The core group who comprised Salt Water Taffy was Rod McBrien, Johnny Giametta, Phil Giarrantano, Kathy Weinberg, and Janie Brannan. McBrien, the co-writer and producer for the group, was their leader. He was raised in Amityville, near Long Island, in New York. He'd written and recorded his first songs in high school, and fronted a band called the Tornadoes, who recorded a single for R&M Records. Soon, that group was banging on the doors of the Brill Building, where Jim Gribble, a manager, liked what he heard in their new demos, signing them to a recording/management contract. Their album was released on Down Records, then a new George Goldner label. McBrien, meanwhile, became an apprentice audio-engineer at Ultra-Sonic Recording Studios, in Long Island, where he met George "Shadow" Morton and engineered the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack." He also became a member of the Valrays, and later moved over to Roulette Records' studios, where he met songwriter Ted Daryll. In addition to working with the Valrays, McBrien worked with the Casualeers and another group called the Eastern Scene. From Roulette, McBrien moved to Allegro, a studio owned by Laurie Records, located in the basement of the Brill Building.
McBrien continued working as a songwriter (he wrote a few songs for the Hollies, in fact) and producer on the East Coast music scene, producing Pebbles & Shells, a studio group who recorded a Daryll-McBrien collaboration "Let's Be More Than Friends Tonight" (originally written by Daryll for the Lovin' Spoonful). McBrien brought in singer Johnny Giametta to work on the song, and soon the two were good friends, as well as writing partners. They were so close that they even joined the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves together under the "buddy plan." McBrien and Giametta, along with Phil Giarrantano of the Valrays, decided to create what McBrien has since called a "white version of the Fifth Dimension." These three founded Salt Water Taffy, and added two females to the group, Janie Brannan (from Tallahassee, FL) and Kathy Weinberg (from Pond Creek, OK), who were both professional studio singers and had just moved to New York to look for studio work. When bubblegum hits started to chart during this time, Giametta and McBrien sat down and wrote "Finders Keepers." They commissioned recent Eastman School of Music grad Meco Monardo to arrange the demo (Monardo later had a huge hit with his own disco-fied version of the Star Wars theme song). McBrien played the results for Buddah Records VP/GM Neil Bogart, who ask them to re-record the song with a new lead singer, and so the next time, McBrien brought in Tommy Piccardo (aka Tommy West) who sang lead on the song.
Buddah's Bogart loved the song this time, and continued to give McBrien the opportunity to develop his vocal group, even though they didn't work with West again (he later penned hits for the Partridge Family, produced Jim Croce, and partnered with Terry Cashman as the Buchanan Brothers). Various studio singers transferred in and out of Salt Water Taffy's membership thereafter -- including Tom Brannon, Sam Dalessio, Sarah Daly, Osa Danem, Terry Stallings, Bobbie Jacobson, Mary Lou Gilbert Scott, Bob Waite, and Al Messenger -- with Giarrantano and Weinberg being the only two original members to remain in Salt Water Taffy throughout the group's existence (they fell in love and later married). One album was released, Finders Keepers, before Buddah eventually lost interest in the group. McBrien then moved them over to United Artists for the release of "Summertime Girl," which was later re-released on Metromedia. After Salt Water Taffy dissolved, McBrien formed his own company in the 1970s, and wrote and produced music for advertising ever since, winning numerous Clio Awards. Giametta had a successful insurance business career. The others have continued to sing, mostly in their local churches. ~ Bryan Thomas