By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon
We’ve been talking about the Jesters. A long-lived band, but little remembered; probably because much of their work was released under other names. There were only three singles under the actual Jesters name. This is the second of them.
The backstory: Billy Lehman’s late-1950s Rock ‘n’ Roll band The Rock-Itts was based around Jamestown but worked North into the Buffalo suburbs.
When they split up Lehman built a new Rock-Itts using singer/guitarist Billy Quad and members of his band, Lehman stepping back into a management role.
Former Rock-Itts Junior Shank (real name: Shenck), Roy ‘Mouse’ Gage and Tony DiMaria formed a new band, The Jesters. Their guitar & vocals, bass and drums (respectively) were augmented by Lee Markish on guitar and ex-Tunerocker, ex-Graduate Johnny Capello on sax. Mousie was soon replaced by Peter Haskell, amping them up to ELECTRIC bass.
Capello left the Jesters for Lehman’s Rock-Itts where he was allowed to be a featured performer. When he had been lead singer of vocal group The Graduates he had worked under the name Johnny Holiday, a name he also used with the Rock-Itts.
Peter Haskell also defected from the Jesters to The Rock-Itts. At some point Billy Quad stepped forward to be the leader, the group now being billed as Billy Quad & The Rock-Itts; and Capello left.
The Jesters had replaced Capello with Eddie Jay. Now they replaced Haskell with Kenny Mills. And and the longest-lived version of The Jesters was complete: Shank, DiMaria, Mills, Jay and Markish.
1960 had seen a single on the national label Madison Records. I’m not sure if this included all the above members. It’s early enough that it could be an earlier lineup. But for the 1962 single “Alexander Graham Bull”/”The Buffalo” (Amy Records, June 1962) the above was definitely the lineup.
“The Buffalo” was one of several Buffalo records to feature themes or slogans from WKBW Radio which also included a writing credit to a KB employee! The others were Neil Darrow’s “Action Central” and The (KB) Buddies’ “Pulsebeat”, both of which used themes and sounds from WKBW’s News segments. “The Buffalo” has a writing credit including KB’s Program Director. Unfortunately “The Buffalo” doesn’t have much going for it, musically.
“Alexander Graham Bull” is similar in origin but more interesting musically. It’s a slow, moody, jazzy thing that’s unusual for a 45 side.
The story is this: WKBW Radio got a baby ‘buffalo’ (a bison, of course) as a mascot and ran a contest to name it. I recall something about it being a new animal at the zoo. In any case the winning name was Alexander Graham Bull. And this is the Jesters’ tribute to it. The writing credit goes to drummer/ band leader DiMaria.
A Billboard article from June 1962 mentions both the naming contest and the new single and thus we can date it verifiably. The article is a report on area music and radio activities by Carl Cisco, “Mercury promotion man”. The same article mentions that KB DJ Tom Shannon is going on active duty with the National Guard on August 1, something that would affect the Jesters’ career greatly in the near future. I believe Cisco was also their manager, a job he’d go on to do with other local bands including Kathy Lynn & The Playboys. Eventually Kathy Lynn’s band, Cisco and Shannon would all move to to Detroit and have various achievements in the music and radio scenes there.
With this release failing, the Jesters only managed one more under their own name (“The Big T” / “What’d I Say”, sung by DiMaria and Shank respectively) for a local release before Shank left and the next phase of their career would begin. While Shannon was away on duty, his release of The Rebels’ “Wild Weekend” had a second start on the charts and became a certified hit this time. With the original Rebels group out of the picture a substitute Rebels was needed. The Jesters now became The Rebels, which was amended to The Rockin’ Rebels; and all subsequent Rockin’ Rebels releases were by DiMaria, Markish, Jay and Mills. Well, almost all. One side was actually by Kathy Lynn and The Playboys, and there was one or two more sides which may have involved studio musicians.
But for all intents and purposes, the records credited to The Rockin’ Rebels (including almost all of the LP on Swan Records) were actually played by The Jesters.
And the few Rockin’ Rebels releases that came with a group picture featured the Jesters on the cover!