Carl A. Mottola, 70, drummer and teacher

Carl A. Mottola played with Tony Bennett, Smokey Robinson, and others. For several years he toured with Bobby Rydell.
Carl A. Mottola played with Tony Bennett, Smokey Robinson, and others. For several years he toured with Bobby Rydell.
Posted: December 23, 2011

Carl A. Mottola, 70, of Ocean View, N.J., a drummer who played with a cavalcade of stars in a career spanning more than 50 years, died of multiple myeloma Thursday, Dec. 15, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Mottola played with Vic Damone, Sergio Franchi, Smokey Robinson, Peggy Lee, Anthony Newley, James Darren, Tony Bennett, and many others at Palumbo's Nightclub, Atlantic City casinos, and freelance gigs all over the East Coast.

For several years in the 1960s, he was the drummer for Bobby Rydell and accompanied him on tours around the United States and to Japan, England, South America, and continental Europe.

As part of the act, Mr. Mottola and Rydell, who both grew up in South Philadelphia, performed a torrid drum duet.

"It's no gag. Bobby can really play - and good, too," Mr. Mottola told the Southwest Philadelphia Gazette in 1965.

He told the Gazette that besides Rydell, he had worked with Mel Torme, Don Cornell, and Johnny Desmond, and that, as a 19-year-old in 1960, "I was with Neil Sedaka in his first nightclub appearance at the Smart Spot in Jersey."

Mr. Mottola regularly played recording sessions at Cameo-Parkway Records in Philadelphia, whose artists included Rydell, the Dovells, the Orlons, and Chubby Checker.

In 1977, he performed for 20,000 fans at an Elvis Presley concert at the Spectrum. Mr. Mottola was subbing for Presley's regular drummer, who was ill.

By then, he had a regular gig as drummer for the Carmen Dee Orchestra at Palumbo's, in South Philadelphia.

The guitarist Allan Slutsky met Mr. Mottola in the early 1970s, when Slutsky was working with the Sacca Twins Review. The band had gotten its first break and was playing at Palumbo's. The orchestra members were used to playing for stars, and most were not thrilled with the young musicians, Slutsky said. "But not Carl. He was incredibly supportive, made a lot of great suggestions, and really tried to accommodate our needs," Slutsky said. "Over the years, a friendship developed."

"Carl was fiercely loyal to his friends," Slutsky said. "That ferocity carried over to the way he played drums, attacking them like a world-champion prizefighter one moment, and then caressing them with his brushes until his next assault."

Mr. Mottola was the drummer for the underscore music on the Grammy-winning documentary Slutsky produced, Standing in the Shadows of Motown. The film is based on Slutsky's book about the bass guitarist James Jamerson, one of the Motown Records session musicians known as the Funk Brothers.

Since the mid-1980s, Mr. Mottola had been a house drummer at Caesars Atlantic City and played at other casinos as well. He also drummed with the Ocean City Pops Orchestra.

He taught drums at Temple University and was a music teacher in the Philadelphia School District for 18 years. Recently he taught at Galloway Community Charter School in New Jersey.

"The essence of Carl to me was in the showrooms of Atlantic City," Slutsky said. "First of all, he was dapper." Mr. Mottola was over 6-foot-3 and handsome. In later years, he looked like Anthony Quinn, Slutsky said. "Carl's shirts were the whitest, and his tux had the sharpest lines. He looked like a headliner."

Between sets, Slutsky said, "everyone always wanted to sit at Carl's table, because there was always going to be a wealth of musical info and good conversation."

Mr. Mottola loved playing for comedians, particularly Don Rickles. "Carl would howl like a banshee when Rickles would do his thing," Slutsky said.

He was a total professional, Slutsky said. He was sick from chemotherapy in September, when he was scheduled to perform with the Ocean City Pops. The program was a tribute to 1960s music, and the drummer was essential, Slutsky said, adding, "Carl couldn't play for the rehearsal, but he played the performance that night."

Mr. Mottola graduated from John Bartram High School in 1958 and later earned a bachelor's degree from Combs College of Music.

He is survived by his wife of 36 years, Joan Landi Mottola; a niece; and two nephews. A daughter, Gina Richard, died earlier.

A Funeral Mass was said Monday, Dec. 19, at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Roman Catholic Church in South Philadelphia.


Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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