45 Friday: WILMER & THE DUKES – Get It

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Summer is here and life is getting pretty hectic for Bob The Record Guy. I’m finding less time to do these posts so, for awhile at least, they’re going to be on the minimal side. I will be filling in the gaps on some overlooked records from previously-discussed artists (see the archive at WNYFM for many of the past stories). I may also touch on some performers whose stories need to be told but I haven’t nailed down yet. Rather than give them short-shrift I’ll put off their stories for the future -and just share some of the great music now.

We covered Wilmer & The Dukes in the past with their classic local Soul / R&B / R&R 45 “Give Me One More Chance”. The interracial band formerly known as Wilmer Alexander, Jr & The Dukes came from the Rochester area (Geneva, to be exact). They started getting together in 1957 but didn’t really hit their stride until the mid-60s.

They were the archetypal frat ‘party-animal’ band. They blew up many college and frat house shows before settling into House Band status at local clubs, including the Inferno and later Gilligan’s.

In fact, it seems more than just rumor that the screenwriter and producer of the movie Animal House (Ivan Reitman) saw Wilmer play gigs at The Inferno and was affected to the point that they became the inspiration for that film’s Otis Day & the Knights.

“Give Me One More Chance” was their signature song, their first release and their only ‘hit’. It placed moderately on the Billboard and Cashbox Top 100 charts i 1968. It did better in regional markets (including Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse of course) and much better in Canada. This pairing was issued in Canada on the Apex label. Also issued in the UK (on Action Records, a Mod-oriented label) and in France on JAG Records, where “get It” seems to have been the featured side.

“Get It” was the flip side. It’s a Junior Walker-style R&B instrumental with drum breaks and a killer wailing sax solo. Walker was a big influence on Wilmer and the band. And apparently Walker’s talk with Wilmer – about how he thought Motown had sabotaged his release of “What Does It Take To Win Your Love” – influenced Wilmer not to sign with Motown when they showed interest in him.

Anyway, this killer instro could get any Summer party started. Roll up the rug and crank up the old internet stereo!

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45 Friday: FRANK DeROSA & THE DE-MEN – Big Guitar

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

This is a busy week so I’m taking the easy way out, and posting about a record we touched on before! Back to Rochester for this one.

Ken Records was a small Rochester-based label but they hit twice, both times with instros. As with many instrumental records of the times, they crossed over from Rock’ n ‘Roll into Rhythm & Blues, Rockabilly into pre-Surf music. Both “Big Guitar” and Chuck Alaimo’s “Leap Frog” feature a rockin’ rhythm and a greasy wailing sax, though “Big Guitar” lives up to it’s name with a extra helping of raunchy six-string.

I’m pretty sure both records were actually recorded at Rochester’s legendary Fine Recordings studio, Ken Records having no studio.

Something else the two have in common is both of them were picked up by national labels after local success. MGM picked up “Leap Frog” and went on to issue three more 45s by Chuck Alaimo. Dot Records picked up “Big Guitar” but alas, it was a one-off release for them, even though it WAS a moderate hit. It became an even bigger hit when covered by Owen Bradley’s Quartet (on Decca, in 1958).

We should note that the group on Ken is THE DE-MEN while on Dot it was changed to THE D MEN. It’s supposed to have been a play on DeRosa’s name, which gets lost in the Dot credit. Maybe that thought DeMen was too much like Demon?

DeRosa, like Chuck Alaimo, was a tenor sax player. Besides DeRosa, the group included Robert Genovese and his brother Sonny Genovese, aka Bobby Geno and Sonny Geno. Bobby is the prominent guitarist on this 1957 track.

Bobby and Sonny may also have been members of The Four Ekkos. They were involved on Ekkos recordings in any case.

Sonny Geno had a later 45 ( which features Bobby on guitar) on the local Rip Records, which also had a Four Ekkos release. Bobby Geno later had a 45 on the First Records label, owned by Buffalo radio station DJ and program director Dick Lawrence. On this record, the label credit is “Bobby Geno – Mr. Big Guitar”!

