In the wildcat days of pre-Beatles rock and roll, four teens from the Boston suburbs — Lennie Petze, Jimmy Petze, Ray Pizzi and Lenny Collins — separated themselves from the Beantown pack in the early 1960s with a handful of raucous, largely instrumental rockers that are fondly remembered to this day, and serve as an exciting counterpoint to the comparatively staid sounds of Freddy Cannon and the G-Clefs that dominated Kennedy-era Boston.
The band members cut their teeth in their first band The Rhythm Rockers. Formed in 1958, they played countless record hops on the South Shore along with other popular bands at the time: Rick Coyne and The Guitar Rockers, The Rainbows, The Reveleers, The Chevelles, The HiFi’s, The Pilgrims and The Ramrods. The Rhythm Rockers consisted of the Petze cousins, Nicky Latteo, Ray Pizzi and Ed Grispi. They had signed with Square Records a local label founded by another Boston group, The Three D’s. They went into Ace Recording Studios to record their first single. The track, “Madness,” became the band’s first release in 1958 and garnered some radio play in New England and received great support from Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsberg at WMEX in Boston. As luck would have it drummer Ed Grispi got drafted and Nicky Latteo got married. So the makeup of the band was about to change.
Lenny Collins had been drumming for The Reveleers, and when asked to join up with the Petzes and Pizzi he accepted and joined the band in early 1960. Practicing in the basement at 400 Liberty Street in Braintree and doing demos together as a four piece unit they decided on the name The Rondels. One of those demos was their version of the standard “Greensleeves,” and while chasing a record deal in New York City it caught the attention of New York City-based producer Bugs Bower who had, at that time, the number one record in America: the Brian Hyland-sung “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Bugs brought the band to New York and produced the track then re-titled, “Shades of Green.” A few months went by and the band got the good news that they were offered a deal from Amy Records.
(As an aside I want to mention that the head of A&R at Amy Records at the time was a man named Jerry Landis, AKA Paul Simon.)
Bugs asked the band to go into the studio in Boston and cut a B side which ended up being “Back Beat No. 1.” While “Shades Of Green” went out as the A side it wasn’t long before the label was getting feedback from dj’s around the country, that they were working the wrong side. “Back Beat No. 1” cracked the Top 100, landing at #66 in Billboard August 1961.
Performances on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand along with other TV appearances in Baltimore, Detroit, and Washington D.C. made the year 1966 so special for this band from Weymouth, Braintree and Quincy. They continued to gig and cut singles through the 60’s but greater success eluded the group, and the tidal wave known as Beatlemania proved to be too much to compete with, though the band (with a few line-up and name changes) soldiered on until 1968. After which Jimmy Petze and friend and musician Bobby Morse continued to make music and record for another ten years. Altogether during those years the band went on to record almost 100 tracks.
In June of 2021 Fervor Records of Phoenix, Arizona released four Rondels albums digitally. The Rondels Anthology Vol. 1, 2 and 3, and The Rhythm Rockers 1957-1960.
Lennie Petze remained in the industry, eventually becoming Senior Vice-President of A&R for Epic/Portrait Records, for whom he signed, among others, Boston, Cyndi Lauper, Eddy Grant, Sade, Molly Hatchet, Saga, Europe, Heatwave, Danger Danger, Accept, Mtume, Wet Willie, Aldo Nova and others. His loyalty to the city of Boston and its music community held true throughout his tenure at Epic as his signings also included Barry Goudreau And Orion The Hunter, Orchestra Luna, Phil Gentile, Til Tuesday, Face To Face, Livingston Taylor and New Man. While in the position of Vice President, along with the artists that he signed, Lennie worked with Cheap Trick, The Clash, Heart, Randy Bachman, Felix Cavaliere, Buck Dharma, Dan Fogelberg, Jim Steinman, Luther Vandross, Annie Lennox, Arthur Baker, Dave Loggins, George Duke, Michael Jackson, The Jacksons, Jeff Beck, Stanley Clarke, REO Speedwagon, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Don Johnson, Teena Marie, The Bangles, Michael Bolton, Meatloaf, Patti Labelle, The Charlie Daniels Band and Kansas.
As a producer Lennie Petze produced Wet Willie’s album Which One’s Willie, and Aldo Nova’s debut album Aldo Nova. He co-produced the number one hit “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper as well as the albums True Colors and She’s So Unusual.
Nicky Latteo returned to The Rondels in 1963 and remained as the lead singer and bass player until 1968. Nicky was an original member of The Rhythm Rockers, which in the beginning was a three piece group all playing guitars. Always a showman, Nick had amazing talent as a singer and musician with the ability of learning anything quickly. At a young age he studied and mastered tap dancing and he was known for his showmanship at many high school talent shows. That showmanship worked right into his stage persona. Having left the group in 1960 to help raise his four children, he returned to The Rondels and he picked up the bass guitar and played it like he had been playing it all his life.
