Best known for the chiming fuzz-pop cult classic "Open Up Your Door," garage combo Richard & the Young Lions formed in Newark, NJ. The group's roots date to 1963 and the Emeralds, formed by guitarists Marc Lees and Bob Freedman, bassist Ricky Rackin, keyboardist Jerry Raff, and drummer Norm Cohen. While performing at the local YMHA in 1965, the Emeralds were approached by aspiring singer Howie Tepp -- the teen asked if he could perform a few songs, and was so impressive that he was asked to join full-time, a move resulting in the adoption of the name the Original Kounts. In addition to honing a repertoire of British Invasion hits, the bandmembers also grew out their hair, earning the title of Newark's first longhaired rock act.
A chance encounter with Bob Crewe Productions staff songwriters Ray Bloodworth and Larry Brown resulted in the duo authoring "Open Up Your Door" -- Crewe himself noted the longhaired Tepp's similarity to King Richard the Lionhearted, and recommended the Original Kounts change their name to Richard & the Young Lions. Much to the band's dismay, however, studio musicians were installed to record "Open Up Your Door," with only Tepp's snarling lead vocal surviving the editing process -- issued on the Philips label in July of 1966, the single squeaked into the Billboard Hot 100, but the group felt so betrayed by Crewe's studio bait and switch that on the eve of an appearance on TV's Clay Cole Show, all but Tepp and Freedman announced their resignations. Tepp quickly recruited guitarist Lou Vlahakes, bassist Fred Randall, and drummer Mark "The Twig" Greenberg from fellow Newark band the Orphans to round out a new Richard & the Young Lions lineup.
According to legend, after "Open Up Your Door" reached number one on Detroit radio, Motown approached the group about becoming the label's first white act -- their Philips contract squashed the deal, however, and after swapping Randall for bassist Lawrence Smith, Richard & the Young Lions returned to the studio to cut their second single, "Nasty." Although this visceral garage punker is renowned in some circles as their masterpiece, sales were dismal -- after distribution problems plagued their third and final single, 1967's "You Can Make It," the band dissolved.
Over time the individual members largely lost contact with each other, but in 2000 Vlahakes discovered Tepp's e-mail address while visiting a Richard & the Young Lions website -- a reunion was soon scheduled, and on July 15, 2000, a lineup of Tepp, Vlahakes, Freedman, Randall, Smith, and the Twig convened at the legendary Hoboken club Maxwell's to play their first gig in 34 years. In the months to follow, Richard & the Young Lions continued playing the occasional live date, reportedly working on new material as well -- guitarist Eric Rackin (the cousin of co-founder Ricky Rackin) and keyboardist Shelly Riff rounded out the revitalized group's latter-day roster. Sadly Richard Tepp passed away in June of 2004 just after Richard & the Young Lions had completed work on a new album produced by Steven Van Zandt. ~ Jason Ankeny