MY NAME IS GUY VILLARI. I SANG WITH A SINGING GROUP CALLED THE REGENTS FOR MANY YEARS. OUR BIGGEST HIT RECORD WAS A SONG NAMED "BARBARA ANN" WHICH WAS RECORDED IN 1958 AND RELEASED THREE YEARS LATER IN 1961. IT WAS THE #1 SONG IN NEW YORK AND ALSO WENT HIGH ON THE NATIONAL CHARTS. IT WAS A NUMBER ONE RECORD IN THE PHILIPPINES AND ALSO SOLD WELL IN CANADA AND EUROPE.
MY GROUP PERFORMED IN MANY VENUES INCLUDING ATLANTIC CITY, LAS VEGAS, NEW ORLEANS, CHICAGO, BOSTON, TORONTO, DALLAS, PHILADELPHIA AND MANY OTHERS TOO NUMEROUS TO MENTION.
WE ALSO DID LOTS OF TV PERFORMANCES WHICH INCLUDED THE GRAMMY AWARDS, ATLANTIC CITY ALIVE, NEW YORK AT NIGHT, THE DICK CLARK SHOW, CLAY COLE SHOW, JOE FRANKLIN, GERALDO RIVERA, AND MANY OTHERS.
I PERFORMED WITH THE REGENTS UP UNTIL 1996 WHEN, DUE TO A BACK INJURY I WAS FORCED TO RETIRE.
IN BETWEEN GIGS I WAS ALSO A RACEHORSE OWNER/TRAINER. AT ONE TIME I OWNED 13 HARNESS RACEHORSES. I WAS LICENSED AND RACED MY HORSES IN NEW YORK, NEW JERSEY, MASSACHUSETTES AND PENNSYLVANIA.
IN 2008 I HAD MY OWN INTERNET RADIO SHOW, DOING A FOUR HOUR, PRIME TIME SHOW, SIX NIGHTS A WEEK.
The horse was ours. Alex said he got there just in time to post the $4000 (plus tax) and claim the horse. The horse had raced like a monster, blowing away the rest of the field as he breezed past the finish line….. The next thing for me to do was to apply for an “owners license” with the NY State Racing & Wagering board. Until I get my license we would have to race “Harvey” under Alex’s name. I had some trouble getting my license due to a little problem I had with the police after breaking some guys leg. (But that’s another story)…… Anyway it took me a couple of weeks to get my license. … The week after we claimed Harvey we entered him in a $5000 claiming race. (When you claim a horse, you have to race him at least 20% higher than his original claiming price for the next 30 days). Of course $5000 claimers are better horses than $4000 claimers but rules are rules. He was “in tough” but we were confident. I went to the track with about 9000 relatives to cheer on “Harvey”. He went “wire to wire” and after 2:03 of a racing career, I was already a winner. It was the biggest thrill of my life. It was even a bigger thrill to me than when I heard on the radio that my song was number 1.
The next week we put "Harvey" in with the $7000 claimers. He came in second in a photo finish. All told, he won nine races that season. A week later, (or was it two?), the man who was training for us asked me to take a look at another horse he spotted. I took a ride with him to another barn at the track and saw the horse he was talking about. The horse looked like he was doing the "mambo". He had his head sticking out of the stall and his rear end was moving from side to side. I suggested to Mike, (the trainer), that he go for a series of brain scans. He told me he knew what was wrong with the horse and he could fix it. The horse was in to race that night and we went to see what he could do. He raced with the pack around the first turn and was about fifth in the backstretch. That's when the driver made his move. (Harness "jockeys" are called drivers). The horse started to fly in the stretch for about 5 seconds. Then he looked like he ran into a wall. He was quitting so badly that it looked like he was going backwards. I proceeded to grab Mike around the neck, trying to induce pain. "No, no…buy the horse, buy the horse". I was really worried about Mike. Perhaps he sniffed too much horse liniment. Anyway I wound up buying the horse. His name was "Pugwash". He was an 8 year old gelding with a bad temper and a pretty face. (Like me, when I was 8 years old). Mike told me that the horse had to be "wormed" and he would be fine. He already checked his legs and throat and knew that this was a sound investment. We wormed the horse, raced him in an $8000 claimer and collected the "winners" share of the purse. (Another first time out, winner).
