45 Friday: LOU COURTNEY- Hey Joyce

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

I’m trying hard to track down the full Lou Courtney story, and the information I can’t find is this- what did he do in Buffalo? Before he got signed and did his first recording he must have done something in the field of music, and he must have done something good to get noticed and offered a record deal. So far no mention of him has turned up as far as local performances or membership in a group. Between the time he was born (1944, in Buffalo) and his first recordings for Imperial – either 1962 or 1963, and apparently in New York City – there is absolutely no info available, period.

I hope to have something by next week. So this is kind of a fill-in post this week, but beyond the info I hope to uncover maybe someone will come forward with some knowledge. I need to know, because we need to make the case for his induction into the Buffalo Music Hall Of Fame. He had a 15-year career with some fantastic soul and funk 45s for at least four major labels, and three chart hits – yet info is surprisingly scanty. What little there is comes mainly from across the Atlantic. He’s pretty much unhonored in his home country, much less his home town.

Another interesting facet to Lou is that early on (when still quite young) he was as much a songwriter as a soul singer. And by the mid-1960s he had added ‘producer’ to his resume. Many of his behind the scenes efforts stretched outside of the Soul and R&B fields into the Pop and Rock field. He wrote or cowrote songs for British Invasion artists like Freddie & the Dreamers and the Nashville Teens and pop singers like , Leslie Gore. On the Soul side his songs were recorded by Mary Wells, Gloria Gaynor, Henry Lumpkin, Lorraine Ellison and Dee Dee Warwick. He wrote AND produced three of the Webs records – for Popside and Verve – and I have the feeling he discovered that group and brought them to Popside.

Maybe the most important credit to Lou is that his mid-1960s records for Riverside and it’s subsidiary Popside are among the first Soul records to have Funk elements. He’s certainly there right alongside James Brown at the birth of The Funk.

October 1967 saw the release of the record that’s highly regarded by both the Funk / Soul crowd and the sampler/ beatdigger/ mixoloist crowd. ‘Hey Joyce’ starts off on the right foot with a funky drum break which was later famously sampled by DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist and appears on a seminal Brainfreeze breaks record.

All the while Lou continued working in a variety of styles from Deep Soul to mainstream soul to ballads, alongside the funk.  The last thing I can find on him is work as a backup singer on a mid-70s session with Bonnie Raitt, although the UK magazine New Music Express reports that on rare occasions he has come out of retirement to perform one-off live shows.

More next week!

45 Friday: LOU COURTNEY- Little Old Love Maker

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Louis Russell Pegues was born in Buffalo in 1944. His songwriting credits are often as Louis Pegues – but he’s best known under his performing name of Lou Courtney. Unlike most of the Soul/ R&B artists associated with Buffalo, he WAS actually born here. But like all of the rest he had to go elsewhere to make it in the music business.

He made his first record for Imperial Records in 1962 or 1963. He was still a teenager. Imperial 66006 was the first (Come On Home/ The Man With The Cigar) but Imperial 66043 was the best, a killer Soul two-sider (Professional Lover / Little Old Love Maker), This came as Soul was really just getting off the ground as a separate music from the R&B which gave it birth. You can hear some of Gospel roots in it.

He moved to Phillips for a one-off release in 1965 (I Watched And Slowly You Slipped Away / l Cry If I Want To) and then found a home at the usually jazz-oriented Riverside records where he recorded the dance tracks songs which brought him the most fame – the ‘Skate’ and ‘Shing A Ling’ dancers. 1966 to 1968 saw him release two 45s and an LP on Riverside proper and three on the newly-created Pop offshoot Popside. The biggest of these were 1966’s Skate Now which hit #13 on the R&B chart and #70 on the Pop chart, and 1967’s Do The Thing (#17 R&B, #80 pop).

This, and most of his work at this time, foresees the harder Funk which grew out of Soul.

At the same time he followed in the footsteps of people like Donnie Elbert by working behind the scenes. His songs were recorded by artists like Mary Wells and Chubby Checker (as ‘Louis Pegues’) and he co-wrote with the legendary Pop and Soul producer Dennis Lambert. His group work included a period as studio lead vocalist with the Packers (of Hole In The Wall / Go ‘Head On fame), and later with his own group Buffalo Smoke (1976 -great name, that!), and finally as a member of The 5th Dimension.

His solo recording career never really ended though, and he was prolific! 1968 saw him at Verve for a couple releases (including another dance track, Do The Horse). He went to Buddah Records in 1968. Tryin’ To Find My Woman’ didn’t chart at the time but like many similar records became a cult favorite later on, on the Northern Soul scene. Along the way there were a couple of one-off minor label releases which also didn’t click with the record-buying public.

He had a decent comeback in 1973 when he signed to Epic Records. With producer Jerry Ragovoy he hit with What Do You Want Me To Do (#48 R&B) and I Don’t Need Nobody Else (#67 R&B). Other Epic releases didn’t chart – singles and an album.

