45 Friday: Jumpers -You’ll Know Better (When I’m Gone)

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By Elmer Ploetz

The Jumpers weren’t just one of the first and best bands of Buffalo’s punk rock era, they were one of Buffalo’s best ever.  Here’s a bit of sonic proof.

The band came out of suburban Hamburg, but not necessarily the prissier village area. They were Frontier High School grads (who started playing together while still in school in the early/mid-’70s), coming from the Ford Stamping Plant/Bethlehem Steel worker area of the town. Lead singer Terry Sullivan can tell you how seeing the New York Dolls along with Mott the Hoople and Aerosmith at Kleinhans on Oct. 17, 1973, changed his life. Scott Miklasz added killer guitar, Craig Meylan was on bass and Roger Nicol played drums.  Then the secret added weapon was Bob Kozak, a killer song writer.

Kozak and Miklasz had gone out to California for awhile after graduating and caught some of the rougher rock vibes there, then came back. The band was reassembled. They hooked up with some supporters like Bernie Kugel (one of Buffalo’s first punk/garage punk revivalists with the Good), Bruce Eaton (the totally obscure but wonderful Blue Reimondos), and Steve Ralbovsky (their manager and later the A&R guy associated with breaking the Strokes).

Their first single was this slab of vinyl, released on #1 Records in 1978 and distributed by Greg Shaw’s Bomp Records. It’s a classic piece of American garage rock, with all the tension, angst and power pop hooks anybody could ask for. Between Sullivan’s charisma, Kozak’s songwriting, Miklasz’s guitar and Meylan and Nicol’s relentless energy, the band had it all.  Except for the connections to get it heard on a wider scale, that is.

The flip side was (also written by Kozak) was “I Wanna Know.” which resurfaced on the lone album by the Restless (an early ’80s supergroup that also included Sullivan).

The band went on to record another single in 1979  (“This Is It”/”Sick Girls”) equally as good as the first and contributed one song (“Hello Girl”) to Bomp’s 1980 “Waves” complilation. The other band members proved they could write as well.

The band tried moving to New York City, but with a new drummer (the late Brian Hudson), but didn’t see much success. Truth be told, they were actually more out of the Flamin’ Groovies rough-edged power pop tradition than what was going on in the city at the time anyway (Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, anybody?)

The band broke up and the members scattered. Kozak ended up in New Jersey (where he continued to write killer power pop songs), Miklasz went to San Diego (where he made killer roots/rock music), Meylan ended up in the Dallas area and Sullivan came back to Buffalo, where he’s been performing with some of the city’s best musicians ever since (look up the Celibates, the Headhunters, the Dollywatchers and his Low Lamp Sessions). And I’m sure I’m leaving out a few of them.

There have been some Jumpers reunions since, with the group giving the name to Bob James’ “This Is It” series of reissues and live compilations, with some of their performances featured prominently (for example “South of the City,” a nod to Hamburg recorded in 1979 and not released until the first release in the “This Is It” series in 2002.

These days you’ll find Kozak and Miklasz back in Buffalo, playing with groups like the High Flying Babies (name taken from a Flamin’ Groovies song) and occasional shows by the Enemies (without the late Joe Bompczyk, of course), and often playing with Nicol. They usually do this song.

The other people on the credits? Well, “You’ll Know Better When I’m Gone” was recorded at Select Sound, with “production assistance” from Dick Bauerle and engineering by Rob Konikoff. The sleeve design was by Andrew Elias and cover photo by Maurice Narcis. Dave Meinzer, Nancy New Age and Stu Shapiro got thanks, and Bruce Eaton and Bob James were credited with the remix on this song. The song later resurfaced on the lone album by the Restless (an early ’80s Buffalo supergroup that also included Sullivan, Bob James, Joe Bompczyk, Guy Pelino and Frank Luciano)

This YouTube version isn’t the best fidelity, but until somebody else digitizes a cleaner copy, it will have to do.

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45 Friday: U.S.T. Topaze – Check It Out

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By Elmer Ploetz

Bob “The Record Guy” is off-duty this week, so I’m filling and offering up a BCMK 45 from 1980. This is a neat piece of soul/funk from U.S.T. Topaze. The Buffalo (or, more specifically, Lackawanna) band didn’t record much, but what they did is pretty collectible.
BCMK, of course, was Tommy Calandra’s label, which eventually ended up on Delaware Avenue near Hertel Avenue, next to the North Park Library. The name stood for Buffalo College of Musical Knowledge, and even told you that on the 45 label. And Tommy was the bass player for the legendary Raven, one of the greatest bands to come out of Buffalo.  The great thing about Tommy at BCMK was he recorded EVERYTHING. Many of the early new wave records in Buffalo were recorded by him and BCMK, as was Donna McDaniel’s “We’re Gonna Win That Cup.”  Buffalo News rock critic Dale Anderson even recorded a 45 there.

