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


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.”

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