45 Friday: NANCY LEE – Xmas Dream

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Merry Christmas!  Here’s a Seasonal item – a little unwrapped gift from Buffalo’s cool low-budget but prolific (and musically tasty) 1970s Soul label Mo Do Records.

We covered Mo Do Records in the past somewhat, and some day we’ll do an in-depth feature on them. But here’s a little bit of background. William Nunn, Sr. (aka Billy Nunn) lived in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighborhood. In the late 1960s he decided to start a record label and put together his own recording studio. Thoughts of chart success didn’t really figure in the plan – it was mainly for fun and as a possible way to keep neighborhood youths off the streets.

Mo Do 101 came out in 1967. Bob & Gene’s You Gave Me Love/ Your Name was an effort by Billy’s son Bobby Nunn and his friend Eugene Coplin. In 1968 Mo Do 102 was issued – Hipper Than Me by The Four Andantes.

The label’s run of singles releases ended with Mo Do 128, the last of the six Bob & Gene 45s. If you’re keeping score that’s 28. But two of the catalog numbers are unaccounted for, either unused numbers or unknown releases. And Mo Do also released two LPs.

 

Even that isn’t entirely accurate though, because in the 2000s a collector tracked down Billy Sr. and gained access to his stock and masters. This led to the release of a ‘new’ Bob & Gene single followed by an album including their singles sides and previously unreleased material. Ultimately two of the Bob & Gene tracks found their way onto motion picture soundtracks.

A few of the people who got their start at Mo Do went onto to success in the R&B world. Levi Ruffin Jr, Bobby Nunn and Billy Nunn, Jr. all attained success in the music business.

Not so for Nancy Lee. In fact, I’m sorry to say I know nothing about her. No info has come to light and she seems to have disappeared completely (at least from the music world) following her two releases here. Sandwiched in between two Bob & Gene platters came Mo Do 126 (X-Mas Dream / X-Mas Commercial Blues, in 1971) and 127 (No Words For Love / In My Dreams, in 1972). Though that last Bob & Gene record has a later catalog number I have a feeling it was recorded earlier and Nancy’s records were the last two recorded at Mo Do.

X-Mas Commercial Blues is an uptempo Soul to Jazz track, lamenting the commercial side of Christmas. It doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that would likely make the charts in 1971. But in 2013 it was considered good enough to be reissued on a CD compilation (and corresponding digital download) titled  “Santa’s Funk & Soul Christmas Party Vol 2”, on Germany’s Tramp Records.

X-Mas Dream – a Holiday ballad – has a timeless Soul sound with an unusual vocal approach. I certainly never could have pinned it down to 1971 just from listening.

Backing is by Al Johnson & The Soul-jers and their name is somewhat familiar but at the moment I’m drawing a blank on them too!

Maybe more will be revealed on Ms. Lee in the future. Meanwhile, here’s something to enjoy with your eggnog!

 

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45 Friday: LENNY O’HENRY – Mr. Moonlight

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

 

Last week we talked about Danny Cannon in his one-off identity as L. B. Wilson, recording in 1963 for Bob Crewe’s Vivid label. Today we’ll cover his equally short stay with the big-time Smash Records label. It lasted for just one release, but it’s a great record!

Danny came to Smash having already been renamed ‘Lenny O’Henry’ by Crewe, and having made two singles for the powerhouse ABC-Paramount label . There was still some confusion though, because the first copies of Smash 8200 – the promotional copies – called him ‘Lenny O. Henry’.

Crewe got Lenny signed to Smash at the same time he was recording him under another name for his own Vivid label. As we said previously the reasons for that aren’t clear. But it made for two nice releases for Danny in 1963.

His Vivid single “Don’t” had a pronounced Latin aspect to the Soul sound. But his Smash “Mr. Moonlight” has a more subtle Latin sound, mainly in the rhythm. It’s the same kind of Latin influence that Atlantic was using so successfully on records by The Drifters (“Up On The Roof”, “Under The Boardwalk”), Ben E. King and others. “Mr. Moonlight” takes it to another level though, building to a crescendo worthy of Roy Orbison.

