Monday, February 12, 2024

Hot Hero Sandwich: Record World Article, Nov. 24, 1979

by G. Jack Urso


The now-defunct Record World, along with Billboard and Cashbox, was considered among the Holy Trinity of U.S. music trade magazines. Its run from 1946 through 1982 covered the height of the Post-War, Post-Modern popular music scene. In this article, the magazine focuses on the music-end of Hot Hero Sandwich with some rare quotes by Felix Pappalardi about the show and plans for the Hot Hero Band which, unfortunately, never came to pass.

The complete article is provided below.

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‘Hero Sandwich’ Offers Varied Menu

By Joseph Ianello, Record World, Nov. 24, 1979

NEW YORK — Ten years ago, “Sesame Street” debuted on American television with revolutionary approaches to children's programming and educational instructional methods in general. Bruce and Carole Hart, a husband and wife team who were members of “Sesame Street's” original writing staff, last week (10) debuted “Hot Hero Sandwich,” a weekly series at noon on NBC-TV that may change the existing concept of Saturday morning television.

“Hot Hero Sandwich” is an hour-long potpourri of interviews with “Hot Heroes” of today. The first show included Bruce Jenner, Olivia Newton-John, Erik Estrada, and Donna Pescow; sketches performed by the “Hot Hero Sandwich” repertory company, a group of seven performers in their late teens and early twenties; animated sequences depicting the dreams of adolescents as told to Dr. Lee Salk; and music sequences done by a new group called “Hot Hero” with special guest stars like Sister Sledge, Joe Jackson, Little River Band, Eddie Money, the Persuasions, Rex Smith, and Stephen Stills.

“For years we had been going to the network saying we'd like to do a series that was something different from the typical Saturday morning programming, but we could never get them to agree to it,” said Carole, who won an Emmy in 1974 for co-producing the Mario Thomas special ”Free To Be . . . You And Me.” The typical Saturday morning programming that Carole and Bruce abhor along with so many others is the continual parade of anti-social and violent cartoon characters who are glorified for their foolish behavior and senseless actions.

The original Record World article.
Mixed Media

The Harts had just finished “Sooner Or Later,” a March 25 movie musical made for television, about a teenage girl's emergence into womanhood, when NBC totally reversed their previous stance and offered them an opportunity to come up with something of their own. “We came up with an idea of building mixed-media entertainment around a kind of emotional core of interviews with a series of interesting people, Carole reflected. The show has developed into a fast-paced, high-energy program that entertains while encouraging viewers to confront personal feelings, ideas and values conflicts while offering possible resolutions. None of the humanistic interviews, sketches, animations, or musical interludes are longer than three minutes, but all are in some way related to a central theme that ties together each show. And central to the success of these themes is the humor and music which are used to maintain interest while underscoring important points.

“The kind of humor you find on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ irreverent and hard-hitting, is the kind of humor young people relate to,” Bruce commented. “We thought that if our humor was any less than that, if we didn't have them laughing at the funny parts and boogieing at the music parts, then they wouldn't sit around for the talk parts.”

“One of the most important ingredients in the linkage of one concept to another within the total thematic framework of the show is the music, those little transitional pieces are quite instrumental in keeping the whole thing together,” Bruce added. Recognizing from the beginning how important music would be to the show, the Harts set out to find a music director who had an extensive background ranging from pop to rock to classical. Felix Pappalardi, producer for the Youngbloods, Cream, Hot Tuna, and Mountain, fit the bill and the circumstances surrounding his hiring are as unique as the job he fills, as Carole recounts: “We were breakfasting with a friend who's a psychic just about the time we were looking for a music director and she said, ‘Carole, see the name Felix behind your head’. Bruce and our film editor simultaneously said Pappalardi. We called him in Nantucket and he was working for us the next night.”

The pop-rock guests perform songs from their catalogues that fit the themes of the show rather than promote their latest record. On the first show, Sister Sledge sang “We Are Family” to tie in with the idea of friendship which was dealt with in the last act of the program. In a future program, Joe Jackson will do is Radio, a song about a young man being frustrated and wanting to get back at the people who held him down. “That's a thing that lots of young people feel so even though it’s a great pop tune, it’s expressing a fairly universal emotion,” Bruce stated.

