45 Friday: THE TWEEDS – A Thing Of The Past

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

In the 1960s it was pretty easy to start a band. Minimal equipment was needed. A guitarist could use a one-piece Fender amp. If that was too expensive Sears had the flimsy but loud Silvertone series. A band just starting out could even plug several instruments or microphones into it!

Teen bands could put together a repertoire of pretty easy songs – Louie Louie, Mustang Sally, Wipeout, some early Kinks and Rolling Stones. Beatles too, though that required MORE chords, and voices that could harmonize.

But it wasn’t that hard to do. And if you saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and heard all those girls screaming, it was something you might want to do!

Every town had quite a few groups of teens trying to get their act together, alongside slightly older, more experienced youngsters who may have cut their teeth on pre-Beatles Rock’n’Roll. The Tonawanda had one such group who were clearly in the first category. Judging from their pictures none of The Tweeds were older than 16 when they started playing High School and CYO dances.

Ted Connor, Paul Varga, Alan Shaw & Dave Constantino were the four clean cut young men in question. With Varga on drums, Shaw, Connor and Constantino all played regular electric guitars. Mr. Constantino started off on the the right foot with a decent but low-level Gretsch guitar – while the others made due with cheapo models. This was good enough for places like The Teen Corner in Tonawanda. Short hair and suit-and-tie were the order of the day.

As 1966 turned into 1967 they must have realized that a bass player was the next step to professionalism. Alan Shaw was out, and James Dunnigan was in. Soon the Silvertone amps were placed with topnotch (for the time) Fender Twin Reverbs and Constantino traded up to the top of the Gretsch guitar line, the Country Gentleman. That may not mean anything to you, but it’s impressive gear for a 16-year-old to own and even better, that’s the stuff the top bands would use. George Harrison played a Country Gentleman.

Now they were playing places like the Boulevard Cave on Niagara Falls Boulevard. Still all very young, they entered the Battle Of The Bands at WKBW’s annual Fun-A-Fair. As many as 30 bands participated: The Rogues, Caesar & His Romans, The Rockin Paramount, The Vibratos. Playing against all the great local bands of the day – many of them comprised of ‘seasoned veterans’ (with 3 or 4 years of R&R performance under their belts)  – the Tweeds beat them all.

Their prize was a chance to cut a record in a real recording studio. So they traveled to New York City. Being still young (mostly 17) Dave’s father went wih them. Anyway, he was their manager too!

They cut two tracks, both written by all four members- A Thing Of The Past and What’s Your Name. I’m not sure which was the intended A-side but Thing Of The Past was the side that got radio play locally and became a Western New York hit in the Summer of 1967.

I don’t know if their Battle Of The Bands prize included the release on Coral Records, or if it was pitched to Coral who thought it had potential and put it out. Either way, it was issued along with promotional copies and distributed around the country. It must have sold fairly well because it’s not rare, and The Tweeds got asked to cut a second recod for Coral in the Spring of 1968.

As most of you know The Tweeds picked up a bass played named Billy Sheehan, also from Kenmore/ Tonawanda, and gradually became Talas. That’s a story for another day.

For today, here’s A Thing Of The Past. While What’s Your Name is medium tempo, upbeat mood folk/rock, Thing is a different thing – a heartbroken teen ballad which sounds surprisingly jaded and world-weary coming from such young men. But I guess there’s no age limit on getting a broken heart.

 

45 Friday: BILLY LEHMAN & THE ROCK-ITTS – Black Derby

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

For their second single these Southtowns rockers moved from the Hamburg-based “Prime 1” label to a new label created by WKBW disc jockey Art Roberts, ARP (“Art Roberts Presents”). This was ARP #13 and has no address. The followup was ARP #14 which carried a Buffalo address and was credited to a somewhat different group – Billy Lehman & The Penn-Men. These two are the only records on ARP. Maybe it wasn’t so lucky starting the series off with #13!

Black Derby has a sound that’s a little dated for 1959, though I could see a Bill Haley group tackling it. This one was co-written by Clyde Dickerson so I’ll assume once again he’s on the record, providing the sax. The co-writer on this side is the sole writer of the flip, Barbara Voorhies. I don’t know who she is. Perhaps her name was used just to give the copyright to a party who wished to not use their own name. That wouldn’t be the only instance of this on a Buffalo record.

The vocals on both sides are credited to bass player “Mousie” Gage, who was to become “Mousey” on their next release. We can also assume the guitarists are Lehman and Junior Schank are on the record, since Schank gets a label credit on their next/last record.

