Joey Castle

Joey Castle was like a lot of the kids who came up in the wake of Elvis Presley, trying to sound like him and not making it, but with a difference -- Castle left behind a dozen or so records that are well worth hearing. Among the ranks of Elvis Presley sound-alikes, there are the imitators who came along in the wake of his death in 1977 and then there are those who came to the sound a little more honestly, back in the formative days of rock & roll. Joey Castle, aka Cliff Rivers, real name Jospeh Fohn Castaldo, fits into the latter category -- he was even signed to RCA. And he never had the chance to cash in on Elvis' death as a sound-alike artist, succumbing to brain cancer less than 18 months after the demise of his onetime idol. Joseph Castaldo was born in the Bronx, NY, in 1942, and was 13 years old when rock & roll broke nationally -- the family was a musical one, his uncle Lee Castle having become famous as a bandleader in the 1940s, but Joey took to the new music. By the end of 1957, at 15, he was ready to take the plunge, and a year later his demo tapes landed him a contract with RCA. His first and only RCA release, "Come a Little Bit Close Baby" b/w "That Ain't Nothing But Right," failed to chart, and he was dropped from the label at the end of the year. He next turned up on the Headline label with a rockabilly screamer, "Rock 'N Roll Daddy-O," backed with the brooding "Wild Love," both extraordinarily effective rockabilly tunes to come out of New York City -- it didn't sell, but it did become a highly prized collector's item. Castle kept performing locally but didn't record again until 1963, when he hooked up with entrepreneur Sid Prosen, who had previously recorded the teenaged Simon & Garfunkel as Tom & Jerry. Castle cut a series of sessions that yielded one single, "Marsha" b/w "True Lips," on Prosen's Thanks label, credited to "Cliff Rivers" -- intentional or not, it was an Elvis homage, recalling the latter's performance as "Deke Rivers" in the best of his early movies, Loving You, as well as alluding to English rock & roller Cliff Richard. The A-side sounded like Elvis Presley crossed with Del Shannon, while the B-side recalled the Elvis of 1956 in a softer moment. Ironically, it was his best-selling record, although it never moved more than a few thousand copies, and most of those in England -- too far away to do Joey Castle/Cliff Rivers any good. Apart from a handful of unreleased tracks that year and the demos that got him signed to RCA in the first place, much of Castle's work consisted of cutting demos for publisher Hill & Range. He made his last single in the late '60s, still true to his rock & roll roots even amid the changing tastes of the era. During the 1970s, he re-emerged in a rock & roll/variety act featuring music and comedy, and put out an album of his own -- Castle evidently had enough of a following locally to perform at least part-time and sell the album after his shows. He died of cancer in December of 1978. ~ Bruce Eder

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