45 Friday: ELSIE STRONG – Baby Oh Baby

 

 

45-Friday_4

 

By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

 

Information on this one is sketchy! Where have we heard that before? The truth is that information on a LOT of these is sketchy. There’s a few reasons. One is that no one cared about them for many years. They were Oldies, old and forgotten. The people involved were long gone, one way or another, and had moved on with their lives. If one could track down the folks involved it meant having to filter information through faulty memories, recollections colored by resentments, the purposeful withholding of info… and record business machinations. It often wasn’t in the best interests of people to out out the full truth then – or now.

Buffalo’s Bobby Fonville and Ralph Hernandez wrote the two songs comprising the first release by local doo-woppers The Vibraharps on Beach Records, 1956. The group included members Danny Cannon (latter to record as Lenny O’Henry), Charles Hargro and Donnie Elbert. The Vibraharps didn’t get a second chance at recording until late 1958. By the time of that Atco Records release Donnie Elbert had already moved on to his successful solo career. The Atco single was only moderately successful and the group found themselves without a record deal.

At that time they returned to a working relationship with Fonville and Hernandez. The songwriting duo had now formed their own label, DAB Records, based in Buffalo. For DAB Records 101 they dug out “Baby Oh Baby”, a song they have stated was written back in 1956 while they were peddling their songs and trying to get a break in New York City.

“Baby Oh Baby” backed with “Over And Over” was issued in 1959. It was credited to just Charles Hargro (real name: Charles Hargrove) but believed by collectors to actually be the Hargro as lead vocal with the Vibraharps backing him. This was confirmed in an interview with Danny Cannon. I personally consider it a Vibraharps release.

Supposedly 16,000 copies of this single were pressed and sold out quickly, almost all locally. The DAB label had the potential to do well locally as it included a good mix of qualities among the partners- two songwriter/ producers, a WKBW deejay, a promoter and a successful businessman – but they had no ability to sell the record outside of the local market. With no distribution, and having turned down offers to sell the record to a national label, that was the end of it.

 

Here’s where the first mystery comes in. NYC doo-wop group The Shells issued a song called “Baby Oh Baby” on Johnson Records in 1957. It’s so similar to the Fonville/ Hernandez composition that it isn’t likely to be a coincidence. Did the songwriters play their song for someone in NYC who reused it, without their knowledge? Or did they sell the rights to it back then, only to later reuse it themselves? It’s even possible that the Shells release is the actual original, the inspiration for the song the local guys cut with Hargro.

For what it’s worth the Shells version was a minor hit on first release in 1957 but was re-released and entered Billboard’s Top 40 on December 31, 1960. Labels give that songwriting credit to a member of the Shells and two unknown people.

 

 

And here’s the second mystery comes in. Elsie Strong was a singer from Virginia. For reasons unknown she cut a record on Hit Time, a local label, or at least one with local connections. According to Bob Skurzewski, Bobby Fonville cut this as a demo of his songs, specifically wanting to hear “Baby Oh Baby” as done by a female. There’s no date on it but my guess is it came out in 1962-3. In that case “Baby Oh Baby” probably already sounded dated, while the new flip, “Satisfied”, sounded ahead of it’s time! “Satisfied” has a Northern Soul (Motown) sound, a sound which was only just beginning at this time.

Rumor has it that the Vibraharps are singing backup on this but it’s unlikely. It is definitely NOT the same backing track. It’s possible that the backing bass vocal is Hargro but Danny Cannon was probably no longer in the Buffalo area at this time. It’s not proven that this record originated from the Buffalo area, but it’s most likely so.

“Satisfied” is credited to Fonville only, while “Baby Oh Baby” carried its original Fonville and Hernandez credit. The producer credit is to J. Lyons. Jimmy Lyons was Buffalo’s first full-time Black disc jockey. He was a mentor to future star DJs Frankie Crocker and Gary Byrd. He started in 1955 on WXRA, then worked at WINE and WWOL. In 1961 WUFO hired him fulltime and he began broadcasting his show “The Lyons Den” on a daily basis.

