45 Friday: JERRY HUDSON – Gillian Frank


By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Last week’s post of “Feeling The Sunshine” by Waves shows what happened to one part of The Road following their 1971 breakup. Today’s post will show what the other part was doing.

But first let’s backtrack a bit, just to fill in latecomers, and add a little more detail. The Mellow Brick Rode formed in late 1967. Members were Phil and Jerry Hudson (vocals), Joe and Jim Hesse (bass and keyboards, respectively), Nick Distefano (drums) and Ralph Parker (guitar). All of them had started playing music in the post-Beatles era but were already veterans of multiple teen combos.

Joe Hesse had played bass with The Rockin’ Paramounts circa late 1964. By 1965 Joe was with local garage institution Caesar & the Romans, who ultimately recorded four 45s. At some point brother Jim Hesse came in on organ. When Joe moved on he was relaced by Vinnie Parker. Vinnie’s brother Ralph Parker had played in The Buffalo Highlites, who released an obscure and scarce 45 themselves.

Vinnie Parker then formed a garage band called The Madmen with brother Ralph Parker and Jerry Hudson. A Summer 1966 article in the WKBW Teen News promised a forthcoming single on Capitol called “Mr Guy” which almost certainly was never released (if I’m wrong, I need a copy!). It’s desribed as sounding “more like the Yardbirds than the Yardbirds”, and I have a feeling it was reminiscent of their “Mr. You’re A Better Man Than I”.

The Madmen evolved into 6 Pact (both Hudson brothers and Ralph Parker) where they first developed their arrangement of “She’s Not There”. Joe Hesse was playing with Nick Distefano in Just Us Five, grabbing Jim Hesse away from Caesar & the Romans, they formed the local supergoup called The Mellow Brick Rode.

Wow, that’s a lot of member trading. And a lot of brothers!

WKBW DJ Joey Reynolds took them under his wing. For their first effort he merely added their voices (mainly Jerry’s) to a previously recorded track for their first single on United Artists (the B-side was actually sung by non-member Tony Galla). This single didn’t do much.

By 1968 The Mellow Brick Rode had become simply The Road. Signed to Kama Sutra Records now, they finally cut their version of “She’s Not There”  which became a moderate hit – selling 200,000 copies – but in markets too scattered to make the impact it could have. Reynolds took them into Synchron Studios in Wallingford CT to cut the rest of an album built around “She’s Not There”. The LP charted but only for just two weeks. Additional singles were taken from album tracks, most achieving local success. But their managment didn’t seem to be able to get them on ‘The Road’ properly, beyond some close-by shows on the East Coast.

The band all but split up split-up, with Jim Hesse and Ralph Parker leaving. They reformed with a new keyboards orientation, with organist Don “Jake” Jakubowski joined by pianist Ken Kaufman – and no lead guitarist.

Larry Rizzuto joined to supplement them on drums, as drummer Distefano was also a lead vocalist. This is the basis of the version of The Road that recorded “Cognition” in 1971.

By 1972 The Road had split up again. Nick DiStefano went off to Nashville. Ken Kaufman & Phil Hudson added vocalist Ron Lombardo (who had been writing music for The Road, including much of “Cognition”) to form Waves with Jim Catino.

Jerry Hudson, meanwhile, formed his own bands while also trying his hand at radio via a short stint as a WKBW DJ. First came Jerry & The Hornets, a hard rock group in a Humble Pie direction. This included former members of Flash. Next came the more laid-back Alacazam featuring ex-membrs of Parkside. This only lasted six months but Jerry came away with bass player Mike Romano.

Jerry and Mike hooked up with drummer Eric Malinowski and two members of Junction West ready to jump ship, Mike Kucharski on guitar and Peter Viapiano on organ. As they were forming a band and naming it (After Dark) they were asked by mamagement to audition a young lady as second vocalist. They didn’t expect much from the unknown Donna McDaniel but her voice blew them away and she was in the group. Many of you will know Donna from her pwerhouse performance on “We’re Gonna Win That Cup!”.

By November they were well-rehearsed and ready for their first public appearances as After Dark. That same month a record was issued under the name Jerry Hudson which was to become a local hit and a favorite of many Buffalonians.

“Gillian Frank” was recorded before After Dark was formed, at ActOne Studio on Delaware Avenue. It seems to have been recorded while Jerry was still under contract (his Kama Sutra contract for The Road), a contract that ran out the month it was finally released.

I don’t know who plays on “Gillian Frank” though it’s certainly local musicians. This was originally issued on Bandstand Records – the first record on Bandstand in 1972. A different B-side was recorded but not used – a cover of The Byrds’ “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” with lead vocal by local female singer Polla Milligan. Road member/associate produced both of these tracks. For whatever reason, this Polla track wasn’t used and Bandstand copies came with the same track on both sides.

The record got local airplay and regional sales and soon Big Tree Records picked up the track for national release, Since it was credited to “Jerry Hudson”, Big Tree wanted a Hudson B-side. Polla’s vocals were wiped off the tracks and Jerry relaced them.

The Big Tree record had good sales (Billboard listed it as ‘Bubbling Under’ the Hot 100 at #117, on Feb 17, 1973). It was also issued on Polydor in Canada. To capitalize on the name After Dark changed their name to The Jerry Hudson Group.

After about a year without further success, Jerry broke up the group. He apparently pursued an acting gig in Los Angeles, until he was asked to returned to Buffalo to join with Nick DiStefano, Joe Hesse and most of Waves in a reconstituted almost-original Road. This led to another single, a brilliant version of Joni Mitchel’s “Night In The City”.

Althuogh membership continued to change, the legacy of The Road carried on through years of live shows and several more singles. When they again reunited at the Hard Rock Cafe in Niagara Falls in 2012, they included “Gillian Frank” in their set.