There was another famous “Mr. Moonlight” but it has no relation. Or almost no relation. Performed by Dr. Feelgood & The Interns, it had been written by the band’s guitarist Roy Lee Johnson earlier but recorded by them for Okeh in 1962. Dr. Feelgood & The Interns have their own great story. Dr. Feelgood was previously known as Piano Red (though really named William Lee Perryman), under which name he’d been playing and recording Blues on piano since the 1930s. The Dr. Feelgood identity was his attempt to get back into music, this time in R&B, after having left the musician life for Radio DJ work.

Did the Feelgood track influence the Lenny O’Henry track of one year later? Well, it has a Latin rhythm (maybe it’s supposed to be a Calypso rhythm). Some of the lyrical ideas are similar. But I guess it’s likely two random songs that personify ‘moonlight’ are going to have similarities regardless.

Incidentally, most people know Dr. Feelgood’s “Mr. Moonlight” from it’s John Lennon-sung cover by The Beatles.

 

Danny, er, Lenny’s record is a Big Production number with lots going on. It starts out sparsely. Instruments are slowly added. Backing vocals come in – the first part is done by The Four Seasons. Then after the violins become more pronounced, female studio singers are added. Leading to a big finish and some great lead vocal moves.

“Mr. Moonlight” was first written by Danny, who cut a demo of it and brought it to Crewe who took it, made some changes and brought it back to Danny. He found it hard to sing since the words didn’t fit the meter so well anymore, but in the end it was Bob’s call and that was how it got cut. This is why the writing credit is to Cannon/Crewe. A cynical person might wonder if Crewe made the changes only to take credit, but he doesn’t seem to have been that type of person. He already had successful songs solely written by himself, with much a more extensive and lucrative catalog to follow.

In any case Danny regretted the changes and felt the song would have been better as he’d written it, and could have been a big hit. It did do moderately well. But it took the Europeans to really pick up on it, and as the Popcorn scene developed on the Continent, the song became more and more popular through the Seventies and into the Eighties.

Popcorn is a kind of Soul/ R&B music that has it’s own cult following in Europe. The more uptempo Northern Soul music found its biggest home in England, but the epicenter of the Popcorn Soul music scene is Belgium. In fact, it’s often called Belgium Popcorn. The records tend to be older (early 60s) than the Motown-inspired later 60s tracks popular in the Northern scene, and many have just this type of Latin rhythm. “Mr. Moonlight” is an almost perfect example of Popcorn and it’s considered a classic in that scene.

After this lone Smash release Danny found himself signed to the main exponent of this type of sound, Atlantic Records. Well, Atlantic subsidiary Atco Records. But that is another story,

 

 

45 Friday: L.B. WILSON – Don’t

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

 

One of the great things about record collecting and record detective work is when you think you know everything, have heard everything; and you learn something new!

The recent passing of Soul/ R&B singer Danny Cannon, while a loss to our local music community, has had the positive result of his legacy now becoming known to more people, and more parts of his story being revealed. Danny’s neighbor Liesha Williams helped him try to get back in contact with producer Bob Crewe. Through that she uncovered another Danny recording and has brought it to my attention (thanks!).

We’ve covered Danny’s career in the past. I’ll sum it up briefly here, to bring us up to 1963.

Danny was a founding member of The Vibraharps in 1956 and continued with them, through breakups and re-formations, until they splintered for good in 1961. At that time they had auditioned for Berry Gordy. He wanted to sign them – but their management had simultaneously made a deal with ABC-Paramount, an offer they couldn’t refuse.

The producer for their session was Bob Crewe. He had them record a song Danny had written. “Cheated Heart” featured Danny’s lead over the group’s harmonies. But without telling them, Crewe had renamed the group and presented them as leader and backing group – Lenny O’Henry & The Short Stories. He had also signed Danny to a separate contract, sensing that he had the most talent and potential.

This of course didn’t go over too well with the guys, It was the end of the group and the true beginning of Danny’s solo career as ‘Lenny’.

One more for ABC-Paramount followed, in 1962. By 1963 Lenny O’Henry was signed to Smash Records. At the same time, a record by L. B. Wilson appeared on the new Vivid Records label out of New York City.