So once again it looks like the radio business intersected with the music business. Maybe Lyons actually produced it, maybe he merely had his name added for ‘marketing’ reasons and Fonville actually produced it.

 

Supposedly “Baby Oh Baby” was the first song played on air when the Hound (George Lorenz) activated WBLK. In any case it did receive strong airplay there. Another connection there – former DAB Records partner Stu Levy was also part of the original WBLK investment team. For those not old enough to remember, Levy was also a mayoral candidate in later years.

Elsie Strong appears to have no other connection to Western New York. She did make more records but all seem to be from the Virginia area, including two with Frank Guida (one on his famous Legrand label). I’ve never seen any other Hit Time releases but I’ve been informed there are others and they are in the Country genre. I’d have to see one to figure out if it’s the same label as it seems kind of a likely name for record labels.

So is Hit Time 183 a Buffalo record? Probably! Are the Vibraharps on it? Probably not; not exactly anyway. Will we ever know the whole story behind it? Stay tuned to this station…

——————————-

Thanks to Bob Skurzewski for first uncovering some of this info!

 

 

 

45 Friday: (CLINT HOLMES &) THE CLASSMEN – I’m Warning You

45-Friday_4

 

By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

 

Clint Holmes was born in England in 1946. His father was an African-American jazz musician and his mother a classically-trained English opera singer. As he says, “my mom taught me how to sing correctly, and my dad taught me how to enjoy it”.  I suspect his father was in the service and probably originally from Western New York, and brought his new family home with him when the war ended.

In any case, Clint was raised in Farnham, New York – right down the Lake Erie shore from Buffalo. I believe he attended Lake Shore High School in Angola.

By the mid-1960s Clint had become a student at Fredonia State College, studying vocal music. At some point he became part of a group called the Classmen and they got the chance to put out a record. “I’m Warning You”/ “I Won’t Cry” came out on the one-off CM label. From the sound I’d place it at 1963. Unfortunately I don’t know who the other Classmen were but I’d guess they were also college students. Clearly Clint is the star of the show, taking the vocal leads and getting the sole writing credit for both sides.

 

 

“I’m Warning You” is a decent uptempo side. The flip, “I Won’t Cry”, is a ballad, as is typical. Both are enjoyable though hardly earth-shaking. I’m guessing the CM label was not actually a label, but a case of the guys taking a tape they’d made – maybe at school – and getting it pressed up in a small run of 500 copies to give to friends and family and sell at shows. Or maybe just for distribution at one particular event. You could call it a private pressing or a vanity pressing. The seem not to have put much thought into a label name – my assumption is that CM stands for Class Men.

Clint left school during the Vietnam War and joined the Army. From 1967–1969 he sang with the elite U.S. Army Chorus. When his enlistment was over he stayed on in the Washington area. Using D.C. as a base, he performed in nightclubs all around the East Coast.

His big break came in the early 1970s. ‘Playground of My Mind’ was released in July 1972 but, oddly, didn’t oddly reach the Hot 100 until March 1973! It then stayed in the top 100 for an amazing 23 weeks, easily obtaining Gold Record status. One factor in its success was the typical story of being pushed by local radio. In this case, the local station was WWDC from Clint’s new home base of Washington and Georgetown.

After the 45 and its accompanying album dropped off the charts Clint had trouble finding followup pop radio success.

Starting in the late 1970s he found work in Las Vegas. He also became Joan Rivers’ sidekick and announcer on “The Late Show”, later a talking head on “Entertainment Tonight” and even had his own short-lived (but Emmy award-winning) talk/variety show.

Ultimately he became a featured Vegas entertainer, attaining the highest levels of success possible there. Harrah’s Las Vegas Casino renamed its main showroom for him, and his live performances at the Clint Holmes Theater have been broadcast as well as released on DVD. Since moving to Las Vegas, Clint has quickly become a favorite in the Las Vegas community as well as star entertainer. He was selected as “Best Singer” by Las Vegas Life Magazine two years in a row) “Best All-Around Las Vegas Performer” by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In a 2006 PBS special of three top acts, Clint appeared alongside Barry Manilow and Andrea Boccelli.

Clint has continued writing songs, performed in plays and musicals (including Jesus Christ Superstar) and cabaret shows, and writing and performed several of his own musicals.
Many locals will remember him from his appearances co-hosting the annual Variety Kids telethon on WKBW-TV, for which he annually returned to Buffalo. Clint was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 2000.

45 Friday: THE JOE JEFFREY GROUP – My Pledge Of Love

45-Friday_4

 

 

Here’s a record which you may or may not be considered ‘local’, but I do, so let’s take a look at it and see what we can find. There’s not a lot of dependable info available and some of it it contradictory.

Joe was born Joseph Stafford. Jr. He adopted the stage name of  Joe Jeffrey, maybe because Joe Stafford could be confused with female pop singer Jo Stafford. There’s two competing stories concerning his upbringing. The most believable, that from his family, is that he was born Arkansas and then the family moved to Oregon. His family also writes (on a Wikipedia article about him) that they haven’t seen him for years, are concerned about him and are trying to find him.

The other story is that he was from Cleveland, Ohio. This version claims he was “a fixture of the Cleveland club circuit” before signing to Wand Records. Unfortunately Cleveland ‘Soul people’ don’t seem to recall him though he was apparently Cleveland-based at the time he was discovered. I think he became Buffalo-based after that. The big push for his career came from Buffalo.

The Joe Jeffrey Group is credited as consisting of Jeffrey (lead vocals and guitar), Al Russ (bass), Charles Perry (percussion) and Ron Browning (drums). My guess is that one of those percussionists actually is a keyboard player.

In early 1969, former Liberty Records salesman Alan Klein discovered them and produced Jeffrey’s self-composed “My Pledge Of Love” at Audio Recording Studios, a four track studio in Cleveland. Buffalo’s Jerry Meyers was brought in as a co-producer at some point and got the record picked up for national release by Wand Records. At that time he was working for the indie distributor handling Scepter/Wand in Western New York.

Meyers often used Cleveland studios for his recording work, and the duo of Meyers and Klein recorded at least two other acts at ARS: singer Jerry Tiffe, and Buffalo garage group Caesar & The Romans. All these releases came out on Scepter or Wand.

“My Pledge of Love” came out in the summer of 1969.” It reached #14 on the Billboard pop charts. It did better in some markets, hitting #9 on the WABC chart (New York City) and even higher in Buffalo and Rochester. It missed the R&B charts altogether – not surprising as it’s a more a mix of Pop and Soul than pure Soul music. There’s even a bit of folk influence on Joe’s guitar strumming – not unlike some of Johnny Rivers’ work. The noticeable strings added to the recording may have been Jerry Meyer’s contribution as he added similar strings to the record Buffalo band Burned made in Cleveland. The arranger credited on the album is group member Al Russ.

“Pledge” got released in Europe and South America. Argentina even put out Jeffrey’s album, with unique cover art. Four more Wand singles followed but none were hits.

The next two were done in Memphis at American Group Productions, produced by Meyers & Klein with Memphis legend Chips Moman. These Pop/Soul tracks compare favorably with the similar Memphis recordings Chips cut for Elvis Presley at the same time, same place. They even draw from the same stable of Elvis Memphis associates: Mark James (“Suspicious Minds”), Johnny Christopher and Elvis’ body guard Red West. They also were arranged by American Sound Studio staffer Glen Spreen who arranged Elvis’ sessions.

[Sidenote: Years later (1976) Big Wheelie & The Hubcaps, a follow-up to the afore-mentioned Caesar & The Romans, recorded tracks in Memphis, probably as a result of this Buffalo-Memphis connection. These tracks use the Memphis Horns. They’re out-of-character to the previous Big Wheelie ‘Oldies’ sound and have a great contemporary Roots Rock, even Soul sound which will surprise folks who didn’t care for their Fifties Revival sound. ]

The last two singles were credited as just Joe Jeffrey -solo. For these it was back to Cleveland with Meyers and Klein. “My Baby Loves Lovin’ ” had a chance but British group White Plains put out a competing version which bested it on the charts and went on to become a mega-hit.

