of Carolyn Wood Imbrie
In 1946, there were only a few roads that led eastward on Long Island. A trip from Queens to Hicksville was an experience one would remember vividly. As a matter of fact, one roadway, the tree lined Horace Harding Expressway, that would eventually become the Long Island Expressway, was a "major" West to East roadway. This popular "highway" would be a part of a Queens family fantasy in the distant future.
A lot was happening in early 1946. The war was over for almost a year and life in the United States was returning to a certain amount of normalcy. An event of the New Year occurred March 10th. That was the day Carolyn Wood was born in the Flushing section of Queens. Her early city life paralleled that of most children. Discovering the outside world via the baby carriage, then learning to walk and learning to talk. At the age of three, her proud parents decided it was time for Carolyn to begin socializing with other children. She was enrolled in the Kaye Gorham Dance Studio in 1949. Here, she enhanced her walking abilities with the introduction of basic dance technique. Carolyn would continue improving her skills throughout high school and beyond. "I probably had a dance lesson just prior to getting married," she said. Who would have known at the time that it would be her exposure to "music" that would catapult her to unimaginable heights? Her parents, Peggy and Bob Wood, enjoyed city life but wanted more for their children.
The openness of the suburbs was attractive, so they opted to move the family to Hicksville in 1954. They probably followed the moving truck in a caravan down the Horace Harding and into Hicksville. "My family bought a house in Glenbrook Estates that was near to Hicksville High School," she said. "We lived at 1 Boulevard Drive, right on the corner of Glenbrook Road. I remember that proximity to the school didn't prevent me from being late!" About this time, Carolyn knew a great deal about dance but wanted desperately to hone her skills. She was traveling back and forth to Queens, after the move, to continue her lessons, and it was very inconvenient. "I studied at various dance schools on Long Island, but Kaye Gorham and Joyce Louise were the significant ones in my life," Carolyn said. "I was in my teens when I switched to the Joyce Louise School of Dance in Hicksville on a permanent basis." "Dad built a studio with a hardwood floor in the basement of our split level house, she said. "This allowed me to practice at home whenever I wasn't attending dance classes." Eventually, this finished basement would serve as Carolyn's own teaching studio. The routine at Joyce Louise incorporated ideas that were new to Carolyn and broadened her perspective in dance. Eventually, Joyce asked Carolyn to be her part time receptionist, and that solidified a growing respect they had for each other. Like Carolyn, Joyce was a student of Kaye Gorham before she opened her own studio. Carolyn attended Lee Avenue School for the remainder of third grade after the move from Queens. She started the 1954 school year at St. Michael's School in Flushing. It wasn't long before she accustomed herself to a different environment. Some neighborhood friends that helped her forget about Queens were Jane Ziegler, Carol Gwiazda, Lynn Neuberger, Ann Miller, Jeff Goldstein, Margo and brother Paul Schwartz, Gary Gold and Bruce and Gary Enos. She participated in talent shows and was part of the chorus, but most of her out of school time was devoted to dance and voice lessons. She had visions of bigger and better things and would work hard toward that goal. "I remember Gary Gold walking me home from Lee Avenue School," Carolyn said. " I really didn't give it much thought at the time. He probably carried my books, too, because he was interested in me and this was a chance for him to be with me. However, my first crushes were for Bobby Kiernan and Perry Richmond." Sorry about that, Gary. Carolyn continued dancing and singing and the years passed. She entered Hicksville Junior High School in the fall of 1957 after graduating from Lee Avenue Grade School. "Junior High School was "not" one of the highlights of my illustrious career," Carolyn says. "I can remember many years of insecurity in my life with junior high at the head of that list." It was probably part of major changes she was experiencing. Part of growth is insecurity and that trait is not unusual in most kids. Carolyn recalls an incident where she was in a head to head contest with another student.
