Toni Naples of the Damascans
by Daniel Coston
When we finished our work on the book, we had a lot of information about every Charlotte-area Rock band that recorded during the 1960s. Except one. The Damascans recorded “Go Way Girl”/”Diane” for Arthur Smith's Pyramid Records in 1966, and Tom Pope of the Hodads confirmed for me that the band was from Charlotte, but I did not have any other leads for the group.
So imagine my surprise when someone told me after our book release party that one of the Damascans had been at the show. Thankfully, a couple of friends put me in touch with Toni Naples, who was all on 14 years old when she played keyboards on the band’s lone single. Naples has stayed involved with the local music scene, playing with numerous groups. It’s been a genuine joy for me to document Toni’s story, and to shed some light on the Damascans, whose single now goes for upwards of $150 in collector circles, and who might have recorded more if tragedy had not intervened. You can also hear "Go Way Girl" on Volume 2 of the fabulous Tobacco A Go Go series.
Daniel Coston: How did you first start playing music? Did you play any instruments in school?
Toni Naples: I started playing music when I was really young, about 7 years old. First instrument was accordion. My dad is a musician and my brother, too, so it was something we did everyday in our house. I didn't play any "school" instruments, but I did sing in the chorus.
Coston: Did you play in any bands before the Damascans? How did you come to join the band?
Naples: The Damascans was the first band I played in. My brother was in the Damascans, and when they first started they always practiced at my house. It was just kind of a natural progression since we were the house with the music room and several instruments.
Coston: Where did the band play?
Naples: We played at the same teen clubs as the other bands- Spider Web, The Crested T, Battle of the Bands, some school dances, private parties.
Coston: What was the local music scene like back then?
Naples: The music scene was actually pretty busy back then. Lots of teen clubs, etc. We all knew each other and bands tended to start in schools.
Coston: Describe your bandmates.
Naples: Buddy Hyman was about 19 when we started [the Damascans]. He is the person who wrote the songs on the 45 we did, "Go Way Girl” and "Diane". He was a student at UNCC and, sadly, in 1968 he was killed in a murder/suicide out at UNCC. Another student shot him because Buddy was dating a girl who had dated the other student. Really tragic. We did the 45 in ‘66, and he was killed in ‘68, so that was the end of the band. Buddy lived next door to Arthur Smith, so that is how we got hooked up with him to do the 45.
[My other bandmates were] Lanny Smith, Arthur's nephew, was our manager. Other bandmates were my brother, David Naples (drums) who can play many instruments and still plays in bands to this day. Jackie Holmes played bass. I have lost touch with him. At times, we had a singer, Scott Pope. They were all in high school, except Buddy.
Coston: What were some of your favorite gigs, and bands to play with?
How far away from Charlotte did the band play? Any other memorable gigs, good or bad?
Naples: We played mostly around Charlotte but I do remember going to the mountains a couple of times (just can't remember where we played). I think the very first gig we played was at Sun Valley High School in their gymnasium. I remember playing a Battle of the Bands and the Ravens, Paragons and Stowaways being there. I think it was at Park Center.
Coston: You were a rarity in that were a female in what was largely a male-dominated scene. And a young lady, at that. Did you ever have any trouble with that? Did some people give you a hard time?
Naples: It was different being a female in a band back then. I think I had to work a lot harder to be taken seriously. I was really young, only 13, so my brother was charged with taking care of me. My dad was involved with the band, so he went to most of the gigs. I don't think my brother was really excited about having to look after me.
Coston: How did the Damascans come to record their single? What do you remember about the recording session?
We recorded the single at Arthur Smith's studio. We were fortunate to have the connection with Lanny Smith and Buddy. I remember playing a Hammond B-3 that was in the studio, and Arthur being in the studio with us.
Coston: What inspired the songs?
Naples: Buddy wrote the songs, and I believe the song "Diane" was about his girlfriend.
Coston: What did you do, and who else did you play with after the band broke up?
Naples: After the Damascans broke up, my brother and I had another band called the Collection. We did the same type of gigs but we had more members in the band. Lead singer, horns. Sometimes as many as 10 people playing. After the Collection, I started my own band (The Toni Naples Band) and still play gigs under that name.
Coston: What are you doing these days, and who else are you playing with?
Naples: I play with several bands including my own now. The Donna Duncan Band, Jim Garrett Band, sometimes Sonny Skyzz. I also did a jazz recording with Claire Ritter in 2009 (I played accordion). I was fortunate enough to get hired to play with Peter Noone when he was in town in the 90's for a two night show at the Coliseum.
Coston: When you think about that time of your life, what comes to mind?
Naples: When I think of that time of my life, I remember music being the focus. My dad would come home from work and he and I would play music almost every night. He is a trumpet player and is still playing gigs.. He will be 90 in February. The bands back then (Damascans, et al.) were somewhat competitive. It seems like there were a lot of bands that came out of Myers Park High School, and South Mecklenburg (that's where I went). My brother and I were lucky to have a father who was willing to support us in our musical endeavors. We always had a house with a big music room and several instruments.