Many local collectors consider the Joe Jeffrey Group a local group. Maybe the people who were around at the time know something I don’t! I don’t know if he played a lot locally but I know he played a bit. I remember him on a WKBW telethon and I suspect someone at WKBW was running his career. More clues come from his LP. The liner notes were written by KB DJ Sandy Beach who says that he first heard the song while on vacation, being played by another KB disc jockey, and he couldn’t wait to get back to work so he could play it. He claims he played it “once per hour for the next month”! I don’t doubt that, as KB Radio has burned the song into my brain.

The album collects many of the 45 sides and some covers of appropriate Pop, Rock and Soul sides. I took note that the cover was designed by Gordon James (Buffalo’s Gordon James Image Makers). And one of the two group originals has a writing credit of group member Russ plus a certain Weinstein. Hmm.. could that be a KB personality too?

45 Friday: LOU COURTNEY- Hot Butter N All (Part 1)

45-Friday_4

The search for info on Lou’s Buffalo background goes on unabated, but unrequited- so far.

Lots of information on his recording career and record releases is available but nothing had been known about his early life in Buffalo.

Teasing little bits of information have turned up. Someone sent me some links to news articles and each contains another piece of the puzzle. I’ll share some of the pieces with you- maybe it will lead somewhere somehow.

We know Lou was born Louis Pegues in 1944 to Louis R. and Georgia L. Pegues. A news clipping from 1946 shows the birth of a sister, and a family address of 84 Walnut.

A 1960 Courier-Express article from reveals the divorce of Lou’s parents and a new family address of 311 Madison Street.

Another Courier-Express article reveals Lou graduated from Hutchinson-Central Technical School (Hutch-Tech) in June 1962, where he studied Building Design and Construction. My guess is he probably sang with schoolmates there in an informal (pop) group, if not in a school group.

The 1966 Pittsburgh Courier has a photo of Lorraine Ellison as ‘Mercury Record’s New Singing Star’, with a dapper Mr. Courtney – described as her Recording Director – showing her some music charts. A trade publication article from 1966 discusses the signing of Walter Davis by ‘Mercury Records executive Lou Courtney’.

Most recently, a 2012 notice sadly announces the death of Timothy Terell Edwin Pegues in New York City, survived by his father Lou (now ‘Louis Pegues, Jr.’), mother Yvette Moore and two brothers. From that I assume Lou has been living in NYC.

Let’s look back to 1970 when Lou cut an amazing slice of Funk. “Hot Butter ‘N’ All” came out on a one-shot (actually two-shot) label as Hurdy Gurdy #101. It did nothing as far as sales due to its indie-label status but it has subsequently attained high status among Funk and Soul fans.

“Hot Butter ‘N’ All – Part 1” was credited to just Lou Courtney and it’s an amazing slice of hard Funk. Full of explosive energy, with hard drums and blaring horns, Lou puts it over the top with some James Brown-like screams.

The flipside, “Hot Butter ‘N’ All – Part 2”, is an instrumental version. Credited to Mr. C & Funck Junction, it’s the better-known side today because it’s perfect for mixing and sampling. Everything seems slightly ramped-up on this side which is hard to do because the Part 1 vocal version starts on a 9.5 out of 10! It seems to be mixed hotter and has some overdubbed instruments.

Proving that a good track should never go wasted, “Part 2” turns up again on the apparent only other release on Hurdy-Gurdy: “Life Is Free” by Donald Height. Height previously recorded for the Shout label, among others, but here he is uniquely also credited as ‘The Singing Preacher’. Hurdy Gurdy #C-100 uses the exact same backing track as “Hot Butter ‘N’ All – Part 2” but adds entirely new lyrics. Less is known about this tiny label than even is known about the early life of Lou Courtney so we’ll have to be content with this much – for now.

Enjoy the Funk!