According to Pappalardi, all the music is prerecorded because the show uses a neon set which creates a loud hum when amplifiers are turned on. While the superstar guests appear mainly to elaborate on themes, the show's “Hero Band” writes some of the music and performs almost all of the interludes, transitions, bumpers, and its own songs. The band is comprised of Robert Brissette, lead vocalist and bass; Mark Cunningham, lead and rhythm guitar; Richard Annunziato, lead vocalist and guitars; and Michael Ratti, drums. “We're not using the band specifically to break them,” said Bruce. “We were looking for a good young music act whose material would fit thematically while serving as audience identification models.”

Even though Bruce readily admits that “Hot Hero” was custom made for the show, he also recognizes that the series could act as a springboard to propel the group into national hit-maker status. The Harts’ recent success with “Sooner Or Later” and the subsequent emergence of Rex Smith from a co-starring role in that show to teen idol with his top 10 single "You Take My Breath Away,” makes the idea that much more feasible. “These guys are bad-assed players," said Pappalardi. “Bruce, Carole and I have definitely talked about cast, theme or band albums for the future and I can't wait to do a ‘Hot Hero’ record but there are no plans at the moment.”

The broad age appeal of the program and its concern with the real life experiences of today's heroes who at one time were going through the same problems as the viewers, should make it a hit. Yet there are those who claim that the fast pace and brief segments encourage hyperactivity and shorten the attention span of the audience while only superficially treating serious problems. Bruce addressed himself to this criticism stating, “We spend a lot of time trying to make things relate to one another so the viewers' attention carries over from scene one to scene 35.” Pappalardi, who calls young people his favorite in the world, adds, “Kids don't get talked to enough at home so it’s nice when they see people that perhaps they emulate all of the sudden saying things like, ‘hey, it was hard for Bruce Jenner on his first kiss.’ It's really like that for other people too!”

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Saturday, February 10, 2024

Hot Hero Sandwich Short Take on James Biondolillo, Music Coordinator

by G. Jack Urso

There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.
— Albert Maltz, The Naked City.
 

The above line from the classic movie and TV series The Naked City symbolizes the aspirations and dreams of the many people drawn to New York City. Some are lifelong citizens, some are transients, some are homeless, but whether we land in Peoria or Paris, everyone has a story. Hot Hero Sandwich was produced by a mix of talented people from across the nation drawn to New York City by its opportunities. Their stories help define both an industry and an era. 

Jimmy Biondolillo and the Godfather of Soul James Brown (photo Stereo City).

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Mr. Conductor, If You Please . . .

James “Jimmy” Biondolillo was one of the music coordinators for Hot Hero Sandwich (the other being Tony Fiore). Jimmy was brought to my attention by series writer Marianne Meyer. In the Hot Hero Sandwich Project’s ongoing effort to shine a little light on those behind the scenes, I now turn the spotlight on Jimmy and his role as a music coordinator.

A music coordinator serves as a sort of liaison between the producers and musicians. According to Hot Hero band drummer Mike Ratti, the music coordinator for the show was “the one up that will put the music together and the musicians that had to be hired . . .  he [Biondolillo] was known for that. He was on that circuit.”

According to Marianne Meyer, at the time of Hot Hero Sandwich, Biondolillo lived in a studio apartment across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theater. Surprisingly, he only had a “crappy little stereo,” not a high-end, high-tech classic 1970s audio set-up she expected him to have. Biondolillo replied, and paraphrasing him here, “I work in studios with the greatest equipment but, when I come home, if it sounds good on this, I know it’s a great track."

Meyer reported Biondolillo worked on a solo album with Roger Daltry (Parting Should Be Painless) and on a project with Frank Sinatra — and had Frank’s coffee cup as a souvenir to prove it! He also worked on albums with The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Bronski Beat, the Communards, Bobby Day, Frankie Vallie, Tatsuro Yamashita, Odyssey, and many more.

Biondolillo hailed from Cleveland, Ohio, where, in an interview with Mike Thorne of the NYC-based Stereo Society, Oct. 16, 2001, he notes that his early experience included playing, and by his own admission “poorly,” in wedding bands, working his way through college. While he spent time in London, LA, and Nashville, he preferred the fast pace of New York City.