The B-side of  “Big Guitar” was “Irish Rock”, a typical piece of Irish-sounding music which was probably based on an existing tune which I can almost place but not quite… generic ‘irish’ music I guess. Both sides are credited to DeRosa and Genovese.

The single got a release in England on London Records, and also on a London EP alongside Pat Boone and the Fontaine Sisters. In 1960 The Tielman Brothers (a Dutch/ Indonesian group of brothers) reworked “Big Guitar” into “A.A.A.” and had a European hit with it.

Sonny Genovese passed away around 1990. Until recently Bob Genovese had a regular music gig in Las Vegas. I don’t know what ever happened to Frank DeRosa but I hope he went out or goes out wailing, like his wild sax.

45 Friday: DAWN BREAKERS – Boy With The Be-Bop Glasses

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

The Dawn Breakers were one of the first Buffalo groups to make a record aimed toward the Rock’ n’ Roll audience, even if that record was more like Pop and Jive Jazz in sound.

Jack Blanchard was very talented musically, proficient on guitar, bass and piano. After graduating (he attended Bennett, Lafayette and Kenmore High Schools) he played piano in various joints around town. Don Fronczak joined the Army out of high school, which is where he began performing music – singing first in an Army chorus, then a private group.

Out of the service and looking for an opportunity to sing, Don met Jack at a nightspot in Tonawanda and they decided to form a group. At first it was the boys with two girls and the material was the Pop music of the day. As time went on the ladies were replaced with a succession of male singers, the material started including R&R, and they started working the Western New York circuit (which really means Ontario to Erie), including McVan’s and the Glen Casino. Jack continued to be the ‘musician’ of the group while Jim Warren became the lead singer.

This group did some recording at Howell Studio on Delaware Avenue, as many as a dozen tracks of their music plus advertising jingles and a theme for a local DJ. Probably due to the latter, they hooked up with local DJ ‘Hernando’ (Phil Todaro), as many aspiring local musicians ended up doing. Through his record business contacts Todaro was able to get them a deal with Coral Records. Jack brought out a song he’d written called Boy With The Be-Bop Glasses (And The Suede Shoes). In the interest of group ‘harmony’ he have the credit to all groups members- Blanchard, Fronczak, Warren and Buddy Lee Baker (who had replaced Harry Madrid).

The Boy With The Be-Bop Glasses has elements of R&R (the sax solo, the kicking drums and of course the lyrical theme) but also the squarer sound of many of the harmony vocal groups of the 1950s (the Four Lads, the Crew Cuts) – the sound that dominated Pop radio before R&R came along.

I’m not SURE what “be-bop glasses” are, but I have a feeling they’re not talking about Buddy Holly so much as Dizzy Gillespie and the hipster be-boppers of the jazz scene. There’s also a jazz element in the vocals that shows the link between scat singing and doo-wop. In popular perception such jazz scat singing may have been ‘be-bop’ though it meant something much different to actual Bebop musicians.

In any case, the 1956 song was something of a local hit, though some radio stations may have opted to spin the more traditional These Are The Things I Love on the flip. They had trouble getting The Hound – George Lorenz – to play their record unless some considerations were thrown his way (a common practice) which they were unwilling or unable to do. And just as they were getting going there were the usual members resignations due to family and ‘other job’ demands.

With new members they auditioned for the Arthur Godfrey Show and even cut an advertisement for the local Polish newspaper “Everybody’s Daily”. They may have cut one more obscure 45. But finally they just drifted apart.

