High School Yearbook Photo

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Friday, July 30, 2010

Midge, Kaye, Debby...and Bonnie Makes Three (Part 2)

The Pixies Three, a recording and touring act that included four young women from Hanover, Pennsylvania, was and still is my favorite girl group.

Debby - Kaye - Midge
Debby Swisher, Kaye McCool, Midge Bollinger, and Bonnie Long, four fresh faced, talented high school friends, epitomized the ideals of young America...the America of the early 60's that so many of us loved and sorely miss!

Top to Bottom:




The Pixies Three had everything going for them: girl-next-door looks; pure, clear voices; excellent material; and access to the producers and musicians at the Brill Building hit factory, including a teenaged Leon Huff who served as the Pixies' rehearsal pianist. Huff went on to partner with Kenny Gamble and form the Gamble-Huff dynasty, the record production team that patented The Sound of Philadelphia. The Pixies scored a top 40 hit with their initial release "Birthday Party" and were seemingly on their way to becoming one of the leading girl groups in the country.

Midge left the group and was replaced by Bonnie. The new Pixies lineup continued to release fine recordings, but two of their singles lost traction on the trade chart when indecision by radio stations over which side was better resulted in the split play phenomenon.

Debby - Kaye - Bonnie with Terry Stafford
By the mid 60's, The Pixies Three had met, worked and toured with some of the biggest pop stars of the era.

Debby - Kaye - Bonnie
When Debby, Kaye and Bonnie graduated from high school the group broke up.

Debby Swisher was kind enough to give me a fascinating account of her post-Pixies singing career. “When Mercury records didn’t pick up the Pixies option, contractually, to continue, we went our separate ways," Debby told me. "With the huge help of my Mom, (she should get Mom of the Century, in my book), I landed my own recording contract at Boom Records. Yep, they released one 45 record with me as a solo: 'You’re So Good To Me' b/w 'Thank You and Good Night.'"

"As a result of this solo effort," Debby continued, "I got a call from another girl group, The Angels. ('My Boyfriend’s Back,' 'Till,' 'Cry, Baby, Cry,' 'Thank You and Good Night.') They needed a lead singer (to replace Toni Mason who had replaced Peggy Santiglia) and after a few bars of singing at my audition, I was hired on the spot. It was good-bye Hanover, Pa, Hello, New York City! Being the lead singer in a full time, working, nationally acclaimed group was the pay off to all those hours of singing scales, diction lessons, etc. that I did as a kid. (Thank you Mom!) We signed a new record deal on RCA. After two and a half years recording and traveling the world I quit the Angels and soon after that was singing six nights a week, four hours a night with my own live band.”

Fast forward to 1991. At the urging of former classmates, The Pixies Three reunited that year and sang at their 25th high school reunion. They have continued to perform together ever since. In addition to live concerts, the reunited Pixies Three returned to the studio, recording updates of their old hits, vintage covers, as well as contemporary material.

The Pixies Three in the 1990's: Kaye - Debby - Bonnie
In 2000, Debby departed The Pixies Three to focus on her solo career and the long lost Midge rejoined as lead singer. “It was probably right for me to leave the group when I did," wrote Debby, "just so Midge could have a chance to sing again!”

As Pixie Kaye McCool informed me, “Midge is really enjoying it and is doing an outstanding job as lead.”

The Pixies Three current lineup, front to back:
Midge - Bonnie - Kaye
Although they are scattered far and wide around the country, The Pixies Three get together for concert dates several times a year, performing at venues up and down the East coast, New England and in the York-Hanover area.

“It is always very special to entertain close to home,” Midge told me. “It’s been a blessing to be able to be a Pixie not once but twice in my life. I’m having the time of my life. God has truly blessed me with this opportunity to perform once more after such a long hiatus. I wish I had never left the group when I did. If we only knew then what we know now."

Midge then proceeded to bless me, bless all of us with what I consider to be one of the greatest personal quotes ever to come out of the rock ‘n roll era:

“I’ve never lost the breath of rock n roll soul that I received singing as a young girl.”

