Blasts From The Past

Tonica To Top 10: Good fortune allowed Angelo's Angels a hit record...

"Heartbreak Hotel" has just hit No. 1 on the charts as Robert and Betty Norris, at the urging of their teenage son Bob, open a teen center in Streator they call Norris Hall.

It's located just west of the post office on Hickory Street on the second floor of the old Streator Club just above Norris Photography.

Bob Norris was a freshman at Streator Township High School when Norris Hall first opened its doors, providing area teens with a gathering place to socialize, play cards, ping-pong, listen to popular local rock bands, dance or just hang out.

After seeing other bands perform at the teen center it didn't take long before Bob discovered he had a real passion for music. After learning to play the drums he put together his own rock band called Bobby Lee and The Techniques.

During the next few years he honed both his skills as a drummer and a vocalist, playing all the popular rock 'n' roll music of the 1950s while the band wore it's signature matching plaid jackets.

By 1961, "Angelo's Angels" from Tonica began taking the area by storm, playing Norris Hall and the Spring Valley Teen Center as well as other local venues. Tony Angelo was the leader of the band.

"We were a four-piece band — two guitars, bass and drums. We played what was called rock 'n' roll at that time. We kept up with all the current music. We were hungry back then."

After forming the band, a couple of years later Angelo was looking for another drummer. He had heard about Bob Norris because of his reputation.

"We invited him to sit in with us during a gig at the Spring Valley Teen Center Angelo said. "After the gig, we said 'this guy's for us.' He was a hell of a drummer and I'm gonna tell you that boy could sing. He was a beautiful singer.

"I remember (Bob Norris) always drove a Corvette," Angelo chuckled. "Whatever year they made the first one, that was the one he drove. There wasn't enough room in that thing for two people, but he would come to the gig with the whole drum set stuffed into that Corvette."

With all positions filled, bigger things were about to happen for Angelo's Angels. The year was 1963 when they found themselves at the Chicago Sound recording studio.

"I wrote a song called 'Spring Cleaning,' " Angelo said, "and one of our guys, Bill Seaton, sang it. Bill Erman of Ermine Records happened to come into the studio while we were recording the song. He heard it and he said 'I'm going to sign you guys up' — which he did, right there in the studio."

"'Spring Cleaning' went to No. 10 on the WLS (radio) charts and we were getting national airplay as well," Angelo said.

A short time later Angelo's Angels had another hit on the WLS Top 20 called " 'I Don't Believe it.' " After all these years, you can still purchase copies of their 45 rpm records on and eBay. Some now are collectors items.

In the years following their hit recordings, Angelo's Angels made six appearances at McCormick Place in Chicago.

"Back then, Angelo told The Times, "McCormick Place had this big stage that would lower down to the ground floor. You would load your band on stage and you would start playing while they would raise the band up in front of the audience.

"We were the opening act for The Dave Clark Five and Peter & Gordon at one show. We also opened at the McCormick Place for The Four Seasons, Bobby Goldsboro, The Kingsmen and The Jackson Five — that's when Michael Jackson was just a puppy," Angelo laughed.

At nearly 78 years of age, Tony Angelo still lives in Tonica and now owns two recording studios in Nashville; his son, Bob Angelo, operates one, and the other is managed by a friend. Angelo still writes songs, but now it's traditional country music that is closest to his heart.

Bobby Lee and The Techniques and Angelo's Angels were just two of the many local bands that began their careers performing at Norris Hall.

Between 1956 and 1972, Norris Hall provided a safe haven and positive environment for hundreds of Streator area teens.

While Robert and Betty Norris are remembered for their work with area teens, their son Bob Norris, who passed away five years ago, is fondly remembered as a great musician, vocalist, music-store owner and friend to many in Streator and Ottawa.