Jerome Anthony Gourdine prefers you call him “Little Anthony.” Yet he’s anything but “little:” His is a story of how a kid from Ft. Greene, Brooklyn went on to become not only an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (along with Metallica, Jeff Beck and Run DMC) but one of the vocal architects to emerge in the era called the “Golden Age of Rock and Roll.” He is still receiving accolades and applause: Little Anthony was inducted into the Long Island-based Vocal Group Hall of Fame by Billy Joel, who also honored Anthony personally last July, when he encouraged the sold-out Madison Square Garden audience to give his hero a standing ovation right after singing a stanza of “Tears On My Pillow”.
His life and career is a mine of important information and essential trivia, and it’s all there in “Little Anthony: My Journey–My Destiny” (Mascot Books, $24.95). But it’s a tome that took time, and Little Anthony didn’t want to write an autobiography.
“I did not want to write a ‘me book,’ but my life has been quite a journey, a people journey,” he explains. “People say I am an icon and I thank them for that, but truth be told, the real Little Anthony story is about the people I’ve known and those who influenced me for the better. I should have died three times, but now at age 74, I am one of the pioneers of the early days of Rock and R&B. I survived. I was there then–I had my first singing gig at 14 years old-and now 60 years later, I am fortunate enough to chronicle it all.”
The “Little Anthony” story is about the people Anthony has known–his boyhood friends; his family; his parents; his aunts; his show-biz fathers Redd Foxx and Sammy Davis Jr.; and his “brother” Smokey Robinson. There are his friendships with Paul Simon, the support of Ed Sullivan, Dick Clark, Paul Shaffer, Moms Mabley, Eartha Kitt, Frankie Lymon, Don Costa, Teddy Randazzo, Bobby Weinstein and Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. “Some of them are not gone, but they are with me every time I go on stage,” he recalls. “Their influence and teachings are in me and I carry on everything they taught or instilled in me”.
You could say it all started when at age 17. He was attending summer school at Boys High in Brooklyn; on a hot day, Anthony heard a song he wrote, “Tears On My Pillow,” on a smuggled transistor radio. “I started to walk out of the class when the teacher said, ‘Mister Gourdine where do you think you are going?’ I remember it like it was yesterday–”My song is on the radio–I’m out of here”. Anthony chuckles and recalls, “I finally received my diploma 50 years later when someone found it in an old desk at Boys High and sent on.”
More hits followed for Little Anthony & The Imperials: “Hurt So Bad”, “I’m on the Outside Looking In”, “Shimmy Shimmy Koko Pop”, “I’m Alright” (co-written with Sam Cooke) and “Just Two People in the World”. Little Anthony & The Imperials have sold over 22 million singles worldwide.
In the book, Gourdine tells of how he was tagged with the name “Little Anthony” by radio legend Alan Freed; watching Bob Marley record “No Woman, No Cry”; touring with Dick Clark; following the “Chitlin Circuit”; Bruce Springsteen opening for him at Jersey dates in the ‘70s, sock hops; performing on the “The Tonight Show”; co-hosting for a week on the The “Mike Douglas Show”; singing his hits on“Hullabaloo”,” “Soul Train” and “American Bandstand.”
The tome is crammed with so much more: Little Anthony & The Imperials were the first to record “You Only Live Twice”, which became famous thanks to Nancy Sinatra and its James Bond legacy; how Marvin Gaye was always the big loser at the crap-games played backstage at The Apollo Theater; or how he and Marvin smoked pot in the catacombs of the famed Harlem venue. There is sadness as well in his life: his failed first marriage, the death of his son Casey, his best buddy Frankie Lyman ‘s overdose, Teddy Randazzo passing and the break-up of The Imperials.
Little Anthony & The Imperials still perform live today after regrouping in 1992, and a solo career for Little Anthony is another example of the renaissance he is experiencing. About a year ago, Anthony initiated a one-man show thanks to long-time friend Bruce Morrow, recorded “A World Without Love”, written by Sir Paul McCartney (for a benefit EP “The Women and Cancer Fund”) and released a fully-orchestrated version of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” all in association with the New Jersey/Nashville-based Reviver Records.
“Some of my greatest acclaims came later in life and I’m glad they did,” he says. “When we were younger, The Imperials and I squandered so much. We made all the wrong moves, had the wrong managers, listened to almost no one, were ripped off unknowingly and got caught up in our own celebrity. When we were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, we had come full circle and are eternally thankful to be honored by our peers. I said we stand on the shoulders of giants and I meant every word.”