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.
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!