Straight Outta Central Casting: The Curious Tale of Joe Martino
“Ever run into someone who looked like a cliché stepping right out of the pages of a comic book? Such was the case with a character of dubious claim, a super hustler, whose path strategically crossed ours in the late winter and spring of 1966. My stepfather (well-known radio voice Jim Ameche) introduced us to a short, stocky man dressed all in black by the name of Joe Martino. Replete with stogie cigar and straw fedora with a black hat band, this look-alike straight out of the wedding scene in The Godfather was brought to the Children of Rain to record our songs and provide us with multiple copies of the recordings for distribution. His charge was $1,600; to be paid in cash before the project began.
“This little man, who looked like one of those inflatable dolls that children can keep hitting and will bounce up again, with small pencil tips for eyes, and a cigar and a little hat with a feather in it that he never took off, as if to say he was a busy man and would have to go soon—who’d handled big stars, like Damita Jo, and Frankie Laine, and Patti Page—he was going to make them BIG.”
Alan’s college roommate, from “The Overnight Success or So You Wanna Be A Star”
“In spring of 1966, Joe booked us at Regis College outside Boston for a Sunday afternoon concert. He said he’d handle the publicity, which also included an appearance by Jim Ameche. When we arrived, four people were spread out in the vast auditorium awaiting the show; but no Joe. The concert was cancelled on the spot. We later learned from Jim that Joe had planned to sneak in and bolt with the gate proceeds during the show! But his plan was inadvertently foiled by the cancellation.”
“We never saw Joe, the acetate copies, or my $1,600 again. Shortly thereafter, I got a call from an FBI agent saying he had been lead to me by a clairvoyant in his department. He told me they were looking for a Joe Martino on tax fraud and had traced his whereabouts to me. Of course, I had no idea where he was but later found out he was arrested in Las Vegas trying to cash a bad check.”
We've often wondered over the past 50 years whatever became of Joe Martino. Our collective best bet is that he lies beneath New Jersey's swampy Meadowlands, feet encased in cement—a fitting ending following a karmic payback.
What in the name of the Rain?!
So come with us. We'll still the dusk, we'll hush the dawn each day
Then we'll fly through summer, fall, and spring; and lie through winter's stay
Don't search the skies for last year's dream, let's ride tomorrow's train
Just close your eyes and think of us, the Children of Rain
— "The Children of Rain"
© Pameach Publishing Co. (ASCAP), 1967
FOLK NIGHT HEADLINERS
In late spring of 1966, the Children of Rain were asked to headline a Folk Night at an Edison, N.J., junior high school. We had to climb over a fence to get in…and out. It was fine; it felt, I don’t know, Beatlesque in a way. As we entered through the back of the school, we walked down empty corridors with our Dot Records store banner plastered everywhere throughout the building, urging all to buy the Children of Rain’s hit “Dawn to Dusk.” Very heady. The school had pumped us to the student body!
It turned out we would get to cool our heels—the last of nine acts to go on. As a friend who accompanied us to the show remembers: “These 14-year-olds are in this dark auditorium. They’re giggling, and jumping from seat to seat. Tommy is chasing Clara, and Clara is going to get caught. The principal gets up and says that 'this is a group of professionals, and they have a record coming out on the Dot label. They were nice enough to come out here for free. We should give them our undivided attention.’ And somebody giggles.”
We were enthusiastically received, though, and the night had been a triumph of sorts. If not quite feeling like rock stars, it was our Beatles moment, exiting to a few screams and jumping over a fence back to the car.
April 13, 1967
Denis and Alan, with harmonicist Jack Goodfellow (middle)
more Children of Rain
Only one time in our career were we called Pam Meacham and the Children of Rain. And it happened to appear on the one item that perpetuates us—the Dot record that was released in April 1966.
Discographers have a hard time finding any release by the Children of Rain, because Dot erroneously issued the 45 rpm single as “Pam Meacham and the Children of Rain,” which many Dot anthologies now have shortened to just Pam Meacham, even occasionally misspelling that as Pam Meecham. The person most irritated about the name change, ironically, was Pam.
"That wasn't our name," she said in July of 2017. "That wasn't our theme!"
The CofR version of "Get Together" is the second-ever release (behind We Five) of the famed peace anthem as a 45 single (beating the Youngbloods' initial release by a year).
The Children of Rain played one of folk music’s hallowed venues in the early fall of 1966—the Gaslight Café, in Greenwich Village. The subterranean nightspot on MacDougal Street hosted every big name in folk during its hey-day, including Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Dave Von Ronk, and scores of others, preceded by poets Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who addressed the Beat Generation at the Gaslight back in the 1950s.
“It was the only time in our career that I can remember my knees literally shaking,” says Pam of the CofR’s three-song performance. “It didn't affect my voice, but I could barely stand up for the nerves.”
Recalls Alan: “All I remember is paralyzing fear."
Exit Children of Rain, enter Ross Legacy
In early 1968, again through assistance from Jim Ameche, Pam and Alan, newly married, met producers Vic Millrose and Alan Bernstein, New York songwriters who had written hit songs for artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra and Gary Puckett & the Union Gap. Our Dot record had failed to chart and we were looking forward to trying something different with the new production team of Millrose-Bernstein.
They soon informed us that Philips Records was interested in signing us—not as a duet but as a group, now that folk rock bands were securely in the pop music mainstream. But the first thing our producers hit us with was, “the name’s got to go.” We wondered why. “Too negative,” they said. They then set to promptly writing a song called “The Children of the Sun.” “That’s it,” they said, “the Children of the Sun.” No, that will definitely not be it, we said. The new name would be our choice. “Okay,” they said, “but we will own it.”
At that time, it was not uncommon for record producers to own the name of a band or group. Bob Crewe, who produced The Four Seasons that included Frankie Valli, reportedly owned the rights to the group’s name. It afforded Crewe the luxury of replacing any member at any time, should there be a rift between producer and artist. We huddled. How can we foil this?
“We agreed that if we had our own name in the new group name, it wouldn’t matter if they owned it,” says Pam, “because they could never own our personal last name.” The word Ross is also sometimes used as a first name, and we thought—with a noun placed behind it—it might even sound like the cool name of a single person. We always hoped for our music to endure, if it were possible. The name Legacy soon surfaced, and so we mothballed a truly great name, a name we dearly loved—Children of Rain—for our next incarnation: on Philips as Ross Legacy.
The Children of Rain with the Boston Band
When we started, in January of 1966, folk music was segueing from contemporary folk to folk rock. Only six months before, Dylan had transformed folk when he electrified Newport.
From the get-go, we felt we could be a part of it, my writing beginning to show hints of rock and pop influence, along with Denny’s steady output of legendary-worthy songs and poetry put to music. We adapted two of Denny’s greatest tunes, “Autumn Time” and Dakota Blues” with a rock feel, and soon after, fortune hooked us up with the Boston Band, as we called Brad, a Princeton friend of Denny’s, and a skilled bassist and electric guitarist, Paul Burns, who later rocked with the hit group, Chrysalis.
We got together one winter weekend in Boston, in early 1967, and two weekends later Brad and Paul came down to New York City. We set up Brad’s mini-organ and Paul’s electric guitar, bass, and amp right smack in the middle of Pam’s mother’s living room in her Manhattan apartment and wailed away like there was no one home in any of the surrounding apartments. The Children of Rain with the Boston Band was short-lived but surviving are two rough but digital home recordings of “Autumn Time” and “Dakota Blues” from the two rehearsals.