I’m not sure why they’re saying  ‘a Black Derby is the thing to wear on a date’. I never saw any 1950s Rock’n’Rollers, BeBoppers, hipsters or hoods wearing one. It seems like they were purposely doing nostalgic, or archaic – a strange choice. Maybe it has some significance that it’s audience of the time would have caught, that’s now lost to the sands of time.

 

Black Derby is no great shakes as a song but it’s decent enough. The flip, Lollie, is actually the old children’s/ singalong song hey Lolly Lolly. It had been recorded most recently by Oscar McLollie & The Honey Jumpers; before that Woody Guthrie, and probably by others before that. Later on Chubby Checker had a hit with it as Hey Loddy. Western New Yorkers may know it from John Valby’s X-rated versions and it appears in risque versions on 1950s party records. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that when Lehman’s group played it live the lyrics changed a little!

The 1950s were winding down and these guys had two releases under their belts, with one more to come before the turn of the decade.   (Note: the pics on this video are of the Jesters, the related group with some of the same members.)  

Graduates – Ballad of a Girl and a Boy

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By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon

Continuing our story of last week …

Following the release of The Playboys’ 45 membership changed and eventually settled into a lineup of Johnny Cappello, Bruce Hammond, Fred Mancuso and Jack Scorsone. They adopted a new name – The Graduates.

DJs Tommy Shannon and Phil Todaro decided to issue a record on them, on their new label Shan-Todd (named for Shannon -Todaro). They’d previously hit with their first Shan-Todd release “Rockin’ Crickets” by The Hot Toddys.  The Graduates 1959 “Ballad of A Girl And Boy” came out as Shan-Todd 0055. Shan-Todd soon underwent a name change to Corsican Records, kept the same numbering sequence, in time for the next Graduates release (“What Good Is Graduation”, also 1959). Rumor has it that “Ballad of A Girl And Boy” can also be found with Corsican labels, though I’ve never seen one.

They recorded this one at Buffalo Recording Service, scene of their first recording when The Playboys made a demo there. This time however it was a different group – John Cappello was now the lead vocalist.

“Ballad of A Girl And Boy” made it on to the national Billboard Hot 100, at #74. The followup “What Good Is Graduation” did not make it onto the top charts, though it it hit the Bubbling Under The Hot 100 chart at #110. If there were local charts I’m sure these achieved Top Ten status, especially with the push the DJs behind the labels could give them. They were definitely played often on WKBW, a local station but one that reached far up and down the East Coast. I’ve read of people from New England hearing the song and trying to find it in their area stores unsuccessfully. It hit in isolated markets as well in far-flung places like Arizona and New Orleans. Back then a record could make the charts as a ‘radio hit’ but not be a great seller. We can speculate that being on an independent label with inefficient distribution held the record back from bigger success.

Whether they got properly paid for the records is anyone’s guess. Standard procedure back then was that artists would recieve little royalties but could expect the make money with live appearances. Some big shows in father cities had to be cancelled when the still-young members couldn’t get time off from school to travel! But the group apparently had their largest-paying show close to home, when they received the then-astronomical sum of $1500 for a show at Rochester’s War Memorial Auditorium. With no real management, member Bruce Hammond handled the money and they all got paid.

With some shows, some TV appearances, nothing was breaking for them, and the group drifted apart. In 1963 a new single appeared on Lawn Records coupling “Goodbye My Love” with “Ballad Of A Boy And A Girl”. Now credited to Johnny Holliday & The Graduates, apparently most of the group was not informed of its release until after the fact. “Goodbye My Love” is actually a retitled version of “What Good Is Graduation” making this single something of a reissue – merely compiling their two former A-sides.

Nothing much happened with this 1963 release, but it’s then-dated sound couldn’t really compete in the year 1963 with the coming invasion. That same year the Beatles 45 was released on Lawn’s parent company Swan Records.

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An interesting and curious side-note is that many years later the group became aware of a mysterious record using their recordings. In 1959 a record was released on the First Records label, aka Another First, which contained “Ballad Of A Boy And A Girl” but now credited to The Question Marks. This seems to be an out take from the original Graduates sessions.

The flip is also credited to The Question Marks but this is actually an out-take by The Tune Rockers! Point of interest is that John Capello belonged to both groups, and Dick Lawrence – owner of First – had been involved in managing both groups. More interesting is the fact that the record doesn’t seem to have been issued in an attempt to make a hit – the artists involved weren’t informed, so there could be no promotion, and it was never distributed at all in their hometown!