"Arnie Yanof was a good student and a competitor of mine in the classroom. We both were finalists in Ovid Hively's class spelling bee. Arnold beat me!" Although it wasn't an earth shattering experience, it was part of the insecurity of maturing The step up from Junior High to High School was Carolyn's first exposure to collective bargaining. "Instead of being allowed to continue in the public school system, Mom and Dad coerced me into attending Queen of the Rosary Academy (QRA) in Amityville," she said. Parents want the best for their children, and hers were exceptionally watchful. To avoid the pitfalls of public school, it was suggested that she go to private school. "I had taken and passed the acceptance test at QRA," Carolyn remarked, "so went there with the understanding that I would be allowed to move to the public school system after tenth grade." All the students there wore uniforms and she said with a crooked smile that she looked cute in hers. The kids, too, were typical teenagers and did the same things kids everywhere did. "I don't suggest that it was a mistake being a student there...I only suggest that my heart was with my friends, in my community, who were relegated to being part time companions," she chided. While in the eighth and ninth grades at QRA, Carolyn increased her dance schedule of her own volition and relished the fact that her father had the insight to create a dance studio in the house for her. It was like destiny. She was concentrating on tap and enjoying the diversion. Her routine was quite good and actually earned a second place in the Diocesan High School Talent Show where she represented QRA.
In September of 1961, she enrolled as a junior at Hicksville High. Her days at Queen of the Rosary were behind her and she was, finally, a happy camper. In theory, Carolyn should have grown accustomed to her surroundings and developed a liking for QRA and would want to stay. The theory was only that...a theory. When the time was drawing near for her transfer to Hicksville High, a roar went up in one neighborhood that registered a response on the Richter scale. She was finally liberated.
Carolyn's dance career was progressing nicely. Her interest in theater at Hicksville High was an obvious outreach of her dance. However, because of other obligations, she would become a part time actor. The change of schools gave her additional time during the day to do more. The trip to Amityville was long because the school bus made rounds of Hicksville and surrounding communities every morning and afternoon. Instead of using the time participating in a talent show or class play at the high school, the newly discovered free time was devoted to teaching tap and ballet in her home studio. She did find time to join a chorus line that played weekends at various supper clubs on Long Island.
"My heart was aching to be more involved at school," Carolyn said. "Commitment to my future took precedence," she added.
Continued hard work and dedication to goals would not guarantee a successful future but would carve a path that gave her an advantage. Those first several months in a new place provided a special feeling that she had never experienced before.
"I met Tom Sullivan for the first time and wanted to be near him on a regular basis," Carolyn suggested. "Initially, there was no way to classify the feeling except to say that a few of my habits changed and life took on a new perspective."
The pangs of love were unfolding.
Tom was in band, theater productions and had his own rock group. His first band was called the Imperials, and later on, when he and friend Bill Jordan, whose group was the Bill Jordan Trio, joined forces, they formed the Night Riders band. This happened during Tom's senior year at HHS and their start in music found them playing at numerous school functions, church dances and in local taverns. The Night Riders consisted of Tommy Sullivan, John York Foley, Bill Jordan and Jimmy Walker.
"My focus was on dance," Carolyn recalls, "but I loved to follow them around."
Carolyn's expertise and growing reputation resulted in an increase in the number of dance students in her classes. The best advertisement comes from parents who see their children changing before their very eyes and put out the word. The word spread rapidly. The end result of the teacher, student relationship was two recitals that were held during her junior and senior years.
"I felt really good about myself," she recalls, "and things were going right and in my direction. I decided to enter the Miss High School of New York Pageant at Freedomland during my junior year."
The committee of judges was responsible for selecting both a beauty queen and a talent queen.
"My tap performance won the talent portion of the Pageant," Carolyn remembers. "That had more significance than the beauty portion of the contest because the honor of winning only justified the hours I danced and danced and danced in my studio."
"I remember, too," Carolyn said, "racing home to get dressed for the Junior Prom that was being held the very same day!"
The win at Freedomland qualified Carolyn for a national competition that was held in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Carolyn and Mom traveled to the event, and, although no prizes were won, the experience would prepare her for something special that would create a dramatic career change in the future.
The two years spent at Hicksville High passed fast for Carolyn. Her work schedule occupied a great deal of time. She was doing schoolwork and following the band, too, when she wasn't dancing, "but I mostly remember the dancing. It was my life," she said.
