LENNY O’HENRY & The SHORT STORIES (The VIBRAHARPS) – Billy The Continental Kid

45-Friday_4

By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

As Buffalo’s most successful ‘doo-wop’ group – more accurately: most successful Rhythm & Blues Vocal group – The Vibraharps did well locally. But like most musicians they found there wasn’t a lot of opportunity here. Besides their local shows at places like the Club Zanzibar and the Kitty-Kat, they did live appearances out of town and did most of their recording in New York City. Even so it was hard to keep the group together and they split up several times.

Donnie Elbert and Danny Cannon co-founded the group in 1955, joined by Donald ‘Duck’ Simmons, Douglas Gibson, and Charles Hargro. Donnie was still in the group when they made their first record (written by Buffalonians Bobby Fonville & Ralph Hernandez) for NYC’s Beech Records. In fact Donnie was in the studio but due to a group squabble he didn’t sing on it!

So it’s not surprising that he was the first to leave, beginning his solo career on Deluxe Records in 1957. He continued to stay in touch and remained friendly with the group though. As he was hitting the charts the Vibraharps were breaking up – for the first time. During this down time Charles Hargro went to work as his driver.

They reunited, broke up again, reunited again. At one point Danny Cannon and Duck Simmons took off to Toronto to perform as a duet, “Danny & Donnie”, singing Everly Brothers covers!

During one of their reunions the Vibraharps brought in Thomas ‘Cookie’ Hardy Jr who had a bonus talent – he could write R&B / R&R songs. He wrote both sides of their 1959 single on Atco Records. Later in 1959 they recorded a single for a local label which saw them working with Bobby Fonville & Ralph Hernandez once again. It featured Hargro and credited only him on the label. Unfortunately not much in the way of financial or chart success resulted from either of these 1959 efforts.

They were drifting in and out of “active” status when local DJ Lucky Pierre took them under his wing. He hooked them up with new local management, a pair of hustlers with all kinds of connections. With the promise of work and good pay the group came solidly together and started performing in and out of town.

Somehow the came to the attention of Berry Gordy (maybe through Donnie Elbert, who was also courted by the Gordy empire). They auditioned for Motown Records in Detroit, resulting in a contract offer. Unfortunately they had to turn this offer down. Their managers virtually simultaneously signed them to a deal with business contacts in New York City.

In 1961 the Vibraharps went off to NYC to record their first single, for music business powerhouse 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”. 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. Danny – not wanting to go behind their backs – disclosed this to the group and asked them what to do. Though they encouraged him to move forward with his career and appeared to accept secondary status as ‘his’ group, it was really the end of the Vibraharps. They never recorded together again, and Danny – though achieving some solo success – never was able to find the same feeling in the music business as he did when he was one of the boys.

“Cheated Heart” was written by Danny. Bob Crewe wrote the flip side, a rocking number titled “Billy The Continental Kid”, a tale of hip cat Billy from Philly. Danny didn’t really care for this one that much. In general, he liked to sing ballads or anything in a Sam Cooke direction. Yet producers and his band mates often pushed him to do uptempos and rockers.

So – “Cheated Heart” / “Billy The Continental Kid” is the last actual Vibraharps group record and also the first Danny Cannon solo record, though it’s credited to Lenny O’Henry & The Short Stories. All of which points out why recording artists are sometimes not given their due; when their actual recording histories are so hard to unravel, few people seem to care, and those who want to remember – well, their memories aren’t getting any BETTER.

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