Passages

William "Bill" Deal

( / /44, Portsmouth, VA - 12/10/03, Virginia Beach, VA)

 

 

 
  William Deal on the waterfront at his hometown, Portsmouth, VA, in 1996.  

William Deal, age 6, with his father, Noah, Sr., in an early music session.  1965, The Rhondels with Roy Hines In 1967, before the "May I" lightning strike. 

 

 

 1970, Concert at Rouges' Gallery 1971, Photoshoot at the Seashore State Park - Virginia Beach  1976

1980 at Buckhead Beach Club - Atlanta, GA - remember the ferris wheel? 1982, UNC - Chapel Hill, NC 1999

2000, The Bay at Duck Inn - Virginia Beach 2000, Bill & Jackie Gore - Myrtle Beach. Showtime!


William F. Deal , Virginia Beach
Friday, Dec. 12, 2003
©The Virginian-Pilot

William Franklin "Bill" Deal, 59, passed away on Dec. 10, 2003. William, a native of Portsmouth, was a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School and attended Old Dominion University.

In 1959, he formed the musical group, Bill Deal and the Rhondels, which has performed continuously since that date throughout the eastern United States. In September 2003, William was inducted into the Legends of Music Walk of Fame in Norfolk for recognition of his achievements and his contributions to our nation's musical heritage.

William was predeceased by his parents, Sarah Ridenhour Deal and Noah Deal Sr. and his brother, Robert Lee Deal. He is survived by his wife, Barbara Lerner Deal; his brother, Noah Deal Jr. and wife Vanessa; his children, Sarah Deal Jenkins and William Franklin Deal Jr. and their mother, Janice Burton. He is also survived by his beloved grandson, William MacKenzie Jenkins IV.

A memorial service will be held at Spring Branch Community Church, 1500 N. Great Neck Road, on Saturday at 3 p.m. with the Rev. Michael M. Simone officiating. H.D. Oliver Funeral Apts., Laskin Road Chapel, is handling arrangements. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Virginia Beach Rescue Squad, P.O. Box 945, Virginia Beach, VA or to the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center, 1053 Virginia Beach Blvd., Virginia Beach, VA 23451.

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Region loses Rhondels star Bill Deal


By ROBERTA T. VOWELL, The Virginian-Pilot
© December 11, 2003

1969. Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. Richard M. Nixon took office. The Beatles went into the studio to record together for the last time. And Bill Deal and the Rhondels had a No. 1 single with “I’ve Been Hurt.”

For a few heady years, Portsmouth’s own William F. Deal ruled the charts. When the limelight faded, Deal opened a hot Virginia Beach nightspot and sold real estate. In the late ’80s, he stepped back on stage and played the old hits for new generations at clubs and festivals around Hampton Roads.

Deal died suddenly on Wednesday at his Virginia Beach home. He was 59.

“It is the real passing of a time,” said Gene Loving, a media executive who was a disc jockey during Deal’s hit-maker days and a partner in his nightclub.

“Beyond that, William was just one of the nicest people you’d want to meet. He started out that way and he went out that way. He had a really young spirit. He contended that rock ’n’ roll kept him young.”

Deal was first described as “boyish” back in 1967, when he pretty much was a boy and still was called that in newspaper stories in the ’90s. His close-cropped hair went out of fashion, and came back in, finally becoming shot through with silver.

Friends called him “William” all his life; he claimed that “Bill” was an attempt to make the band sound hipper.

He once said he owed “every speck” of talent to his father.

Noah Deal, who owned Slim’s, a restaurant near Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, was a guitarist who brought music into the family’s Park View home. His other two sons picked up drums and trombone; William chose piano, and later, organ.

By age 8, William was on a radio show and placed second in a Ted Mack Amateur Hour competition.

He later graduated from Woodrow Wilson High and studied business at what is now Old Dominion University.

On the side, though, he was sitting in with local bands. During one gig at the Admiralty Hotel on Norfolk’s Military Highway, he met drummer Ammon Tharp.

Deal and Tharp – teenagers at the time – were united by their love of soul music, and the way their voices meshed, Deal’s bright baritone and Tharp’s high-pitched, hard-edged tone.They roped in other musicians and called themselves Bill Deal and The Rhondels. The name was a classic touch in a rock ’n’ roll world, based on rondeau or rondel, which are poems with many repetitious lines.