Then high school was over and the real world presented a challenge to Carolyn. She was well prepared to enter this new phase in her life. The discipline of years past set the table for her and now it was time to get some dessert.
"I know there was a lot more learning in my future but with the ground work done, it was a matter of just getting better through exposure to a wider horizon," she said.
Carolyn registered to attend St. Johns University for the 1963-1964 school year. She finished out the year there, and then opted to take a job at Grumman Aircraft shortly after the school year was completed.
"I worked at Grumman until 1966, still dancing and feeling special about my abilities, to the point that I thought seriously about going for a tryout with the Radio City Rockettes in early 1966."
Carolyn said, "during the time I was going to school and working at Grumman, I was seeing Tommy Sullivan casually, working in the studio teaching dance and performing on weekends with the chorus line."
"Our exposure in Vietnam increased during the middle sixties and Tom enlisted in the army. We wrote to each other on a regular basis while he was in boot camp and with each letter, there was a definite upswing in our relationship," she confided.
His musical background qualified him for special duty so, after boot camp, he was assigned to the military band on post at West Point.
Suddenly, the relationship with Tommy became serious to the point that he proposed to Carolyn. They planned an August wedding.
Tom's position as musician at West Point meant that he would be part of special details that had music associated with the event. The band played for parades, reveille, taps and at funerals when burial in the cemetery at West Point was requested.
"Tom was enjoying himself," Carolyn said, "while creating a scheme in his mind."
Both Bill Jordan (bass player) and Jimmy Walker (drummer) were being drafted into the army. Tom, always the salesman, joked with the commanding officer about creating a "rock band" to play at the service club, the officer's club and at cadet hops.
There was a dance band on post that was just that...a dance band. Great music...but not the kind that kids in this new era really danced to. Tom explained vehemently about the Night Riders, his band, and the success they had playing clubs on Long Island. He explained, too, that two of his band members were being drafted and if they were allowed to get together again, they could establish a rock band that would provide an additional environment for the cadets to use for relaxation in their off hours.
To make a long story short, Tommy Sullivan is credited with establishing the first "rock band" in the history of West Point and for changing the lives of two friends, Bill and Jimmy, who joined him as new residents at the point.
Carolyn and Tommy were married on August 13, 1966...
“Our marriage in August was a low key affair,” Carolyn remembers. “We were in the military and Tom’s obligations took precedence. We lived in the married, enlisted men’s quarters on post.
Besides, Tom’s new endeavor, the rock band, was beginning to make an impact at the Point. His new recruits, Bill Jordan and Jimmy Walker, were on the scene and rehearsals were an obvious necessity. The group had all the right ingredients and the fact they had played together for years solidified their performance. They were an instant success and highly touted.
FLASH *** FLASH *** Late 1967
Betty Sperber was a successful music producer with
several well known groups as part of her entourage of talent. The highly
competitive market was rolling now and rock was at its peak. The trend was
changing with a tendency toward a musical group consisting of instrumentation
and voice in a package. Betty and other producers decided to stage a contest, a
“Battle of the Bands,” to get a look at local talent in the metropolitan New
York area that could influence the rising trend toward larger groups. They
contracted to use the Cloud Nine Go-Go on Route 110 in Farmingdale as the site
for the proposed battle. They established a tentative date in early March and
set the ball rolling. Advertisement on radio and in local newspapers called for
a Battle of the Bands that would highlight local talent and award prizes. Two
groups that would help select winners were Johnny Maestro and the Crests and the
FLASH *** FLASH
“Toward the end of 1966, I got involved with Tom and his rock band,” Carolyn, remembers. “This was a time when girl groups were getting some serious recognition.”
Big songs at the time were “Dancing in the Streets, Words of Love and Walk on By”!
“The boys wanted to perform some of these sounds so convinced me to don a mini skirt and put on white boots and they even gave me a tambourine.” Carolyn said.
“I was now background for Tom’s lead songs and a lead singer for the girl songs,” Carolyn chuckles when she remembers the outfit she wore. “You wanna see a picture?”
“It gets better,” she recalls. “They had no keyboard or piano in the group and decided this would be a good thing.”
“Why don’t you play the keyboard?” the boys suggested. She was the only one not playing an instrument (I guess Tambourine is not an instrument).