Rock on, Midge, and thank you very much for giving it to us straight from the heart!

Kaye, Midge, Bonnie and Debby, the four women who made up The Pixies Three, personified all that was good and right about early 60's America. While some girl groups dressed tough and sang melodramatic downer songs about tragedy and death, The Pixies gave off a positive vibe. They maintained a clean, fresh, wholesome image and their recordings exploded with youthful energy and exuberance. You could actually hear the girls smiling as they sang, and their songs consistently revolved around the theme of having good clean fun with friends. Along with their family-friendly image and uplifting material, The Pixies' singing was simply awesome. Countless hours of vocal training were reflected in their perfect diction, melismatic artistry and glorious harmonies.

The Pixies were a local success story - Hanover schoolmates who worked hard and made their mark as one of the best girl groups in music history. It's gratifying to know that they are still in the game - still making music, still doing live performances, still delighting fans.

We can all learn valuable lessons from The Pixies Three. Think young and act young and you will stay young. Use it and you won't lose it. The Pixies also remind us, as does the hit TV series Glee, that cool is in the eyes, ears, mind and heart of the beholder. Just be yourself and do your own thing and you will find an audience. The Pixies Three were part of the solution back then and they still are now. They espouse a philosophy that is more meaningful today than ever before. The world is depressing enough, so why not sing a happy song?

Have a Shady day!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Midge, Kaye, Debby...and Bonnie Makes Three (Part 1)

The month long second anniversary celebration continues here on Shady Dell Music & Memories. This month I have blogged about The Emperors and The Magnificent Men. Now it’s time to salute another enormously popular Cental PA recording act, our hometown heroines, The Pixies Three!

Debby Swisher, Kaye McCool, and Midge Bollinger, school chums growing up in Hanover, formed a singing act in 1955 and called themselves "The Pixies." The girls competed in regional talent shows, sang at service clubs and fairs, and appeared in Tony Grant's Stars of Tomorrow shows on Atlantic City's Steel Pier and twice on Ted Mack's Amateur Hour.

In 1963 The Pixies landed a recording contract with Mercury Records and became Brill Building label mates with Lesley Gore, another leading exponent of the girl group sound.

Around the start of the 1963 school year, the trio achieved their first and highest charting hit with the infectious "Birthday Party."

"Birthday Party" spent a couple of months on Billboard and made it to #40. The Pixies were off to a great start. Like many other fine recording acts, however, the girls wound up as underachievers in terms of record sales and chart performance.

In a way The Pixies Three were too good for their own good. Think about it. Many times when you bought a hit 45 you got one great song backed with a dud - a throwaway song. A disappointing or even atrocious B side did not bother most record buyers in the least. The problem was that The Pixies Three produced consistently fine recordings. When the teenagers from Hanover blended their voices and waxed songs, the result was all killer, no filler! There wasn't any lackluster material available to put on the B sides of their records.

Starting late in 1963, The Pixies Three released a pair of singles that had classic girl group songs on both sides. Quality turned into a liability because all four great songs went to waste.

At Christmas time 1963 the single containing "Cold, Cold Winter," the designated A side, and "442 Glenwood Avenue," the killer bee, fell victim to the phenonenon known as split play in which some radio stations played the A side and others flipped the record because they favored the B side. When split play happens neither side of the record has the backing it needs to take off and become a nationwide hit. "Winter" sustained its chart run through December and into the middle of January 1964, but only got as far as #79 on the Billboard chart. Ever hear of Shady's Law?

The fab flip, "442 Glenwood Avenue," attained regional hit status, cresting at #56.

The Pixies studio writing/producing team of Madara & White came up with the name "442 Glenwood Avenue" because practically every town in the USA has a thoroughfare by that name and they wanted to maximize the song's appeal.

It seemed like a sound strategy - one that should have worked. "442" could have been a nationwide smash if it had been released as the A side of a single backed with a mediocre Pixies song (if they could have found one).

