Frederick Anthony Picariello, Jr. (born December 4, 1936) known as Freddy Cannon was born in Revere, Massachusetts, moving to the neighboring city of Lynn as a child. His father worked as a truck driver and also played trumpet and sang in local bands. Freddy grew up listening to the rhythm and blues music of Big Joe Turner, Buddy Johnson and others on the radio, and he learned to play guitar. After attending Lynn Vocation High School, he made his recording debut as a singer in 1958, singing and playing rhythm guitar on a single, “Cha-Cha-Do” by the Spindrifts, which became a local hit. He had also played lead guitar on a session for an R&B vocal group, the G-Clefs, whose record “Ka-Ding Dong” made No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1956. At a young age he joined the National Guard, took a job driving a truck, married, and became a father.
Inspired musically by Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Little Richard, he formed his own group, Freddy Karmon & the Hurricanes, which became increasingly popular in the Boston area, and began to develop a trademark strained singing style. He also became a regular on a local TV dance show, Boston Ballroom, and, in 1958, signed up to a management contract with Boston disc jockey Jack McDermott. With lyrics written by his mother, he prepared a new song which he called “Rock and Roll Baby”, and he produced a demo which McDermott took to the writing and production team of Bob Crewe and Frank Slay. They rearranged the song, rewrote the lyrics, and offered to produce a recording in return for two-thirds of the composing credits. The first recording of the song, now titled “Tallahassee Lassie”, with a guitar solo by session musician Kenny Paulson, was rejected by several record companies, but was then heard by TV presenter Dick Clark who part-owned Swan Records in Philadelphia. Clark suggested that the song be re-edited and overdubbed to add excitement, by highlighting the pounding bass drum sound and adding hand claps and Freddy’s cries of “whoo!”, which later became one of his trademarks. The single was finally released by Swan Records, with the company president, Bernie Binnick, suggesting Freddy’s new stage name of “Freddy Cannon”. After being promoted and becoming successful in Boston and Philadelphia, the single gradually received national airplay. In 1959, it peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the first of his 22 songs to appear on the Billboard chart, and also reached No. 13 on the R&B singles chart. In the UK, where his early records were issued on the Top Rank label, it reached No. 17. “Tallahassee Lassie” sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.