Chapter 10 – Richard & The Heartbeats

Richard and the Heartbeats 1985
Richard & The Heartbeats: from left to right, Joe Chott, Tommy Brame, Rich Spina, John Dean, & Ray Varga – circa summer 1985

To complete his new business arrangement, Richard formed his own publishing company, Ambermoon Music. Aligned himself with some financial people for backing and started recording a solo album. Without skipping a beat, Richard kept playing his solo gigs and increased that schedule. Meanwhile, he was forming Richard & The Heartbeats as a live band, using players from the sessions and some old friends he’d known.

The original band of Heartbeats consisted of guitarist Tommy Brame and sax player Ray Varga (both former members of Moonlight Drive), bassist John Dean (ex-Beau Coup) and on drums former Ecstasy band mate Joe Chott. Brame and Varga would soon be replaced by Troy Anthony (guitar) and Jim Borsch (keyboards). And although the band began playing select dates in February of 1985, it would take another year before the band became a solid live attraction.

Heartbeats at listening party February 1985
Richard & The Heartbeats at listening party.
From left to right, Ray Varga, Joe Chott, Tommy Brame, John Dean, Rich Spina seated at piano. Landmark studios, Feb. 1985

Meanwhile, a song that Richard had written while still in Love Affair was getting a lot of attention in concert and on the tapes that were being shopped to record labels. The song was “Somebody Loves You,” a much more sophisticated pop song than anything he’d written previously. And although Florida attorney Allen Jacobi (who negotiated the Love Affair record deal) was shopping the finished album to major labels, Richard decided to release “Somebody Loves You” as a single by himself. He felt the band was getting hot and they needed some product. He was right.

“Somebody Loves You” ended up being a big regional hit that garnered lots of airplay. It became a top ten single in Cleveland, got a “Recommended Pick” in Billboard Magazine and got mentioned by Graham Nash as a song he loved when the legendary musician was in Cleveland that year. Also, some European record labels were interested in leasing the album. At this point, Richard put his business affairs in the hands of a few good local managers and record people. However, when things didn’t pan out and no deals were forthcoming, Richard went back to handling his own affairs. And although Richard & The Heartbeats were an excellent concert band that always got good reviews opening for other acts or playing their own small shows, Richard didn’t want the band to start having to do cover material just to sustain itself playing clubs in Cleveland. He’d done that and wasn’t going back to that.

Richard and the Heartbeats 1986
Richard & The Heartbeats: from left to right, Troy Anthony, Joe Chott, Rich Spina, Ray Varga and John Dean – circa 1986

As a result, the future of Richard & The Heartbeats was suspect as 1987 got going. During that year, guitarist Billy Sullivan joined Richard one night a week. As a duo they made enough music as a full band and they entertained music lovers as good as a full band. And although Sullivan would eventually join Richard & The Heartbeats, he actually only played one date as their guitarist. That’s because at the end of 1987, Richard got a call from the manager of Gary Lewis (legendary 60’s pop icon and, of course, son of Jerry) asking him if he could put together a new version of The Playboys. Well, in essence, Richard & The Heartbeats at that point became Gary Lewis & The Playboys. “At that point,” Richard says, “I guess you could say that The Heartbeats went on a permanent hiatus.”