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.