orth and myself.
We were all raised in a home for children. Later we
added a friend of mine from school, Cookie, who
added so much to our group.
S.D. KNIGHT: Why the name Impalas for your group?
Whose idea was it?
CHI CHI: I don't know how we picked the name.
Maybe it was Boggie and/or Jack. I know Nancy and
I didn't. I know we won 1st place in a talent show at
our school, Roxborough High School, and used the
name then. I was either 14 or 15 at the time.
S.D. KNIGHT: Like a gazillion other American teenagers,
you and your friends decided to put together a singing
group. How did that come about?
CHI CHI: Nancy & I were playing the piano and singing
in the back room of the gym and Boggie and Jack heard us
while playing basketball and came in. We sang some songs
together (harmonizing) and after a while Boggie said, "I'm
gonna write a song for us." We laughed and said, "Sure,
you do that and we'll sing it." Shortly after that, he came
back with his song called, "Memory Lane." We sang that
song in the Talent Show!
S.D. KNIGHT: How did you and the other group members
dress for stage performances? Did you have costumes?
CHI CHI: Our outfit consisted of a gold sweater and
navy blue skirt for the girls, and gold sweaters and navy
or black pants for the boys. That was it. Bud Brees,
our manager, purchased them for us. It was later
deducted from our royalties, I was told.
S.D. KNIGHT: The name of your group was changed from
the Impalas to the Stereos for the release of “Memory Lane”
and "Teenage Kids” in 1959. Who made that decision?
CHI CHI: That would again be Bud Brees, a local DJ who
heard us sing when our prize from the talent show was
a summer gig at the Germantown Y. Bud was the celebrity
DJ there. This was not his type of music, but I think he felt
he had a winner in us, and wanted to be our agent.
S.D. KNIGHT: Did Bud Brees scrap the name Impalas because another vocal group with the same name emerged that year and had a hit with "Sorry
(I Ran All the Way Home)"?
CHI CHI: Yes the name change came because of the
other Impalas group having had their hit.
S.D. KNIGHT: “Memory Lane” backed with ”Teenage Kids”
was re-released that same
year with your group now
called the Tams. Was that
also Bud Brees' doing?
CHI CHI: Yes, Bud Brees came up with the name
"The Tams." The Mink label was Bud's collaboration
with Russ Faith, a song writer.
The Tams released two sides of a Swan single in 1960
and two more on Heritage in 1961.
The Heritage record was recorded by Chi Chi, Boggie and two
other male singers who were not part of the original group.
In 1962, an alternate version of “Memory Lane" was waxed
by the group and released on Parkway as by the Tams.
In 1963, Chi Chi's vocal group underwent yet another name
change. “Memory Lane” was released again on Parkway, this
time as by the Hippies. A new name was needed because the
name "The Tams" was already being used by a black group
that specialized in Carolina Shag Beach Music which included
their top 10 hit "What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)."
S.D. Knight: Who came up with the group name The Hippies?
CHI CHI: I'm not sure who picked "The Hippies" - us or
the record company. I think it might have been us. That
name was around at the time and I know we liked it and
used it in our everyday language.
S.D. KNIGHT: Your Cameo-Parkway label mates, the Orlons,
were reaching the top 5 around that time singing the words
"Where do all the hippies meet...South Street. South Street."
CHI CHI: Right, it became a cool name and could be
associated with kids our age.
S.D. KNIGHT: "Memory Lane" spent five weeks on the chart
and peaked at #63. I am not alone in thinking the doo-wop
gem deserved to be a bigger hit. You cite a specific reason
why the record was not more successful, an event that
made headlines and affected the careers of rock 'n' roll
luminaries like Alan Freed and Dick Clark.
CHI CHI: Yes, I believe the Payola Scandal was happening
at the time and all records that were getting air play were
taken off the air. Ours was one of these.
S.D. KNIGHT: Cameo-Parkway released "Memory Lane" in the
spring of 1963. Beginning the following year the once mighty
label went into a steep decline on its way to financial ruin.
Factors leading to the downturn included the British Invasion
and American Bandstand leaving Philadelphia that year and
relocating to Los Angeles. However, there was a silver lining
for your group and your record. It was given a new lease on
life by our friend The Geator With the Heater.
CHI CHI: That's correct. When I heard Jerry Blavat play
our song on a local radio station some three years later,
I called and asked how they obtained our record. Jerry
called me back later that day and said Cameo Parkway
had gone out of business and that he heard the record,
liked it and played it at his hops and it was getting good
feedback. I got "chills" when I heard it on the radio!
"Memory Lane" by the Tams was included on a Jerry Blavat
doo-wop oldies compilation album released by Lost-Nite.
At the time the self proclaimed Boss With the Hot Sauce
was a partner in that popular oldies reissue company.
Now let's listen to "Teenage Kids," the B side of the original
Mink single by Chi Chi and her Stereos/Tams group. Cameo-
Parkway obviously had faith in "Teenage Kids" because the
label re-released the recording as the A side of a separate
single as by The Tams.
In the mid 60s, Chi Chi blossomed into a fine and quite
versatile solo recording artist. Working with Kama Sutra
Productions in 1964, she waxed two sides of a single for
Red Bird, a leading producer of the 60s girl group sound
and home to the Dixie Cups and Shangri-Las. Both sides
of Chi Chi's single were written and produced by Frank
Bendinelli and Leroy Lovett of Ben-Lee Music. The artist
name appeared on the label as Chi Chi McCauley.
S.D. KNIGHT: Chi Chi, before we listen to the first of your
Red Bird recordings, would you please explain where the
name "McCauley" came from?
CHI CHI: McCauley, which was misspelled on records
and should have been spelled Macauley, was my name
from my first marriage. I forget who it was at Red Bird
that decided it would be "cute" to put Chi Chi and
McCauley together when I recorded. I had no idea they
were going to do that! Cha Cha O'Brien was a character
on Surfside 6 in the early 60s, and so the folks at the
record company thought they'd be doing that same sort
of thing. It worked for her, maybe it would work for me.
S.D. KNIGHT: I'm saving the fab flip of your Red Bird single
for Part 2, Chi Chi, so right now let's listen to the fantastic
A side made by Chi Chi McCauley and the Ben-Lee team -
"I Know He Loves Me."
you'll hear more of Chi Chi's great recordings and find out which rock 'n' roll stars and broadcast legends she met
and worked with along the way. Stay tuned for more stories and more sensational sounds from my very special guest, Chi Chi, in part 2!