Tempo, Nino & Stevens, April
Tempo, Nino & Stevens, April
It is difficult to definitively categorize the music of the brother-sister act of Nino Tempo & April Stevens. Today, their sound might best be described as easy listening, but at the height of their popularity their music was placed in the rock 'n' roll category by the Grammy committee in 1963. The duo achieved popularity on the eve of the so-called British Invasion, which would forever change the soundscape and market for American popular music. It disrupted Tempo and Stevens's careers as well, but they continued, undeterred, to record both as a duo and as solo artists.
Antonio "Nino" and Carol LoTempio were both born in Niagara Falls, New York, to Sam and Anna LoTempio. Their father was a grocer. The siblings were a year apart in age. They had separate entertainment careers in their teens: Tempo as an actor; Stevens as a vocalist. According to MusicHound Lounge: The Essential Album Guide to Martini Music and Easy Listening, both careers may have been born from their mother's own inability to have a show business career, thanks to the insistence of her traditional Italian husband. According to the book, Tempo began his career as a child vocalist and actor when his mother "put seven-year-old Nino up to fibbing to Benny Goodman [during an appearance in Buffalo, NY] that he had made a $5 bet that he could sing with the band. Goodman bought it, and Nino brought the house down. Goodman had him come back to do the same bit six more nights." Tempo would later portray a character based on the legendary Goodman, in the classic film The Glenn Miller Story. After meeting Goodman, Tempo became interested in playing clarinet. He later switched to tenor saxophone, and also learned to play guitar.
During the 1940s the family moved to California, where Tempo began working in films. He made an uncredited film appearance in The Story of G.I. Joe in 1945. His first film credit was for an appearance in The Red Pony in 1949. During this time he frequently played in high school dance bands, and then embarked on a career as a session musician, while continuing his acting career.
Stevens began a singing career in her teens, after being discovered while shopping in a record store. The single she was asked to record was just suggestive enough to be refused radio airplay, so young Carol decided to adopt a pseudonym. LoTempio, having already proven too difficult for people to pronounce, had been jettisoned by the family in favor of the snappier "Tempo." She chose her stage name by combining her birth month with a name that she thought sounded sufficiently American: April Stevens.
She recorded several singles for Laurel Records and then Society Records. She made her mark with "I'm in Love Again," which she recorded as the featured vocalist with Henri Rene & His Orchestra in 1951. The record made the top ten charts, as did "Gimme a Little Kiss, Will Ya Huh?," and "And So to Sleep Again." Stevens charted again with "Teach Me Tiger," written by Tempo, late in the decade.
Tempo was busy working as an actor and session musician during this period, most notably for Steve Lawrence and Rosemary Clooney, for whom he also served as a composer and arranger. Tempo also worked with noted producer Phil Spector on many of his hits, as part of the session band that would become known as "The Wrecking Crew." It was during a session he was playing for Bobby Darin in 1963 that Tempo was introduced to Ahmet Ertegun, the cofounder and head of Atlantic Records. During this encounter Tempo mentioned he was considering forming a duo with his sister. Ertegun, a fan of Stevens's "Teach Me Tiger," was intrigued and signed the two artists.
In the early 1960s the siblings were signed to the Atco label. The duo's first three singles were not successful, and Tempo begged Ertegun to release "Deep Purple." Ertegun fought against it because he "considered so bad it was embarrassing," according to William Ruhlmann, writing in All Music Guide. "Record buyers disagreed. Issued in the summer of 1963 with the billing switched to Nino Tempo & April Stevens, 'Deep Purple' hit number one in November. It also won the 1963 Grammy Award for Best Rock & Roll Recording." This single would become their biggest hit. It was reportedly recorded in about 15 minutes at the end of a session. That it won a Grammy award for best rock recording of the year "says a lot more about the Grammys' questionable grasp of rock than the single, which was at least as much adult pop as rock," according to Richie Unterberger writing in the All Music Guide.
