The music had changed but for Pueblo bands trying to make it, the story is still the same.
There is no evidence of Angelo Rotondo’s past life inside his spotless home, located just northwest of the Colorado state fairgrounds. After 40-plus years as a CF&I carpenter, and an equal number of years creating toys and other woodworking projects in his spare time, a tiny wooden piano in a glass case is all that remains of that chapter. His days are now spent tending to his bad back, watching TV, running errands to the grocery store, and helping his wife Maggie recover from her cancer diagnosis.
This is the home of a former Pueblo rock star.
In 1964, teen bands were plentiful in Pueblo. Rotondo was just like almost every other local school-age kid with a drum kit, spending every spare moment trying to emulate his favorite bands, perfecting his sound in the family garage, or in the basement. Before too long word got around that the Pueblo Catholic High graduate was looking for fellow bandmates. He soon connected with South High School keyboardist Rick Witcowich and briefly, lead guitarist, Ed Elitch.
Ernie Watta was a Centennial High grad, who Rick and Angelo thought would make a better addition to their new band than Ed.
“He knew how to really pick a lead, so we had to fire Ed,” Rotondo said.
Ernie’s contributions to the threesome would also include giving the new band its name.
“Ernie thought we should be called The Rockin’ Teardrops, but we didn’t really like that, so we took the Rockin’ off,” Rotondo said.
During a talent show to promote the Colorado State Fair, the newly named Teardrops discovered Ron Myers, who was set to perform as a solo singer and guitarist.
“We liked him, and asked if he could play bass,” Rotondo said. “So instead of having two acts that night, Ron just joined us in our band, as our bass player.”
The Teardrops became an overnight sensation. The teenaged boy band soon had a regular gig at Jerry’s in Pueblo and The Crazy Cat in Colorado Springs, and was in constant demand at school dances around town. They quickly discovered the perils associated with adoring female fans.
“We just got new suits up the in Springs, these gold lame jackets and tuxedo pants, with these Beatles boots,” Rotondo said. “So we were doing a show with all of these screaming girls in the crowd, and our manager said, ‘Don’t go out in the audience.’ We were thinking these are all of our fans, they won’t do anything. So we went out, and got mauled.”
As word spread about the Teardrops brand of catchy rock, they were soon booked to open for touring national acts.
“Our manager got us the warm-up slot for a lot of shows, like Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars,” Rotondo said. “We got to meet lots of people, including Shirley Ellis, the Coasters, the Larks, Sam the Sham, and Little Richard.”
With the adulation of female fans, prime gigs with big name acts, and a regular local spot at Jerry’s, the Teardrops were looking forward to what the future would bring. Rotondo didn’t think it would include a new member.
“Ron knew this girl singer, named Patti Jo Martinez. They went to school together at East High. He thought she would make a good addition to the band. Our manager also thought it was a good idea.”
“We were getting all of these girls at our shows, but not a lot of guys,” said Myers. “So I figured we should get someone in the band that would bring in a more diverse audience.”
“Ron and I grew up together since grade school,” said the now Patti Jo Martinez Boyce. “He played for me several times when I sang for school assemblies, as my back up. I never heard of the Teardrops until he asked me to audition for them. I thought it sounded like fun.”
While Patti Jo passed the audition, and the guys in the band were supportive of the lineup change, the female followers of the band weren’t too happy with the addition.
“Our female fans didn’t like having a girl in the group,” said Rotondo. “And all of a sudden we started having all of these male followers there to see Patti Jo.”
“I never thought of that,” Martinez Boyce said with a laugh. “I was never allowed to mingle with the boys during breaks – ever. In fact, I used to sit in a room during the breaks, and one of the Teardrops would stay in there with me – they were very protective of me, like brothers.”
Seizing on the cross-gender fan base, the band’s manager, Tom Anderson, decided to book some studio time in Denver for the newly billed Patti Jo and the Teardrops. “We recorded at Kurt Goletz’s home studio in Denver,” said Rotondo. “We had never been in a studio before, and all we knew about him what that he was known for his big band and lounge recordings.”
Released on the Crazy Town label, “Whispering Your Love” prominently features the band’s new female lead, while the flip is an instrumental take on “Sixteen Tons.”
