La Flavour

The members of the disco group La Flavour wearing red suits.

La Flavour, the Disco group best known for Mandolay chat with DiscoMusic.com. Find out why Bon Jovi of all groups is mentioned.

Written by Bernard Lopez of DiscoMusic.com

It's not quite often that one finds a band that has been around for thirty plus years. La Flavour is one of those bands that have withstood the test of time. Up until the summer of 1997 I thought that they were long gone.

The group calls the state of Ohio their home. A state that, at first, is not exactly known for it's music. It was while bicycling across Ohio in early June of 1997 that got me wondering if La Flavour could still be around. There I was in a motel room relaxing from a hard days ride when I came across an ad in a local paper. The ad was for a local club that was featuring a group called La Flavour. There was no mention of the song "Mandolay." No big deal I thought, it's just some new group unknowingly using the same name.

Well, it was the original group. When I returned home and retrieved the hundreds of e-mail that had piled up, one of them was from the members of La Flavour. They were writing to comment on this very site. Man, what a great feeling to know that they were still around. That just started the ball rolling and the result is this article.

A recent photo of the members of La Flavour.
A recent photo of the members of La Flavour.

La Flavour is best known for their 1979 Disco single Mandolay from the album of the same name. It was put out by a small Cleveland, Ohio label called Sweet City Records. Some of the other standout cuts from the album are:

  • "Only the Lonely" is a low tempo number which is very compelling and deeper than Mandolay.
  • "Can't Kill the Beat" could very well be the "Disco will prevail" anthem. At the time of the album's release some people were driving the final nails into Disco. Or so they had thought.
  • "To the Boys In the Band Roller Shake" could have very well have been the follow up single to Mandolay.

La Flavour Speak In Their Words

From this point onward we'll let the La Flavour band members tell their story:

Craig DeBock, Gino Milchak, Pete Nervo, and Steve Nervo were all students at Washi

ngton High School in Massillon, Ohio, known mainly for football because it's where the famous coach Paul Brown got his start. Today, Washington is commonly called Massillon, and is famous for their prized Massillon Tigers, the team Paul Brown took to so many state football titles.

The boys put together a band in the Nervo's basement, and leaned heavily on soul music instead of the British invasion stuff that was so prominent in the late 60s. They called themselves The Blues Soul, and eventually added a horn section and keyboards to the band. As time passed, and the "denim" 70s appeared, the boys changed the name of the band to Ragweed, and got themselves know in the local Northeast Ohio club circuit.

The big dance club in Akron at the time was called "Red's," and Ragweed desperately wanted to work there. Red's used show groups from across the country, and had no use for local bands. The only way Ragweed could get booked into Red's was to go through the room's booking agent from Buffalo, NY - a charming young music mogul named John Sansone. After some prodding, John agreed to fly to Akron to hear the band at a small club on the Portage Lakes just south of Akron. Although Ragweed was rough around the edges, he was blown away by what they did to the crowd in that nightclub.

He introduced himself to the boys, and offered himself as their agent/manager. However, he insisted they make some serious changes if he was to take them over.

First, drop the stupid name! He HATED Ragweed (wonder why). The boys drew up a list of around 150 names, and John rejected every single one. Tired of waiting on the boys to come up with a "good" one, he named them "Flavour." Secondly, he insisted they buy new P.A. equipment, and lastly he made them buy several sets of matching outfits. NOW they were ready to be booked on the road.

Album cover of the original La Flavour album that featured Mandolay.
Album cover of the original La Flavour album that featured Mandolay.

Eventually, the boys became interested in making an album. One of their acquaintances was a young keyboard player named Mark Avsec from Cleveland, Ohio, who had tasted Top 40 chart success with his band Wild Cherry, thanks to the song "Play That Funky Music White Boy." Mark offered to produce the band and wound up writing all the songs for their album. Before the album was released, MCA agreed to put out the first finished song as a single, titled "When The Whistle Blows." The song was actually co-written by Mark and Pete Nervo. The song charted, but MCA was not interested in doing an entire album with the boys. However, one thing did happen. MCA thought the boys had a European sound, and suggested they add the prefix "La" to their name. Hence, in 1979, they became La Flavour, which has stuck for all time. (It's also been said that another band existed with the name "Flavor" back in the 1960s)

Meanwhile, Cleveland's biggest concert promoter, Jules Belkin, and his partner Carl Maduri decided to release La Flavour's first album on a small label they owned called Sweet City Records. What happened next was beyond anyone's expectations. The title cut "Mandolay", which was written by Mark, was devoured by the dance clubs from coast to coast. It scored # 7 on the Billboard Dance Charts, and they couldn't press enough copies at Sweet City Records to meet the demand. nobody expected that song to do what it did.

