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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