45 FRIDAY: WILLIE TELL & THE OVERTURES – Kick-Back

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Here’s one of the stranger records from the Buena Vistas / Kathy Lynn & The Playboys / Tom Shannon gang, responsible for a several mysterious Funky Soul records among their many other projects.

We’ve told the Buena Vistas story in the past few weeks. At least,we’ve told how they made their way to Detroit, and how their records moved from being the work of the group of Buffalo-area musicians to being the work of Detroit Soul session players, with limited (but still apparent) WNY connections.

The core of the original Buena Vistas was also the core of Kathy Lynn & The Playboys – Kathy Keppen and Nick Ameno. After moving to Detroit along with their managers Tom Shannon and Carl Cisco, they started issuing 45s on Swan Records as The Buena Vistas. These quickly moved from having some audible evidence of the WNY players to having no audible evidence of it, although they almost always carried songwriting credits with some combinations of the names Keppen, Ameno, Shannon and Cisco.

By 1968, Buena Vistas records were being released on the newly-formed labels Marquee Records and and LaSalle Records. We should note that the word ‘LaSalle’ crops up in more than one way in their story, ‘The LaSalles’ being also a recording pseudonym for the group. Marquee Records, and probably LaSalle Records, were a partnership of Buffalonians Nick Ameno, Carl Cisco and Tom Shannon.

LaSalle seems to have actually begun issuing records in 1967. Marquee may not have begun until 1968. At least, that’s the date given to the two most common Buena Vistas Marquee releases – Marquee 443 (Here Come Da Judge) and Marquee 445 (Soul Clappin’).

But there is one more Buena Vistas on Marquee. Scarcer than the other two – it wasn’t even the minor hit they were – it has a catalog number (2061) that doesn’t follow the Marquee sequence. The Soul Ranger / Kick-Back does have the same formula as the other two Marquee releases though. It combines a novelty side (instrumental, but with a spoken interjection) with a funky full-instrumental flip.

The record did nothing on Marquee, but appeared in a new guise around the same time – on record mega-power Chess Records! This time credited to Willie Tell & The Overtures, but the recordings are exactly the same. Since we can date Chess product rather easily by catalog numbers, we can verify this was a 1967 release.

We should assume that it came out first on Marquee and then got picked up by Chess. However, I’ve been wrong before making assumptions like that. Sometimes records are issued in inexplicable ways for obscure legal reasons, so it’s possible it came out on Chess first – though unlikely.

The how and why of a Detroit record getting released by this Chicago label is unknown to me. I would guess the Buffalo transplants were doing their best to compete, sound-wise, with Detroit’s Motown when they cut it, and Chess wanted to compete with Motown’s market, business-wise.

Kick-Back is the heavier Funk side, with plenty of drums which has earned it recognition among the hip as a sample-worthy drum break record. Their are four writers credited – one being Detroit legend Dale Warren – and only one Buffalonian (Cisco). But the Soul Ranger side carries the usual Shannon/ Cisco/ Ameno credit. It, too, is some heavy Funk Soul stuff, though it uses The William Tell Overture as a starting point; hence the group name.

If I had to guess… well, actually I DO have to guess… I’d say the Kick-Back side has some hallmarks of the Buffalo musicians (guitar, and especially the non-Hammond organ sound) while Soul Ranger sounds like purely the work of session men. That goes well with the writing credits.

The fact that these WNY refugees got records released on both Motown (V.I.P.) and Chess makes them pretty unique. Donnie Elbert did equally well with getting signed to the prominent Soul/ R&B labels of the time. But the fact that all of them – Shannon, Cisco, Ameno and Keppen – were White gives the story a most interesting twist!

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45 FRIDAY: THE BUENA VISTAS – Soul Clappin’

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Buena Vistas and their “Here Come Da Judge”. This one is very similar in concept and origin.

The core group of Kathy Keppen and Nick Ameno dropped the Kathy Lynn & The Playboys name around the time they left the Buffalo area for Detroit, and began issuing records as The Buena Vistas on Swan (while also recording as The LaSalles for V.I.P., but that’s another story) . The previous Kathy Lynn singles had ranged from Rock ‘n’ Roll to Girl Group sounds. But after their 1966 move to Detroit the singles became almost completely Soul/R&B oriented. And they were a particularly funky form of Soul which – if not Funk per se – comes very close to it!

As we previously discussed, there were less band members and more studio musicians as time went on until at some point there recognizable sound of Detroit session men has completely taken over the recordings. And by the time of today’s featured single – 1968 – that process had long been complete.

Their first 45 as The Buena Vistas had an A-side (Hot Shot) which obviously heavily features the Detroit Soul session stars but the B-side (T.N.T.) has the older sound of the early 1960s instrumental craze and is likely played by Keppen, Ameno and their band in large part.

For what it’s worth the writing credit for Hot Shot is Shannon, Cisco, Ameno. That is radio DJ Tom Shannon, manager Carl Cisco and Nick Ameno. At that time Shannon was deejaying at CKLW out of Windsor, Ontario, hitting the Detroit audience. Buffalo-born and raised, he’s well-known to Buffalonians as an early 1960s radio personality here but had been co-managing Kathy Lynn & The Playboys and had taken them with him when he moved West.

Credit for T.N.T. is Cisco, Ameno and Kathy Keppen. Interestingly, T.N.T. is actually a (very) thinly disguised rewrite of Bobby Lewis’ Tossin’ And Turnin’, known also by Bobby Darin’s cover version. Tossin’ N Turnin’ = T.N.T.!

By 1968 Buena Vistas singles were coming out on the new Marquee label. We previously discussed the first – Here Come Da Judge b/w Big Red. As we said, Marquee was a partnership of Tom Shannon, Carl Cisco and Nick Ameno.