Now Alex called me up. He knows about a good stallion, ("Gypsy Pharoah"), racing that night in a $5000 claimer that had a bad trainer who didn't know his business. He was sure Mike could improve on the horse. We claimed him and entered him in a condition race, (not a claimer), for the following week. It was like an omen. Here I was on a gig in Mass. Again. I have 2 horses racing in the same night. "Puggie" in the 9th race & "Gypsie" in the 10th race. I can't even see them race. After the gig was over, I got into my car and drove to Monticello. I got there about 5:30 AM. Everything was dark. My first concern was to make sure that the horses were OK. I checked on them in their stalls and they were fine. I decided to grab a quick nap in the back seat of my car. About 7:00 I woke up and went into the horseman's cafeteria for some breakfast.
I tried to get a newspaper but they were all sold out. I spotted a couple of trainers having coffee and reading the paper. I went over to them to ask who won the 9th race. "The 5 horse". "The five horse? That's my horse "Gypsy". I was trying to be cool about it. "And do you know about the 10th race?" …."The 6 horse."…. "The Six? That's Puggie". I won two races in a row. (Actually it was Pug & Gypsy). The trainer told me that the horse paid $74.00 to win. Pug paid around $14 and change.
This was easy. Everything I bought was a winner. I sold my house in Long Island and bought a little horse ranch in Liberty, NY. I then bought,(with partners), "Mary Skipper", "Leisure Boy A", "Meadow Merino", "Mac Adios A", and "Lynley Belle". I felt like Ben Cartright at "The Ponderosa".
Now that I moved close to the track I was able to get involved in their care and training. The first thing I learned to do was clean a stall. Then I learned how to apply the harness and all the equipment. Then came the fun part. I learned how to get in the sulky and take the horse around the racetrack. I had my own helmet and jump suit. I felt like an overgrown Willie Shoemaker. I was getting a lot of press. There were stories about me in papers all over the country, including one about Pugwash in the New York Times.
We won over 70 races that season. We raced at Monticello, Freehold, Pocono Downs, Roosevelt Raceway, Foxboro and Yonkers. I had to be licensed in NY, NJ, PA, and Mass.
When the season ended my partner Alex packed the horses and shipped them to the Bethel facility. He was supposed to keep them in shape. Actually what he did was to break them all down. Almost every horse we had came down with bad hocks or bowed tendons or some other ailments. Harvey and Gypsy died. Harvey "tied up" and Gypsy got cancer. I tried to save Gypsy by sending him to Cornell University. They couldn't save him. Then I found out that my partner never paid Mike his training fees that I gave him.
Everything came crashing down. I wasn't as smart as I thought I was. With the help of the presiding judge, I had that S.O.B. barred from every track in the country. I was told, later on, that Alex was later convicted of forgery and went to prison.
All I was able to salvage was "Pugwash". He was the only horse that wasn't a cripple. I had to do something with him, but what? I decided to learn how to become a full fledged trainer. I went to work, with NO pay, for a trainer friend of mine named Charlie DelGatto. I worked for him for 3 months, picking his brain every day.
I learned on a horse named "Steamfitter". This was one vicious horse. He once lifted a groom by the face and the poor guy needed 73 stitches. So naturally Charlie gave me this horse to learn on. I guess I was too stupid to be scared. I got along pretty good with the horse although I never turned my back on him. I used to have the horse all dressed in his equipment and hitched to the bike before Charlie got to the barn. After 3 months I was able to take the "Trainers Exam". I passed and was given a trainers license.