A few more releases followed – as Buffalo Smoke, single and album releases on RCA in 1976; and finally on Motown Records as a member of The 5th Dimension on the albums High on Sunshine and Star Dancing. Following these, he effectively disappeared from the music business.

45 Friday: FRANKIE NESTRO – My Love

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Todays post could be called “Filling In The Gaps on Frankie Nestro”, or “I really don’t have much to say this week”!

I found the the notes from interview with Frankie and realized I’d missed a few interesting things.

On Frankie’s first record (as The Del-Tones), the backing band was The Premiers, who issued a spiffy rockin’ instrumental of their own on around the same time on local one-off label Squire. The Premiers included a young Tommy Calandra. Carl La Macchia, later to become a local studio owner and producer, wrote the songs on the Squire record and may have been a member. Frankie remembers the sax on his record was by Nick Salamone, so I assume he was a member of The Premiers as well.

A second, mysterious record came out a couple years later on the Lawn label, reissuing the Premiers’ “Shawnee” track, now credited to The Nite-Niks. The new B-side was “Horn Shakin”, which naturally featured a sax. I wonder of we can credit this to Mr. Salamone? Some believe this B-side to be Kathy Lynn & The Playboys in disguise,

Anyway, as a DJ, Frankie got his start when he took over for Lucky Pierre at The Dellwood, a famous downtown night spot for the young set. But his longest-lived local gig was at The Three Coins on Niagara Falls Blvd, where he worked along nine years. But that’s dwarfed by his amazing 30+ years with Royal Caribbean cruise lines!

Frankie’s TV career consists of two shows, the Frankie Nestro Music Hour on Channel 29, and a 13-week music trivia show on Channel 2 which was co-hosted by DJ Lenny Rico. Lenny is the brother of the famous local jazz DJ Joe Rico – who was so loved by jazz musicians he’s been immortalized in several music tributes, included Illinois Jaquet’s “Port Of Rico”.

Todays’ track is from Frankie’s fifth release, Fran-Co 1003. “My Love” has a confusing history. It basically the same song and arrangement as another record, “Need You” by Johnny Jack. “Need You” used the same soprano-type counterpoint backing vocal. Johnny Jack (John A. Greco AKA Johnny Greco) was a Pittsburg singer, and the backing on HIS record is often credited to Janet Vogel of the Skyliners – but just as often to Lou Christie!

In any case, the writer credit on “Need You” is to Buddy Wheeler while “My Love” is credited to Nestro-Wheeler. So which came first? They both seem to have come out in early 1962. Further complicating things, Donnie Owens also cut “Need You” and actually placed on the charts with it. Donnie doesn’t sound similar but Frankie’ and Johnny Jack’s are VERY similar. Usually the Donnie Owens record is called a cover of Johnny Jack’s but some people place it the other way around, and nobody seems to know where Frankie’s fits in!

But the song is highly-regarded anyway. George Goodman & The Headliners rerecorded in 1966 (on Val) using the same instrumental track from Johnny Jack’s version. And recently Kenny Vance – a legend in doo wop circles – has been performing it in is shows, as can be found on YouTube.

 

45 Friday: FRANKIE NESTRO & THE FASCINATES – I Don’t Wanna Wait

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Frankie Nestro’s name may be familiar to music fans or anyone who attended record hops in the early 1960s. In fact, you may have heard him on the radio too, or seen him on TV. His name may be familiar to local record collectors too, but equally puzzling. Records bearing his name turn up but few people have seen all of them or even know how many there are! And a couple others seem to be related to him but are mysterious.

Mr. Nestro graciously agreed to meet with me, sat down and allowed me to ask him some questions. I think I can call him Frankie now, so – Frankie it is. He also brought along a scrapbook which was helpful in allowing me to mentally picture the teen music scene of the times.

Frankie was raised on Buffalo’s West Side. Born Frank Aguglia, he attended Grover Cleveland High School (and eventually the University at Buffalo, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves). He became interested in pop music of the day and formed a group called the Del-Tones. By the time they had attracted the interest of a man who wanted to get them into a studio, they were reduced to just two members. I believe the other Del-Tone was one ‘M.Gideli’, who shares the writing credit with Frankie on their first record. You’re The One / You’re My Love was recorded and issued in 1960.

The label was called Count Records. Frankie believes it was a New York City label. But he explained to me that at this young age (still a teenager) it was a big deal just making a record, and his interest wasn’t in who was running the business end; it was getting your name on a record, walking down the hall and having classmates look at you in a whole different light!