He continues to play and entertain at nursing homes and private parties as a one-man band to this day in 2021. After living in Weymouth, Massachusetts most of his life he and his wife Clare have moved on to a life in sunny Naples, Florida. Nicky has a huge family and still plays Santa Claus at the family Christmas party.
Lenny Collins also worked at Epic Records. When Lennie Petze was promoted to Regional Promotion Manager for Epic in Boston, he encouraged Lenny to interview for the local Promotion Managers position, and that was the beginning of a long career for Lenny at Epic. Lenny had tremendous success in the New England market promoting artists on the Epic and Associated Labels to all the radio stations around New England. He was responsible for breaking numerous artists, including Labelle, Boston, Cyndi Lauper, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Til Tuesday and on and on and on. Lenny decided to change direction after having a lucky day with The Massachusetts State Lottery. He was always a horse racing enthusiast and that’s what he did. Many times at Suffolk Downs the winners circle had Len and his horse celebrating.
He still has his drums setup in his basement and without a doubt can still play as well as anyone.
Eddie Grispi was the drummer in The Rhythm Rockers and played and even occasionally sang on all of the band’s early recordings. Fervor Record has released The Rhythm Rockers 1957-1960 in June 2021.
Available on iTunes it includes the first single “Madness Chapter One” and “Madness Chapter Two.” Eddie opens each version with his heinous monologue. Other songs included on the digitally released CD are “Monkeys Rock” and “Just A Rockin,” Eddie was drafted into the US Army and upon his return he played with many musical combos at clubs and dances in and around the South Shore of Boston.
A talented cabinet maker Eddie opened his own kitchen design center Kingston Kitchens in Kingston, Massachusetts and developed a great business that continued to be successful until his sudden passing on New Years Day, 2004. Eddie had a big family and many grandchildren who loved him dearly. A snowbird, Ed and his wife Shirley would spend part of the winter in their home in Florida where he would play golf, a game that he loved as much as his drums. A great and loyal friend and always a practical joker, he was always great fun to be around.
Ray Pizzi, the incredible saxophone player who at the age of 15 was asked to join The Rhythm Rockers in 1958. He has the most extensive musical credentials of all the members. His playing can be heard on all of The Rhythm Rockers and The Rondels recordings. From Quincy, Massachusetts, Ray attended New England Conservatory and Berklee College Of Music after which he became a music teacher in the public school system in Randolph, Massachusetts, but his true destiny came in 1969 when he took a chance and moved to Los Angeles, California. There he became one of the most sought after and in demand recording session musicians.
His playing of sax, flute and bassoon can be heard on recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Zappa, Henry Mancini, Chaka Khan, Madonna, James Brown, Quincy Jones, Nancy Wilson, Ravi Shankar, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Michael Buble to name a few!!
He can be heard on soundtracks of great movies like Grease, Return Of The Jedi, Rocky 3, 10, Back To The Future, Forrest Gump, Father Of The Bride, Mommie Dearest, Romancing The Stone and many many more. Ray’s level of musicianship garnered him many rewards including Jazz Pioneer Award from BMI, Most Valuable Player Emeritus from NARAS, Musician Of The Year from Jazz Podium Magazine Germany, And Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition from Downbeat Magazine.
Even with all these tremendous accomplishments, Ray treasured the early days with his bandmates in The Rhythm Rockers and The Rondels and when a reunion of the members would happen on the East Coast, he would insist on joining in on a phone call.
Sadly Ray passed away on September 20, 2021 but his work will be forever cherished by musicians all over the world who came to know of him through his amazing prowess on the toughest of wind instruments, the bassoon. Google this amazing musician. You won’t be disappointed.
Jimmy Petze was probably one of the tastiest guitar players to come out of the Boston music scene. His smooth playing can be heard on all of the music recorded by The Rhythm Rockers and The Rondels. Jimmy was a perfectionist and when you talk about practice? He was never without that Gibson close by. Hours and hours of learning and playing and practice, practice. After The Rondels stopped playing gigs, Jimmy continued making music with good friend and later member of the band, Bobby Morse. Jim and Bob wrote together and recorded a number of songs that can be heard on The Rondels Anthology Volume 3.
At that same time he took up a hobby that developed into a family business that is still happening today. Petze Glass. Jim became an amazing stained glass designer and the glass items that he made were in high demand in his Cape Cod community. He and his wife Judi were filling orders for his work as it grew into a regional success. Them Jim struck a deal with the successful Christmas Tree Shops. That was it!
His business flourished during the 80’s as shipments of glass were being delivered and cut ornaments were being shipped. Petze Glass was successful and it allowed Jim to set up a recording studio in his home where he went on to write and record over twenty songs with him playing every instrument and singing as well — something that he had never done in either band.
Jimmy sadly passed away in 1993 at the young age of 49.His daughter Michelle has become an experienced glass cutter and carries on with her Fathers designs and her own as well. Petze Glass can still be found in specialty shops all over New England and along with his music, Jim has left a legacy of the arts and what an amazing legacy it is.