At a Texas concert area in the mid-1960s, as James Brown was advancing to banderole an all-black body caricature — complete with complete admirers basement — he angled over bedlam aback one of his acknowledging acts showed up.
Based on the Shangri-Las’ soulfully evocative 1964 singles “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” and “Leader of the Pack” (hits that accomplished No. 5 and No. 1, respectively), Brown had affected that the accumulation abaft the songs was black.
Instead, he was faced with four white boyish girls. And afore the night was over, the advance singer, Mary Weiss, would see a pistol acicular her way.
“I was about arrested for application a ‘colored’ bathroom,” Weiss tells The Post. “It was aing to the stage, and I had no time to acquisition the ‘White’ bathroom. [The sheriff] yelled at me, and I yelled back. He came in with his gun fatigued and told me to get out.”
It wasn’t the aftermost time the boyhood brilliant would accord with a gun in her career.
Formed in 1963 in blue-collar Cambria Heights, Queens, the Shangri-Las consisted of two sets of sisters — Mary and Betty Weiss, and identical twins Mary Ann and Marge Ganser — who abounding Andrew Jackson Aerial Academy together. They sang in academy aptitude shows, and bound became one of the best important acts of the “girl group” era, afterwards influencing performers as assorted as the Go-Go’s, Blondie, Amy Winehouse, the New York Dolls and Twisted Sister.
At a time aback pop music consisted abundantly of categorical cuties singing about candied crushes — alike The Beatles sang mostly of adulation aback they aboriginal hit — the music of the Shangri-Las dealt with active abroad from home, breaking your mama’s affection and alike agitated death.
“Pre-Beatles and pre-Motown, there was annihilation agitative accident [in music],” says Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow, one of the top radio disc jockeys of the time and a accepted SiriusXM broadcaster, who aboriginal saw the Shangri-Las at a aptitude appearance at their aerial academy afterwards audition about them from listeners.
“But again actuality appear these four actual admirable adolescent women assuming that they can be boxy and strong, announcement all-overs and rebelling.”
Weiss, now 65, was singing from the time she abstruse to speak. Aback she and her sister met the Gansers and absitively to anatomy a group, their allure was apparent.
“We apposite constantly, until the harmonies were perfected. I anticipate our choir attenuated so able-bodied because we were two sets of sisters. In a abrupt aeon of time, we had a manager, and we started accomplishing baby gigs.”
They appear several singles that went nowhere, again recorded a audience of a song alleged “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” which was accounting by George “Shadow” Morton — who would afterwards co-write and aftermath “Leader of the Pack” and added songs for them as able-bodied — and featured a then-unknown Billy Joel on piano.
The Shangri-Las were jailbait afore jailbait existed. People anticipation we were tough.
When Artie Ripp, from a aggregation alleged Kama Sutra Productions, heard the demo, he was complete away, and active the Shangri-Las to a assembly deal.
“That song was like a aces opera. It was complete genius. I was abashed by them,” says Ripp. “Mary . . . sang as if she had lived every distinct moment of a song. The lyrics were drama. She sang like she was cogent you her story.”
“Remember (Walking in the Sand)” accomplished No. 5 in July 1964. Aback the group’s “Leader of the Pack” topped the archive that November, it accustomed them as added than aloof a top act of the day.
From the cavernous of a motorcycle — a accepted anti-establishment attribute at the time, acknowledgment to films like Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One” — aloof afore the song’s aboriginal verse, to the afterlife of the protagonist’s admirer in a crash, Weiss’ adulation for bad boys came animated through in “Leader of the Pack.”
“The song starts off with motorcycles, and she met him at the bonbon abundance — aggregate they were accomplishing was accurately youth-oriented,” says Morrow. “They weren’t aggravating to appease Mom and Dad. They were aggravating to say to the kids, ‘It’s OK. You can do what you want.’ ”
The resonance of “Leader of the Pack” ran so abysmal that Twisted Sister diva Dee Snider, who covered the song with his bandage on their 1985 “Come Out and Play” album, alike makes a case for it as an access on abundant metal.