My belief is that Count Records was not a ‘label’ per se, and was actually locally-based. Count Records #100, credited to just The Del-Tones, was custom-pressed by RCA which suggests it was a one-off release, not part of a continuous series by an established label. The only previous release on a Count Records which seems similar was one by Ithaca’s Bobby Comstock. That 1958 release was also an RCA custom pressing. Comstock’s previous (debut) release was on MarLee Records which is associated with Buffalo radio DJs Tom Shannon and Phil Todaro; and the Del-Tones record has a publishing credit of Shan-Todd, another Shannon-Todaro side business. I wouldn’t be surprised if Shannon and Todaro were involved with Count.

The radio connection is important. Early on Frankie hooked up with DJ Lucky Pierre, appearing at his sock hops as a singer. Frankie knew enough about the music to understand the live deejay job, and eventually was asked to fill in for Pierre spinning records. Thus a dual career was born.

The next Nestro release was also on Count Records, showing a different numbering system (Count 1009). Credited to Frankie Nestro & The Fascinates, I Don’t Wanna Wait is a teen Rock’n’Roll track, while the standard Day By Day shows Frankie as more of a traditional ‘singer’. The Fascinates were both an instrumental and vocal backing group.

The record release story gets complicated here. Besides The Fascinates, Frankie also worked with a group called the Belvederes. The next and last Count Records release is just the Belvederes with a great two-sided instrumental single- From Out Of Nowhere / Tormented. And yet another numbering system (no actual number, only what looks like mastering numbers- 88611 and 88612). One side was co-written by Nick Ameno and the other side written by his father Charles Ameno. Nick Ameno got his start here. Later he would be one of the mainstays of long-lived locals Kathy Lynn & The Playboys – also know as The Buena Vistas and other names.

The Belvederes reappeared on the next one. Without Your Love / You Cheated, You Lied bore a credit of The Fabulous Frankie Nestro & The Belvederes. I covered this one in an article a couple weeks ago, so I’ll recap and just note it’s a Rocker backed with a cover version of The Shields’ doo-wop ballad.

The most interesting angle now is that it was the first appearance of a new label name, Fran-Co Records. Frankie doesn’t remember much about this label. The label looks exactly the same as the previous release on Count Records. I’ll speculate that it was really a continuation of Count, now renamed for FRANkie and COunt. Maybe this was done because there already was another Count Records out of NYC starting to have some success.

Fran-Co 1000 was followed by two records credited just to Frankie Nestro, My Love / Shimmey Twist (Fran-Co 1003) and Carolyn My Darling / My Love For You (Fran-Co 1004). Interestingly both sides of each of these are numbered 1003 and 1004, but the later bears ‘1004’ in large text on each side so we can assume that’s the intended number. This is the kind of confusing detail that small/ independent labels do – that makes record collectors tear out their hair!

While all this recording activity was going on Frankie was continuing to make personal appearances as a performer, but also working more and more as a live DJ. At some point the opportunity arose to become a radio DJ and Frankie took it. I’ve seen references to him being on WNIA, WUSJ and WLVL. Eventually he landed a couple TV shows, one of which was a trivia game show on Channel 29 which lasted 13 weeks. I believe the other was a kind of Bandstand-type show. Frankie remembers ALMOST making it on to the real American Bandstand. Most likely that, and some other breaks that didn’t come, were the result of not having the right management – and not making sure the music business wheels were greased, as was often necessary in those days.

Frankie started also dabbling in record promotional work. In 1961 he became the promo man for Motown Records for the western half of the state – an important market, for an exploding label. He held this job for quite some time. One of his most-intersting accomplishments was convincing Motown to flip Stevie Wonder’s I Don’t Know Why I Love You and push the other side. He believed My Cherie Amour was the hit side. Motown told him if he could get DJs to play that side they’d do it. he did, they did, and it was a smash.

Ultimately, nothing dramatic happened to end Frankie’s performing career. His other pursuits in the music business just took more and more of his time until he was no longer a performer. His music-making career ended around 1963 if not 1962. One more Nestro record did come out, in 1973, on Dayton Records – I haven’t seen it!.

Well, he didn’t give up ‘performing’ completely. About 30 years ago he connected with Royal Caribbean cruise lines and became a DJ for them. He still does this work to this day. He’s one of those rare people who found a (great!) niche in the music business and made it work for him.

45 Friday:- LENNY O’ HENRY – Goin’ To A Party

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

We lost one of the greats recently.

Danny L. Cannon Sr. passed away last Saturday. He was a humble man who kept a low profile. Most of his neighbors knew him as the guy who kept his East Ferry & Wohlers neighborhood clean, something he did for over 20 years on a voluntary basis.

Few knew that at one time this man crossed paths with James Brown, Clyde McPhatter, Dionne Warwick, Berry Gordy and Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons. In fact, the 4 Seasons sang backup on Danny’s records! Danny performed at The Apollo Theater and was a familiar face in New York City’s Brill Building scene. He appeared on stage as both one of the Drifters and one of the Clovers. His first group made records for several labels but as a solo artist he appeared on three major labels. His records are still played to this day for dancers on the European Soul scene and the Atlantic coast Beach Music Scene. His music has stayed in print into the Digital Age, with a couple of his songs regularly appearing on CDs compiling classic tracks for the R&B dance crowd.

