Monday, January 11, 2010

The Capris

The Capris are an Italian-American Doo Wop group originating in the Ozone Park section of Queens, New York in the 1950s.

The group originated in Ozone Park, Queens in 1957 when they were teenagers. The original members were Nick Santamaria (aka Nick Santo, lead), Mike Mincelli (first tenor), (second tenor), Frank ReinaVinnie Naccarato (d. 26 December 2008) (baritone), and John Cassese (bass). They were all around 15 years of age at the time and still in school. Vinnie, Mike, and John all went to John Adams High School, while Nick was a student at Woodrow Wilson and Frank attended Franklin K. Lane. Mike Mincelli, started the group and recruited the members. In the spring/summer of 1958 the final member was recruited and really got things together. They originally called themselves "the Supremes" but soon changed to "The Capris". It is often thought their name came from the island of Capri, since the boys were all Italian, but Nick confirmed in a 1993 interview with Greg Milewski, that they named themselves after the 1950s Lincoln Capri.

By 1958 the group had started gaining experience and popularity by performing at local venues, school dances and churches. They attracted the attention of independent record producers. Soon they would record their first single.


By late 1958, the group found themselves at Bell Sound Studios in New York recording their future biggest hit, “There’s a Moon Out Tonight”. The song was released by Planet Studios in early 1959. Along with that song, they only recorded one other song, entitled “Indian Girl”.

After that one release the group disbanded. They all got regular day jobs, Mike got married, and the leader, Nick, enlisted in the army. An obsessive record collector named Jerry Greene worked at Time Square Records, an oldies shop below ground leading to the midtown New York subway. In 1960 a customer brought in a copy of "There's a Moon Out Tonight" for credit against more expensive records in the store. This was a unique practice Jerry had devised to get collectors to bring in hard-to-find records so he could resell them. Greene gave the customer 500 credit for the Capris single and brought it to Allen Fredericks' "Night Train" radio show. Fredericks played it, mentioning that Times Square Records would give a dollar credit for a copy of it. Instead of getting copies of the record, Jerry received almost a hundred calls asking to buy the single. Two weeks later a friend of Greene's called to tell him he had just bought 10 copies directly from Planet Records.

The young entrepreneur saw a good thing evolving and with three other collectors chipped in and bought 100 copies from Planet and sold them to Slim Rose for a tidy profit. They sold out in about a week and Jerry repeated the buy-and-sell formula. When he returned to Planet for a third try the owner told him all the records were gone but he'd sell Jerry's cartel the masters for $200. The investing collectors bought the masters but passed up purchasing the publishing rights for $10 more, because they felt they'd spent all they could. Jerry then reissued it under Lost Nite Records, a label that he and his pals had formed in 1960. He pressed 330 copies on red plastic vinyl and gave a few to disc jockeys. Within a week the record was on the air and more orders were coming in than the fledgling label could handle. When Jerry saw that the record was getting too big for his little operation, he turned it over to Hy Weiss at Old Town Records for distribution.

In July 1960 (almost two years after The Capris originally recorded "There's a Moon Out Tonight") Nick returned from the army. He received a call from an old girlfriend, who informed him that the song had been playing all over the radio. He and the other group members got wind of their new release. Mike, now driving a bus, came home just in time to get a call from John exclaiming that the record was on a New York radio station.

Their song "There's a Moon Out Tonight" ended up in the hands of Murray the K at WINS. He had a show called “Rate the Record”. On the show there five records going up against each other, one of them being, “There’s a Moon Out Tonight” by The Capris. The Capris won one night and came in second to “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which was a major hit by The Shirelles. The Capris had all quit their jobs and reunited. A week later they were at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, then at the Brooklyn Paramount, The Regal in Roanoke, Virginia. They were all over the place and were on the rise. No one believed the song could be a hit on Lost Nite, but when Old Town got involved, the record hit the charts in the first week of 1961, and stayed there for 14 weeks.

The group now re-formed and Hy Weiss, not wanting to lose track of his budding stars, assigned a manager named Charles Merenstein to work with them. (Actually Merensteids duties were more like a baby-sitter's; his real profession up to that time had been a job as a pretzel salesman.) By February 27 "Moon" was the number three record in the country, displacing The Shirelles' hold on that same number on the previous week. For all its airplay, however, the song is reported to have sold only about 160,000 copies during its chart run. Since then it's sold three to four times that.

