By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon
This week saw the passing of a man who was very important in the local music scene.
Junior Schenk’s time in the Buffalo area proper was relatively short but it included that crucial time in Rock’n’Roll between the initial impact of Presley, Holly and Little Richard and the rise of the Beatles. He came from the Southern Tier area and returned there after he was done. In his area – Bemus Point (where he ran the Surf Club) and Jamestown – he became a legend. But his time in Buffalo is not well-remembered and has never been documented.
The ‘big deal’ in the R&R world of the Fifites in the Southern part of this region was Billy Lehman and his group. They cut one of the first true Rock’n’Roll 45s from this area, and followed it with two more. All three were true R&R band records, as opposed to a single artist or vocal group. 1958’s “Take It Easy, Greasy” was a Bill Haley-style raver. Their vision of a Rockin’ R&R band sound stayed true to the roots and continued even as this group of associated musicians changed personnel and band names.
They were known first as Bill Lehman & The Rock-Itts, later as Billy Lehman & The Penn-Men (named perhaps because they ranged down to Northern PA). They got up North enough to have their first 45 carry an address of “The Hotel Hamburg, Hamburg New York”, from which I assume they hold forth at times. Lehman played guitar, Shenck played guitar and sang, and Mousey (aka Mousie, aka Roy A. “Mouse” Gage) played standup bass and sang.
Clyde Dickerson – who later made records out of the Southern Tier as Clyde Dickerson & The Teardops and Red Arrow & The Braves (see previous articles) – played sax. Tony DiMaria was the drummer.
We should probably clarify one things now: Paul R. Schenck, Jr was known to his friends as Junior or Junie. On all records bearing his name he used his stage name of Junior Shank. So from here on out, he will be Junior Shank.
After three 45s things changed. Other musicians got involved and the changes are somewhat confusing. Shank, Gage and DiMaria morphed into The Jesters. Lee Markish joined as lead guitarist and co-vocalist and John Capello came in on sax.
Markish’s real name was Leroy Markish but that didn’t stop him from calling himself Lee Marcus, Lee Davey and Lee Carroll as well. Capello shows up all over Buffalo R&R, as the sax player on The Tunerockers’ “Green Mosquito” and lead vocalist with the Graduates!
At some point Peter Haskell took over on bass in the The Jesters, replacing Mousie’s standup bass with his electric. The group was run by DiMaria who acted as leader, and Carl Cisco became the Jester’s manager.
Bill Lehman himself stepped back into a manager role and formed a new Rock-Itts around guitarist/vocalist Billy Quadt, using members of Billy Quadt’s band (including Dave Rosean on guitar).
[ Quadt used the stage name Quad, and his band may previously have been called Billy Quad & The Ravens, but were once again The Ravens in time for their 1965 single on Sahara. ]
Eventually Capello left the Jesters to join Billy Quad’s The Rock-Itts. The Jesters replaced him with saxist Eddy Jay (Eddie Hoagland). Later Haskell too left to join the Rock-Itts, and was replaced by Kenny Mills.
Peter Haskell eventually ended up joining Stan & The Ravens. Ironic, because Billy Quad had named HIS Ravens in honor of Stan Szelest’s group!
This is simple enough – two separate bands – but it seems that Lee Markish also played with Quad’s Rock-Itts, filling in for Dave Rosean on the road! Markish ended up in a trio with Quad in the mid-60s anyway: The Soulful Bowlful.
Another thing the bands had in common is that both were ‘house bands’ at Downtown Buffalo’s Jann’s Casino. The Jesters were followed in by The Rock-Itts.
Which brings us to today’s record. 1963’s “The Big T” / “What’d I Say” came out on Candy Cane label in 1963. The Twist craze was in high gear and both songs do have a Twist rhythm. Jann’s Casino opened a room called The Candy Cane Lounge, referencing the famous Peppermint Lounge of NYC which was ground zero for the Twist fad. “The Big T” seems to refer to The twist itself. The labels proudly boast “Recorded Live at The Candy Cane Lounge” and includes crowd noises, like Joey Dee’s “Peppermint Twist” and “Shout” and others of the genre.
Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” is perfect for this frenzied treatment. For this reason it was covered by many bands, from frat-rockers and Rockabillys to garage-rockers.
Junior sings both sides of this, and it sure sounds frantic! From listening to this you can guess at the wild show they delivered. And the story on Junie is that in later years he only became MORE of a showman – doing handstands and back flips onstage.
At some point he left the now Buffalo-based group. He pursued a music career ‘down South’ and eventually focused his efforts on his Chautauqua Lake club.
Not long afterward The Jesters reached the pinnacle of their career when they were picked by Tom Shannon to replace the original Rebels and become The Rockin’ Rebels, recording many singles under that name, and most of the “Wild Weekend” album.
Junie has passed on but his Rocking efforts live on; on vinyl, on YouTube, and in the memories of the people who saw his entertaining shows.
Note: in the pictures used in this video, the Jesters are Jay, Haskell, DiMaria, Markish and Shank.