“After I stopped laughing, I noticed they weren’t,” Carolyn said.
“Hey, you guys are serious,” she concluded.
The consensus of opinion was that I was good at so many things, and I had the capacity to learn quickly, why not learn the keyboard.
“Guess what,” Carolyn asks? “I memorized all the chords for all the songs and that was that!”
“My exposure in dance prepared me for the success our rock band experienced at West Point,” Carolyn remembered. “I was accustomed to performing in front of groups and was in my glory when given the opportunity at moving gracefully while dancing and singing…just doing something I really enjoyed!”
As the days passed by, the time that Carolyn and Tommy would be “in the service” began to dwindle. They had very serious intentions of continuing their music when the military was behind them. There were several ongoing discussions amongst the regular band members regarding focus and what their long-term goals were.
“I remember we had a series of regular visitors at our living quarters on the base,” Carolyn remarked. “The visitors were band members we knew well and who were equally targeted at a future in music. We rehearsed whenever we had the time and it was convenient for all of us. Here were seven people preparing to embark on a road to success, and our combined vision was the accomplishment of that goal.”
I really believe that the people who influenced us most were those cadets at the point. Their enthusiasm for us only amplified that deep feeling of commitment. We started something small but wanted more. I honestly think, too, that they were sad to see us leave in January of 1968.
Tom and Carolyn bought a house in Selden and officially began civilian life. It was a pleasant memory, the army and West Point, but their mindset was establishing a musical career. Not an easy task, but certainly worthy of their efforts.
“We continued rehearsals,” Carolyn remembers. “The majority of sessions were at the homes of new band members.”
“The Battle of the Bands competition had a special significance,” Carolyn remembers. “We were fresh out of the military. Visions of becoming something other than “just another band” invaded our senses.”
The attending audience was just a normal crowd in an ordinary bar, nothing special. The folks were there to do the usual…drink and look for dates. The only difference this night was a variety of talent appearing there.
The set by the Rhythm Method was good but not extraordinary. Richie Macioce suggests they didn’t really win the battle that night.
When they finished the final song and exited the stage, there were a lot of people offering congratulations. Several of the congratulators were members of other bands that were competing that night. More important was the reaction from the featured performers, Johnny Maestro and the Del Satins.
Carolyn remembers, they seemed genuinely impressed and suggested that with the proper management, perhaps there was a future for us.
Carolyn says, “we left knowing full well that we had done a good job with the mindset that perhaps we could become more than a weekend band.”
The next day Carolyn says, “Jimmy Rosica received a phone call from someone with a mysterious voice”
Betty Sperber, the person who helped set up the “Battle of the Bands” competition and who was also, the manager for Johnny Maestro and the Del Satins sounded excited on the other end. She asked if the Rhythm Method was interested in meeting with her in New York City to discuss their future.
Not trying to sound too anxious, Jimmy said, “any time, any place would be fine.”
Tommy Sullivan and Jimmy Rosica represented the group and made the trek into New York City the next day. They met with Betty Sperber, Johnny Maestro and the Del Satins. The rest is history…everyone shook hands and the new 11 member singing group, The Brooklyn Bridge, was formed.
The original members were Johnny Maestro from the Crests, Fred Ferraro, Les Cauchi and Mike Gregorio from the Del Satins, and Tom Sullivan, Carolyn Wood, Jim Rosica, Shelly Davis, Joe Ruvio, Artie Catanzarita and Richie Macioce from the Rhythm Method. Oh, by the way, the name Brooklyn Bridge came from their manager, Betty Sperber. She suggested, referring to the size of the group, “This is going to be harder to sell than the Brooklyn Bridge.”
The next several months found the Bridge honing their skills. No doubt, the serious blending of exceptional talent was accomplished. The original concept of creating a larger group was now a done deal.
Carolyn remarked, “the original intention was to have Johnny and the Del Satins as front men with us as the musicians.”
That was the venue they attacked heartily. Rehearsals were vigorous…slowly, they built a repertoire of songs that displayed the talents of everyone. Tom Sullivan customized the majority of musical arrangements for the group. They were rehearsing in basements and recreation rooms of band members but realized they needed a place to finalize their act, to establish a personality that separated them from other groups. Their effort established a sound that was unique centered around the riveting voice of Johnny Maestro.
