45 Friday: The Supremes – Nobody Can Love You

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By Bob ‘The Record Guy’ Paxon

What do Grover Washington, Jr. and Lonnie Smith have in common with local soul legend Barbara St. Clair? All hail from the Buffalo area… all are Buffalo Music Hall Of Fame inductees… and all sang together in an R&B vocal group in the late 1950s!

This is how a record mystery unfolded in the pre-internet days: rumors went around record collector circles. The first I heard about this was a conversation with an old-timer 20 years ago:

“You know, the Supremes were from Buffalo!”
“Really? How can that be? I thought Diana Ross was from Detroit and..”
“No, they were from Buffalo!”

 

It didn’t take long to verify that the famous Supremes were a pure Detroit product whose history was well-known (they were first called the Primettes). Nothing was revealed for a few years until someone told me there was a DIFFERENT group, from Buffalo, that recorded for Mark Records. Well, I know Mark Records (located in Clarence NY), I have lots of their releases … but they didn’t come into existence until the mid-1960s. And for years all that is revealed is the most minor of clues, one a year…

And then along comes the internet, knowledge moves forward at lightning speed, and eventually all is revealed.

There was a Buffalo R&B/doo-wop group called the Supremes, and they did record for an Upstate New York label called Mark Records, but the label was out of Utica – and otherwise specialized in country and rockabilly releases. How they ended up on that label is still a mystery. But the most surprising revelation was the members – Barbara St. Clair, Grover Washington Jr. and Lonnie Smith!

Not much is known about the group except that they were all teenagers at the time, they did perform locally, and they were probably under the wing of local DJ Lucky Pierre. Most surprising revelation (to me) was that future jazz superstars Grover and Lonnie were merely singers at this time. Grover started playing the sax, left Buffalo to play with the Four Clefs and recorded with the R&B jazz Mark III Trio, and ended up in New York City from where his real career began. “Dr.” Lonnie Smith convinced big-hearted local music store owner Art Kubera to let him take a Hammond B-3 organ out of the store with no obvious means of repayment (a story Lonnie tells often) and started practicing, getting his big break by hooking up with rising star George Benson. Lonnie’s recording career since has been extremely successful and his live performances continue to be a joy to behold – check out any of his YouTube videos, especially if you’re ever in need of a lift to your spirit.

Barbara St. Clair (aka Sinclair) had a lengthy and highly-respected local career, helming the Sessions, the Pin-Kooshins, the Houserockers, Blue Monday, and the Shadows. She never broke through to national success in the USA, but a couple of her 45s are coveted by overseas Soul collectors.

Both sides of the Supremes 45 are very good. As is typical for the genre, one side is a ballad and the flip an uptempo “jump” tune. It seems to have not been distributed in the Buffalo area; many local collectors have never even seen it. Some years ago I was able to send MP3 files of the sides to Lonnie and he apparently hadn’t heard them in 40 years; he may have never even had a copy of the record. So, the mystery is solved, yet mysteries still remain.

 

 

45 Friday: THE BRASS BUTTONS – Hell Will Take Care of Her

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By Bob ‘The Record Guy’ Paxon

Gene Cornish became a Rochester boy early in his life, after moving from Ontario. He joined Joey Dee & The Starliters but he also found time to lead The Unbeatables, who recorded one LP and several 45s for an Upstate NY label Dawn Records. And of course he went on to fame with The (Young) Rascals. They’re not so well remembered today but at one time they were one of the biggest-selling bands in America, a hit-making machine.

 

But Gene never cut ties with his hometown, apparently, finding time in 1968 to produce Rochester’s own Brass Buttons: Bob Guglielmino, Jay Capozzi, Eric Thorngren, Joe Graziano, Danny Labatte and Mike Julian. Gene wrote the A-side for their Cotillion single, “My Song”. Jay Capozzi, who had previously played with The Show Stoppers (well-known in WNY but mostly remembered now as the starting point for Bat McGrath and Don Potter) wrote the side we celebrate here, and what a song it is!

There’s no theme more central to Garage Rock than the Bad Girl. This Girl is bad, like most (“her eyes are blue, her heart’s as black as night”) but she takes it further. Like the Bad Girl of The Sonics’ The Witch, this girl is pure Evil. “Curses things that other girls just wish they had / Praises all the things that are all so bad.” And like The Sonics’ He’s Waiting (in which Satan deals with the Bad Girl), this girl has something unpleasant in her future!

