REGION – Rosalie Hamlin died three years ago but her 1961 hit song Angel Baby will live forever say music industry analysts. Hamlin was 15 when she sang vocals for Rosie and the Originals. The group recorded its multi-million dollar seller in a converted airplane hangar owned by Robert Kittinger. The site was on the defunct San Marcos Valley Airfield where no evidence of it now exists.
Not only is Angel Baby the staple for oldie show hosts like Art Laboe, it continues to live through international rebroadcasts. In addition, the song is one of the anthems for the Mexican-American community. “The song was groundbreaking because it enabled Rosie and the Originals to become the first Hispanic group to have a national hit record,” said Jeb Navarro, general manager at Palomar College radio station KKSM-AM 1320.
The lyrics to Angel Baby begin; “It’s just like heaven being here with you. You’re like an angel too good to be true. But after all I love you, I do. Angel Baby. My Angel Baby. When you are near me my heart skips a beat.” Rosie’s band members were: Noah Tafolla, Carl Von Goodat, Tony Gomez, David Ponce, and Alfred Barrett.
Navarro says the simplicity of the song about young love will allow it to endure. “We play the Spanish and English versions. Both are still selling today.” According to Navarro, the song connects to the beach and lowrider cultures. “It’s an unusual recording and hard to replicate. Rosie and the Originals caught lightning in a bottle.”
However, the realities of adulthood soon faced the teenagers from National City Sweetwater and Mission Bay High School’s when it came to seeking royalties. Before her death at 71, Rosie Hamlin said she and the band became victims of well-documented corruption in the music industry.
According to federal registry copyright reports, it took Hamlin and her mother (Juana) 27 years to secure her monetary rights. By then, Angel Baby was released worldwide by at least eight different companies, making an accurate audit impossible. Conservatively, Hamlin lost about $6 million. Sidetracked by the court battles and later by advanced fibromyalgia, Rosie could never record another hit. Angel Baby was officially honored in 1995 as a “one-hit wonder” by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
At its peak, Angel Baby rocketed up to No. 5 on Billboard’s hit music chart early in 1961, surpassing Elvis Presley, Paul Anka, Connie Francis, and Marty Robbins. Angel Baby sold an estimated 900,000 copies of the 45 RPM vinyl disc in 1961, just missing the one million mark to qualify for Platinum Record status. However, it was more than enough at the time to qualify for a Gold Record. Joey Tafolla, son of Rosie and Noah Tafolla is sure his parent’s song eventually reached Platinum.
At 14, Joey Tafolla was old enough to go on tour with his mom to see what the magic of making good music was all about. He recalled seeing oldie revues that included Chuck Berry, the Coasters, the Drifters and Shirelles. Tafolla was not old enough in 1964 to see his mother open for the Rolling Stones at age 18 in San Diego on their first U.S. tour.
“My mom wanted me to play on tour with her. I didn’t. It’s a regret,” said Tafolla, who has been a guitarist for heavy metal rock bands such as Quiet Riot. “The inspiration from my parent’s remains in me,” added Tafolla, whose father died three months ago.
Tafolla gives thanks to the Hispanic community for helping keep his mother’s memory alive. He was honored by John Lennon who often said Angel Baby was “honest, real, and meant something.” Lennon was one of many who recorded his version of Angel Baby.
Disc jockey Larry Kratka has an oldie show on Palomar College Radio KKSM and says Angel Baby remains popular because it’s simple and from the heart. “It’s not overproduced like Jimi Hendrix or Bachman/Turner.” Kratka’s show entitled, nothingbutold45s can be heard Thursdays and Saturdays on KKSM. His coast-to-coast syndication reaches 43 stations and nine countries. Kratka plans to give Angel Baby even more expanded airplay.
The magic of Angel Baby was more remarkable according to friends who claimed Hamlin was very ill the day of recording. Another problem arose when Barrett, the saxophone player failed to show up, forcing drummer Tony Gomez to play the saxophone for the first time in his life. The imperfections of sound were obvious to the trained ear, something that John Lennon found intriguing.
Rosie often said she was surprised that Angel Baby became a hit. Likewise for Tom Wilson, then a student at Escondido High School in 1960, who worked in Robert Kittinger’s simple San Marcos recording studio. He recalled the group recording the music and then having it pressed onto vinyl in the studios on site electro-plating shop. Wilson remarked; “I was astonished that Angel Baby rose to the top of the charts.” Wilson had to be even more shocked when he first heard Rosie and the Originals were performing at Madison Square Garden.