I had a few more victories, with the help of another good trainer, Phil Carbone, but my back was getting worse and I was financially ruined. Then my wife, Rhonda, (of five and a half months), was killed in a head on collision and I was "done". She was 27 years old.
note.. Rhonda was killed in a car crash in April of the following year..............
They are best known for writing and recording their hit record, "Barbara Ann" in 1961, which reached #13 on the Billboard hot 100 chart and #2 when later covered by the Beach Boys in 1965. They also had a second charting hit with "Runaround", which hit #28 later in 1961.
from left to right, the group who made "Barbara Ann":
Charles Fassert, Sal Cuomo, Guy Villari, Tony Gravgna, Don Jacobucci
The group that brought us the original "Barbara Ann" formed in the Bronx, New York in 1959. Group members included Guy Villari on lead; Sal Cuomo, first tenor; Chuck Fassert, second tenor; Tony Gravagna, sax player-baritone; Don Jacobucci on bass.
An earlier version of the group from 1957 was called "The Monterays", and included Villari, Cuomo, Fassert and Ernie Maresca (who later had a hit with "Shout, Shout - Knock Yourself Out", and also wrote songs such as the Regent's "Runaround" and "The Wanderer" recorded by Dion).
The group recorded many demos in Bell Sound, Associated, and Regent Sound studios. They were finally signed to Seville Records as "The Desires", however, none of the songs they recorded were released until the group had success 3 years later as The Regents.
The Regents name came from a combination of doing a demo at Regents Sound studio and the fact that Villari smoked Regents Cigarettes. To this day, Villari has the empty pack that was in his pocket when the name was chosen.
In 1958 the group decided to do a song Villari had written called "A Teenagers Love". They booked an hour of studio time, for $15, at a small studio in Manhattan called "Associated". The group took 50 minutes to do the song. As the group was leaving the studio, one of the members noticed that they still had 10 minutes of studio time left. They decided to "throw in" Barbara Ann. The group did three takes and left. Shortly, thereafter, Tony Gravagna who came along just to play sax was taken into the group.
The Regents went to every record company they could find but they were not able to land a contract. They disbanded about a year later.
Don Jacobucci's younger brother Eddie revived the Regents by accident. His group, the Consorts, lacked original songs for an audition so they cut a version of "Barbara Ann" from an old demo Eddie found around the house. When the owner of Cousins Records heard the song, he decided to put it out, not by the Consorts, but by the Regents. The original group reunited, and Cousins released "Barbara Ann" in March of 1961. It became a No. 1 record in New York; the demand was overwhelming and Cousins leased it to Roulette/Gee for worldwide distribution and saw it soared to No. 13 pop and No. 7 R&B.
Their follow-up "Runaround", went to number 28 on the pop charts and number 30 in R&B. They did two more records for "Gee" but after a royalties dispute with the company, the group broke up.
In 1964 Villari and Fassert started a new group, named after their second record, "The Runarounds". They brought in a third singer and did the night club circuit with some success.
Returning in 1973 once more as The Regents with Guy Villari, the only remaining original member. The group enjoyed much success as a concert group and toured throughout the country. In 1988 they were also selected as one of only four "oldies" groups ever to appear on the Grammy Awards Show. (The Cadillacs, The Flamingos & The Angels were the other three.)
With over 25 years under their belts, The Regents produced one of the happiest and exciting musical acts on the scene. Their act was a mixture of wit and warmth. They had uncanny timing for humor that gave a genuine spontaneity to their act. Their vast repertoire and high energy thrilled audiences to the point of standing ovations. The Regents performed at major concert venues throughout the country. They performed at fundraisers, revival shows, corporate and private affairs.
In 1995 a New group of Regents was formed. Along with Guy, the only original performing Regent, Tony Valitutto, Frank Civatillo and Tony Cacase made up the vocals, while Richard Rogers, Joel DeRuggiero, & Sal DiCicco provided the instrumentation.
Although Villari considered this group to be the best group of Regents ever, the group was short lived. They disbanded after a year because of an injury to Villari and a trademark dispute with a group phoney of "wannabes".