In the interview, Biondolillo describes his job as knowing not only how the music for a project should be arranged, but who can deliver the performances needed for the right sound. Beyond just technical musical knowledge, the music coordinator needs to have an extensive working knowledge of the musicians available and how they play. Additionally, Jimmy wrote arrangements, usually on the spot, and the musicians typically were expected to nail it in one take.

Jimmy Biondolillo apparently was very pleased to meet Nancy Sinatra (Getty Images).

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Changing Times

Biondolillo acknowledges in the interview that the advance of technology has led to a new generation of musicians who don’t understand how a good music coordinator contributes to the success of a project. This is compounded by a steadily shrinking Rolodex of colleagues who know the importance of his work, but who have since left the business or have been sidelined themselves. Nevertheless, review of his later work on the website Discogs reveals a focus on arrangement and conducting, suggesting he segued to more specialized work.

Hot Hero’s Mike Ratti, having worked through that era, conceded the industry has changed since the Hot Hero days and the duties of the music coordinator were divided up to individual specialist rather than lumped together with the music coordinator.

“The business had changed,” Ratti noted, “and they didn’t really need people like that anymore. They were bringing in arrangers, people that were writing the music for the session so that [the music coordinator] wasn’t needed. It wasn’t the animal that was needed anymore so people like just kind of faded away, and that part of the industry.”

In some respects, I can relate. In the 1980s, my audio and video skills were pretty sharp and honed on state-of-the-art equipment. When I tried to reenter the business in the mid-1990s after a five-year gap working in education, I found that the digital revolution had made most of the equipment I trained on obsolete. I took up a few brief part-time radio jobs as an announcer now and then. When I would explain to my younger co-workers how I used to edit audio with a crayon, razor blade, and tape, they looked at me like an obsolescent curiosity straight out of the Stone Age.

As noted above, Biondolillo continued his work long after Hot Hero Sandwich. When trying to track him down, I found the Stereo City interview and an email address for Jimmy hosted through the website. I reached out, but instead got a response from the interviewer, Mike Thorne, who administrates the website and reported that he hadn’t heard from Jimmy in quite a while and a quick survey of other Stereo City NYC-based audio professionals revealed the same. No one has heard of his current whereabouts. Likewise, my own research efforts have turned up nothing. 

Biondolillo and Marianne Meyer collaborated on a script, Under the Lights, about the true story of a pair of high school football players Jimmy brought to her attention, but nothing developed from it. On a visit to New York City a few years after the show, Meyer stopped at the front desk of his apartment building across from the Ed Sullivan Theater to inquire if Jimmy was still there, but he was long gone and the concierge did not recall him.

The Ed Sullivan Theater, left; Jimmy Biondolillo’s apartment building, right (Google Maps).
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Concluding Thoughts

I recently read a review of the Twilight Zone episode, “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” where a commercial airliner gets caught in a powerful jet stream that takes it to different points in the past. The episode ends with the jet trying to get back to its own time and running out fuel. The journey continues, but the episode ends. We never learn what happens to the passengers. Somewhere out there, Flight 33 is still trying to get home. The reviewer didn’t like the episode because there was no conclusion, no resolution, to the story, and all good stories must have a conclusion, right?

Well, I’m not sure where Jimmy Biondolillo ended up, but I like to think that, as with Flight 33, he is still out there somewhere — if only in the worn-out grooves of old records and on wonky cassettes and discarded CDs or riding some radio waves still traveling far out through space . . . or even in a wedding band in Cleveland, Ohio.

I hope Jimmy found his way home because, in a way, we’re all on the same path.

 
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Sunday, February 4, 2024

Hot Hero Sandwich Clip Job! Captain Hero

by G. Jack Urso 

Captain Hero Theme Song performed by the Hot Hero band.


Captain Hero

Stronger than a frog

Faster than a rock

Smarter than a piece of pie

What a guy . . . Captain Hero

Captain Hero!

 

Captain Hero, portrayed by Hot Hero Sandwich’s resident child actor Adam Ross, along with the Puberty Fairy, is one of the show’s more surreal elements. On Hot Hero Sandwich, Captain Hero typically appears when there is a threat to a friend or family member, using his intelligence or a special ability to foil the evildoer.
 
