If you can find a record store these days, history is sure to surface. The reissue Bocky and the Visions: 1959-1969, which I came across about a month ago at Mentor's Record Den, was a welcome surprise. It compiles 33 tunes that Cleveland singer Robert J. "Bocky" DiPasquale and the Visions recorded in the decade rock 'n' roll became an adolescent.
Where this bootleg CD, which came out late last year, came from is a mystery. So is DiPasquale's death. His body was found in a car at Euclid Avenue and Ivanhoe Road in East Cleveland in February 1988. It was speculated that he was killed in a Cleveland bar in a cocaine deal gone bad. "Coke came way later," says Buddy Maver, who drummed for the Visions in 1964 and 1965. "Bocky, when he stopped singing, developed a coke problem and I guess wound up hanging around some bad people.
In 1988, Maver staged a benefit for DiPasquale's widow, featuring Maver's early '70s band Rainbow Canyon; Rastus, a '70s horn band whose early incarnation DiPasquale sang with briefly; '60s British-invasion-style band the Choir; and Visions contemporaries the Twilighters. But "Bocky Boo" lives on, thanks to this reissue, which includes local hits like "The Spirit of '64," a cover version of James Brown's "I Go Crazy," and "Tell Me You're Mine." Other tracks evoke Danny & the Juniors, the Four Seasons, Dion & the Belmonts and early Stax-Volt. The disc spans heartfelt doo-wop, Diamonds-styled rock and an overly jumpy version of "Heartbreak Hotel."
"He was my hero," says Tony Bodanza, who wrote for and played with Bocky and the Visions under the name Tony Styles. "He had a range that was insane. Listen to the thinness of his voice on 'Tell Me You're Mine' — that razor thinness without the abrasiveness. By the time he started getting a little older and shouting, 'Wow, if you leave me I'll go crazy,' that wasn't his choice necessarily. In those days, being in the studio was like being in Hollywood. Whoever was there as your producer or manager, they were calling the shots. All we ever heard was "It's too black, too R&B." If he were left alone just to sing, he was just a pip, man. He was cool."
Bocky and the Visions opened for the Rolling Stones at Public Hall and for the Animals at the now-demolished Cleveland Arena. They were one of the most popular local bands of the early-mid '60s, and performed on the local Upbeat music TV show in its early days. "We did Jan and Dean, we did the Four Tops, we did Peter & Gordon," says Bodanza. "Redda Robbins was our manager and got us on every bill — never for money. It was always to promote the record we had out."
While some former Visions criticize Robbins for taking songwriting credits she didn't earn, Bodanza suggests the picture wasn't that black and white. He shares credit with Robbins and her sister on "Spirit of '64," and says it's justified: When she approached him with an idea for an anti-Beatles song, he told Robbins it was "like a bucket of water going against a tsunami." But the song was her baby, and it was a local smash. It's a mash-up of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Johnny B. Goode." The Beatles rolled over it.
"Because I wrote some of the songs, I got some little checks from BMI," says Bodanza. "Nobody tried to finagle me out of that money. But as far as personal appearances go, there was never any money for that."
That's why Bodanza, Maver and guitarist Richie Green left Bocky in 1965 to form Richie and the Fortunes and, later, Dick Whittington's Cats. Green says he's surprised it's taken so long to release a Bocky bootleg. But for Cleveland music fans, it's better late than never.