The Cheetah Club at 8th Avenue and 52nd Street in Manhattan wanted to introduce the Brooklyn Bridge to the world. The group was hired for an eight-week stint during the summer of 1968. Everything was falling into place for the group. Their manager was setting up a tour that would put the “act” on the road. The only thing lacking was a record the caliber of “Sixteen Candles” that catapulted Maestro and the Crests into the limelight.
The summer unfolded and fall was approaching while they waited desperately for that to happen.
“We did some gigs as an opening act for established performers,” Carolyn relates. “This was a continuation of the “getting it all together” period for our new band.”
And then, “The Worst That Could Happen.”
“No, not a calamity, Carolyn says with emphasis…the record….THE RECORD.”
For those of you not familiar with Jimmy Webb, he is a prolific songwriter with scores of lyrics he’s written played every day, somewhere in the world. Jimmy wrote a song that was previously recorded by the Fifth Dimension on their “Magic Garden” album called “THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN”. The Bridge acquired the necessary permission to record this song. It was released in November of 1968. The rest of the story is history.
The record shot to number one on the charts and eventually sales were in excess of a million copies. The highlight of the run their hit made was an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show on December 13, 1968.
Carolyn recalls what a thrill it was for the Bridge but especially for her.
“I worked hard and made sacrifices growing up because I wanted something special in my life,” Carolyn remarked.
The next two years would be “special” and would more than justify the sacrifice.
It began with starting a countrywide tour that began with the group using their private cars. They graduated to a chartered bus as their popularity grew. Occasionally, they would charter a DC-3 to get them around.
Carolyn says, “that method of travel produced some scary moments.”
In each town they appeared, there were radio interviews.
Then, there was TV…the Della Reese Show…the Merv Griffin Show…the Mike Douglas Show…Hollywood Palace…and many more. Guests we appeared with were the Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys, the Monkees, Jay and the Americans, the Fifth Dimension, Melanie, Tommy James and the Shondelles, the Shirelles, the Impressions, The Rascals, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, and the list goes on.
“We actually appeared, too, on the Jerry Lewis Telethon,” Carolyn remembers.
One of their early gigs was at the SanSuSan supper club in Mineola where they were the opening act for Mickey Rooney. They also had long-term contracts as an opening act for Carol Channing at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas and for Danny Thomas at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Florida.
One thing Carolyn remembers vividly is their first exposure to California where there was so much sunshine and such a completely different culture. That trip to southern California was a weeklong booking of concerts at Disneyland with Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.
New Year’s Eve, 1970, was her last night with the Brooklyn Bridge after almost three years of rehearsing, recording, performing and traveling. “When people ask me what it was like to be in the Brooklyn Bridge, I tell them that I spent my early twenties as a member of a rock band, traveling around the country in a tour bus playing concerts in the late 1960’s. I can’t think of anything else better!”
She does suggest that show business is very hard on relationships. That was probably the main reason for her separation from Tom and eventual divorce.
Carolyn did remarry, Frank Imbrie in July of 1973. The Imbries were partners in a furniture business with branches in Arizona, California, Utah, Colorado, Wisconsin and Nevada. Frank passed away in December of 1985. During the past 25 years, Carolyn has represented the company as spokesperson in its television, radio and print advertising.
Mom is her most important role. Carolyn is the proud parent of 2 adopted sons, ages 20 and 17. She is newly semi-retired and living in Phoenix, Arizona.
F L A S H B A C K
Late 1968, Cheetah Club (8th
Avenue @ 52nd Street, NYC)
Gathered outside the Cheetah Club in New York City are the 11 members of the Brooklyn Bridge, a relatively new singing group, Dan Daniel and Jack Spector (WMCA-New York deejays) along with Neil Bogart, vice-president and general manager of Buddah Records and producer Wes Farrell. The celebratory party is honoring the Brooklyn Bridge. A replica of their Gold Record, “The Worst That Could Happen,” was set into the sidewalk in front of the club.