It’s a common enough experience for children to pretend they’re superheroes. On one hand, it is a relatively healthy exercise of the imagination, provided one does not jump off a roof pretending to fly. On the other hand, imaginary play can become a safe place from dysfunction and trauma. It is not uncommon for children of dysfunctional families to grow up and work as counselors, teachers, social workers, and First Responders — becoming, in a way, the superheroes they always wanted to be.

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Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 2: The Case of the Disappearing Signature 

Captain Hero thwarts an evil landlord trying to cheat his parents.


 

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 3: The Case of the Radioactive Bicycle

With Special Guest Star Stanley Dipstyck. In this episode, Stanley reveals why he wears a bag on his head!

 

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 5: The Case of the Angry Boyfriend

With Special Guest Villain Matt McCoy!

 

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 7: The Case of the Talking Toilet

A quick toilet trick by the Captain deters a felonious plumber!

 

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 9: The Puberty Fairy Strikes!

With Special Guest Andy Breckman!


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Saturday, February 3, 2024

Hot Hero Sandwich: TV Week Article, Nov. 4 — 10, 1979

by G. Jack Urso


The Hot Hero Sandwich theme, a catchy, straight-ahead rock song, almost single-handedly sustained fan interest in the show. In my research, however, I found little directly from Bruce and Carole Hart about theme song until I came across this article from the Nov. 4 — 10, 1979, Sunday News TV Week. The complete article is provided below.

The theme song was written by Bruce Hart and Stephen Lawrence. Hart also co-wrote the lyrics for the theme song for Sesame Street, and along with Lawrence wrote the soundtrack for the NBC TV movie, Sooner or Later (which featured Hot Hero Sandwich music guest Rex Smith and Hot Hero Band member Mark Cunningham as a member of Smith’s band).

Personally, and I think I speak for many fans, the importance of the Hot Hero Sandwich theme song in sustaining the series’ memory cannot be underestimated. As a teen, I immediately connected with its message that just surviving all the daily dysfunction of our young lives is nothing else than heroic — and given the state of the world today, that journey has become a labor of Hercules.

At least the kids could have a damn good theme song.
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NEW YORK — An original theme song, “Hot Hero,” will open each weekly telecast of “Hot Hero Sandwich,” the series utilizing music, comedy, celebrity interviews, film segments and animated sequences to focus on the fun and frustration of growing up.  It premieres on NBC-TV Saturday at noon.

The “Hot Hero” song is part of the musical accent placed on each program in the series. There will be guest performances by contemporary music headliners and additional original music will be written for the series by a diverse group of composers.

Bruce and Carole Hart are the creators and executive producers of “Hot Hero Sandwich,” part of NBC’s continuing commitment to the international year of the child.

The theme song was written by Bruce Hart (lyrics) and Stephen Lawrence. Said Hart: “We’ve tried to capture the spirit of ‘Hot Hero Sandwich’ — adolescents doing the best the can to cope with experiences and changes in their lives which can be pretty wild at times. With the upbeat music, the lyrics say, in part: ‘Got out of bed today/Got to school okay/Did what I could do; Pretty much like you/You’re a hero, too.’

“Carole said it for us when she described the show this way: ‘It’s about going through the wonder, the worry, the exhilaration and pain of adolescence and it focuses on the inner feelings common to all teen-agers. Our sub-text is: Look, you’re not crazy – you’re normal. This is just the way things are.’ “

The theme song and other special material will be performed on camera by the Hot Hero Band, whose members are Richie Annunziato, Robert Brissette, Marc Cunningham and Mike Ratti.  The show’s music director is Felix Pappalardi.

Bruce Hart and Stephen Lawrence previously collaborated on the score for “Sooner or Later,” and NBC World Premiere movie created and produced by the Harts. An album featuring original songs from “Sooner or Later” became a Gold Record. One of the tunes, “You Take My Breath Away,” sold more than one million copies and was on the Top 10 lists of best-selling singles, as ranked by Billboard, Cashbox and Record World.

“Hot Hero Sandwich,” has been recommended to schools across the nations by the National Educational Association.

The NEA said: “Adolescence — that complicated period in our lives when both social and physical changes usher us to the world of adults — is brought into sharp focus by ‘Hot Hero Sandwich.’ Through the use of comedy, celebrity interviews and contemporary music, it communicates the universality of the adolescent experience and presents a positive outlook designed to be instructive as well as entertaining. This series is highly recommended.”

 The Hot Hero band performing the theme song.

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