“That’s what we do,” the teens joked in a 1962 interview, “play the same numbers over and over.”

Their first gig, in Virginia Beach, paid $150. Split five ways.

The band kept at it, touring in the Carolinas and Georgia, where young crowds wanted to hear shag tunes. After cranking them out note-for-note for a year, the musicians got a little creative on stage.

“One night we changed the beat entirely and turned it into a polka-like beat,” Deal said in a 1968 interview. “It became in one night the most exciting song we ever played. We made the changes right there. It was like electricity going through the band.”

The singer couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about the quirky tunes they’d played – “May I,” by Maurice Williams of the Zodiacs, and “I’ve Been Hurt,” by The Tams.

Deal hustled the band members into a studio, and they recorded their own version of “May I” the next night.

Newspaper accounts give wildly varying record sales, but generally this is how the story went: The band printed 3,000 copies, which were gobbled up immediately.

A record contract followed. “May I” sold 400,000 copies, and stayed on the national charts for 13 weeks.

A second sonic boom followed. “I’ve Been Hurt,” with its soulful call-and-response chorus, topped a million in sales worldwide. Next up: “What Kind of Fool,” which sold 750,000 copies, and a couple lesser lights, “Swinging Tight” and “Nothing Succeeds Like Success.”

Five hit records in 24 months but no money. The only way to make money was live performance. So the musicians, then in their early 20s, hit the road.

They returned to Virginia Beach, where Deal co-owned Rogue’s Gallery with Loving. The nightclub became home base for the band; they played there almost every summer night in the early ’70s.

They sold the club in 1977, and Deal went into commercial real estate. He sold the Rhondels name, and a new band toured under that banner for about a decade.

Right up until Deal and Tharp, then in their mid-30s, decided to get together for a one-night gig at a Beach nightspot, Fat Roger’s. After a 14-year hiatus, the fans were ready – 600 packed the club; 200 were turned away at the door.

The guys decided to keep the music going. They later regained the Rhondel name and headed into the recording studio. They’ve crafted six discs since then, including one released in May.

Deal always seemed slightly surprised by his success in life.

“I never heard anything negative from him,” said Robert “Sonny” Morris, his longtime agent and friend. “Never a negative remark.”

In his hometown, event planners learned never to book anyone else to kick off the annual Seawall Festival.

When word got around last spring that Ports Events had dropped the festival, the city quickly created a new Harbor Daze event for the weekend. The first thing festival director Sheila Martin was asked to do: Sign up Deal.

Martin thought the June concert would be a good time to honor Deal in his hometown. Deal wrote to Mayor James W. Holley the next week saying he looked “forward to coming home to Portsmouth again and again in the years to come.”

In September, Bill Deal and the Rhondels were enshrined on the Legends of Music Walk of Fame on Norfolk’s Granby Street. Deal had been scheduled to perform Saturday afternoon at the Olde Towne Holiday Music Festival.

“Very few local musicians can claim to have worked for 40 years,” Loving said. “I think they were more popular now than back in the ’60s. They’re still drawing a crowd.”

An official cause of death was not available Wednesday. Deal is survived by his wife, Barbara; a daughter, Sarah Deal Jenkins; and a son, William Franklin Deal Jr.

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Archive interviews with Bill Deal

The Virginian-Pilot
© December 10, 2003

Stories on musician Bill Deal from The Virginian-Pilot's archives.

RHONDELS STILL CRUISING AFTER 30 YEARS

Published: October 10, 1999, Section: CAROLINA COAST, page 20

Source: John Harper © 1999- Landmark Communications Inc.

Bill Deal and Ammon Tharp seemed consigned to Top 40 history when they broke up in the mid-70s.

But in 1987, after years of working separately on solo projects, the two founders of Bill Deal and The Rhondels were asked to make a ``one night only'' appearance at Fat Roger's Beach Club in Virginia Beach. ``We expected a crowd,'' Deal said during a telephone interview from his oceanfront condo in Virginia Beach. ``But there were more people outside than there were inside.''