Bonnie - Kaye - Midge
Following the release of the "Cold, Cold Winter”/“442" double-sider, lead vocalist Midge left The Pixies Three.

Midge was replaced by Bonnie Long who took Debby's place on high vocals.

Bonnie - Kaye - Debby
From then on, it was Debby on lead vocals. “But, I am also the third harmony part in the background vocals,” Debby informed me. “So you get a double dose of me, both lead and background harmony.”

Bonnie - Debby - Kaye
In the summer of 1964, The Pixies Three released another excellent single with potential hits back-to-back. In fact, these two songs were so good that they made my list of the 10 Most Exciting Records...Ever!

Mercury strategists picked "The Hootch" to be the A side, while "It's Summer Time, U.S.A." was chosen as the B side. Once again, the single stagnated on the chart because of split play. This time, the problem for radio stations went beyond confusion over which of the two great songs to include on their restrictive top 40 play lists. Program directors coast to coast became jumpy when it was determined that hootch was a slang term for liquor. Anybody who takes the time to listen to "The Hootch" gets that it was the name of a new dance craze imported from Liverpool.

Yet, in their infinite wisdom, jittery radio execs concluded that The Pixies Three, the wholesome, hard working teenage girls who exemplified good clean fun, were doing the devil's work by promoting underage drinking. (Gansta rap was still light years away!)

Fearing a backlash from parental watchdog groups and a loss of ad revenue, some stations flipped the 45 and started playing "Summer Time U.S.A." instead. With so many singles competing against each other for chart positions on Billboard, split play means no way! As a result, one of the finest girl group double-siders ever produced was left stranded in the Bubbling Under basement. "Summer Time, U.S.A.," one of the great killer bees of all time, spent three weeks on that chart, finishing its futile struggle for recognition at #116.

If you lived the Susquehanna Valley in 1964, you probably remember "Summer Time, U.S.A." being played in heavy rotation all that summer on the Mighty 9-10, wonnnnn-derful WSBA. Lucky us!

Over the past eleven years I have had the pleasure of corresponding with the four members of The Pixies Three.
In Part 2, I will bring you some of the stories and comments that the women have shared with me.

Have a Shady day!

Friday, July 23, 2010

From the Creator of Night of the Living Dell and Day of the Dell Comes the Ultimate Shocker: Introducing Dawn of the Dell!

I didn't see it coming. I was still reeling from the mind boggling photographs sent to us last month by Lynn B.

Lynn's super rare pics captured Dell rats chatting and dancing in the barn in 1961. I was busily preparing for our blog's second birthday celebration when I was blindsided by another windfall - a startling new set of photos that show what the Dell itself looked like at two years of age!

We have Phil Spangler of Gettysburg to thank for sending us these remarkable photos taken in the 1920's and early 30's when his father lived at the Dell as a child.

As Phil explained, the Dell was built in 1924 and his grandfather bought the property and moved in when the house was just two years old! "My grandfather Howard A. Spangler and his family purchased the Shady Dell in 1926 and lived there until 1932. There were at least eight people living in the house: my grandfather and his wife Margarete Tipton Spangler as well as their four sons, Eugene, Samuel, John and my father Richard E. Spangler. Also living in the house was my great-grandfather June Francis Tipton and his wife Ella Mumma Spangler. A relative, David Oyler, lived with the family on occasion."

Phil noted that his great-grandfather June Francis Tipton had been an eyewitness to history. Mr. Tipton was on hand at the start of the Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the American Civil War! "Grandpa T, as we called him, grew up on the Rogers Farm located on the Emmitsburg Road in Gettysburg. He witnessed the arrival of Union General
(John Fulton) Reynolds Corps as it came into Gettysburg
on July 1, 1863."

General John Fulton Reynolds, a native of Lancaster, PA, became one of the first casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg. He was shot and killed later that same day
by a Confederate sniper.

