Twilight Memories
an illustrated history — PART 1  
 

These Twilight Memories pages feature an expanded version of an article that first appeared in Cool & Strange Music Magazine #21 in the summer of 2001.

Article contents ©2004 Michael David Toth and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without express permission of the author.

 

Mysteries of the Three Suns Universe Revealed!
By Michael David Toth

Who were the Three Suns? There's no simple answer to that question, but everything began with an instrumental trio performing at the Adelphia Hotel in Philadelphia in 1939 — brothers Al and Morty Nevins (spelled "Mortie" in earlier writings) and their cousin Artie Dunn — and ended up with a legacy of somewhere over 75 or 80 different albums recorded through the mid 1960s on various labels.

a 1946 menu from the Three Suns' stint at Hotel Piccadilly

clockwise from bottom left: Artie Dunn, Morty Nevins, Al Nevins

Their success was fueled by their smash hit original composition and signature tune, "Twilight Time." To cash in on its popularity, Buck Ram later added lyrics to the instrumental tune. In November 1944, Doris Day sang a version with Les Brown's band for Columbia, and in January 1945, Decca followed suit with a version by Teddy Walters with Jimmy Dorsey. However, the version people today are most probably familiar with is the version Buck Ram's vocal group the Platters recorded for Mercury, which peaked at Billboard's #1 position in 1958. According to BMI, "Twilight Time" is among "the most performed songs in the BMI repertoire," with over four million documented broadcast performances. Remarkably, for a melody it seems many in the early 21st Century probably couldn't identify, it ranks up there with songs like "Let It Be," "Daydream Believer," "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," and "Margaritaville."


 

Unfortunately, there is no thorough historical documentation of the group in existence, and to correct that is difficult, as Al, Morty, and Artie are now deceased, as is their mad genius arranger Charles Albertine. The material here is compiled and cross-referenced from my own collection of Three Suns records and memorabilia, and interviews with members of their later touring live act — guitarist Del Casher (née "Kacher") and accordionists Tony Lovello and Peter Selvaggio — plus studio arranger Sid Ramin, all of which are still professionally active.


TRIVIA ALERT! Alfredo Mendez, the credited guest pipe organist on The Things I Love in Hi-Fi, was actually Mendelsohn recording under a more musically hip Hispanic pseudonym!

Upon request for anecdotes to flesh out the original trio, Ramin responded, "I have a lot of stories, but unfortunately they are not fit for print! The three of them were quiet, but boy, what went on in their hotel rooms. Artie especially was a real ladies man. Boy, they had a lot of fun, but it nothing to do with their albums. Artie was very quiet. Morty was very gregarious and the comic of the group. Al was the runner, the stabilizer who kept everything on an even keel."

After recording a string of 78s for labels like Majestic, Decca, Hit, and Varsity, in 1949 the Suns signed a major record contract with RCA Victor which lasted until Al Nevins' death in 1965. One post-RCA LP, consisting mostly of new recordings of old Three Suns standards, was recorded for the Musicor label. This project involved studio personnel from the late RCA LPs: arranger Leroy "Roy" Glover, with Morty Nevins, guitar wizard and session musician demigod Vinnie Bell, and organist Fred Mendelsohn pictorially identified on the cover as the Three Suns.


From the liner notes to their early RCA album Hands Across the Table:

Describing their unique instrumental effects, Mortie Nevins, the trio's accordionist, says that "the accordion takes the cross figures and single note melody, which is easy to listen to, then Al [his brother] on guitar plays a steady, rotating, rolling beat, while Artie on organ, when swinging an unusual kind of accompaniment against the melody, keeps up a sustained background."

In its day, it was an unusual, unprecedented, and ultimately massively commercially successful instrumental chemistry. Their initial club dates in Philadelphia expanded to New York City, including a prominent residency of nightly shows at the Circus Bar at Hotel Piccadilly. National touring followed, boosted by their records and radio exposure. While not to the extreme generated by the Beatles, they were popular enough to spawn multiple budget-label imitation groups like the Twilight Three and the Triads (an early Enoch Light project). They also appeared in various Soundies (early "music video" film clips) and even a 1951 feature-length romantic comedy film, Two Gals and a Guy. (NOTE: this film was never released on home video.)

However, despite all the marketing press that defined the group's sound as romantic or happy, a lot of their material in retrospect instead frequently feels creepy or warped. This was something of which Alfred Hitchcock was apparently fully conscious, as he used a Three Suns "radio performance" specially constructed for his 1948 film Rope to underscore the middle of his film.

Columbia Room ad

The more one hears their earlier work, the better one recognizes an underlying subtle strangeness. But, honestly, a lot of their pre-1953 recordings relied so unimaginatively on a formulaic, trademark sound, that there are patches of some admittedly bland recordings in that era. The most intriguing period for the group was yet to come...

   >>> ON TO PART 2 — INTO THE RCA ERA