By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon
One of Buffalo’s longest-lasting bands from the “oldies” period was The Vibratos. They existed in some form from as far back as 1957 to 1971. A number of interesting people passed through their ranks, though the core members of the band never achieved recognition outside of it. They plied their trade in a handful of clubs where they were popular enough to be the long-term ‘house band’ … always a dependable rockin’ good time … but they were never able to move beyond that and hit the big time.
The core of the group was brothers Dick Terranova (guitar) and Jack Terranova (bass) from the Fillmore / East Ferry area. The co-founder was drummer Joe Ferrara. They did the usual duty of work for local DJs, playing record hops and a live broadcast for the “High Teen” radio show from the Dellwood Ballroom. Then it was onto the local club scene. Originally a R&R instrumental group, they became a vocal group with the addition of Kenny Dee.
They became regulars at downtown’s Town Casino in 1962 and in 1963 became a house band at the Glen Park Casino, replacing Stan and the Ravens. The band now included Mike Lustan (guitar). Somewhere around this time they made their first record, covers of two popular R&B songs of the day done in rock’n’roll style. Ray Charles’ “Greenback” sounds a bit lackluster to me but Ray Sharpe’s “Linda Lu” is mighty fine. Many people consider “Linda Lu” a Rockabilly song and maybe it is; Ray Sharpe was able to cross over from his otherwise R&B sound for this one.
Soon after Kenny Dee was replaced with a new vocalist. East-Sider Emil Lewandowski played some instruments but his vocal prowess was obvious to all and he became the lead singer as they became the house band at Lulu Belles. Believing bigger things were in store for him, Emil took Mike Lustan and headed to the West Coast to seek fame and fortune. Before he left he changed his name to Cory Wells – supposedly taking his name from a Cory coffeepot at one of the all-night diners they frequented. Cory and Mike hit moderate success in California as The Enemys but greater things were to come when Cory joined with two other vocalists to form Three Dog Night!
Meanwhile back in Buffalo the Vibratos membership now settled into the Terranova brothers plus Al Fiorella (organ) and soon-to-be-famous drummer Gary Mallaber – who was still in high school. Buffalo sax legend Chic Cicero came in and toughened up their R&B image with his hard wailing sax and classic antics of ‘walking the bar’ and playing from inside the ladies’ room. This group held forth mostly at the Town Casino and The Colonie.
It was this Vibratos that went to New York City to record their second and final single, both records being issued on their own Sotar-Biv label (Vibratos spelled backwards). A cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Stubborn Kinda Fella” featuring Jack on vocals while the flip added a friend, female singer Sandy Barret, for a cover of the Ronettes’ “Walking in the Rain”. Obviously they had a love for R&B and not much interest in writing their own material. This worked in 1963 .. but the scene was changing.
Gary Mallaber went with Stan & The Ravens, then Raven, and eventually onto the world stage with Steve Miller and Van Morrison and more. Chic Cicero formed his own group, Chic And The Diplomats, putting out a 45 and becoming house band at the Ivanhoe. Eventually he moved on to a totally unrelated fame (or infamy) as an author in “the esoteric community” and one of the highest practitioners of ceremonial magick in the world, as a President of The Order of the Golden Dawn.
More changes came. The venues changed as clubs closed and opened – they moved to smaller R&R clubs like The Brighton Acres and McVans and lounges like The Three Coins. The days of huge teen clubs were over. The days of opening for national bands were over. The music followed the trends in mid and late 1960s Rock, eventually leading to covers of hits by the alphabet groups (BS&T, CSN&Y).
Eventually The Vibratos, as such, ceased to exist. The Terranovas carried on together or separately in smaller units to play lounges and weddings. Along the way it seems almost every musician in Buffalo has worked with them at some time, including Brad Grey, Jimmy Calieri, Jim Wosniak, The Kipler Brothers (The Rockin’ Rebels), Toni Castellani and Tony Galla. So – two careers, two records, no hits, but a lifetime of music and a hand in launching some other significant careers. And probably some great nights of dancing and fun, if you were lucky enough to be around in the early 1960s.