Arcesi's Baby

Born John Anthony Arcesi (pronounced 'RCC') in Sayre, Pennsylvania in February 1917 of Italian immigrant parents, John Arcesi turned professional after winning a talent contest organised by Blackstone the Magician (Harry Blackstone, Sr.) when he was just 10 years old. Singing locally wherever he could get a gig in 1933, after a fire almost destroyed the family home, he decided to travel to NYC in the hope of becoming a band vocalist like his idols Bing Crosby and Russ Columbo.

In 1934 he made his first professional recordings for the Columbia label as singer for Lud Gluskin and his Orchestra, before moving to Bluebird as singer for Louis 'King' Garcia in 1936. John took a job at the Mills Music Publishing Company, based in the famous Brill Building, as a song demonstrator and office assistant during the day, singing in clubs around New York at night. When  it was suggested to him that the name Arcesi sounded too ethnic he changed it, recording as Don Darcy from 1935–45, and Johnny Darcy from 1946-1950.

For several years Darcy sang with Joe Venuti's Orchestra and he recorded with  a number of different acts on an equal number of different labels until, in 1952, he was signed as a featured singer by Capitol Records. Reverting to his original birth name, he garnered several column inches when, while performing the song Lost In Your Love in Las Vegas he put a young woman by the name of Ariel Edmunson in to an hypnotic trance which supposedly lasted some 39 hours. It was a publicity stunt, of course, but it worked. 

John's first single release with Capitol was Wild Honey/Moonlight Brings Memories. Capitol ran several full pages ads in Billboard magazine promoting the disc and even sent deejays jars of honey in the hope of gaining a few spins. Reviews were not fooled though: Billboard’s Bill Smith wrote that he used ‘a lot of artificial poses that are glaringly apparent and studied. His singing style is very slow and very deliberate. In fact he comes to a dead stop at the end of each line in such a manner that time and again it looked like he blew the lyrics.’ When he tried to pull yet another silly stunt to promote his latest record Smith dismissed it as so ‘corny that it had plant written all over it. Based on voice quality alone Arcesi might make it, but the build-ups, stunts and tricky arrangements dreamed up for him are not going to help very much. The dough could be used to better advantage teaching him how to sell’.

Despite all that Capitol continued to have faith: in March 1953 Arcesi recorded four sides with Nelson Riddle, three written by Arcesi himself, and he was voted third most promising 'new singer' by Billboard, following Al Martino and Steve Lawrence. Sadly fame was not to be found, and in spite of further name changes (including Tony Conti and Chick Johnson) Arcesi’s fifteen minutes were already up. By the beginning of the 60s he had all-but retired.

Then, in 1972, an album entitled Reachin' Arcesia was released by the tiny Alpha Records. Just 300 copies of the album were pressed (the same company also issued a 45 by John Arcesi, It's All According/Love is Like A Mountain sometime around 1968), although it has been widely pirated since. A further 45  Reaching/Pictures In My Windowwas released in 1979 by the Honolulu-based Orpheus-Alephia label (Arcesi moved to the island in 1974). Confusingly Reaching and Love is Like A Mountain are the same song: even more confusing is that the album bears absolutely no relation to anything Arcesi recorded during his big band or ballad singer years.

The eleven songs on Reachin' Arcesia are almost beyond description; ridiculous and overblown, kind of psychedelic but with garage-punk production values, it’s as if Jim Morrison had never died. It is, frankly, utterly bizarre and utterly beguiling. Having made his masterwork, John Arcesi would never record again, instead he spent the last years of his life painting and dealing in art.

John died in Palm Springs, California on April 12, 1983 at the age of 66.

Here is a brace of cuts from the awesome, jaw-dropping Reachin' Arcesia: The Leaf and the preposterous Mechanical Doll.


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