Sonny Geraci and The Outsiders: An appreciation
The Outsiders "Time Won't Let Me"
Cleveland may be the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it's known for few rockers per se. Sonny Geraci, who died Feb. 5 at 69, was one of the best, though he's hardly a household name.
As lead singer of Cleveland's 1960s garage rock band the Outsiders, though, Geraci left an indelible mark. More than the "one-hit wonder" status of most garage rockers, the soul-influenced Outsiders had four Top 40 hits—all in 1966--starting with their biggest, "Time Won't Let Me," which was written by the band's founder-guitarist Tom King and his brother-in-law Chet Kelley. With its punchy horns, cheesy organ and surf guitar break, the classic single reached No. 5.
Melancholy ballad "Girl in Love," which followed, was diametrically different in tone and peaked at No. 21. Next came "Respectable," an emphatic Isley Brothers cover that made it to No. 15, with "Help Me Girl" topping off at No. 37 after its October release—a month after the Animals' Eric Burdon came out with it (his went to No. 29).
Geraci actually had a bigger hit in 1972—the tuneful No. 3 love song "Precious and Few"--with the Los Angeles-based pop band Climax, which emerged out of the remnants of the Outsiders. But it's with the Outsiders that he'll be best remembered.
"He had a great singing voice," says Rockin' John McDonald, longtime host of the weekly I Like It Like That oldies show on Madison, Wis. listener-sponsored station WORT-FM. "I just talked to our music director—who's younger than I—and she knew the Outsiders and 'Time Won't Let Me' and thought it was a great song."
"But they had a lot of great records," McDonald continues. "'Girl in Love' is one of the saddest rock songs ever—a real weeper! And 'Respectable' was the exact opposite—and a great version."
Another legendary radio personality, Kid Leo, is a Cleveland native who got his start at his hometown's influential rock station WMMS, and was a big help in bringing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame there.
"I'm sorry to say I never got to know Sonny when I grew up in Cleveland," says Leo, now heard on SiriusXM Radio, where he serves as program director for Little Steven Van Zandt's Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel.
"He was older than me by about three years, and as you know, a three-year separation was an entire generation apart when you're young. So I never really could mingle with him or his crowd--they were so much older. But I, along with all of my peers, really looked up to Sonny. He was the epitome of cool, the guy you wanted to be, the one you practiced looking like in the mirror."
The Outsiders, Leo adds, "were 'gods' in the neighborhood I grew up in on the East Side of Cleveland. We used to hang at Geraci’s Pizza—which was owned by his relatives--just hoping he would show up so that we could possibly rub elbows with him. Still, to this day, on the air I say 'Time Won't Let Me' was 'the greatest 45 RPM [revolutions per minute], spindle in the middle, picture-sleeved, rock 'n' roll record to ever come out of my hometown and ol' stompin’ grounds,' and I’ll stand by that forever."
The Outsiders "Girl in Love"