Mary Weiss was just a teenager when she recorded some of the most iconic singles of the 1960s as a member of the legendary girl group the Shangri-Las, but it was nearly four decades after their run of hits had come to a close that Weiss launched a solo career, making one of the most talked-about comebacks of 2007.
The Shangri-Las were famous as the "tough girls" of the '60s pop scene, and Weiss came by her tough side honestly; born in Queens, NY, in 1948, Weiss' father passed away when she was only six weeks old, and her mother struggled to support the family working odd jobs. While growing up, Weiss developed a passion for music and discovered she loved to sing. In 1963, she formed a vocal group with two of her friends, twins Mary Ann Ganser and Marguerite Ganser (aka Marge Ganser), who she'd known since grammar school. Weiss handled the lion's share of the lead vocals, and after playing the usual rounds of high school dances and talent shows, they caught the attention of Artie Ripp, a producer who signed them to record deal.
The Shangri-Las made their recorded debut in late 1963 with a single on Smash, "Simon Says," but the record was a flop, and their second 45, "Wishing Well," appeared on the tiny Spokane Records label. However, the Shangri-Las' luck took a turn for the better in 1964, when they were signed to Red Bird Records, a label run by legendary record man George Goldner and ace songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Red Bird paired the Shangri-Las with producer and songwriter Shadow Morton, who created a masterpiece of teenage melodrama for the group, "Remember (Walking in the Sand)." The single was a major hit, and the follow-up, a tale of one girl's doomed love with a sensitive biker called "Leader of the Pack," was even bigger, leading to a string of teen tragedy discs produced by Morton that kept the Shangri-Las on the charts and on the road for most of the next two years. (Mary's sister Betty Weiss also sang with the group on-stage and in the studio once they became successful.) However, in mid-1966 Red Bird went out of business, and the Shangri-Las signed with Mercury.
Despite Mercury's greater promotional muscle, the two singles they cut for the label in 1967 came and went without notice, and their only album for Mercury found them re-recording their old Red Bird hits. In 1968, the Shangri-Las called it quits in the wake of legal problems resulting from bad contracts, and Mary Ann Ganser died in 1971. The Shangri-Las briefly reunited in 1977 -- featuring Mary Weiss, Betty Weiss, and Marge Ganser -- and cut an album for Sire Records (Sire prexy Seymour Stein was briefly the group's road manager back in the day), with Andy Paley producing. The Shangri-Las even played a one-off gig at punk shrine CBGB, but Stein and the Shangri-Las were unhappy with the finished album, and it was never released. The group made infrequent appearances on the oldies circuit, and performed together for the last time in 1989, though this didn't stop a group of impostors from touring using the name the Shangri-Las, forcing Weiss and her bandmates to turn to the courts to stop them.
By this time, Weiss had married and after working as a secretary for an architectural firm entered into a successful career doing interior design and commercial furniture installation; by her own word, she didn't even sing around the house for the better part of 20 years. However, in 2006 Weiss got the itch to make music again, and after meeting longtime fan Billy Miller of Norton Records, she agreed to cut a new record for the label. In the spring of 2007, Weiss released her first solo album, Dangerous Game, produced by Miller and Greg Cartwright (the latter of the group the Reigning Sound, who also backed up Weiss on most of the tracks and helped write the tunes), and she began making the rounds of radio and television shows promoting the record, sounding strong and enthusiastic despite her long layoff. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi