45 Friday: FOUR ANDANTES – Hipper Than Me

45-Friday_4 By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Mo Do Records label and recording studio was located in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighborhood. Label owner William ‘Billy’ Nunn, Sr. made his first try at the singles market with Bob & Gene’s “You Gave Me Love” / ” Your Name” (Mo Do 101, 1967).  Bob was his son Bobby Nunn and Gene was Bob’s friend Eugene Coplin. In 1968 the next Mo Do single was issued – “Hipper Than Me” / “The End Of Love” (Mo Do 102, 1968), credited to The Four Andantes. The only thing I know about them is that the lead singer was Levi Ruffin, Jr. Other collectors, either local or part of the international Soul scene, don’t seem to have discovered anything either. Collector interest in the Mo Do label really only started in the late 1980s/ early 1990s with the growth of the Northern Soul scene. The original scene was mostly focused on the hits and major labels. As the ’70s gave way to the ’80s, more obscure tracks and second-string labels came into vogue. DJs all wanted to have records on their playlists that no one else had, or even knew. By the 1990s second-tier labels, third-tier and beyond had been exhausted and attention turned to ultra-obscure labels. Mo Do Records was one, having never had a hit in its time, with very few copies of Mo Do singles having ever left the Western NY area. As is often the case, a collector ahead of the curve was the first to contact Billy Nunn who sold him most of the leftover records for a pittance. Along with Mo Do’s many Gospel releases were the four Bob & Gene releases, the Four Andantes single and a couple other Soul/R&B titles. These made their way to the biggest market for USA Soul records. In England, The Four Andantes developed a reputation not only as the best but as the scarcest record on the label. Endeavoring to find out more, UK collectors contacted Mr. Nunn directly. He was less than forthcoming with them, feeling he’d been burned by the previous collector. No, he couldn’t remember much about the Four Andantes, but he could connect them with one member. Levi Ruffin, Jr. was just coming off a long period of success as keyboard player with Rick James’ Stone City Band, who backed Rick as well as putting out records under their own name. For whatever reason, Ruffin couldn’t or wouldn’t provide additional information on the group beyond verifying he was the lead singer (he is also credited on the labels as the writer). Eventually a blurry picture of the Four Andantes turned up. They look as you’d expect – the photo reveals very little – and no additional names were forthcoming. Typical young Soul singers circa 1968. And the tracks themselves are typical 1968 Soul with a ballad side and an uptempo side. Maybe a little on the under-produced side, and not the greatest recording quality (typical Mo Do characteristics). Yet coming through that is the feeling of hopes and dreams, a first shot at success. For Levi Ruffin Jr, it was the start of a career in music. Label mates Bobby Nunn and Billy Nunn, Jr. attained equally successful careers in music in bands or as solo artists. For Billy Nunn, Sr. there was no chart success for his label, though he did get to see his sons make their mark in the business later.  Eventually, vindication: in the 2000s a local collector was able to obtain his trust, this time gaining access to unreleased material he had. This led to a Bob & Gene album being issued which sold well to the niche market of hipster Soul collectors and attained critical praise. The financial rewards continued in the form of royalties when two of the Bob & Gene tracks were used in motion picture soundtracks. Luckily Mr. Nunn was able to experience this before he passed away. By the way, Andante is a musical term. They may have become the FOUR Andantes after discovering that Motown Records already had a ‘The Andantes’.  This was a girl group who sang mostly backgrounds, rarely issuing their own records, but were on an unbelievable number of Motown tracks including many mega-hits. Interesting, in that Ruffin and both Nunn boys ended up on Motown labels as well.

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