"Most of the duo's early and mid-1960s hits were updates of popular standards like 'Deep Purple,' 'Whispering,' 'Stardust,' and 'Tea for Two,'" wrote Unterberger. "They weren't quite in the easy-listening mainstream, though, due to the pop/rock feel of most of their arrangements, and Stevens's breathy, sensual style. ... As pop performers with a bent for Tin Pin Alley material ... [they were] kind of stuck between generations, especially two months after their number one hit 'Deep Purple,' when the Beatles made the top of the hit parade." Their next release was "Whispering." Thanks to the British Invasion, the song didn't crack the top ten pop charts, although at the height of its popularity it reached number eleven.
"All Strung Out" followed in 1966. For this recording, the duo tried to change its musical course to a more mainstream sound. The recording ranked only in the Top 40 in 1966 but, because of its kinship with Spector, it "rates as one of the greatest Phil Spector-inspired productions of all time," according to Unterberger. The record was released by the independent pop label White Whale, which has since been associated with Los Angeles bubblegum pop music. The duo continued to record in the 1970s for A&M Records, but with chart success limited primarily to the easy listening charts.
Tempo continued to be busy as a session musician, playing saxophone on recordings by artists including Frank Sinatra and Cher. He also worked with Maynard Ferguson as a member of his band. He had a single solo hit called "Hooked on Young Stuff" in 1979 and also contributed to the soundtrack for The Idolmaker, which appeared on charts in December of 1980. Stevens retired in 1979. The pair did record the occasional demo work and Stevens recorded vocals on some of Tempo's solo recordings. He took a decade off from recording until Stevens got him back to work with her own Carousel Dreams.
Tempo recorded several solo jazz albums in the 1990s. Tempo's revitalized solo career followed his participation in a memorial service for Nesuhi Ertegun, Atlantic Records' co-founder. He was signed to Atlantic and released Tenor Saxophone, Nino, and Live at Cicada. For Sweet and Lovely: The Best of Nino Tempo & April Stevens, a 1996 Varese Sarabande compilation, the siblings reunited to record a new track. They selected "Why Don't You Do Right?," which had been popularized by Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee. As of 2004, both were reportedly living in Arizona in "semiretirement," occasionally playing reunion shows.
For the Record . . .
Members include April Stevens (born Carol LoTempio on April 29, 1936, in Niagara Falls, NY), vocals; Nino Tempo (born Antonio LoTempio on January 6, 1935, in Niagara Falls, NY), vocals, saxophone.
Pop-rock duo formed by siblings Antonio and Carol LoTempio, 1961; signed to Atlantic Records, 1963; recorded three unsuccessful singles for Atco; released single "Deep Purple," which went to number one on charts, 1963; won Grammy Award for Best Rock & Roll Recording, 1963; recorded a variety of standards, 1960s; switched style to a Phil Spector-like rock-pop sound; released "All Strung Out" on White Whale, 1966; continued to record as duo for A&M Records, 1970s; Tempo continued session work and released solo projects, 1970s; Stevens retired, 1979; Stevens recorded Carousel Dreams, 1990; duo reunited for new single to appear on compilation Sweet and Lovely: The Best of Nino Tempo & April Stevens, 1996.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best Rock 'n' Roll Recording for "Deep Purple," 1963.
Deep Purple, Atco, 1963.
Nino & April Sing the Great Songs, Atlantic, 1964.
A Nino Tempo/April Stevens Program, Camden, 1964.
Hey Baby, Atco, 1966.
Sweet and Lovely: The Best of Nino Tempo & April Stevens, Varese Sarabande, 1996.
"All Strung Out," White Whale, 1967; reissued, Varese, 1968; reissued, Rev-Ola, 2003.
Deep Purple/Sing the Great Songs, Collectables, 2001.
Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Feral House, 2001.
Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 3rd edition, Macmillan, 1998.
Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Vol. 3, Guinness Publishing, 1998.
MusicHound Lounge: The Essential Album Guide to Martini Music and Easy Listening, Visible Ink Press, 1998.
Billboard, January 17, 1998.
"Nino Tempo & April Stevens," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 13, 2004).
—Linda Dailey Paulson