The Rokes, from England, were one of the most successful pop groups in Italy in the mid and late 1960s. Their songs included "Piangi con Me", the original version of "Let's Live for Today" a US hit when re-recorded by The Grass Roots.
The group was formed by Norman David "Shel" Shapiro (born 16 August 1943, Stanmore, Middlesex), whose music career started in London as a guitarist and singer withrock and roll band Rob Storm & the Whispers. After a spell playing in Gene Vincent's backing band during a tour of Britain in 1959, Shapiro decided to form his own band, The Shel Carson Combo, with guitarist Vic Briggs, drummer Mike Shepstone (born 29 March 1943, Weymouth, Dorset), and bassist Bobby Posner (born 6 May 1945,Edgware, Middlesex).
The group performed rhythm and blues in clubs around London, before deciding to try their luck in the club scene in continental Europe. In January 1963, they travelled toGermany, where they had a residency at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg. The band were then invited to tour Italy as the backing group for Colin Hicks, the brother of Tommy Steele. Guitarist Vic Briggs left the group, preferring to stay in England, and was replaced by Johnny Charlton (born 3 April 1945, Walthamstow, London). The group toured around Italy with Hicks, increasingly performing more of their own material.
In June 1963, they broke their ties with Hicks and were signed up by Teddy Reno, the manager and husband of Italian pop singer Rita Pavone. They toured with Pavone, and renamed themselves The Rokes for a series of short commercial videos on Italian TV. They then gained a recording contract with the ARC label. Their first single, a version of "Shake, Rattle and Roll", was unsuccessful, but the band established themselves with a club residency in Rome. On later recordings, they sang mainly in English-accented Italian, often recording versions of American and British chart hits. In 1965, their version of Jackie DeShannon's "When You Walk in the Room", "C'e Una Strana Espressione Nei Tuoi Occhi", reached no. 11 on the Italian charts, followed by "Grazie a Te", a cover of "I'm Alive" by The Hollies.
In 1966, they were voted the second most popular beat group in Italy, after further hits with versions of Bob Lind's songs "Cheryl's Going Home" ("Che Colpa Abbiamo Noi") and "Remember The Rain" ("E La Pioggia Che Va"). The B-sideof "Che Colpa Abbiamo Noi" was a song co-written by Shapiro, "Piangi Con Me". The group re-recorded the song in English, as "Let's Live for Today", with English lyrics by Michael Julian of Dick James Music. Worldwide sales of "Piangi Con Me" exceeded one million copies, qualifying for a gold disc. It was released in England at the same time as a cover version by another English band, The Living Daylights. The song was heard by American record producers P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri, and successfully recorded by them with The Grass Roots.
The Rokes released four albums between 1965 and 1968, and continued to record successfully in Italy. They also toured and appeared regularly on Italian TV shows and in several of the annual San Remo Festival events. They ventured into psychedelic rock in 1967 with "Quando Si Alza Il Vento", also recorded in English as "When the Wind Arises", and recorded a version of The Equals' UK hit "Baby Come Back" ("Non c'è Pace Per Me"). However, their records had little success outside Italy (RCA/ARC's lack of interest on the publicity) and, with changing tastes and declining sales, the group disbanded in 1970.
Shapiro continued to write songs and produce records, forming his own label in Milan in 1977. Johnny Charlton also remained in Italy, opened his own art gallery, Galleria Charlton, in Rome, and continued as an artist, while Posner and Shepstone returned to England.