Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Robert Palese, 74, doo-wop singer and teacher

He played drums and sang with the Echoes in the ’50s and ’60s and ran a popular music school in Marlton, N.J.

Robert Palese
Robert PaleseRead more

IN THE MID-1950S, Bobby Palese and Joe Giglio graduated from Camden Catholic High School with one conviction: They weren't going to take 9-to-5 jobs. They wanted to be entertainers.

Lots of kids start out with fanciful notions of what they want to do with their lives: cop, fireman, pilot, professional athlete.

Most come to their senses when confronted with the realities of the world.

Not Bobby and Joe.

They went on to pursue and fulfill their dreams, eventually as two of the four members of the Echoes doo-wop group, which performed widely and cut some records that got airplay in the Philadelphia region.

Robert Palese, a drummer who performed under the name Bobby Pal, and who later became a respected teacher of percussion at his own school in Marlton, N.J., died Monday. He was 74 and was living in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

After graduating from high school, Bobby and Joe enlisted the talents of two other boys, Dominick "Chubby" Salvatore and Fiore "Cookie Dell" Delbuono, who were equally disdainful of the ordinary working world. They started to play and sing for garden parties, birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs and the like. The name they performed under at that time was Cookie and His Swing Kings.

But when Swan Records took an interest in them, they changed the name to the Echoes.

"The four of us clicked instantly," Bobby told Robert Bosco, music researcher and writer who is crafting a magazine article on the Echoes, "and it wasn't long before we landed some nice assignments."

"Their first pick to click was a demented novelty ditty, 'The Little Green Man,' in which they not only sang but provided all the instrumental background as well, a rarity in that time when persnickety label owners usually demanded professional sidemen for recording sessions," Bosco wrote.

"Little Green Man" was designed to take advantage of the ubiquitous UFO sightings, which were so common in the late 1950s.

But unexpectedly, Bosco wrote, "it was the flip side, 'Scratch My Back,' which was garnering airplay, especially from local supergiant WIBG. It reached #2 in Scranton and #86 nationally."

But the boys suffered a blow when the payola scandal erupted in 1959-60, ensnaring among others "American Bandstand's" Dick Clark, who was a silent partner in Swan. He had to divest himself of many of his holdings in the music industry, including Swan.

Without Clark, the company foundered.

"What are you going to do?" Bobby asked Bosco. "You plan for everything and the sky falls in. You just keep going, is all."

The group kept busy, performing as far away as New York and Canada and at many now-forgotten clubs around Philadelphia and in South Jersey.

After a hitch in the Army, Bobby and his friends released a single called "Zoom" with singer-songwriters Frank Slay and Bob Crewe, the brains behind the Four Seasons a few years down the road.

Once again, it was the flip side, "The Italian Twist," that got the attention.

"Go figure," Bobby told Bosco. "We worked so hard on 'Zoom,' and spent about five minutes on this stupid novelty, and that's all folks wanted to hear at our gigs."

The Echoes were later redubbed the "Unique Echoes," and after the group faded, Bobby kept playing two or three nights a week on keyboard, drums and bass, and singing.

He took a job as a national salesman with Charles Dumont & Sons, a music publishing firm in South Jersey, and taught at his Palese School of Music. It had as many as 300 students at one time, according to his brother, Larry, a once-popular organist.

"He had regular students, and he also taught teachers how to teach music to blind people," Larry said.

Bobby was born in Camden to William and Josephine Palese. He was divorced about 30 years ago and is survived by two daughters, Jennifer and Joanna.

Services: Funeral Mass 10 a.m. Monday at Christ Our Light Church, 402 Kings Highway North, Cherry Hill, N.J. Friends may call at 9 a.m. at the Falco, Caruso & Leonard Funeral Home, 6600 Browning Rd., Pennsauken. Burial will be in Calvary Cemetery, Cherry Hill.