Bob Crewe had a specific way of working. He gathered the most talented people he could find around him, put them all into the studio, and while he had a ‘directive’ style of producing, was open to creative input from any of them. Many of his artists were songwriters – as Danny was – but they might be encouraged to record a song by another of his artists if it felt right to Bob.

Bob’s inner circle included arranger Charlie Calello and writer Bob Gaudio (formerly of The Royal Teens, and later a member The Four Seasons and their principle songwriter along with Crewe). The Four Seasons were used often in the studio as background vocalists – one website that tried to nail down this information places them on almost 100 ‘outside’ sessions, mostly involving Crewe. Rumor had it that they san on one or two Lenny O’Henry sessions but my latest research shows it more likely they sang on most if not ALL of them!

Other groups regularly used together with or in place of the New Jersey boys were girl groups The Angels, and The Rag Dolls (aka the “Female 4 Seasons”). All these artists sang on each other’s records. Bob Crewe seems to have loved harmony vocals as well as distinctive lead voices. When he found voices he loved he worked tirelessly and open-mindedly to make artistic creations with them. He must have LIVED in the studio, and expected the same from his musicians. He did so much recording you have to wonder if simply creating great records was as much of a goal as ‘making hits’.

For this reason, I think it’s logical to assume that Crewe utilized Danny’s vocal talents on other sessions. This seems to be true of his other artists. But there’s no way to know for sure.

In 1963 Crewe created the Vivid label, running it out of New York City. There was another Vivid label which features R&B and Blues artists like Shakey Jake Horton but it was distributed by VeeJay. It seems to have been from Chicago and unrelated.

However it’s interesting to note that the Four Seasons were also on VeeJay. By the way, for those too young to know- at this time, the Four Seasons were the BEST-SELLING GROUP in the USA. 1963, VeeJay had ’em, as well as The Beatles, the best-selling group outside the USA. And lost boh of them!

So, maybe Vivid had been affiliated with VeeJay at one time, but at this time it was clearly Bob Crewe’s endeavor. There were only four releases on it. Vivid 1001 is a studio-group novelty. Vivid 1003 is a Crewe-Calello creation credited to singer Kevin McQuinn, formerly of the Mello-Kings. McQuinn made further records on other labels with the Crewe / Calello / Bob Gaudio team. His Vivid single was written by Bob Boulanger.

Vivid 1004 was by Van Trevor – real name: Bob Boulanger! It supposedly features the Four Seasons. Later the Four Seasons would record a Boulanger song for their Rag Doll album. Boulanger (aka Bob Bollinger), who also wrote Freddy Cannon’s “Abigail Beecher” and played lead guitar on it, is mostly known under his stage name of Van Trevor, which was concentrated in the Country music field eventually.

[ Train-spotter followers of local music will note a curiosity regarding Van Trevor. His “Satisfaction Guaranteed” was issued on Canadian American, but also on a strange release by Corsican Records. The same Corsican Records as owned by Tommy Shannon and Phil Todaro – well, sort-of. And it strangely was found in a cover version by a Syracuse radio deejay – maybe we’ll cover that some day. ]

Anyway, I say all that to give you the flavor of what it was like to be in the studio with Crewe and associates. Basically, everybody was contributing, and the recording was prolific! Which brings us to Vivid 1002. Credited to L. B. Wilson, it paired “Don’t” with “Poco Loco” (actually an instrumental version of “Don’t”, subtitled “Part 2”).

 

 

 

“Don’t” is a Latin Soul / Pop record. L. B. Wilson is actually Danny Cannon. The track was produced and written by Bob Crewe and includes the Four Seasons on backup vocals. It’s a cool track with prominent horns and a twangy six-strong bass guitar. The mostly instrumental flipside adds a wailing harmonica solo over the whole track and a rave-up finish with gospel-y vocal shouts; it sounds like a party in the studio and I bet they had a ball. You can pretty much visualize Danny with Frankie Valli and the boys when you listen.

Incidentally, this record is a good example of the different styles that appealed (and still appeal) to the European Soul club dancers – the A-side is perfect for ‘Soulies’ (Northern Soul fans) while the B-side is one for the Mods.

