By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon
Back in June of last year I was on vacation and Elmer covered for me, choosing Charles Hargro’s “Baby Oh Baby”. That side is a ballad, with the heavy doowop ‘lowrider’ sound that’s especially popular on the West Coast. Today I’m going to feature the flip, “Over And Over”, and fill in some of the details of what happened to the Vibraharps in 1959.
Charles Hargro (real name: Charles Hargrove) was an original member of the Vibraharps right from their 1955 formation. He’d appeared on their two singles, outlasting Donnie Elbert who had quit – at least as a performing member – and was well into his solo career by this time.
The Vibraharps second single, on Atco Records, was released in early 1959 but probably recorded late 1958. It had failed to score with the public at large and they were either released from their contract, or had only had a one-record deal to begin with. At loose ends, they returned to a working relationship with Bobby Fonville and Ralph Hernandez. The songwriting duo who had written both sides of their first (1956) record had now formed their own label, DAB Records, based in Buffalo.
DAB looked like a good bet on paper. Besides the two songwriters, who by now had placed songs with many artists includin Frankie Lymon, the partners included WKBW deejay Russ Syracuse, promoter Tommy Fenno and local businessman Stuart Levy (later to run for mayor of Buffalo).
Although DAB 101 only credits Hargro on the label, and his bass voice is featured, it’s understood by most local collectors that the backing group is the Vibraharps. The early 1959 session yielded “Baby Oh Baby” as the ballad top side but “Over And Over” is a also nice, a good rocker. Both were written Bobby Fonville and Ralph Hernandez. The label also notes ‘Orchestra & Chorus under the direction of Bob Fonville’.
The single is supposed to have sold 16,000 copies, the great majority locally. Apparently the backers couldn’t take the plunge to contract the record out to a major label so- having no national distribution – the record died. And Vibraharps were no more.
DAB managed two further releases, both by Buffalo’s Fendermen. “Fas-Nacht-Kuechel” was mildly successful, their other record not so much – and DAB Records died a quiet death.
Fonville & Hernandez turned up soon after with another local release on another local label (Monroe Chapman, on Ajar) before returning to the majors with a 1961 single by The Derbys on Savoy. This group seems to be connected with the Vibraharps in several ways – their earlier release on Mercury has two Donnie Elbert-written songs. Perhaps that’s where the other two Vibraharps ended up?
Hargro had one further solo release on Buffalo’s Launch Records (a subsidiary of MoDo) around 1969 or 1970. “Gotta Be Some Changes” / “The Love In My Heart” has the same bass vocal sound which was pretty passe at the time, but would later make a comeback via Barry White! Following that he appears to have left the music business – at least the recording end of it – for the quieter life of a Corrections Officer.
There is yet one more mystery attached to the Vibraharps, a 1961 release by The Hi-Tones on Seg-Way Records (out of Philadelphia, I think). This is rumored to be the group and is definitely Hargro whose bass voice is instantly recognizeable. I will try to get some more info on this for next week. If not, expect me to take up the post-Vibraharps story with the career of Donnie Elbert.