Buoyed by the warm reception, the longtime friends and musical collaborators renewed the partnership. Twelve years and five CDs later, Deal and Tharp are going strong.

``More and more people our age are coming up,'' said the 55-year-old Deal, who first gained attention as the organist on Jimmy Soul's hit ``If You Wanna Be Happy.'' ``They don't want to let go of the memories.''

Baby Boomers, especially those from Virginia and North Carolina, remember a two-year period in the late '60s when Bill Deal and The Rhondels were blaring from transistor and car radios and jukeboxes everywhere. With keyboardist Deal and drummer Tharp trading lead vocals, The Rhondels produced a string of Top 40 hits.

Recasting vintage rhythm and blues tunes as hard-charging, horn-heavy good-time dance numbers, the Virginia Beach-based octet scored with ``May I,'' ``I've Been Hurt,'' ``What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am),'' ``Swinging Tight'' and ``Nothing Succeeds Like Success.''

``May I'' was our first big hit,'' said Deal. ``We first heard The Tams' version of the song in 1968 on a jukebox at The Casino in Nags Head. We were playing there and got a request.''

Deal and The Rhondels fumbled through a polka-fused version of the 1962 hit during the late-night set. But folks didn't seem to mind, and they even shagged to the impromptu reading of the old song.

Noting the response from The Casino crowd, Deal and Tharp jotted down the lyrics and worked up a Blood, Sweat and Tears meets Motown arrangement, full of bass, brass and soul-style call and response singing.

A few weeks later, the group recorded ``May I'' in Warren Miller's Studio on 21st Street in Virginia Beach. It became 1969's summer anthem. And then the fickle finger of fate tapped on Deal's shoulder.

A New York City-based record producer by the name of Jerry Ross heard it through the grapevine that a Virginia band had a local smash.

``He (Ross) got the word from Gene Loving (a popular disc jockey at WGH in Norfolk),'' Deal said. ``We then flew to New York and signed a deal with Heritage.''

After ``May I,'' the hits kept coming. The Rhondels traveled coast to coast, playing before sell-out crowds. International success followed, as ``I've Been Hurt'' soared to No. 1 in Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Germany and Brazil. But in 1975, the hits long dried up, Deal and Tharp split up after playing together for 15 years.

``We were burned out,'' Deal said. ``And we wanted to do other things.''

Deal went into the nightclub business. Tharp stayed in music, fronting a group called Fat Ammon's Band.

But the 1987 ``one time only'' appearance brought the two musicians together again, reviving a recording and performing career. For the live gigs these days, the two musicians are backed by a three-man horn section of Ed Fitzgerald, Wayne Kessinger and George Bell.

``Ammon is singing better than ever,'' Deal said. ``With the horns, we can make the old songs sound authentic.''

Early next month, the ageless Rhondels release a sixth album, ``The Sound of Virginia Beach.'' And the '60s hits are still being heard on oldies radio stations and on soundtracks of movies (``Trees Lounge,'' ``Good Will Hunting''). ``May I,'' ``I've Been Hurt'' and ``What Kind of Fool'' will be heard on the upcoming film version of Pat Conroy's ``Beach Music.''

Thirty years after ``May I'' took Tharp and Deal off the strip in Virginia Beach and onto the highways and airwaves of America, they have become genuine ``beach music'' legends. Beholden to no one else, the boys of summer perform in their own distinctive style.

``We'll do this as long as it makes people happy,'' Deal said. ``We're having fun.''

© 1999- Virginian-Pilot

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PROFILE: WHAT A DEAL

Published: January 10, 1991, Section: VIRGINIA BEACH BEACON, page 8

Source: Kerry Dougherty, Staff writer © 1991- Landmark Communications Inc.

In the 1960s he made it to the top with the Rhondels. But fame proved costly. Now those in the know look at the career -- and the man -- and say...

WHAT A DEAL IT'S BEEN A LONG time since AM radio stations from New York to California played Bill Deal's music. In fact, it's been 21 years since Deal froze in astonishment when he heard his own voice wafting through the door of a record store in Times Square singing his mega-hit ``May I.''

For a brief moment - just a half note in the score of rock 'n' roll history - this Portsmouth boy realized the dream of nearly every would-be singer who's played an air guitar in his bedroom or lip synced into a vacuum cleaner handle:

A song on the national hit parade.