Like so many bands, the Brass Buttons played a lot of shows (including Buffalo clubs) but took only this one shot at the black plastic, and went away. One member did achieve some fame in the music industry – under the monicker “ET”, Eric Thorngren became a noted producer.

 

 

 

45 Friday: : Kathy Lynn & the Playboys – Rock City

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Bob ‘The Record Guy’ Paxon

 

Surf music is a California thing, but it was too popular and too cool to stay that way forever. It was inevitable that bands all over the country would adopt it. WNY, with a deep tradition of instrumental rock, naturally took to Surf. In Rochester they had the Vacqueros and the Vistas, in Buffalo The Buddies and – for one record anyway – Kathy Lynn & the Playboys.

 

 

Kathy Lynn Keppen and band’s stock in trade later became funky soul instrumentals, especially after they moved to Detroit with manager Tom Shannon. These were issued under a variety of names, though most often as The Buena Vistas. But in the days of their first few releases it seems they had no fixed sound, moving from Rockabilly to Pop/Soul. And this one example of killer instrumental Surfin’ Music.

Both sides of this 1965 release are raw and rockin’, featuring great guitar played here by Eddie Bentley, an off-and-on member of the group (to this day, I believe) and familiar to WNY folks from his many musical ventures as well as his music store. Other members are Nick Ameno and Carl Cisco. I believe Tony DiMaria is the drummer here. Trainspotters may want to note that this lineup recorded at least one track that was released under the name The Rockin’ Rebels.

The label of “Rock City” states that it was recorded ‘live at The Peppermint Stick’. This was a teen club on the corner of Niagara Falls Blvd and Ward Road in North Tonawanda. About which I know nothing except the Caveman often played there, and on one snowy night (Christmas, 1965) a little group called The Yardbirds appeared, guitarist Jeff Beck posing proudly with his Telecaster and Vox amps for the KB Teen News photographer. Want to know what THAT sounded like? So do I. But until someone shows up with those tapes, we can listen to this great live track and imagine 1965, Kathy Lynn and band wrapping up a wild set, and Beck watching from the wings, plotting a few flash moves with which to upstage these Yanks.

Kathy Lynn & the Playboys “Rock City/Rockin’ Red River” on Swan 4175

 

 

45 Friday: The El Tempos – My Dream Island

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By Bob ‘The Record Guy’ Paxon

 

Here’s a record that’s interesting not only for what it is, but also what it became. And as usual with a Buffalo record, a mystery.

In 1976 Bunny Wailer (former of The Wailers) recorded a track called Dreamland on his classic album Blackheart Man. It bore his writing credit and became his signature song, later recorded by Third World, and Bob Marley associate Marcia Griffiths. But those who dig deeper will discover he previously cut it in 1971, and even recorded a version with Peter Tosh as The Wailers back in 1966!

 


On Blackheart Man, it’s a song about an paradise land “across the sea” where he can be free, a song containing a Rastafarian ‘Back To Africa’ message. But on his earlier version the lyrics are more ambiguous; it may be just a love song. Like much of Black music, there may be a message underneath – but it’s in code.

Very few people would know that Bunny didn’t really write the song, because very few people ever heard the 1963 VeeJay Records release of My Dream Island by Lackawanna’s El Tempos. It sold so poorly commercial copies are almost unknown, collectors now having to settle for promotional (radio station) copies. The song is the same, and listening with modern ears, we can even hear some of the repatriation message beneath the romantic sentiments.

Interestingly, the El Tempos track has something of an ‘island’ style, like the earliest of ska. Which raises some questions- who influenced who? Had the El Tempos heard ska music first (which barely existed at the time, especially to Americans)? How did Bunny ever discover this rare record all the way in Jamaica? Bob Marley lived in the USA before moving to Jamaica- did he take a copy along?

Obviously it connected with the Jamaican musicians who heard it, but how much it may have influenced developments there – sound and message – we can only speculate. But it’s a long journey for a record from the Steel City.

The El Tempos were Al “Bunk” Johnson (guitar, lead vocal); Willie “Fish” Lowe (keyboards); Leroy Brown (drums); and Otis “O.T.” Toliver (bass) – who later played with with Dyke & The Blazers.

The flip side is a clearly Sam Cooke-influenced ballad with the title My Love Goes Deep Within, lending credence to the theory that they liked hiding messages in lyrics!