Billboard Magazine’s Jul 27, 1963 issue carries an ad for Bob Crewe Productions which interestingly promotes the “Poco Loco” side, calling it a Regional Breakout. The same ad mentions a ‘Coming Attraction – Lenny O’Henry on Smash Records’.

The almost-simultaneous release is interesting. Was this was just a way to put out extra product? Or a way around Danny’s contract with Smash?

In any case the L. B. Wilson record wasn’t a ‘hit’ yet it must have sold in decent quantity- it’s fairly available. The Wilson name was retired but Danny continued recording with Crewe as Lenny O’Henry for the rest of his recording career. When Danny had a falling-out with Bob it was the beginning of the end of his career in music and the end of a friendship. Danny didn’t try to contact his former mentor for decades. When he finally did, in 2013, it was to no avail. Bob was in assisted care and not returning phone calls.

Bob Crewe passed away on September 11, 2014. Danny passed away two weeks later, on September 27, 2014.

45 Friday: DON STEWART & THE FENDERMEN – More Than Words Can Tell

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

I first wrote about the Fendermen way back in December of 2012. Yes, that’s how long I’ve been doing 45 Friday, because that was my FIRST 45 Friday article! 100+ articles down the road and here we are again.

I wrote then about their great “Fas-Nacht-Kuechel” record. But I never got around to their second 45.

Last week we talked about the local DAB Records label and DAB 101 (Charles Hargro, backed by The Vibraharps). The music end of the DAB partnership was Bobby Fonville and Ralph Hernandez who wrote and produced the Hargro single. But they apparently had no involvement with the Fendemen, whose “Fas-Nacht-Kuechel” / “Rain Drop” was issued on DAB 102 in 1959.

Whenever we mention the Fendermen we have to clear up any residual confusion with the (Wisconsin) Fendermen whose national hit ‘”Muleskinner Blues” overshadowed the local Fendermen. Discographers – and even compilers of a Wisconsin Fendermen album – have lumped the Niagara Frontier guys in with the Midwest guys but let there be no confusion – they’re not related. And the Buffalo Fendermen came first!

And this should be obvious to Rock’n’Roll fans: the name in both cases came from the Fender guitars they used.

By 1960 the local band had become “The Fabulous Fendermen” probably in deference to the success of the other Fendermen. When they played the Erie County Fair that year the members were Jimmy Lennon and Mike Usola – guitars; Larry Blaze – sax; Freddy Germann – drums; with Don Stewart as vocalist. A newspaper article lists those members, although Mike Usola is misnamed Isola and Freddy Germann misnamed Greman.

The writing credits of their first 45 named Usola and Germann along with Brent Palmer. He was definitely a member in 1959, but isn’t mentioned in the 1960 news article. Whether he had moved on by then, or was simply overlooked in the article, I can’t say.

1960 also saw the release of the second and last Fendermen record, which was the third and last DAB record. DAB 103 coupled “More Than Words Can Say” with “You’re The Girl”. Don Stewart and a Terry Gibson get the first writing credit, Mike Usola the second.

This one is credited to Don Stewart With The Fendermen. Mr. Stewart’s role in the band is up for question. The news article lists him as vocalist and I’m sure he was, but he doesn’t seem to have a great voice. I’ve heard that he was actually the owner of the local tavern at which they played. Perhaps it was this aspect more than his vocal talent that earned him a role. A vocalist position was secondary for this band anyway since they were mainly an instrumental band (their first record consists of two instros). I have a feeling Mr. Stewart funded this recording, making it more of a self-release and less something motivated by the label owners. This is validated by Bob Skurzewski’s report than even decades DAB partner Bobby Fonville was not aware there had ever been a third single on the label!

“You’re The Girl” (misspelled “Your The Girl” on the label) is a teener ballad. Not bad, but not great. It HAS been complied, however, on a CD of similar teen idol-type tracks. But “More Than Words Can Tell is something of a Rocker. It was included on an unauthorized 1988 LP release titled Rock Moon Rock by White Label Records out of The Netherlands. For which the cover art features – The Wisconsin Fendermen. Of course!