Quickly followed by another, and another.

Three songs in the top 15 - and this during the 1969 British invasion when the Beatles, Dave Clark Five and Herman's Hermits had a lock on the music business.

``Every day was Disneyland,'' says Deal, now 46 and living at the North End.

Before it was all over, Bill Deal and the Rhondels had made it almost to the top in the rockin' 1960s and early '70s. They signed with MGM Records, had hit songs, fame, prestige - but basically no money.

``Until Bruce Hornsby, he was the biggest musical success we've ever had around here,'' says Dick Lamb, the owner of WWDE radio station and a friend of Deal.

After their third hit and a few years on the road, the group decided to abandon its national aspirations. Members couldn't afford fame and fortune anymore.

DRESSED IN A PREPPY crewneck sweater with a crisp pink shirt, and seated in the bar of a Virginia Beach restaurant on a brisk afternoon, Deal smiles warmly. He reminisces about his dalliance with fame without a trace of bitterness.

``Back in those days you got front money to sign with a record company, but then they took out money for promotions and expenses before paying you out of the profits,'' Deal said. ``Basically, there was no money left for the band. That's just the way it was.''

Deal and the Rhondels had quickly learned that the only way to make money in the music industry was with personal appearances. So when their records were still on the charts, the 11-member band hit the road.

They traveled the country in a caravan of two campers, two cars and a truck, playing with and opening for the top bands of the era - Three Dog Night, Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears, The Temptations, and Sly and the Family Stone.

Traveling cost them a fortune - in money and vocal strain.

``I remember once, I'm not kidding, we played the Fountainbleu one night in Miami and we were booked the next night in Canada,'' Deal says, shaking his short-cropped silver hair in disbelief. ``I listen to the old tapes now and I can just hear the strain in our voices.

``That kind of traveling was rough.''

Finally they had enough.

``The record companies spent all your money. Our company wasn't doing anything they weren't all doing,'' says Ammon Tharp, Deal's musical partner then and now. ``So we all decided we weren't going to take it anymore and we came back south. We agreed to play from Virginia south and we knew we could make a living at it.''

Deal says the Rhondels was a remarkably sensible ensemble. Members weren't blinded by the bright lights and their feet never really left the ground.

To hear him tell it, they sang their big songs - ``May I,'' ``I've Been Hurt'' and ``What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am?'' - they signed a few autographs, they traveled, played venues from California to Madison Square Garden and they happily came home.

Deal and Tharp are philosophical about the old music system, while many artists from the '60s and '70s are still fighting for their money.

``I hate to think how many Little Richards there are out there,'' Deal says, referring to the early '60s superstar who is embroiled in scores of legal proceedings trying to recoup money he claims is owed him by the record companies.

Not one to carry a grudge, Deal says he wasn't wronged.

``I've never felt we were cheated. That's just the way things were back then,'' he says with a shrug.

THE BAND CONTINUED TO PLAY together until 1977 when Tharp left to form Fat Ammon's Band. Deal stayed with the Rhondels.

Tragedy struck in 1979 when Rhondels' band member Freddy Owens, who played sax and bass, was brutally murdered in a robbery attempt at a Richmond motel while the band was playing in the capital city.

Deal, who still seems shaken by the death of his friend, says it marked a turning point in his career. He just didn't want to make music anymore.

Although he stayed with the band for four more years, Deal finally retired from the music business in 1983. Ironically, Tharp did the same thing. Deal went into commercial real estate, Tharp played golf. Deal, the father of two (and the proud grandfather now of blond-haired Will, 2) married his second wife, Barbara, in 1984.

Two years later, Deal and Tharp were coaxed out of retirement to perform what was to be a one-night-stand at Fat Rogers' Beach Club at Hilltop (today it is Larkin's). Tickets sold out - 600 to 700 ticketless fans lined up outside - and Deal and Tharp were touched.

Both men say they missed each other during their hiatus and a musical remarriage took place. Confusing as it is, Bill Deal and Ammon Tharp are now a trio (lead singer Brian Bleakley joins them onstage).

