By Jacob Katel
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Alaimo joined Clark in Los Angeles for the show's two-year run (1965-67) but was lost in the Hollywood shuffle. "I got so into the business end -- picking the music, working with Paul Revere and the Raiders, staging these animated antics that they would perform -- versus just standing in front of a microphone and singing. I ended up not being as popular as them. They became the stars of the show." Alaimo says the supporting role suited him at the time.
In retrospect, he concedes, taking a back seat may have been a mistake. This proved especially true when Clark's dance show was suddenly pulled off the air. "Nobody knows the real story," Alaimo says. "But supposedly ABC wanted to air reruns of the show, and Dick felt it wouldn't be cost-effective for him to do so." Clark offered Alaimo a chance to work in the executive offices at Dick Clark Productions.
But Alaimo wanted another shot at the limelight. "I remember it like it was yesterday," he recalls. "I said to him, 'I want to go out and be a star. I'm interested in singing now.'"
Alaimo resumed his career, but he never regained his momentum. In his years away from performing, after all, the face of rock music had changed radically. The tamer pop that dominated the first half of the Sixties had given way to the rowdy electrified sounds of the Stones, Dylan, the Doors, and Hendrix.
For a few years, Alaimo toured as a tuxedoed lounge singer, playing and schmoozing everywhere from the Copa and Caesar's Palace to the Fontainebleau. (He now refers to this period as his "nightclub stage.") In 1971 he essentially retired from performing and returned to work behind the scenes with Henry Stone. The two founded TK Records five years later.
Sometimes referred to as the "Motown of the South," TK became one of the country's premier music factories, founding a dozen labels, selling 50 million records, and recording stars such as Ray Charles and James Brown. The Hialeah-based operation is probably best-known, however, as the label that stoked the Seventies disco boom, churning out hits such as "That's the Way (I Like It)" and "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty" by KC and the Sunshine Band, "Clean Up Woman" by Betty Wright, and "Rock You Baby" by George McCrae.
Left to manage this hit-making stable, Alaimo no longer had time to consider what might have come of his own recording career.
Stone was first excited, then dismayed at the path that Alaimo followed. "Steve was like a son to me," Stone says from his Hot Productions office. "And I thought at the time that he was a young Tom Jones. He was a great performer. To me, he had everything to be a superstar." Stone pauses for a minute. "I hate to tell you how mad I am sometimes that he didn't become a superstar. He wanted to be a record executive! Schmuck! He was white soul before anyone else was doing it. Even John Fogerty has said that's where he got his sound."
In the early days, Stone says, he would take young Alaimo to see James Brown and B.B. King. "He would hang out with me in these black clubs. He loved that music and had a feel for it." Stone recalls one time when he put Alaimo on the bill opening for James Brown.
The Godfather of Soul was not pleased.
"James said to me, 'Henry, don't you ever put that white boy on in front of me again!'" Stone roars. "James couldn't follow him! I may be blowing steam here, but Steve was a great performer doing what nobody else was doing."
Although TK thrived during the disco era, the company folded in 1980. Stone eventually went on to create Hot Productions, while Alaimo joined forces with brothers Ron and Howard Albert to start Vision Records in 1987.
The man who was once a TV teen idol, who opened for James Brown and dreamed of superstardom for himself, now oversees a company dedicated to breaking other young artists.
After forty years in the music business, does Alaimo long for the days of crooning into a microphone instead of barking into a phone receiver? "Sometimes I do," he says. "It's mostly when I see an act on-stage that's not doing well. Or I see an act on-stage not doing well and people are still enjoying that act. I say to myself 'Why do they enjoy this?' I guess I'm old now."
Alaimo says once in a while he'll sit in a club and sing, just to whet his chops. "It's fun." He smiles. "You can never say that ego isn't fun.