In February, 2002, I took a holiday in Seattle, USA. On the first night, I was channel-hopping on the television in the hotel room when I chanced upon a concert featuring 60s singers. On stage came Kathy Young And The Innocents to sing A Thousand Stars. In 1960, Kathy's record went to #3 in the USA and Billy covered it in the UK, taking it to #14 here. But Kathy's wasn't the original version....
The label of A Thousand Stars gives the writing credit to "Pearson".
Joshua Leviston had begin calling himself Eugene (Gene) Pearson by the time, as an 18-year-old high school student in New York in 1953, he and his friends were practising singing doo wop.
Gene was an avid songwriter, and one of the many that he created was called A Thousand Stars.
In the hope of interesting someone in their work, the group, who after using a succession of names had settled on The Rivileers, made a demo record and left it in a music shop.
It was played and appreciated by a record company salesman, Sol Rabinowitz, who invested $250 of his own money on studio time and professional backing musicians for a six-hour recording session by The Rivileers in December, 1953.
Gene could not write music and Sol had no experience of running a recording session or arranging music, so The Rivileers sang each song to the musicians and left them to work out an arrangement.
The fact that the musicians produced six polished tracks in six hours speaks volumes for their professionalism - I'll leave you to make a judgment yourself when you play the recording of A Thousand Stars below.
Sol discarded two of the recordings, leaving him with four masters, of which he felt A Thousand Stars was the pearl. He looked on the recordings as an investment, rather than the start of a new career in management, so he took the masters to the boss of an independent record company and offered to sell them.
To his dismay, A Thousand Stars was dismissed, and the company proposed to issue a song that Sol felt had little appeal.
Sol walked out and gave an acetate of A Thousand Stars to a New York disc jockey, Dr Jive (Tommy Smalls). When he arrived home, his telephone was ringing, as Smalls had already played the record twice on air, and record buyers wanted copies.
He hurriedly had copies pressed, in the process founding Baton Records.
However, the fact that people in the United States associate A Thousand Stars with Kathy Young, rather than The Rivileers, gives a clue to the fact that there was no fairy tale ending. It was not a major hit for The Rivileers and Gene signed away the sheet music rights for A Thousand Stars to a publishing company.
Six months later, he had dropped out of high school and joined the US Marine Corps as a policeman, later switching to the US Air Force..
In 1960, 15-year-old Kathy Young and her mother went to a US television show at which the established group, The Innocents were singing. She told them she could sing, and the group's management auditioned her. Kathy then fronted the group in the recording studio, cutting A Thousand Stars.
Although it was a big US hit, so few copies of Kathy's record were bought in the UK that mint copies of the Top Rank single sell for £30.
Gene Pearson left the air force soon after and called on the publisher to whom he had sold the rights to A Thousand Stars. The publisher was a kind-hearted chap, who handed over a cheque for $2,500.
Gene joined an established group, the Cleftones, in 1961, then the following year, switched to The Drifters and was with them for four years, during the period when they recorded On Broadway, Under The Boardwalk and Saturday Night At The Movies.
In 1987, he started a 20-year career with the New York City Transit Police.
When he married his second wife in 1995, The Rivileers got together and sang for the first time in 41 years.
Gene died in April, 2000.
And Kathy? She married Walker Brother John Maus and sang duets with Chris (Let's Dance) Montez in the mid-60s..
The Rivileers' record was never issued in the UK. I think it's superb. From almost 50 years ago, in Jamaica, New York, click the link below to hear it in Real Audio.
Young, Video, 2002. (With the
surviving members of the Innocents.)