For LIVE SAM — Click on “Ace of Spades” (above left ) which Sam co-wrote with Link Wray. Recorded in February of 2003 at a “Syracuse Rock ‘n Roll Reunion for Sam” at Damon’s in Cicero, New York.
During my college years at LeMoyne, I was covering a morning and afternoon slot. I became involved in the “Sock Hop” business and would play records at schools throughout Central New York. I started adding live bands to my presentations and would also rent gyms and armories throughout the region to stage my own “Peter C. Rock ‘n Roll Presentations”.
“Sam and the Twisters” were my most favorite of groups. Sam Amato was more “The Fonz” than Henry Winkler could ever have hoped to become.
Sam had been thrown out of North Syracuse High School for dropping a male teacher in English class over some perceived slight, the nature of which no one could ever recall. At fifteen, Sam lied about his age and enlisted in the Marines for a year and a half until he was discovered and given, it must be recorded, a most honorable discharge.
I first met Sam at the North Syracuse Fire House where I was spinning tunes one Saturday night. He had just learned guitar and, upon my invitation, performed one single solo tune, a fairly decent rendition of Sonny James’ “Young Love”, a tender ballad.
The crowd had been infiltrated by a number of black leather jacket clad “hoods”. Back then, “hoods” was what suspected juvenile delinquents were called, not where they came from. “Hood” was short for “hoodlum”.
Sam had clandestinely issued orders. All gathered were quietly informed by the hoods that anyone who laughed during his performance or was in any way disrespectful would be “fucked-up”. I had always admired leadership skills.
Sam and I and a number of the hoods went out for a few beers after the gig ended. Within weeks “Sam and The Twisters” were born. They played no ballads.
It was the source of some chagrin a few years later when Chubby Checker came along by pure coincidence with his million-seller “The Twist”. The name “Twisters” had been selected to project a specter of dark, dramatic turbulence. Sam hated “The Twist”, which he professionally critiqued as “a fuckin’ piece of shit”. Most of Syracuse identified “Twist” and “Twisters” with Amato by then and thought Chubby had ripped Sam off.
“Sam and The Twisters” originally learned anything ever recorded by Link Wray, The Ventures, Johnny and The Hurricanes and other lead-guitar-based bands. They could fit their sound equipment in the trunks of two cars and set-up and tear-down all the gear in under five minutes. Over the next five years, they became the first true Syracuse-bred rock heroes and absolutely owned the area.
We had a number of WNDR promotions transporting teens down to WFIL-TV in Philadelphia to appear on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”, then a five-day-a-week afternoon program on the ABC Television Network.
Sam would often come along and bring the band once in a while, appearing three times with the group coast-to-coast. He also helped break-up fights between the Italian girls from Syracuse and their “Bandstand regular” counterparts. All the guys got along quite well.
He also had a Triumph motorcycle with about eighty-trillion CC’s and would buzz me from the station to LeMoyne and back between air shifts.
The Triumph was also useful in such private and personal promotions as “Beat The Clock”.
This particular game was restricted to limited players and only one or two “contestants” at a time.
Sam would “work” the “WNDR Hitline” switchboard starting around thirty minutes before the end of a given jock shift and screen request callers with a remarkable sensitivity, almost psychic in nature.
Sam would be the soul of propriety.
“Peter C. will try to get that on for you if he possibly can. Thank you for listening to the new WNDR”
Ultimately, he would hear that certain intangible “something” in the voice of a female caller.
Sam would then initiate what can only be referred to as a form of highly sophisticated screening.
The age of the potential contest “players” would be determined (Sam and I remembered Russ Syracuse); the total number of possible “players” established (no more than two); geographic location fixed (three miles from the station was ideal); what we called “artistic exclusivity” was guaranteed (meaning the “players” were alone without parents or boyfriends hanging around) and the most critical qualification was “outstanding sporting attitude”.
This whole process could take between fifteen or twenty minutes to complete, allowing Sam time enough to “twist” his way though a very elaborate and charmingly structured seduction which would conclude with, at the very end, a friendly wager.
“So, anyway, where do you live?”
“Shit, we could be over there for coffee in (one minute per mile) minutes.”
“Whaddya mean, “No fuckin’ way?”
“I’ll betcha a hundred bucks we can be over there in (see formula above) minutes.”
“No, I ain’t shittin’ ya. A hundred bucks. Got it right here!”
“You ain’t got a hundred bucks? Hmmmmm. Let’s see. That’s a lotta fuckin’ money!. Hmmmmmm.”
“Tell ya what. I’ll put up the hundred bucks. But you gotta put up (use vivid imagination) and there’s no backin’ out!”
“Nah. Listen. Come on. Hey. No. Stop. Sure. Hey. Yeah, I’m fuckin’ serious! Hey. You wanna do it or what? I ain’t got all year.”
Motorcyles, let alone Triumphs, were still a rarity on the streets of Syracuse in the late ’50′s. Sam never bothered informing the “contestants” that our mode of transportation had been clocked at over one hundred twenty miles per hour with both aboard under optimal, straight-line conditions. The “one hundred bucks” always remained unclaimed. Sam finally traded-in his bike on a brand new, pure white 1963 Chevrolet Corvette with a real telephone on the dashboard. The phone was not plugged into anything other than Sam’s imagination, but still offered an impressive image to passers-by watching him “talk” on it.
NOTE–The following paragraph is from a few chapters ahead recounting my move to Michigan–
“The following week, Sam Amato accepted my invitation and visited us in Flint. We managed to sign-up Sam and The Twisters for an extended engagement at “The Stardust Lounge”, another major Flint Rock Night Club. In what was to become the turf of Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and Grand Funk Railroad, they would have blown the town apart . Sam negotiated an astounding contract for the band — an 8 week engagement at $5,000 a week. They easily could have gone “all the way”.
Not to be.
Some of the “Twisters” had already “gone all the way.”
Days prior to their first scheduled Michigan performance, curse fate, several young ladies surfaced “enceinte” back in Syracuse. Two integral “Twister” members eventually did the “right thing” (which at that point was culturally recommended, if not required) and walked down the aisle. Wedding bells were breaking up that old band of mine.
Back in Flint, instead of Sam, The Stardust Lounge settled for a band out of Birmingham, Michigan, featuring a young bass player named — Bob Seger.