45 Friday: DARRELL BANKS – Open The Door To Your Heart

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By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon

Following our recent Donnie Elbert posts, here’s a record that shot up the national charts in 1966 – and embroiled Donnie in a court case with his former friend, the singer!

Darrell Banks (Eubanks) was born in Ohio to an unwed teenage mother who gave him his surname and left him in the care of his grandparents. He followed the usual path of learning to sing in the local church. After high school he sought out his father in Buffalo where he began singing with local bands. I don’t know much about his local work and I’d love to find out more.

 

Banks eventually met up with a club owner named Doc Watson. Doc put him on stage at his Club Revilot. Darrell also crossed paths with Donnie Elbert, already a legend due to his membership in The Vibraharps and his early solo success. Donnie acted as something of a mentor to the young singer.

Donnie had written a song he titled “Baby Walk Right In” which he gave to Darrell, who made some changes and then pit it in his back pocket for possible future use.

Meanwhile in Detroit, LeBaron Taylor was trying to compete with Motown’s dominance of the Motor City at Golden World Records, a label with Buffalo connections. Golden World’s studio equipment was formerly Tom Shannon’s Buffalo studio and it had been used to make many records locally, including the hit “Wild Weekend”! Tommy had moved to Detroit where he was becoming a power in the radio business, and he brought with him some of the WNY recording artists he managed as well as some associates trying to break into the record production business.

Detroit at that time was the epicenter of the Soul / R&B music world. The Motown SOUND was dominating the charts and influencing others. The Motown business model was attracting attention as well: a Black-owned company recording Black artists that was able to cross over to pop radio mega-success, with its own studios and studio musicians.

Golden World Records copied that model in every way. They even utilized moonlighting Motown session players. They did it so well that in 1966 Motown bought out the company and the studios. There was money to be made copying Motown either way, selling your own records or selling out to Berry Gordy. Another label of the Golden World partners, Ric-Tic Records, similarly sold out to Motown in 1968.

Some Golden World employees together with Don Davis and George White of Detroit’s WXYZ had formed a production company, Solid Hitbound Productions, which similarly made perfect faux-Motown recordings. They had several record labels but their first was Revilot Records.

Darrell Banks was apparently singing “Open The Door” in Cleveland when talent scouts for Don Davis heard him. By some accounts it was a chance meeting, by others Doc Watson’s Detroit connections made it happen. For what it’s worth, Davis signed Banks to be the first artist on a new label and since it was apparently named for Watson’s Club Revilot in Buffalo, you can draw your own conclusion!

A major reason Darrell was signed was the potential hit song he brought with him. “Baby Walk Right In” was now titled “Open The Door To Your Heart” and after successfully auditioning with it at Solid Hitbound, Darrell apparently claimed sole composing credit.

“Open The Door To Your Heart” featured Motown session stalwarts like Dennis Coffey. The flip side “Our Love Is In The Pocket” was co-written by George Clinton (later of Parliament/Funkadelic), whose Parliaments were also signed to Revilot.

The record peaked at #2 R&B and #27 on the Billboard Hot 100. When Donnie Elbert saw that he’d been cut from the credits (a valuable copyright, considering that it was a million-seller), he went ballistic. A protracted legal battle ensued but the courts ultimately found in Elbert’s favor.

It was immediately covered by The Capitols on Atco Records. Atco was a home for many Buffalo R&B artists over the years, including Donnie Elbert, Lenny O’Henry and The Vibraharps, and soon Darrell would find himself there too. Jackie Wilson covered also it, in 1967, and Betty Wright in 1976, among others.

Banks’ second single on Revilot placed high on the charts. On to Atco Records, he released some singles which didn’t chart and his first album, which included his Revilot singles. After one more single on Atco subsidiary Cotillion Records, he signed to Stax Records. It  released another full-length album of his material in 1969 and two more non-charting singles. Don Davis produced the Stax Records; his mandate at Stax was to make Motown-sounding records.

Darrell continued performing, mostly in Detroit, at places like the Pink Pussy Cat. His sister recalls her last meeting with him there; he had a large white ankle cast as a result of a stage injury.

In February 1970, Banks was shot and killed by policeman Aaron Bullock in a dispute over Marjorie Bozeman, a West Side lounge barmaid with whom Banks had also been involved. Bullock was dropping Miss Bozeman off at her home on the West Side when Banks approached and grabbed her by the coat. Bullock identified himself as a police officer, Banks then pulled out a .22 revolver and Officer Bullock fired one shot, striking Banks in the neck.

The killing shocked Detroit, and the Soul music world in general. Banks was considered a humble, friendly but reserved, non-violent man. Soul music royalty of the Motor City gathered for a Banks family benefit at Watts Club Mozambique on Detroit’s West Side. Isaac Hayes, The Spinners and Martha Reeves & the Vandellas turned out to support the family and a trust fund for Banks’ children.

Life went on and before very long Banks’ memory was left behind in the USA. He was buried in an unmarked grave.