The real start of Danny’s career came when he met a young Donnie Elbert and formed The Vibraharps. These young men eventually became the most prominent R&B vocal group in Buffalo in the style we now call Doo-Wop. They got a jump start when they were asked to become The Drifters for one night, backing Clyde McPhatter for his  New Year’s Eve show at Buffalo’s Plaza Theater as 1955 turned into 1956. They cut singles for New York City’s Beech Records in 1958 and Atco Records in 1959. Lenny usually got the lead vocal on the uptempo rock’n’roll sides. But that’s not what he really wanted. He wanted to sing the ballads.

Donnie Elbert left the Vibraharps early on and achieved success with hit records in three different decades, becoming a star as Rhythm & Blues turned into Soul music. The Vibraharps cut one more record locally and then drifted apart. Danny and group member Donald “Duck” Simmons found work in Toronto as a duo – Danny & Donnie – where they specialized in doing versions of Everly Brothers songs!

With the promise of more work the group came back together and started performing in and out of town. An audition with Berry Gordy in Detroit resulted in an offer to sign to Motown which the group had to turn down. They had signed with some New York City people just days before. It was 1961. New York City beckoned again. The Vibraharps went off to record a single for ABC-Paramount. At this time Danny met the man who would become a friend and guide his career for the next few years: Bob Crewe.

The record was “Cheated Heart”, written by Danny. When it came out it was billed to Lenny O’Henry & The Short Stories. Danny was told he was going to be the front man, he would be called Lenny O’Henry, and he was asked to sign a contract a separate contract from the whole group. And that was the end of the Vibraharps.

Now a true solo artist, Danny cut a second Lenny O’Henry single for ABC-Paramount in 1962. 1963 found him on Smash Records recording “Mr. Moonlight”. Danny always regretted the changes Bob Crewe made to his composition, believing it could have been a bigger hit his way. Regardless, the track found a home years later in the European ‘Popcorn’ dance scene, where it’s considered a classic.

Danny found his way back to Atco Records in late 1963 where the last three Lenny O’Henry singles came out. The first is the one that’s the most well-known to England’s Northern Soul crowd. “Across The Street” was something of a hit – twice (it was issued in 1963 and again in 1967). The biggest chart success at the time was in the USA but it was issued in many countries and sold well around the world. Even bigger success was to come many years later.

Originally Danny wrote most of the material, with contributions from Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio (of the 4 Seasons, who wrote all of their hits). As time went on Danny found his material was being shelved and he was being presented with songs he didn’t like. He became estranged from the New York City guys. Live performances continued where he associated with the likes of James Brown and Dionne Warwick. But it wasn’t so much fun for Danny anymore. The music business was changing and it was changing him. He saw the bad side of the business – the way some of the stars acted – and didn’t he want to become like that. He missed his original group. He wanted to come back to Buffalo, to his people.

When he walked away from the music business in 1965 it was over for him. He never recorded again. He left that life behind completely. He lived on the East Side among people who never really knew that Danny Cannon was once recording artist Lenny O’Henry. Danny himself didn’t know the true extent of what he had done. Unbeknownst to him, his records became more and more popular over time among Soul music fans in Europe, Japan and certain parts of America. Deejays were spinning them at clubs and buying up original copies and eventually the tracks came back into print on legitimate CDs as well as on unofficial (underground) CD compilations. In two particular places – the UK and the Atlantic coast Resort areas centered around the Carolinas – the name Lenny O’Henry became iconic and “Across The Street” a stone classic.

Danny and his family weren’t aware of his renewed popularity, partly because his new fans couldn’t find him, partly because when they did he didn’t want to reply, choosing to leave the past behind. It was only very recently that he became aware of the extent of his fame and interested in talking about the past, and seemed delighted to find that his music still made peo[ple happy.

It’s likely that somewhere this weekend, in the UK or on the Continent, a DJ will be spinning an original copy of “Across The Street” and people will be dancing to it.

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Today’s post is in honor of Danny’s passing but really in honor of his life and career. I covered his story before but only briefly and I didn’t have as much info. After getting to meet him and talk, I now have lots of info! Keep an eye out for more stuff related to Danny, as there are some projects in discussion.

This is the B-side of the second Lenny O’Henry record, which is really Danny’s first true solo record (the earlier Lenny O’Henry record was actually the Vibraharps with Danny leading).
“Goin’ To A Party” is a very Sam Cooke-sounding song which uses the titles and lyrics to many Soul / R&B songs of its day as the lyrics, showing the clever songwriting of Danny. And it’s a great uptempo track!