Phil revealed another interesting fact about his great-grandfather. Decades before Dell rats danced to the songs of Penguins, Robins, Cardinals, Crows, Meadowlarks, Falcons and Flamingos, the barn was alive with the sound of a different bird species. "June Francis Tipton raised pigeons in the barn and sold the baby birds (squab) to local restaurants," Phil explained.

Squab, the meat of all pigeon and dove species, is a cheap and readily available source of protein and is often cooked as a delicacy. Young birds are harvested for eating at one month of age when they have reached adult size but cannot yet fly.

According to Phil, the Spanglers also owned horses. Presumably, the hayburners were housed in the stables on the lower level of the barn.

The Shady Dell has always been steeped in history. This is what the newly built Dell house looked like when Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover were serving their terms as President, during The Roaring Twenties, Prohibition, The Crash of '29 and The Great Depression. It would be many more years before John and Helen Ettline would arrive on the scene and transform the place into what thousands of teenagers came to know as the Shady Dell!

This Spangler family group photo was taken on the side of the house that later became the Dell's parking lot and entrance. Notice the long porch that was later enclosed to create the Dell's restrooms. Notice also how the house appears to have been built on a rather steep slope until it was filled in and graded years later to form the parking area.

This picture of the Spangler family circa 1930 was taken from a different angle on the same side of the house. Visible in the background are the undeveloped rolling hills across
S. George St. in the area that is now the densely populated Strathcona Hills, Tri-Hill, Greendale, Edgehill and Hillcrest neighborhoods.

"My grandfather Howard had moved his family from Gettysburg to York in 1926," wrote Phil. "Howard owned an auto parts and tire business located at 2030 N. Penn Street in York. He was a Fisk Tires dealer. The boys attended Violet Hill School. My father had fond memories about living in York. He remembers the boys rolling a truck tire down the hill behind the house and it crashing into a neighbor's chicken house."

Sounds familiar, Phil. For generations the common refrain among Dell rats has been I found my thrill on Violet Hill!

"My grandfather sold the house in 1932," explained Phil, "and moved his family to Harrisonburg, Virginia."

This picture was snapped from Starcross Road/Old Baltimore Pike as the Spanglers posed in front of the hedge bordering the patio that would someday be swarming with barefootin' Dell dancers. In the lower right corner you will notice a large wooden frame beyond the hedge. A zoom in gives us a closer look at the framework and hints at its probable use.

The Grapes of Rat

40 years before Dell rats heard it through the grapevine the Dell had its own vineyard. "My grandmother always grew grapes wherever they lived," wrote Phil. To meet Margarete Tipton Spangler's grape expectations, it seems likely that an arbor was erected on this part of the courtyard - a wooden latticework trellis or pergola that supported grapevines and other types of vining and flowering plants and provided shade and privacy. If you look closely on the left side of the photo you can see part of the brick fireplace that warmed generations of teenaged Dell visitors. That old fireplace was finally dismantled a few months ago during phase one of the Dell's historic renovation.

Phil says his father remembered riding his tricycle around the porches and playing on the Dell grounds. "The boys all had bicycles and loved to ride down the hill. My dad carried scars on his knees from crashing his bike."

It's positively surreal to see the Spangler children of 80+ years ago frolicking at the spot that decades later became the heavily traveled rat route between the Dell snack bar and dance hall! It's interesting to note that the stairway leading down from the second floor porch had not yet been built when this picture was snapped. When the porches were rebuilt in recent weeks that flight of stairs was removed because it used up too much space on both levels. Having come full circle, the Dell porches are once again ready for tots and trike traffic.

Phil, we can't thank you enough for providing these incredible photographs of your family living at the Dell while it was still in its infancy. You have contributed valuable pieces of the puzzle and you have earned the title of honorary Dell rat! Thanks again, my friend!

Who owned the Dell
between 1932 and 1945
when the Ettlines
bought the place and
set up mousekeeping?

Who turned the
residence into a
private, upscale,
members only drinking,
dining and dancing
club...and when?