The Original Rhondels continue to play and Deal retains an interest in the band but does not perform with it. The Fat Ammon Band is also around, and Tharp also has an interest in that group, but no longer performs with it either.

The new three-man-group is selective about performances. It plays most Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at Larkin's. It also plays a number of banquets and celebrations, but won't travel much further west than Roanoke or further south than the Carolinas.

BILL DEAL SAYS HE OWES ``every speck'' of his musical talent to his father, Noah Deal, the guitar-picking owner of ``Slim's'' a restaurant near the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

Evenings in the Deal household were musical affairs, with Noah Deal on the guitar and William on piano.

Deal first expressed an interest in keyboards at 4, and studied piano for years with Portsmouth piano teacher Theresa Lindauer. While she taught him all the traditional musical pieces, Deal remembers itching to play something with a good beat.

By the time he reached his early teens, Deal was standing in with local bands. That's how he met his partner, Tharp. The two played with a band in 1960 in the old Admiralty Hotel on Military Highway in Norfolk. They ``hung out'' together that night because they were 10 to 20 years younger than the other band members.

Within a few months, they put together their own band and Bill Deal and the Rhondels was born.

Then and now, Deal and Tharp have shied away from the term ``beach music'' which has been attached to their version of danceable oldies.

``We were a couple of white guys who wanted to play black music, R & B,'' Tharp says simply.

They differ in their recollection of the genesis of their name. The Rhondel part is easy. They agree that is came from a well-read friend who chided Deal and Tharp for playing the ``same 10 songs over and over again.''

``He suggested we call ourselves the Rhondels because he said it was a poetic term that means a line of poetry is repeated over and over,'' recalls Deal.

(Actually the derivation is probably from either rondeau or rondel, both words of French origin meaning short lyrical poems of about 15 lines with only two rhymes.)

Deal and Tharp realized almost immediately that they were the perfect foils for each other, musically and personally.

In the beginning, Deal did all the singing, Tharp played his drums. Eventually Deal lured Tharp to the microphone and Tharp concedes that Deal is the only person who knows what music suits Tharp's voice.

The perennial pleasant guy, Deal likes arranging music, singing and the business end of the band. Tharp plays drums, sings some and handles some of the more unpleasant aspects of the music business.

``We've always been sort of the good guy and the bad guy,'' Tharp acknowledges. ``Whenever we had to hire somebody, Bill did it. When it was time to fire someone, I did it.

OUT OF THE CRAZY UPSIDE-DOWN world of music, Deal and Tharp have carved normal lives - except for the late hours they keep on weekends.

Tharp, who is married and does not have children, golfs at every opportunity. Deal's spare time is spent at his home with his wife and his two Lhasa apsos or on the occasional tropical island vacation. He remains close with his children, Sarah, 27 and William (Bubba) Jr., 25 and carries a packet of photos of grandson Will with him most of the time.

Barbara Deal, who teaches at Virginia Beach Junior High School, good-naturedly rejects a charge made by her spouse that she ``hates'' Beach music.

Although Barbara Deal - who is eight years younger than Bill - says she is a Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger fan, she says she appreciates his kind of music.

``Overall, I think I like the `Big Chill' music the best,'' she says, grinning at Deal, over what has apparently been a running joke during their six-year-marriage.

But Bill Deal is quick to point out that he is not stuck in a musical time warp. He insists he likes music - all kinds.

``I've recently discovered that I like big band music, `In the Mood,' that kind of stuff,'' Deal says.

Moments later he sheepishly admits that he likes Madonna.

IT MAY BE 21 YEARS SINCE Deal and Tharp had a hit, but that doesn't mean they're sights are set permanently on Virginia Beach.

The license plate on Deal's burgundy Cadillac gives a hint.

It reads ``MAY I 91.'' The first two words are self-explanatory - Deal's first hit. The musician is cryptic about the significance of '91, however.

He says the band may be doing something a ``little different'' this year. He mentions a record producer in Nashville, a different kind of music ``something like the Eagles.''

Deal says he and Tharp do not live and die worrying about whether they will ever have another hit, they are not beyond hoping.

``I'm really excited about a few things,'' he says, grinning. ``I think '91's going to be a really good year. I wish I could say more.''

© 1991- Virginian-Pilot

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