By the end of the recording session, Tony Spicola, Patti’s own manager, had other plans for her as a solo act. She would go on to record “I’ll Sleep Tonight” / “Headin’ for a Heartbreak,” at Ray Ruff’s studios in Amarillo. However, after serious consideration, she walked away from it all to marry and raise a family. She lives in Florida.
“I have awesome memories during my two and-a-half years with the group,” Martinez Boyce said. “I never dreamed that I would be blessed to experience traveling, having a fan club, playing the state fair, and singing with the cutest boy band in the world (in Colorado).”
But Patti Jo’s departure wouldn’t be the only change for the band.
“Ron called one day and said we had to fire our band manager, Tom,” Rotondo said. “Ron was dating a gal at the bank, and she told him that there was no money in our band’s account, so we confronted him, and fired him. We decided to go it alone.”
One of the first things they did, after they fired their manager, was go back into the studio, to record as the Teardrops.
“Ron just got on the phone and called Norman Petty, in Clovis,” he said. We booked time, I think it was about $75 an hour, and we recorded our singles.”
Traveling down to Clovis, the band recorded the Ron Myers-penned “Sweet Sweet Sadie,” and the flip, the Ernie Watta-composed, “You Go Your Way,” in the same studio Buddy Holly recorded his string of hits. They would return to Clovis months later to record a second single, “Armful of Teddy Bear,” and the Angelo Rotondo-penned and performed b-side, “Who Are You” minus Ron Myers, who left the band due to internal conflict in the group.
“I left because I was having trouble with the guitar player, Ernie.” Myers said. “He was a really nice guy, but not reliable. He wouldn’t show up for gigs, and I couldn’t take that. So it was either he goes, or I go.”
The singles were released on the band’s own 004 label. “James Bond was really big at the time, so we played off the 007, with the four guys in the band – 004,” said Rotondo.
With a new bassist, Mike Elias, a few hundred newly pressed records, and huge local fan base, the Teardrops were poised for national stardom, but they would receive yet more untimely news – Rick Witcowich was drafted into the U.S. Army.
“Rick said ‘Just keep the band going whatever you do.’ So we tried to carry on without him, but it wasn’t the same,” Rotondo said. “When Rick got back from the military, we picked up another bass player and a lead guitarist, and we continued to call ourselves the Teardrops, but it just didn’t work. People remembered us, but we didn’t sound like the old Teardrops, so that was that.”
The Teardrops officially broke up in 1970.
The band became part of a long list of Pueblo rock acts of the era, including the Trolls, the Stingreys, and the Chandells, who never saw fame past the city limits.
“They all tried to make it in California, but they all came back to Pueblo, dragging their tails,” Rotondo said. “In Pueblo you are a star. You are a big fish in a little pond. In California you have to fight harder to get nowhere. So you come back home.”
“We had a great time, for about three years, and then it became obvious that we weren’t going where,” said Myers. “It’s the same story over and over again with local bands. You know the old saying, ‘Don’t quit your day job.’”
For his second act, Rotondo went on to form Guys and Doll with Witcowich, and Rotondo’s then-wife, Claudia. The band struck gold again in the local Pueblo nightclub circuit, packing Wayne’s Caravan every night, with their three-piece lounge act. The group would disband six years later, and Angelo and Claudia divorced soon afterward.
Today Rotondo embraces his quieter life.
“I feel like I fulfilled what I was put here for. I wanted to be a carpenter, and I was. How many people can say that they did a job they loved for 40 years? Sometimes I go to the Village Inn and someone recognizes me from the Teardrops or Guys and Doll,” he said. “Sure I had my pipedreams of being famous, but it wasn’t meant to be – but I’ve had girls tear off my clothes.”
Ernie Watta would eventually move to California to help launch his wife Maxine’s singing career. She would achieve national success in 1983, releasing two singles and an album on the Rocshire record label. Ernie Watta and Mike Elias have since passed away. Rick Witcowich died in 2001.
Ron Myers currently lives in California.
Included in this story is information previously obtained by the author, from a 2011 interview with Patti Jo Martinez and Angelo Rotondo, on the blog, pueblocitylimits.com.