The group released another original ballad in the late spring ("Tears in My Eyes") that never charted. In September, they tried again with "Girl in My Dreams," a ballad that spent one week nationally at number 92 before failing. The group continued to work, even doing a 1961 behind-the-curtain backup for Dion on a Clay Cole TV appearance.

By 1962, The Capris had signed to Mr. McPeeke Records and tried to capitalize on the limbo craze with their first up-tempo A side, "Limbo." It lasted one week at number 99 and was the last Capris chart record. It was also their last new record for 20 years.

In 1962 Nick left the group to try and make it on his own. That never worked out so he became a New York cop. Frank took over lead as the group toured with the Clay ColeTwistarama Revue with the Ronettes and later The Delicates. In 1963, While Nick was gone, the group recorded a song called “Limbo”. By 1965 Vinnie and John had left the group. To replace them, they recruited John Apostle to sing bass and Tony Danno to sing baritone. John Apostle would later on be replaced by Tommy Ferrara. Ferrara had been a member of the Del Satins, which had become Brooklyn Bridge.

In 1982, Nick Santo rejoined and resurrected the group and they went in to the studio to record a new album, “There's a Moon out Again”, for Ambient Sound (Records). Besides doing covers of some doo wop classics, the Capris also included a couple of original tunes. One of these was a song called "Morse Code of Love." The tune sounded like it came right out of the late '50s, and many thought it was in fact an overlooked "oldie." It was also released as a single in 1982, backed with "There's a Moon out Again." And the song got even more exposure when Manhattan Transfer decided to cover it. Over the years, "Morse Code of Love" has only grown in popularity and has become one of the most requested tunes on oldies-type radio stations. Once again The Capris scored a home run with a 1950s sound that touched the heartstrings of the listeners and evoked the spirit of a time when life was simpler.


Of the original members, first tenor Mike Mincelli is retired and living in Florida, second tenor Frank Reina is a traffic forwarder at JFK Airport, baritone Vinnie Naccarato was in the moving business, he paassed away 12-30-2008 at the age of 66, bass John Cassese owns a company making hair pieces, and lead Nick Santo is retired from the 112th Precinct Forest Hills Division of the New York City Police Department. Tony Danno sings with The Chimes.

The group was featured on the PBS special Doo Wop 50 with Santo, Reina, and Ferarra.

Remaining in the group today are original members Nick Santo and Frank Reina, Tony Sergi Drummer and First Tenor, Lou Esposito Guitar and Baritone, John Monforte Bass singer. As of 2007, they were still performing for public and private bookings. However, at an appearance in Las Vegas in November 2007, Nick Santo announced his retirement, effective immediately, and the dissolution of the Capris, due to health reasons. The Capris final concert was on December 8th, 2007 at the Tarrytown Theater in Tarrytown, NY. Their website has been shut down.

Discography singles

  • 1958: "There’s a Moon Out Tonight"/"Indian Girl" (Planet)
  • 1960: "There’s a Moon Out Tonight"/"Indian Girl" (Lost Nite)
  • 1960: "There’s a Moon Out Tonight"/"Indian Girl" (Old Town)
  • 1961: "Where I Fell in Love"
  • 1961: "Some People Think"
  • 1961: "Tears in My Eyes"
  • 1961: "Why Do I Cry"
  • 1961: "Girl in My Dreams"
  • 1961: "My Island in the Sun"
  • 1961: "There’s a Moon Out Tonight"
  • 1961: "Indian Girl"
  • 1963: "Little Girl/When"
  • 1963: "Limbo"
  • 1963: "From the Vine Came the Grape"
  • 1982: "Morse Code of Love"
Discography albums
  • 1982: There’s a Moon Out Again
  • 1992: Morse Code of Love


  1. Murray the K's listener record rating feature was The Record Review Board, not Rate the Record.

  2. Sadly, Nick Santo of the Capris just passed away today. He was 69.

    Nick Santo of Doo Wop Group the Capris Dies