Meanwhile, Northern Soul fans in the UK had never forgotten. Bank’s records, particularly “Open The Door To Your Heart.” It went from initial 1960s chart popularity to “classic” status after  regular spins at influential clubs like the Wigan Casino and the Twisted Wheel in the early 1970s.

Once a Northern Soul classic, forever a Northern Soul classic (their motto is Keep The Faith). In 2003, a Scottish fan who hadn’t forgotten traveled to Detroit searching information concerning Banks’ death. Shocked to discover the unmarked burial site, he gathered fellow Northern Soul fans and raised $2,000 to give Banks a solid marble grave marker. Fans from around the world gathered to honor Banks with a party followed by memorial service.

Grave marker #539 now has a beautiful bench inscribed with both Darrell’s name and “Open the Door to Your Heart”.

45 Friday: DONNIE ELBERT – I Got To Get Myself Together

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By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon

We’re returning to Donnie Elbert for one last time. Because he’s that important, and he’s that great!

Donnie spend the end of the 1960s in England, where he issued records, produced other artists, and found a wife. He returned to the USA in 1970 and cut a record for the Rare Bullet label – the first release on that imprint (Rare Bullet 101). I Can’t Get Over Losing You was the top side and I Got To Get Myself Together was the flip.

 

 

This became his first chart hit in over a decade, in the USA anyway (he’d had chart hits in England). I Can’t Get Over Losing You reached the number 26 spot on the R&B charts.

Rare Bullet was an affiliate of Sylvia Robinson’s All Platinum label. Sylvia was the female half of Mickey & Sylvia with guitarist Mickey Baker. She would later hit with Pillow Talk, and Shame Shame Shame which ended up in court, the subject of a battle over composing credits with Donnie, which Donnie lost. Shirley later founded the Sugar Hill label which made many millions as the king of the Rap / Hip Hop labels.

The plot thickened when soon after when the two sides were issued again, this time with I Got To Get Myself Together as the A-side. This was on Donnie’s own Elbert label. Soon after the Elbert label released it’s second and last 45, with I Can’t Get Over Losing You AGAIN, this time as the B-side to a new track, Sweet Baby.

What was the Elbert label, and why was he re-releasing his own work while it was still in ‘hit’ status? It doesn’t appear to be a local (Buffalo) label, the address appears to be in New Jersey the home of Rare Bullet and All-Platinum. Was it approved by the folks at All-Platinum?

We can only guess. I Got To Get Myself Together was the more popular side of Rare Bullet 101 in England. Maybe Donnie wanted to prove a point, that they’d got the sides promoted wrong. It seems to be in keeping with his maverick, rebellious (some say paranoid) nature.

I Got To Get Myself Together is today considered a Northern Soul classic, and if you search YouTube you’ll find there’s at least a dozen uploads for it. I chose this one because it’s the only one showing the scarcer “Elbert” version. He achieves a real Curtis Mayfield sound on this one!

If these releases were known to the honchos at All-Platinum it must not have bothered them, because soon after he was on the parent label itself. 1970’s All-Platinum 2330, a cover of the Supremes’ Where Did Our Love Go, hit number two on the R&B charts, number 15 on pop charts and number 8 in the UK. Interestingly, Where Did Our Love Go had actually been recorded two years earlier in England.

Donnie had more hits at All-Platinum, then left in a disagreement and headed to Avco. He soon left Avco in a disagreement and went back to All-Platinum, where he stayed until the aforementioned lawsuit over Shame Shame Shame.

Speaking of copyright controversies, next week we’ll look at the copyright argument between Donnie and another Buffalo soulster over another hit R&B record.

 

45 Friday: DONNIE ELBERT – A Little Piece Of Leather

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By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon

Summing up the Donnie Elbert story so far:
Donnie left the Vibraharps in the late 1950s and experienced early solo success on Deluxe Records (1957-58) and Vee-Jay (1960).  He then moved between a number of labels  issuing one or two records on each, without much success. At the end of that time he released “Love Stew” on the small Buffalo label Upstate which was picked up for national release by Cub, but also didn’t click with record buyers. The next phase of his career and his next taste of success wouldn’t happen until he turned up at Gateway Records in Pittsburgh in 1964.

 

“Love Stew” had been a good record but it was a bit old-fashioned sounding for 1963. It could have been from 1960. Three years doesn’t sound like much (and in today’s Pop world it’s nothing) but in the 1960s Pop music was changing at lightning speed. The Beatles went from Can’t Buy Me Love to Strawberry Fields Forever in just three Sixties years.

In 1963 Motown was what was happening in the USA.

Motown started with a pretty traditional R&B sound. 1960’s bluesy “Shop Around” was their first big chart hit.  But by 1963 they were regularly crossing over the Pop Charts and the Motown Sound as we know it had developed – a little bit lighter and more polished. Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get a Witness”,  Martha & The Vandellas’ “Come And Get These Memories” and “Heat Wave” were all Motown hits in 1963.

Donnie became focused on making a hit in the Motown style. Not being able to hire top musicians to equal the Motown session players and not willing to settle for less, he played all the instruments on his Gateway recordings himself. Between 1964 and 1965 he recorded the tracks that in time became classics of what we today we call Northern Soul,  including “Run Little Girl” and “Your Red Wagon (You Can Push It Or Pull It)”.