Who were the very first
Dell rats on the scene
after John and Helen
assumed ownership
in the mid 1940's?

What did our Dell rat
ancestors of the 40's
experience during
those early years?

If you can answer any of these questions please do what Phil Spangler was kind enough to do. Share your story and your photos with Dell rats who care!

Have a Shady day!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Terrible Twos are Underway as Shady Dell Music & Memories Marks its Second Anniversary!

That's right! Another year has passed and our Shady Dell blog is two years old today! Time to start potty training!

As we celebrate two exciting years together and prepare to journey out on the new horizon where year three awaits, let's pause for a brief history lesson. Let's travel back in time to the fall of 1965 and see how yours truly became obsessed with the Dell in the first place. Behold the bizarre chain of events that inspired Shady Del Knight to become a Shady Dell knight.

I can remember it like it was only yesterday...............

(please insert your own eerie music here, folks)

Submitted for your approval - one Mr. Delmore Z. Knight (don't ask)... average teenager happily playing with his Lionel.
(As you can see in the foreground, he also happens to own a model train set.) Young Mr. Knight might be an ordinary adolescent, but he is about to have a close encounter of the extraordinary kind. Mr. Knight is about to enter...

Damn! Why does mom make me eat mashed potatoes?
I hate 'em!

Problem is, I can't leave the dinner table and skip rope with the guys until I clean my plate. Oh, well...if I can just get through the spuds...the rest is gravy hee-hee!

Hey, wait a minute! (insert more eerie music here, folks) These potatoes remind me of something. Let me just take my fork and carve away a little here...and a little here...
and a little......

This is driving me nuts! I know this means something!
This means something!

It means there's something a little "strange" with Del!
(insert more eerie music here, folks)

Fiddlesticks! I'm getting close but I still don’t have it exactly right! I think Teddy Roosevelt had a mustache.

That damn blob of clay can wait. Doug and Julie are on their honeymoon and she says she wants sausage for breakfast. Here comes the phat part! Must see TV is born!

Hello, is this Carlo's? I'd like two large pepperoni pies with anchovies and extra cheese, five bags of Bickel's Honey
Bar-B-Que chips and three packs of Hostess Sno Balls. Wait! Hold the phone!!! Nooooooooooooooo! Not a crappy news bulletin at a time like this!!! I hate you Howard K. Smith! What’s that you're saying? Authorities are warning parents to keep their kids away from a dangerous place called the Shady Dell?

Now a news chopper’s giving us a shot of the place.
OMG! - that’s it! THAT'S IT!!!

Dangerous? The Dell? I smell a conspiracy. The guardians of our morals are at it again. I'm going to the Dell and find out for myself.

Snap! The cops have Starcross blocked off at both ends.
I’ll have to go on foot. It's a steep climb up Violet Hill from George Street over rugged terrain but I'm gonna get there somehow...

'cause my mind's made up and I'm glory bound.
Ain’t no use...nobody’s gonna turn me!

There it is! Right on top of Violet Hill...the Shady Dell!
That must be the Dell! Awesome!

I can see the colored lights and I can hear the music.
Sounds like the gang's got Dave "Baby" Cortez on the jukebox! I'm there, dude!

No way!!!
The rat pack sent a welcoming committee to greet me!

Hey guys, what be happenin'? I come in friendship!
Klaatu barada nikto and all that good stuff!

(insert more eerie music here, folks)

Is the sound of distant drumming
Just the fingers of your hand?

Pictures hanging in a hallway
And the fragment of a song.

Half-remembered names and faces...

but to whom do they belong?

Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind
And the serenity that will forever be ours
in an ethereal never-never land we like to call...

Again this year I would like to thank my friends, my fellow Dell rats, and all of the kind readers of this blog for their loyal support.

Each one of you is important to me and greatly appreciated! There's much more ahead and I invite you to join me.

Year three starts...........right.............NOW!!!

Have a Shady Day!