By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon
Chic Cicero was everywhere in the days of Buffalo’s early Rock’n’Roll scene, when instrumentals were the favored type of music, saxophones had equal prominence (at least!) with guitars, and an R&B influence was essential.
In the early days of the 1960s Chic blew tenor sax with The Fendermen. In 1963 he joined an established combo, The Vibratos. They had achieved a lot of success locally, working regularly at the Town Casino and becoming house band at the Glen Park Casino. But singer Emil Lewandowski and guitarist Mike Lustan left, having been pushed to greener pastures on the West Coast to seek fame and fortune. They found some, while playing and recording as The Enemys. But it was nothing compared to what happened when Emil, now called Cory Wells, joined with two more singers to form Three Dog Night.
So Chic was brought in. Older by a decade than the rest of the band (Dick & Jack Terranova and Al Fiorella), he brought his old-school R&B sax-honker antics with him, clowning and ‘walking the bar’ at places like The Colonie on Hertel Avenue.
Around this time Gary Mallaber also joined the Vibratos, replacing Joe Ferrara on drums. Later a legend but just starting out professionally at this time (and still a teenager), he would go on to work his way up the ladder of success: Stan & The Ravens, then Raven, and eventually Van Morrison, The Steve Miller Band and studio dates with everybody from Springsteen to McCartney.
This version of the Vibratos broke up after recording a single (the second and final recording for the band) around 1964. Chic formed Chic And The Diplomats with some of the cream of Buffalo’s R&B players- Joe Madison on organ, Denny Fox on drums. In their early days they played top clubs like the Candy Cane Lounge alongside The Jesters.
As the Sixties went on they began a long stand as house band at the Ivanhoe Lounge on Forest Avenue. It was during this time they cut their lone waxing, Tears/You Don’t Know. Tears is an old style sax-led ballad instrumental which was already dated at the time, with a lounge-y organ sound more Wild Bill Davis than Jimmy McGriff.
But You Don’t Know is an up-to-date Soul track, a stomping version of the current Sam & Dave hit (also known as You Don’t Know Like I Know), written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.
As a side-note: Sam & Dave’s success can largely be traced to WNYer Steve Alaimo who performed on the same show with them at a nightclub in Miami and produced and released them on his own Marlin Records before taking them over to Atlantic, who then turned them over to Stax Records, where they found great success.
This record was released on Ivanhoe Records and all copies came with a postcard-sized photo in lieu of a picture sleeve. The ‘Ivanhoe’ part is easy to understand, while the Pittsburgh address on the back is not.
In any case the record wasn’t a hit but they continued to ply their trade at 561 Forest Ave. A 1967 ad promises “every Tuesday through Sunday- the Soul Sounds of Chic And The Diplomats”. A 1968 ad puts them at the Safari Inn in East Amherst, probably a step down, and a sign that their career was just about stalled as a new wave of music was coming in – psychedelic/heavy or singer/songwriter – these guys were none of the above.
I don’t know what happened to the rest of the band, but Chic Cicero left the music world for fame (or notoriety) of a different sort, not germane to our discussion here. We’re left with this – not great, not bad, but a perfect evocation of a time when you could walk into a Buffalo club and hear a bar band pound out R&B for the dancers.