Jack moved to Florida where his parents already lived. He cut a R&R / Rockabilly 45 but his career dwindled down to writing songs by day and playing lounges and joints at night. He met a woman doing the same thing on the same circuit and was surprised to find that Maryanne Donahue was also an ex-Buffalonian. They began dating and eventually married.
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The other thing Jack was involved with was trying to find backers for the series of independent record labels he dreamed up, and issuing records by himself and others in different combinations. Some of his records included Maryanne who eventually adopted the professional name of Misty Morgan. Working now as the duo of Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan, recording the unusual songs that Jack was producing, they had a couple misses but finally one big hit with the ultra-earworm novelty country song Tennessee Birdwalk. Many will be surprised that this strange record was the product of two Buffalonians who met in another city!

[ Note: the lion’s share of info in this article came from Bob & Terri Skurzewski’s excellent book on local music & radio history, ‘No Stoppin’ This Boppin’. ]

Friday 45: BETHLEM STEELE – Hold On To Your Mind

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Today we venture into a zone we’ve not entered so far – the strange and mind-bending world of heavy acid rock! (heh)

Richard Fustino and Carl ‘Butch’ Spatazza grew up in Angola, where Rich taught Butch to play guitar. They formed several bands while attending Lake Shore High School, including The Ambassadors (who played at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City), The Apostles and The Klings before Butch got drafted.

Butch stayed in touch by sending tapes back and forth to Rich from his Air Force gig in Germany. After three and a half years he returned, and they put together a trio with North Tonawandan drummer Bill Kopcho who was teaching at Matt’s Music in Tonawanda with Rich.

Soon after they brought in South Buffalonian Randy Carlone (sax and flute) who had previously played in The Random Four with singer Kathy King, who was later a Country music singer locally.

The band was initially called Bethlehem Steel but had to change their name due to a complaint by the more famous user of the name!

Hold On To Your Mind / Magic Land Man was recorded at Act One Studios on in Buffalo, funded b manager Mary Stock. Hold On To Your Mind was written in early 1971 and certainly has that earlier sound – fuzz guitar and all. Although the band was moving toward the Progressive Rock thing, on this track the distorted guitar sound puts it closed to the heavier Psychedelic Rock groups like Blue Cheer of a year or two before.

This single was released in May of 1972 on Pork Knuckles Records, the band own label. In name and label design, it was unique, and unusual for the time.  The label was designed by Rich’s brother. The band planned to issue their own comic book as well! Which was understandable as they dressed in crazy costumes on stage – Rich Fustino in particular, whose cape and shorts (!) suggested a superhero.

Hold On was written by Rich with his wife wife Bernadette. It’s just the four of them on this record. Rich overdubbed lead and rhythm guitars. Shortly after this Randy Ruminski joined on keyboards (organ).

They played at many local clubs and high school dances (particularly back at their alma mater Lake Shore). In February 1973 they played their most memorable gig, opening up for Blue Oyster Cult at the Old Rivoli Theatre on Broadway, in the Broadway/ Fillmore area. The UK progressive Renaissance, with two ex-Yardbirds, also played that day. A cool photo exists of Bethlem Steele, in costumes, taken in the basement of the Rivoli.

Marty Bakowski (guitar and bass) joined a little bit after this and Randy Ruminski dropped out.

Bethlem Steele continued on, playing the local clubs. By 1977 they were just known as Steele. The band now was Fustino with Dave Dyck (keyboards), Will Schulmeister (drums), Jim Van Gelder (bass), and Dave Wild (guitar). Van Gelder and Wild had previously played together in Angus Wild.

Evetually Dave Dyck and Dave Wild Will left, and Randy Carlone rejoined. The band had always been known for their Jethro Tull covers and developed a whole show of Tull.

At some point the band just ended.

Rich Fustino continued teaching guitar and later started a business with his brothers called Fustino Brothers, Inc (or FBI) which develops apps including a guitar teaching app and an official Jethro Tull app, approved and created with assistance by Ian Anderson, which includes the whole recorded Tull catalog.

Will Schulmeister later became well-known locally as a country drummer. Randy Ruminski continued in music and is known locally as a great keyboard player. Dave Dyck passed away some years ago.