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Youthful Memories of a Nitecap
Feeling nostalgic recently (January 2021), I did a ‘net search for ‘Garage bands San Jose CA 1965.’ A listing came up naming such groups as The Syndicate of Sound, The Jaguars, and a few others. I spotted a website that listed a group called ‘Jimmy Nite and the Nitecaps.’ I was in a band called The Nitecaps, so I selected the site to see if it was the same group of people. Much to my surprise and elation, it was!
In front of me was a complete history of the band, its members, video clips, photos, recordings and press releases. It was like finding a hidden treasure. There were so many wonderful memories that came flooding back. I had to reach out to them somehow.
Jim Bruno (Jimmy Nite) was the band leader who narrated the history. The site was dated 2016 so I took a chance and looked him up on Facebook. Low and behold, he was listed and I sent him a friend request. The next day we talked on the phone for 45 minutes. It was so good to catch up on everyone’s lives. I hadn’t been in contact with any of the band members since high school. As we talked, I felt 15 again. The cobwebs of my memory slowly dissipated and hearing of everyone’s successes was pure joy. I was saddened to learn of the passing of Larry Lunsford, Butch Martin, and Johnny Diaz. Through their antics, they always made me laugh.
Jimmy Nite and the Nitecaps!!! What a fun time and a great group of musicians. It was September 1964 and I had just moved to Milpitas CA. I was tinkering around on the piano in the band room and Johnny Labaum came up to me and asked if I played. Then he asked me if I wanted to play in a local band. It sounded like fun and that’s how I got into the group.
We had the James Brown sound! Jim (Jimmy Nite) Bruno was our lead singer and guitar player, Larry Lunsford was on rhythm guitar and Butch Martin on bass. Our horn section provided the tight fullness of our sound with Johnny Labaum on sax, Phil Salgado on trumpet and Bob Martin on trumpet. Johnny Diaz was the heartbeat of the group. His drum licks were out of sight. I filled in on the organ and together, we provided that soul sound of the mid-1960s.
We wanted to do our best and provide the audience not only with an exciting dance experience, but a visual show as well. All the members except Johnny Diaz and me created dance steps to the music that enhanced our presence. There is nothing like watching the audience get into the music and the showmanship. Jim had all the moves of James Brown and then some.
My time with the group was short but fulfilling. I left in May 1965 and later that summer joined another fine group called the Soul Seekers. Like the phrase goes, you never forget your first. I will never forget the fabulous time I was a member of Jimmy Nite and the Nitecaps!!!!
Memories of Tony Ceraolo
By Jim Bruno
This website has been great for many reasons. It’s an archive of a bygone era, a celebration of our youth and enduring friendships, the recollection of events and venues long past. Well, the site just handed me another gift – our first keyboard player, Tony Ceraolo, found the site and reached out to me on Facebook asking if I was in fact, Jimmy Nite of Jimmy Nite & The Nitecaps.
It was so great to hear from someone I had not talked to for decades. We had a phone conversation which was great to catch up on a lifetime away from each other. I enjoyed that conversation immensely and took the opportunity to ask Tony to write up his thoughts and memories about the group, which he graciously provided and I can now share with you.
I have mentioned in the Memories section about Johnny LaBaum and how he came to us via our manager Mrs Cory. Johnny did not go to the same high school as I did…in fact, his high school was on the other side of town from mine, but once Johnny was in the group he ended up being responsible for bringing in a couple of other members into the group, including Tony Ceraolo.
Tony was our first keyboard player. Before Tony got into the group we only had guitar players covering the chord changes, and having an organ player really added new textures to the band. The timing was quite good…when Tony was in the group we were still somewhat of a Surf band, but we had already started our evolution into a soul band, and having a keyboard player was really great. I remember Tony as being kind of a natural – he played and learned all of our songs quickly and he seemed very comfortable on stage.
We played at a battle of the bands at Tony’s high school, which was Samuel Ayer High School. Three of the Nitecaps members went to Samuel Ayer High…Tony, Johnny LaBaum and Phil Salgado all went to school there, and since Tony lived across the street from the school, we would often practice at his house in the garage as so many bands did in those days. did.
The day we auditioned for a battle of the bands at Samuel Ayer, we were able to walk our instruments across the street to the school auditorium to audition. Phil always talks about that day because he was not in the band yet but was a very good friend of Johnny LaBaum and helped us carry our equipment across the street. We got the audition and by the time we actually competed in the finals for the battle Phil had moved from roadie to full blown band member, and you know what? We won first place in that battle! I am also pretty sure it was the first battle we were in, so that was the beginning of our Battle of the Bands era. We didn’t win every band battle we were in but we did win that one, and Tony was a big part of it.
I truly do not remember why Tony left the group, but I do know the band he joined after us was one of the well known and successful groups at the time, the Soul Seekers. We would cross paths with them in band battles in future. I do remember that in one county fair battle the Nitecaps came in third and Tony’s band came in second…I don’t remember who placed first, but we all played our hearts out.
How lucky we all were to be part of such a wonderful time. Now, after all these years and looking through older experienced eyes, I can say that it really didn’t matter who won…it was just great to be part of the brotherhood/sisterhood of musicians growing up in the Bay Area.