The Brooklyn Bridge is a powerful symbol for Brooklyn-ites. It represents the neighborhood-specific pride that places cultural traditions and familial ties above the lure of the more famous New York City borough it connects to. Those who make the trek across the bridge invariably retain a sentimental fondness for Brooklyn. It flows through their soul and, for musicians, echoes in their music. No matter how many times the members of Brooklyn Dreams were product-tested through the image-making machinery of Hollywood, their harmonies never left their â€˜hood.
For Bruce Sudano, Eddie Hokenson, and Joe "Bean" Esposito, that neighborhood is Flatbush. Long before their faces appeared in industry trades or on American Bandstand and The Midnight Special, the members of Brooklyn Dreams - both together and with different groups -- performed at the Flatbush Terrace, a rite of passage for local bands. While in high school, Eddie Hokenson and Joe "Bean" Esposito held court at the candy store owned by Hokenson's mother where many aspiring acts would play. On the recommendation of the lead singer in his band, Bruce Sudano introduced himself to his future band mates at the store and landed a gig backing them up.
Typical of any fertile music scene, members floated in and out of the group and by 1970, Sudano joined the group Alive â€˜N Kickin,' scoring a top ten hit with "Tighter, Tighter" (co-written and produced by Tommy James) on the Roulette label. He left the band in late-1972 and fled the east coast for Los Angeles to pursue a solo career as a folk singer. Meanwhile, Esposito and Hokenson (and his brother, Louis) continued to gig around New York. Esposito met producer Vini Poncia who signed him to his Matt City record label. When the label folded, Poncia moved to California and encouraged Esposito to seek opportunities out west. In May of the Bicentennial year, Joe "Bean" Esposito and Eddie Hokenson packed their belongings up in a Volkswagen Beetle and drove cross-country to Los Angeles. (Louis Hokenson chose to remain in Brooklyn.)
In the years following his departure from Alive â€˜N Kickin', Sudano moved back to New York after a stint in Los Angeles and occasionally joined Esposito and Hokenson on gigs before they left New York. While walking home from his girlfriend's house on July 4th weekend, 1976, Sudano was mugged at gunpoint. The very next week, he joined his former band mates in Los Angeles.
Susan Munao, the Vice President of Publicity for Casablanca Records, knew Sudano, Esposito, and Hokenson from Brooklyn and recommended that they form a group, which would give them an advantage in landing work rather than pursuing individual careers. Rehearsing in Munao's condo, the three wrote the songs that ultimately comprised their debut album. In a brainstorming session, their good friend, singer-songwriter Danny Peck, suggested "Brooklyn Dreams" be the group's name.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Ienner had just started a label in New York called Millennium and entered a distribution agreement with Casablanca. Ienner flew out to Los Angeles and heard Brooklyn Dreams play in Sudano's apartment. They were signed shortly thereafter and became among the first acts to debut the Millennium label.
Released in 1977, Brooklyn Dreams showcased the group's hybrid of pop and soul. With producer Skip Konte (Three Dog Night), the group crafted a set of songs that blended their street corner harmonies with a well-endowed rhythm section and impeccable string and horn arrangements. Most impressively, their palette of vocal stylings transcended race, equal parts Donald Fagen, Teddy Pendergrass, and The Flamingos alike. The album itself traversed an eclectic terrain of themes, ranging from the joy of music ("Street Dance," "Music, Harmony, and Rhythm"), the sensations of romantic love ("Sad Eyes," "I Never Dreamed"), haunting character studies ("Old Fashioned Girl"), and an appreciation for the group's Flatbush roots ("On the Corner," "Another Night at the Tango"). "Sad Eyes" and "Music, Harmony and Rhythm" landed in the middle of the Billboard charts at #63 and #57, respectively, while the group did a spate of radio and television appearances to promote the album.
Coinciding with the album's release, Brooklyn Dreams appeared in American Hot Wax (1978) with Kenny Vance as Professor LaPlano and the Planotones. The film traced the early days of rock and roll and also starred Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, as well as a cameo by Brenda Russell in her role as a member of The Delights.
A conflict between Millennium and its parent company over the musical direction of the band led to the group's second album finding a home on Casablanca. Produced by Bob Esty (Donna Summer, Cher, D.C. LaRue), Sleepless Nights (1979) immersed Brooklyn Dreams in a stylish pop-disco setting, illustrated by the superb "Comin' Up the Hard Way" and "Heaven Knows," a duet with Donna Summer that first appeared on her Live & More (1978) album as part of the "MacArthur Park Suite." The latter song landed the group a top five gold single when a slightly remixed version from Summer's album was extracted for release in early-1979. "Make It Last," however, did not fare quite as well, rising only to #69 on the charts. (Later in 1979, the group's songwriting efforts with Summer brought the title track to her Bad Girls album to the top spot.)
The disco quotient increased further when Juergen Koppers (Giorgio Moroder's engineer) was brought on to produce Joy Ride (1979), which was released within months of Sleepless Nights. A track like "Too Much for the Lady," while certainly competent, obviously did not suit the band's roots in pop-rock and soul. Sudano, Esposito, and Hokenson were not wholly satisfied by the label's urging to record a disco-oriented record and became frustrated by the demanding writing, recording, and release schedule.
Brooklyn Dreams self-produced their fourth and final album, Won't Let Go (1980), which refined the pop-soul of their debut. Despite some fine songwriting and performances, especially on the title track, "Fallin' In Love," and "Hollywood Knights" (the theme to the film of the same name; Snoop Dogg sampled it on his "Deez Hollywood Nights" in 2008), the album did not re-ignite the commercial potential of their earlier work and Brooklyn Dreams disbanded shortly thereafter.
Post-Brooklyn Dreams, Eddie Hokenson returned to New York and subsequently worked with Kenny Vance. Bruce Sudano, now based in Nashville, married Donna Summer in 1980 and continued writing and recording. Before releasing his solo debut, Fugitive Kind, on Millennium in 1981, he penned "Starting Over Again" with Summer, which became a number one country hit when Dolly Parton recorded it in 1980 (Reba McEntire later covered it and had another hit with it in 1995). He released two solo albums on his own Purple Heart label, Rainy Day Soul (2003) and Life and the Romantic (2009).
After Brooklyn Dreams dissolved, Joe "Bean" Esposito worked with Giorgio Moroder on a number of projects, most notably the Flashdance (1983) soundtrack ("Lady, Lady, Lady") and the double-billed Solitary Men (1983) album. He recorded the theme to The Karate Kid (1984) ("You're the Best") and continued doing session work, including an appearance on Brenda Russell's "Piano in the Dark." He recorded an album with Sudano, produced by Michael Omartian, entitled Joe, Bruce, and Second Avenue (1987) for Capitol that lived a short shelf life when unforeseen executive changes at the label halted the album's release. Esposito moved to Las Vegas in later years and performs regularly with his solo act.
The story of Brooklyn Dreams is not complete, however. All three members remain close friends and, as of 2009, plan to write and possibly record new music together. "If it helps you find your freedom, how could it steer you wrong," they once sang about the galvanizing power of music on "Street Dance." More than 30 years after crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, the dreams of these three guys from Brooklyn continue to be embroidered with music, harmony, and rhythm.
By Christian John Wikane