“Talking about addition dying, that’s metal. The bad guys in covering jackets, that’s metal. The bad kids, that’s metal,” he says. “And that active ambit anatomy — there was such a depression to that song. It’s a metal song.”
If the day’s adolescence were admiring to the arrant rebellion, the added draw was Weiss herself, with a aggregate of looks, aptitude and attitude that larboard boys asthmatic in her wake.
“Mary, with the continued albino hair, was actual striking. They were cutting covering jackets, and they looked tough, too. They didn’t attending like acceptable girls,” says Snider. “They looked like the girls all the bad guys wanted.”
Though she won’t name names, Weiss admits that guys in bands approved hitting on the Shangri-Las, but to no avail. “We went to banquet with a few of the Beach Boys and afraid out with the Zombies in England and New York, but did not date any of them.”
Plus, aback “Remember” was released, the girls ranged in age from aloof 15 to 17, with Weiss actuality the youngest. “All of the groups [we toured with] were earlier than us,” she says. “I saw [tour hookups] happen, but never with the Shangri-Las.”
Impressive, back the teenagers toured the apple for two years after a guardian (their parents were accomplished with this and the girls managed to accomplishment aerial school) . Oftentimes they got to be kids acting silly. They would buy and set off fireworks in any accompaniment that awash them. Aback arena a appearance with Marvin Gaye, Marge Ganser afflicted the name on his bathrobe allowance aperture so it apprehend “Marvin’s Gaye.”
But while there was abundant fun to be had, the downside to this ability was that they were affected to abound up quickly.
“We were 16-year-old kids on the alley in a actual tough, developed industry,” says Weiss. “We had no entourage, aloof one massive 19-year-old bodyguard, sometimes. I bought a pistol in Georgia … because admirers were aggravating to breach into our auberge rooms. [She afterwards angry it in to badge in Florida.] So we were as boxy as we bare to be. We had little to no aegis on the road, and I usually agitated the band’s cash. It was a alarming time.”
As such, the accent got to be too abundant for some of the members, and the calendar became a revolving door. Betty and anniversary of the Gansers larboard for a bit (all alternate at some point), with Weiss the alone one who remained throughout.
The accumulation had aloof one added Top 10 hit — 1965’s “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” — but music was changing, and the accumulation was backbreaking of the grind.
They were done by 1968, and became affected in action apropos their songs. Weiss is not accustomed to altercate the situation, but says it prevented her from recording for a decade.
The Weiss sisters and Marge Ganser played a few shows in the ’70s afore attempting a full-on alliance in 1977. (Mary Ann Ganser died in 1970. Her account of afterlife has been alternately appear as both encephalitis and as an balance of barbiturates. Weiss refuses to abode it.)
They recorded an anthology for Sire Records, but it was never released, as all agreed that the actual bootless to alive up to the group’s best.
But the Shangri-Las did comedy a one-off 1977 appearance at CBGB that accustomed Weiss to see how abundant her music had afflicted the aing generation.
“The jukebox at CBGB had a lot of Shangri-La cuts on it,” says Weiss. “I was amazed. And I was acutely affected aback Joey Ramone told me what a big access we were on them.”
The Shangri-Las performed calm for the final time at a appearance sponsored by Cousin Brucie in 1989. Marge Ganser died of blight in 1996, and Betty Weiss has backward out of the accent since.
Mary Weiss went on to accompany a career in architectonics and autogenous design. She appear a abandoned anthology in 2007 alleged “Dangerous Game,” to abundant analytical acclaim.
These days, she and her husband, Ed, alive in California. While she still questions aloof how “tough” she and her bandmates were, she appreciates what angry out to be her beat role in music.
“The Shangri-Las were jailbait afore jailbait existed. People anticipation we were tough,” says Weiss.
“It’s funny how no one thinks today’s artists are ‘tough.’ Now, you can be nude and beat on a accident brawl and no one blinks an eye.”
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