The Devotions were formed in 1960, in Astoria (a borough of Queens, New York City), originally as a sextet. Soon they were pared down to a quintet, consisting of Ray Sanchez (bass vocalist), Bob Hovorka, Bob Weinbrod and the brothers Frank and Joe Pardo. After six months of practicing virtually seven days a week, they met record promoter Joe Petralia, who lived down the street from Frank and Joe. Petralia introduced them to Bernie Zimming, owner of the small Delta label in NYC. The Devotions auditioned with doo-wop classics like "Sunday Kind Of Love", "Life Is But A Dream" and "For Sentimental Reasons". Zimming liked the group, but he wanted something more gimmicky that would sell to teens. Ray Sanchez then wrote a novelty song in keeping with the kind that was popular around 1960. The result was "Rip Van Winkle", based on the classic tale of a man who slept for twenty years. Zimming liked the song so much that he took the group into the studio on the very day he first heard it. For the B-side the Devotions recorded "For Sentimental Reasons". The group would give out copies on the street and leave signs in record shops that they would be giving away autographed copies.
Despite these efforts, "Rip Van Winkle" (Delta 1001) slipped into obscurity almost immediately. In 1962, Times Square, a New York oldies store that specialized in vocal group records, began promoting "Rip Van Winkle" on a local radio show hosted by the store's owner, Slim Rose. Roulette Records heard of its popularity among Times Square's customers, bought the Delta masters, and reissued the record on Roulette 4406. It still didn't chart, but gave the group a chance to appear on Slim Rose's rock and roll show in September 1962 at Palisades Park (New Jersey), one of the first oldies shows and years ahead of Richard Nader's late '60s successes.
In late 1963, Roulette released an "oldies but goodies" compilation called "Golden Goodies". Why a flop like "Rip Van Winkle" was included among all those Top 20 hits is a mystery. A disc jockey in Pittsburgh, Porky Chadwick, started plugging "Rip Van Winkle" and the request phone lines started lighting up. This prompted the folks at Roulette to reissue the record once again in January 1964, this time on Roulette 4541. Within a week of its release, "Rip Van Winkle" had sold 15,000 copies in Pittsburgh alone. Three years after its initial release, the song finally became a hit, peaking at # 36 in Billboard, in the midst of Beatlemania.
It turned out that two of the original Devotions were in the armed forces, so a new group was formed with Louis DeCarlo replacing Ray Sanchez on lead and Larry Frank as a replacement for Bob Weisbrod. The group went on the road, had two further releases on Roulette, but received no radio attention and Roulette soon lost interest, after which the group disbanded. The Devotions reformed in the 1970s with Andy Sanchez (Ray's brother) on lead, and ironically they performed more in that decade than when they had their only hit.
- Jay Warner, The Billboard book of American singing groups (1992), page 359-360.
- Rob Finnis, Liner notes for "The Golden Age Of American Rock 'n' Roll, Special Novelty Edition" (Ace CDCHD 980, 2003). This CD includes "Rip Van Winkle".
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