Born 16 May 1937, Utica, New York

Joe Saraceno has been hailed by Billboard as one of the Top 100 producers of all time and as the # 1 producer of rock instrumentals. After graduating from St. Lawrence University with a degree in business administration and psychology, Saraceno moved to Los Angeles in 1958, where he got a job as an auditor for US Steel. More or less as a joke, Joe wrote a song ("The Freeze") with a friend, Tony Savonne. They sent demos to ABC-Paramount, Dore and Era. Two weeks later Era boss Herb Newman called the duo in and, to their amazement, signed them as artists. "The Freeze" by Tony and Joe became a # 33 hit in mid-1958, and even started a short- lived dance fad. The follow-up, "Where Can You Be?", was a giant flop, but Saraceno had been bitten by the showbiz bug and quit his job at US Steel. Knowing that he was not a great singer (and "a very poor saxophone player"), Joe decided to concentrate on making records as an independent producer. His first success came in late 1959, co-producing Russ Regan's Christmas novelty hit "The Happy Reindeer" (recorded under the name "Dancer, Prancer and Nervous"), which went to # 34 (Capitol 4300). The first record Saraceno produced solo was Dorsey Burnette's "(There Was A) Tall Oak Tree", another hit (# 23 in early 1960). After charting modestly (# 89) with the instrumental "Beautiful Obsession" by Sir Chauncey (Ernie Freeman), Saraceno had participated in four national hits in less than two years.

Come 1961, Joe went to work for Candix Records, also owned by Herb Newman. He was involved with the instrumental "Underwater" by the Frogmen (# 44) and then signed a group called the Pendletones, on the basis of their song "Surfin'". Saraceno changed their name to the Beach Boys, but lacking adequate financing for national distribution of "Surfin'" (which peaked at # 75 nonetheless), he gave the boys their release. They moved on to Capitol and stardom. In the autumn of 1961, Saraceno wrote and produced "Surfer's Stomp" with his new partner, Mike Gordon. He recorded the instrumental with professional session men (Tommy Tedesco, Rene Hall, Plas Johnson, Earl Palmer) and called the group the Marketts. First released on Joe's own Union label, the disc was such a success that Liberty picked it up for national distribution. It ultimately peaked at # 31 in March 1962. More hits for the Marketts would follow, the biggest being "Out Of Limits" (on Warner Bros), which went all the way to # 3 in early 1964. Later in 1962, Saraceno and Gordon created a second "virtual" instrumental group with the Routers, who scored a # 19 hit with "Let's Go" (Warner Bros 5283), now a ubiquitous cheer at high school and college sports events. The successes of the Marketts and the Routers forced Saraceno to put together touring groups to satisfy the demand for live appearances. The session musicians on the early studio recordings of both groups were more or less the same, which has led some people to believe (and write) that the Marketts and the Routers were the same group. The touring groups were clearly different, nor were the studio groups identical. Who played on what session for which group depended largely on who was available from the Wrecking Crew ( on that particular day. The Routers recorded four good LP's for Warner Bros, all of them produced by Saraceno. After "Let's Go", they charted only once more ("Sting Ray", # 50, 1963).

After all of these instrumental hits, Dolton Records brought Saraceno in to work with the Ventures, the top rock instrumental group of all time. They had scored a series of hit singles, but wanted to improve their album sales. Joe emphasized thematic LP's, with hits of the day done in the clean but rocking Ventures style, interspersed with originals. The method worked : "The Ventures A-Go-Go", "Where the Action Is", "Go With the Ventures!", "Wild Things!" (all 1965-66), and, in 1969, the classic "Hawaii Five-O" all were at least Top 40 albums. The title track of the latter gave the group its biggest single hit since "Walk Don't Run" (# 4).

Apart from his Ventures work, Saraceno was a staff producer for Liberty from 1965 into the early 1970s. In 1965 he thought he heard a hit song in an Alka Seltzer TV commercial jingle. He obtained permission from the company to elongate the jingle to song length and then, in a brilliant marketing ploy, sent out packets of Alka Seltzer along with promo copies of the record (recorded by another studio-concocted band, the T-Bones) to radio stations with the note : "Please play this record ; if you don't like it, throw the Alka-Seltzers into water and drink heartily". The record, "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)" was a Top 3 hit (Liberty 55836). The touring version of the T-Bones included Dan Hamilton, Joe Frank Carollo and Tommy Reynolds, who would later score giant hits as Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds ("Don't Pull Your Love", # 4, 1971 ; "Fallin' In Love", # 1, 1975). In the 1980s and 1990s Saraceno has done very well with his songwriting and publishing catalogs, placing many of his songs in feature films and TV programs.

A Joe Saraceno instrumental anthology 1958-1966 on CD is long overdue. If someone with connections to a record company should happen to read this, I'll be happy to make at least 30 suggestions.

More info :

Acknowledgements : the Joe Saraceno entry in "The encyclopedia of record producers", edited by Eric Olsen et al. (Billboard books, 1999), p. 708-710.

- Tony and Joe, The Freeze :
- The Frogmen, Underwater :
- The Marketts, Surfer's Stomp :
- The Routers, Let's Go (Pony) :
- Ernie Freeman, Raunchy '65 :
- T-Bones, No Matter What Shape :
- The Ventures, Hawaii Five-O :


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