“A Little Piece Of Leather” is a perfect example and it’s today’s featured track. This 1965 release didn’t chart in the U.S. but became a standard in the UK soul clubs, and on rerelease in 1972 it reached #27 on the UK charts.. the POP charts! It remains a favorite to this day in on the Northern Soul club scene.

Apparently Berry Gordy, Jr. was listening too. He offered Donnie a contract but he balked. He believed (probably rightly so) Motown didn’t want to record him, only to get him on tie him up on paper and eliminate him as competition. Donnie was stuck. He was too hard-headed and unwilling to give up control to let a major label run his career. Yet labels like Gateway couldn’t break him beyond a regional level.

Some who knew him remember him as ‘paranoid’. It’s hard to say how much of his attitude was justified by his treatment from the industry, and how much he caused for himself. In any case he made one last bad deal and left for the UK, where he was a hot commodity.

The bad deal was that he wrote a great song titled “Baby Walk Right In” but gave it to fellow Buffalonian Darrell Banks, who made some changes on it, cut it, released it as “Open the Door to Your Heart” and got a Top 40 Pop hit out of it. The composer credits also got garbled which prevented Donnie from receiving royalties on it for a long time.

Landing in the UK in 1966 he cut a track for Atco ( a label that turns up in the Vibraharps legend several times!) and then worked with Polydor, issuing more singles and an album and producing some local UK artists. He also got married there.

His last act there (“Without You”, a 1969 Deram release) jumped on the reggae/rocksteady bandwagon and became a hit in Jamaica.

Back to the States, he next hit on the R&B charts with a Rare Bullet Records release. In 1970 he had a release or two on his own Elbert Records label, which may or may not have been locally-based.

Then it was on to the All-Platinum and Avco labels. He fell into a pattern of re-recording his old hits or recording covers of Motown hits, often with chart success, but sometimes against his will – apparently – leading to clashes with the labels. And yet he seems to have had his own obsession with trying to prove something – that he could beat Motown? That his old songs should have, could have been Number Ones?

He left All-Platinum over a royalties dispute for the massive disco hit “Shame, Shame, Shame” for which he claimed write credit (the court found against him). He continued recording here and there, including a 1975 release on his own A/O Records, which bears a Buffalo address. He eventually retired from performing to work in A&R until a massive stroke on January 31, 1989, ended his life. He was just 53 years old.

45 Friday: DONNIE ELBERT – Love Stew

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By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon

The Vibraharps / Donnie Elbert story continues…

After Donnie’s early success on Deluxe (1957-58) and Vee-Jay (1960) he stalled a bit and took a break for a short spell in the US Army. It didn’t last long and before 1961 was over he had resumed one of his favorite activities: recording. And he developed a new favorite activity: jumping from one label to another!

 

In the 1961-63 period he put out one or two records each on Red Top, Jot, Jalynne, P&L, Parkway, and Checker. He couldn’t find the formula for a hit and was spinning his wheels, as many in the R&B world were doing in this period. The old-style R&B was dying out but Soul wasn’t completely born. The modern Soul Music as we know it would soon exploded onto AM Radio, in particular the sound that would later come to be known as Northern Soul. At the time it was simply ‘Soul music that could cross over to the Pop charts’. All of which is another way of saying MOTOWN. And when Donnie heard Motown, he saw the future, and knew what he wanted to do.

But before that happened, sometime in 1963, he recorded some tracks in Buffalo. “Love Stew” b/w “Don’t Cry My Love” was issued on the Upstate label, later home of The Rising Sons (who became Raven). It’s assumed that Donnie’s tracks were cut at the Poultney Street studio run by Tommy Calandra and Carl LaMacchia where most of the records issued on the Upstate and GJM labels were recorded.

“Love Stew” was picked up for national release by Cub Records, a division of MGM. (Like their Lion label, it was named for MGM’s roaring lion logo). It failed to become a hit  and Donnie was soon off in search of that elusive smash hit. He turned up at Gateway Records in Pittsburgh soon after, developed a full-blown Motown Sound, and between 1964 and 1965 recorded the songs that are today considered classics to aficionados of Northern Soul: “Run Little Girl”, “A Little Piece Of Leather”, “Your Red Wagon (You Can Push It Or Pull It)”.

It’s maybe not surprising that “Love Stew” didn’t hit. Like many of his recordings it’s quirky and unusual which can be bad or good but overall it probably sounded a little dated in 1963. Jimmy Jones had a similar sound on “Handy Man” – also on Cub Records – but that was a hit in 1960, a world away in terms of the fast-changing music trends of the 1960s.

Cub 9125 is not a common record but the original version on Upstate 829 is indeed a rare record and I don’t own a copy – yet!

Disclaimer: because I don’t have a copy for reference I can’t verify that this Upstate label is the same Upstate as the Rising Sons record. It seems logical that it is but they were issued about four years apart so there’s room for doubt. Nothing on the Cub version of “Love Stew” indicates a Buffalo connection. Anyone with info – or a copy to examine – please step forward!