By Bob ‘The Record Guy’ Paxon
Join us as we go backward in time to unravel the confusion..
In the past we covered the 1968 single by THE RISING SONS on Upstate Records which was essentially the band RAVEN – before they’d adopted that name. Last week it was the 1967 single by TONY GALLA (& THE RISING SONS) on Swan. At that time the band contained three future members of RAVEN. While they were recording that, the other two future members of RAVEN were winding down their time in STAN & THE RAVENS.
Stan Szelest used the band name ‘Stan & The Ravens’ whenever he put together a group in Buffalo before, after and during his times of working with Toronto-based expatriate Ronnie Hawkins and his Hawks. He liked the money in Toronto and the status of being in one of the top bands there, and Hawkins and his Hawk-mates held him in the highest esteem, but he got homesick several times and returned to the smaller-potatoes Buffalo club scene until Hawkins lured him back.
He was still part of Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks as the eventual members of The Band gathered in its ranks. As Hawkins’ bandleader he acted as a mentor to Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and the rest, and stayed close with them after he left in for good in 1962, even after they too had left Rockin’ Ronnie in 1964 to try their luck as Levon & The Hawks.
As Levon & The Hawks were in the the process of becoming The Band they apparently asked Stan to join them but he didn’t want to travel that far from home. Rumor has it that in their early days they came down to Buffalo to see Stan’s new Ravens band and watched them ‘like hawks’ (sorry!), Robbie especially trying to figure out how Stan’s guitarist Chuck McCormick got his sound. From what I’ve heard of Chuck’s unique style and tricks – like ‘pinched’ false harmonics – this stuff showed up in Robbie’s playing later.
Stan eventually did become an actual member of The Band himself – replacing Richard Manuel when he passed away. Ironic, as Manuel had originally replaced Stan in Hawkins’ band.
On Stan’s passing another ex-Hawk (Richard Bell) was brought in to complete their ‘Jericho’ album; Stan and Bell’s keyboards both appear on it but Stan gets several writing credits.
Rebel Payne and Sandy Konikoff were two other Buffalonian members of Stan & The Ravens who were brought North by Stan for stints with Ronnie Hawkins. Sandy virtually became a member of The Band when he took over for Levon Helm on perhaps the most legendary tour in Rock history, when Bob Dylan ‘went electric’. Levon got tired of the booing and quit, and the Band guys turned to the Buffalo pool of talent they knew very well.
As I said, Stan Szelest left Ronnie ‘for good’ in the early 60s – though he would go back in later decades – and concentrated on putting together a stable band. I’m guessing his idea of naming them Stan & The Ravens came from Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks. Though apparently Stan sometimes jokingly referred to them as The Volume Kings as high volume was their stock-in-trade. The membership settled into Stan, Chuck McCormick, Sandy Konikoff and Pete Haskell until the latter three were replaced by Ernie Corallo, Tom Calandra and Gary Mallaber.
These four recorded their first 45 for Wand in 1965, miscredited (the record company made up a new group name). They got their second and last shot in 1967 with today’s selection. The misaccreditation continued. Though they were always known as Stan & The Ravens the label credit is to Ravens … although it’s actually Raven’s (sic). Even worse, their names are botched in the writing credits as Stanly Szelest and Tomas Calandra.
I guess that for a band with a good local reputation, having both of your releases miscredited may be a big part of their chart failure.
Anyway, we’re left with this late (1967) rocker on the local Sahara label. Right after this was released the band broke up and Calandra and Mallaber joined up with The Rising Sons which morphed into Raven after a couple years. Everyone stayed on good terms though, and stayed in contact.
After Raven moved to New York City and word of Buffalo’s music talent spread around, Stan and some Ravens (Ernie Corallo and Sandy Konikoff) were invited down. They did a couple albums as a backup group (Roger Tillison’s, and John Cale’s first solo LP post-Velvet Underground) before forming a quartet with Garland Jeffreys and recording the self-titled Grinder’s Switch LP in 1970. From the sound as well as the personnel, you could consider this as – finally – a Stan & The Ravens album. Although not so credited. Of course.