Today’s record, Soul Clappin’ (b/w Rappin’) followed about four months after Judge. Like it, Soul Clappin’ starts off with a spoken phrase. My guess is that Detroit Soul produced and personality Richard Popcorn Wiley again performed this duty.

Released on Aug 10, 1968, Soul Clappin’ / Rappin’ entered Billboard’s Bubbling Under (under the Top 100) chart, reaching number 126, but went no farther nationally.

Writing credits on both sides are; Shannon, Cisco, Ameno. I have to go with the general consensus and believe that the performers here are all Detroit session men, but still can’t help but wonder if the only part the Buffalo people played in this was writing it. And how did these Buffalo suburbanites learn to write such funky Soul music?

45 Friday: WILMER & THE DUKES – Living In The U.S.A.

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

We covered Wilmer before – somewhat – without delving into the whole history of the band. Previously we focused on their first 45 “Give Me One More Chance” and its killer B-side “Get It!”; and their second 45 (“I’m Free”, B-side to “Heavy Time”). Today we’ll look at their third 45, “Living In The U.S.A.”.

I only touched on the early background of these guys in the past because their story is well-known and has been covered elsewhere. So I won’t write book here. The short backstory is that Wilmer Alexander Jr., Ronnie Alberts, and Ralph “Duke” Gillotte came together in 1957. All three were from Geneva (outside Rochester). Wilmer played sax and sang; Ronnie was the drummer; and Duke was the keyboardist (and sometimes organ). “Keyboard” in the early days meant “piano”, but as the band moved into the Sixties this came to be the favorite axe of jazz/R&B organists, the Hammond B3.

The early band was completed with Bob Egan on bass and Doug Brown on guitar. Doug also wrote “Give Me One More Chance”.  Later on horns were added to the lineup, though on their self-titled 1969 album, the band is presented as just the five core musicians with horns as guests. Incidentally, local heavies Chuck Mangione and Gap Mangione worked on the album too, as players and arrangers.

The band lasted from 1958 to 1974 but their ‘salad days’ were approximately 1961 to 1970. At first they played the Upstate and Central NY circuit, mostly colleges, frat parties, bars, Ski lodges, and lake resort clubs. Later they found residencies as house bands especially in Buffalo, first at The Inferno and later at the new club created by the same owners when The Inferno ironically burned down- Gilligans, in Cheektowaga.

Wikipedia describes those nights: ‘Every Wednesday night, long lines of fans formed through Glen Park and over the bridge on Glen Avenue, many waiting for hours to get into the sold-out Inferno. Wilmer & the Dukes would play such cover songs as “Reach Out” and “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops, “Shotgun” & “Road Runner” by Junior Walker & the Allstars, and “Baby Let Me Bang Your Box” by Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts. Acts they opened for included Wilson Pickett and Sly & the Family Stone.’

The Inferno had a regular R&B/ Soul day on Sundays, bringing in national acts on a regular basis, and the audience there was equally interested in Rock’n’Roll and Soul, which was perfect for Wilmer & The Dukes. And the fact that they were an interracial band doesn’t seem to have raised any eyebrows. This may not have been the case when they started though. In the late Fifities, when they were playing mostly Black clubs, the racial dynamic of the band probably stood out more – and may have been part of their novelty.

As I mentioned before, it’s seems to be 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”.

That brings us up to 1968. Buffalo-based Aphrodisiac Records released “Give Me One More Chance” which was a regional hit, placing moderately on the Billboard and Cashbox Top 100 charts. It also earned release in Canada, the UK, Germnay and France. And maybe other markets, for all I know.

The Steve Miller Band was San Francisco-based and considered part of the Fillmore/ hippie/ Frisco scene even though all members were actually from Texas or the Midwest. After a strong first album they released the even-stronger “Sailor” LP in 1968. “Living In the USA” was taken from it to be there second single and it entered the Billboard Top 100 on November 23, 1968. It never got much farther even though it was backed with the equally strong “Quicksilver Girl”.

Not long after the Miller album and 45 releases Wilmer and band picked up on “USA” and started playing it. They included it as a cut on their early 1969 album and released it as a followup single to “Give Me One More Chance” /”Get It” and “I’m Free”/ “Heavy Time” in the summer of 1969. It was a regional-only hit in upper New York state and a few scattered markets (apparently a top 40 in Detroit) but the only made it to #114 on the Billboard chart.

They weren’t quite done on record – one more single followed, pulled from the album – but there were no more singles after these four and no more albums until the CD era when the remaining members recorded as The Legendary Dukes.

In my opinion their album and all the singles are top-notch. They always put on a killer live show and it’s too bad they weren’t able to keep recording.

Living In The U.S.A. – enjoy!

45 FRIDAY: GERALD TROTTER – One More Hurt

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Here’s another 45 from Buffalo’s legendary MO DO Records label. I don’t know much about Gerald Trotter and it seems no one else in the record collecting world or the Soul music world does either, that I’m aware of.

I’ve seen speculation that he may have been from Detroit but I think it’s more likely he’s actually from Buffalo. He co-wrote one side of this 45 (MO DO 22627/8) with Buffalo’s Bobby Nunn, for one thing. Bobby was the son of label owner William ‘Billy’ Nunn and one-half of MO DO recording duo Bob & Gene. That side – “The Love In My Heart” – is a Deep Soul ballad which shares a lot of the features of the Bob & Gene sides.

Today we’re featuring the uptempo B-side. “One More Hurt” is a raw, mildly funky version of the tune previously cut by Marjorie Black for Sue Records. These sides were released on an indifferent record buying public in 1968 and sold very poorly, denying Trotter the opportunity to cut another for MO DO. And he appears to have never cut any other records either; like Albert O, the other one-shot MO DO soul man of mystery