But the U.S.T. Topaze single and their cut on the the “Airwaves” compilation LP are among the more coveted recordings from BCMK.
Who was U.S.T. Topaze? Well, they were quite the all-star aggregation. Van Taylor, one of Tommy Calandra’s main collaborators, was their manager and played keys (and co-wrote this song). Guitarist Kenny Hawkins joined in 1979; he went on to be Rick James’ music director and frequent collaborator. Joe Diggs was one of the vocalists (and co-writer of this track). He also worked with Rick James on vocals.  Shawn McQuiller, a current member of Kool & the Gang, later joined the group.
The other members were Anthony Viterna on guitar, Derrick McAlister on drums, Jerry Morero on percussion, Kelvin Knight on bass, Brian Freeman on trumpet, Robert Tatum on sax, Raymond McCastle on vocals,  Vanessa Brook Nun Eps on vocals, Anthony Ceasar on vocals. In 1979, drummer Thomas Rodgers and trombonist Carl Christian came aboard. Other later members included singers Andrea Cooper and Burtrand Joiner. At least that’s the lineup the group’s facebook page lists.  While I’m not familiar with those members, I’m sure there are some pretty strong credentials in there as well.
This song is the more uptempo B-side to “Keep Me Happy.”

Graduates – Ballad of a Girl and a Boy

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By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon

Continuing our story of last week …

Following the release of The Playboys’ 45 membership changed and eventually settled into a lineup of Johnny Cappello, Bruce Hammond, Fred Mancuso and Jack Scorsone. They adopted a new name – The Graduates.

DJs Tommy Shannon and Phil Todaro decided to issue a record on them, on their new label Shan-Todd (named for Shannon -Todaro). They’d previously hit with their first Shan-Todd release “Rockin’ Crickets” by The Hot Toddys.  The Graduates 1959 “Ballad of A Girl And Boy” came out as Shan-Todd 0055. Shan-Todd soon underwent a name change to Corsican Records, kept the same numbering sequence, in time for the next Graduates release (“What Good Is Graduation”, also 1959). Rumor has it that “Ballad of A Girl And Boy” can also be found with Corsican labels, though I’ve never seen one.

They recorded this one at Buffalo Recording Service, scene of their first recording when The Playboys made a demo there. This time however it was a different group – John Cappello was now the lead vocalist.

“Ballad of A Girl And Boy” made it on to the national Billboard Hot 100, at #74. The followup “What Good Is Graduation” did not make it onto the top charts, though it it hit the Bubbling Under The Hot 100 chart at #110. If there were local charts I’m sure these achieved Top Ten status, especially with the push the DJs behind the labels could give them. They were definitely played often on WKBW, a local station but one that reached far up and down the East Coast. I’ve read of people from New England hearing the song and trying to find it in their area stores unsuccessfully. It hit in isolated markets as well in far-flung places like Arizona and New Orleans. Back then a record could make the charts as a ‘radio hit’ but not be a great seller. We can speculate that being on an independent label with inefficient distribution held the record back from bigger success.

Whether they got properly paid for the records is anyone’s guess. Standard procedure back then was that artists would recieve little royalties but could expect the make money with live appearances. Some big shows in father cities had to be cancelled when the still-young members couldn’t get time off from school to travel! But the group apparently had their largest-paying show close to home, when they received the then-astronomical sum of $1500 for a show at Rochester’s War Memorial Auditorium. With no real management, member Bruce Hammond handled the money and they all got paid.

With some shows, some TV appearances, nothing was breaking for them, and the group drifted apart. In 1963 a new single appeared on Lawn Records coupling “Goodbye My Love” with “Ballad Of A Boy And A Girl”. Now credited to Johnny Holliday & The Graduates, apparently most of the group was not informed of its release until after the fact. “Goodbye My Love” is actually a retitled version of “What Good Is Graduation” making this single something of a reissue – merely compiling their two former A-sides.

Nothing much happened with this 1963 release, but it’s then-dated sound couldn’t really compete in the year 1963 with the coming invasion. That same year the Beatles 45 was released on Lawn’s parent company Swan Records.

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An interesting and curious side-note is that many years later the group became aware of a mysterious record using their recordings. In 1959 a record was released on the First Records label, aka Another First, which contained “Ballad Of A Boy And A Girl” but now credited to The Question Marks. This seems to be an out take from the original Graduates sessions.

The flip is also credited to The Question Marks but this is actually an out-take by The Tune Rockers! Point of interest is that John Capello belonged to both groups, and Dick Lawrence – owner of First – had been involved in managing both groups. More interesting is the fact that the record doesn’t seem to have been issued in an attempt to make a hit – the artists involved weren’t informed, so there could be no promotion, and it was never distributed at all in their hometown!