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?