The Belkin/Maduri Group, in association with John Sansone, arranged for the boys to do a live showcase to show MCA that La Flavour had the "stuff" to hit the bigtime. Although there was a power failure in the middle of the catered affair, MCA was impressed enough to sign the band, and advance them enough money to do a second album. This is where this Cinderella story goes south.

The powers-that-be at MCA sensed Disco going out of style, and since La Flavour was now known worldwide as a Disco band, they made the boys change their name. MCA named the band Fair Warning, and they returned to the studio with Mark Avsek to try again. Since Punk and New Wave were now the "fashion," and Disco was supposed to be "out," they asked for a Rock album, and the boys delivered the goods. The boys put out a solid rock album, which featured the Mark Avsec written "She Don't Know Me", which had all the stuff to give the boys their second hit, even though they had switched formats and changed their name.

Then guess what happened? Another producer heard the song, and snatched it up for the debut release by Bon Jovi. The Fair Warning album was then shelved by MCA, and the boys found themselves out in the cold. That quickly–it was all gone.

"She Don't Know Me" remains the only non-original song by Bon Jovi, and they went on to massive success. La Flavour then Fair Warning then back to La Flavour again returned to the road to do what they did best (and still do!), entertain audiences with high-energy dance music and showmanship.

Eventually, fueled by the booking power of John Sansone, the boys conquered showrooms from Florida to Atlantic City. La Flavour traveled for 16 years solid before deciding it was time to return home and carve out a living playing locally in Northeast Ohio once again. By the mid 90s, the boys were well into their forties, and were fed up with the road.

Their reputation remains so strong, they work 240 nights per year without traveling further than 75 miles, and they show no signs of slowing down. In 1996, original drummer Steve Nervo was forced into retirement because of a heart condition, and drummer Vince Scarpitti (who happens to be narrating this tale) stepped in. Steve was the lead voice on Mandolay, so once he recovered from a quadruple bypass, he decided to undertake the task of remaking the song for release. Meanwhile, La Flavour was working on their own remake, which sits on the shelf unfinished at the time of this writing, due to the bands backbreaking live schedule. Ironically, Steve was invited back to sing lead vocals on the La Flavour version as well. Steve's remake is in the stores, and available through the La Flavour website.

Over the last several years, the original version of Mandolay has been released several times by several different record labels. It is currently available on a four-cut CD which also features the song "To The Boys In The Band." "Mandolay" has also been used in the motion picture soundtracks to Kiss Me Guido, and "54," the latter being released during the summer of '98.

The band stays busy, and the boys playing on. La Flavour's current lineup are hotter than ever. Featuring original members Craig DeBock (the fearless leader, lead singer, and sax virtuoso), Gino Milchak (the most "alive" bass player on the planet), Pete Nervo (jack of ALL instruments), as well as more recent additions Frank Pellino (keyboards and magnificent lead guitar), and Vince Scarpitti (drums and internet prowess), the boys play relentlessly to club audiences 52 weeks every year. La Flavour has always been about "doing it," and NOBODY does it better. If you're in a hot nightclub and you see a packed dance floor with people having the time of their lives, it's a safe bet that La Flavour's IN THE HOUSE!

DJ's and collectors take note: The original vocalist of "Mandolay," Steve Nervo, has made a remake of the classic track. The CD contains a remake of Mandolay and a second track called "Without You." The CD single is available in limited quantities.

–The End

Written by Bernard F. Lopez (1998)
https://www.discomusic.com
Copyright © 1998 by Bernard F. Lopez
All rights reserved

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