Born Edward Henry Reardon, 6 March 1927, Springfield, Massachusetts
Eddie Fontaine liked to tell people that he was born in 1937. In reality he was ten years older. He inherited his looks from his Italian mother rather than from his Irish father, who was far from pleased when Eddie changed his surname to Fontaine, because it was "slicker".
Eddie grew up in Rockaway Beach, twenty miles from New York City. With Frankie Laine as his main inspiration, he got his start in the music business singing in bars in New York with a guitar and passing the hat. By the early 1950s Fontaine had graduated to singing in cocktail lounges where he was discovered by bandleader Neal Hefti and Jimmy Hilliard, who was just starting up the new 'X' label, a subsidiary of RCA. Two weeks later, in the first week of 1955, Eddie found himself in New York's RCA Victor studio, cutting covers of two Henry Glover compositions, "Rock Love" (originally recorded by Lula Reed, but a Top 20 hit for the Fontane Sisters) and "All My Love Belongs To You" (Bullmoose Jackson). It sold well enough to garner a UK release (HMV 7 M 304). Fontaine was part of the first of Alan Freed's rock n roll shows, at the Brooklyn Paramount in April 1955, with LaVern Baker, the Penguins, the Clovers, Red Prysock, the Moonglows, Mickey Baker and others.
After seven singles for X and its successor, Vik, and an isolated 45 on Jalo, Eddie was signed to Decca in the summer of 1956. His first release on the label was "Cool It Baby", which had been recorded by Dick Lory for Dot just a few weeks earlier. It was Eddie's first out and out rocker and gained him a cameo appearance in the classic rock n roll movie "The Girl Can't Help It". Six more Decca singles followed in 1956-57, more pop than rock. He bowed out in fine style with a cover of Johnny Horton's "Honky Tonk Man", recorded in Nashville with Hank Garland, Grady Martin, Bob Moore and Buddy Harman. Next came an excellent two-sider for Chancellor, "Goodness, It's Gladys"/"Middle Of the Road", the A-side being one of his most rocking sides. But this was a one-off deal and Eddie was now without a recording contract.
Fontaine went into the studio at his own cost and cut a demo of a song he had written (or at least, he has always claimed that he was the sole writer), "Nothin' Shakin'", using guitarists George Barnes and Eddie O'Connor, drummer Cozy Cole and two others. He submitted the demo to publisher Gene Goodman in the hope that he would get the song placed with a record company, but there were no takers initially. Eddie then signed with Tommy Valando's Sunbeam label and rerecorded "Nothin' Shakin'" for them. Soon after the release of this new version he found out - to his dismay - that his original demo had been sold to Chess Records without his knowledge and had acquired three additional writing credits : by Diane Lampert, John Gluck, Jr (later co-writer of "It's My Party") and Cirino Colacral. This original (and superior) version came out on Argo 5309 in August 1958 and climbed to # 64 on Billboard's Hot 100, the only chart entry of Eddie's career. "Nothin' Shakin'" was also released in the UK (London HLM 8711) and was later recorded by the Beatles (for the BBC), Billy Fury and Craig Douglas, among others. Next, Fontaine spent some time in Cuba, doing a night club act, until Battista was overthrown by Fidel Castro.
Later releases on Warner Bros and Liberty were less interesting and Eddie faded from the recording scene, while his acting career took off. 1961 found him in Hollywood playing the part of a singing G.I. in the weekly TV drama "The Gallant Men" for Warner Bros. After the series came off the air in 1963, Fontaine spent the next two decades flitting between night club crooning and TV bit-parts (Kojak, Baretta, The Rockford Files, Happy Days [as Fonzie's dad ], The Six Million Dollar Man, and others).
In 1981 he resumed his former mantle as a rock n roll singer and toured Europe. In 1984 he was charged with soliciting the murder of his ex-wife, Pamela. An acquaintance, part-time country singer David Faircloth, told the San Fernando Municipal Court that Fontaine had offered him $ 3000 and, as an additional incentive, an electric guitar in exchange for killing the former Mrs Fontaine. (Wikipedia mentions the promise of a recording contract instead of a guitar, but I like the guitar version better.) Eddie was sentenced to four years in prison, but apparently he was acquitted by an appeal court in 1985. (http://articles.latimes.com/1985-06-11/local/me-10454_1_previous-convictions) We know for sure that he was a free man on March 1, 1987, because he was interviewed by Stuart Colman on that day, on Radio London (see Further reading).
A terminal form of throat cancer ended his life in 1992. Eddie Fontaine was a crooner rather than a true rock n roller. Some of his recordings are sub-standard, but his legacy includes a few worthy rockers, most notably "Nothin' Shakin'", "Cool It Baby" and "Goodness It's Gladys".
- Further reading:
With thanks to Eric LeBlanc.
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