45 Friday: KEY And CLEARY – A Man

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Here’s a 45 for today, and an unhappy announcement.

The announcement is this: for the time being, I wouldn’t be able to do 45 Friday articles. There’s several reasons, but taken all together, I simply don’t have time right now to do what needs to be done to do them the way I think they should be done.

There’s some more stories that need to be told, and someday they will be told. There’s some local musicians who’ve contacted me and I’m waiting to interview them. There’s music which needs to be recorded and uploaded to YouTube. But I can’t do those things right now. The only alternative is to just post songs but after almost 150 articles I’ve exhausted the available stuff. Without uploading more music, we won’t be covering any new ground. So I’m taking a break for awhile. Hopefully I’ll come back with more and better articles before too long.

For today, here’s Key And Cleary – Buffalo’s greatest duo of community activist musicians! Someday we’ll cover their story. Suffice to say, they made a lot of music (among other things) and a fair amount or records- all singles, as far as I know.

“A Man” b/w “There Are Troubles” came out on local Mark Records around 1975. It has an interesting mix of Soul with Folk and Jazz influences. Like a lot of their musical efforts, I believe this one uses a drum machine for the percussion sounds and home-recording technology.

Jessie F. Key and Sylvester ‘Syl’ Cleary had a confusing discography. Besides this Mark release they 45s also on Amherst,  Gold Plate and Buffalo’s Reflection – at least. And one or more as the Chosen Few Band, or with the Chosen Few Band. Some of these contain the same songs but may be different versions. These are all local labels except Gold Plate which is affiliated with a local label (Amherst).

Years later a reissue came out on the mysterious Original Gold label which seems to mainly be reissues of local WNY sides including The Invictas, The Seven, and The Rockin’ Rebels. On it, “A Man” was backed with Bob & Earl’ famous hit “Harlem Shuffle”. As good as it it, I can’t imagine a lot of people were clamoring for a reissue of the Key and Cleary track since it seems to have not been a good seller even when it was released!

Enjoy! and keep spinning those little record with the big hole in the middle.

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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!

45 Friday: DYKE AND THE BLAZERS – Let A Woman Be A Woman, Let A Man Be A Man

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

One of these days we’ll get around to telling the story of Buffalo’s second-best-known Funksters (behind Mr. Rick James), the fantastic Dyke & The Blazers.

That story has been told before: in a Friday 45 post on pre-Dyke & The Blazers band Carl LaRue & His Crew by Elmer Ploetz, and in greater depth in a Buffalo Magazine (Buffalo News) story by Elmer. You can find that story here: http://www.wnywebshop.com/ploetz/dyke.html

Maybe when we get around to taking another look at them we can find some new angles of interest.

The quick story is that Arlester “Dyke” Christian joined Carl LaRue’s Buffalo band as he was learning to play the bass. That band put out records and achieved moderate success playing live, but eventually most of them found themselves stranded in Arizona after a stint playing backup for The O’Jays. While playing the clubs of Phoenix they tightened up their act and wrote some original material. A customer heard them playing their new “Funky Broadway” and becoming their manager got them into a studio.

“Funky Broadway” went from 1966 local hit to national after L.A.’s Original Sound Records bought it out from their original small indie label. And the rest is history. They had quite a string of singles, and eventually albums. Over the years, some of the original Buffalo musicians left though Dyke of course was always there. But some of the Buffalo guys came back and Dyke hired some new ones, as he knew he could count on their musicianship.

Unfortunately hard drugs had entered the picture and Dyke enjoyed the street life. At one time he had been a master of the Funk idiom of Soul – which he helped create – to the point that his music approached that of the acknowledged master James Brown. In the end (1971) he unfortunately died in the street, shot down, in some kind of street business.

Today’s tune is the very very funky “Let A Woman Be A Woman, Let A Man Be A Man”. There is absolutely NO relation between this song and any recent controversies involving former Olympic decathlon atheletes. So DON’T EVEN…..!

45 Friday: THE BUENA VISTAS – Hot Shot

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Kathy Lynn & The Playboys started in 1963 and were based in Buffalo, or more accurately the Tonawandas. Original members were Kathleen Keppen (Ameno) – vocals & guitar; Nick Ameno – guitar; and Jack ‘Buddy’ Ferraro on drums. When a new club called The Peppermint Stick opened in North Tonawanda this trio was asked to play at the opening. Carl Cisco was managing the club. Spotting the potential in the group, he brought in his friend Tom Shannon to form a management team.

The Peppermint Stick concept – a teen club with Rock’n’Roll, no alcohol and proper behavior – took off. The original club sprouted two more locations on Grand Island and South Buffalo. Kathy Lynn & The Playboys settled into a gig as house band at the original Ward Road location. but played at all of them, performing weekly and backing up the national stars that also played these clubs – people like Freddie Cannon, The Four Seasons, Johnny Cymbal, and The Angels. They filled out their sound by adding Denny Vallette on bass guitar. I wonder if has was related to guitarist Gary Vallette of Buffalo’s Quarter Notes?

The group had a varied sound but for their first 45 they chose two surf-sounding guitar/ instrumental tracks. As the labels boasted, “Rock City” was recorded ‘Live at The Peppermint Stick’. Shannon was not only a popular DJ at powerful WKBW radio (powerful in both signal strength and business clout) but also a local record mogul, coming off his success with The Rockin’ Rebels. He was able to get them signed to The Rebels’ label, Swan. “Rock City” became a local Top 10 cracked the national Top 100 chart. I have heard that Eddie Bentley joined the group to play guitar on this recording but I don’t know if that’s true.

Two more Swan singles followed. “He’s My Special Boy” and “He’s Gonna Be My Guy” did moderately well. Both showed more of a Girl Group/ Pop sound heading towards the smoother danceable Northern Soul/ Motown sound. Early on, they showed a good grasp of Black music styles – a sign of things to come.

They continued playing, appearing around the Northeast, landing a high-profile gig opening for The Dave Clark Five at the Buffalo Aud. But the Dave Clark Five’s biggest rival was changing the whole music scene around. Swan Records had the Beatles (for a short time) and the American group was put on the back burner. American groups in general were getting put on the back burner, except for the Motown Sound – the Detroit Soul sound.

Conveniently, Tom Shannon was offered a radio job in Detroit. Carl Cisco saw some opportunities with the Detroit indie recording scene. Kathy Lynn & The Playboys decided to move to Detroit with their managers. Apparently a lot of planning and dealing took place. Shannon sold his recording studio (equipment) to Detroit’s Golden World production company and record label, Cisco went to work as a producer/ engineer for them, and Kathy and the group began recording for newly-created Golden World subsidiary labels Marquee and LaSalle.

Incidentally, the old Shannon studio equipment is what had been used to record hits in Buffalo like “Wild Weekend”. And in Detroit it was heavily used and can be heard on hits like “Just Like Romeo & Juliet” by The Reflections.

Before the move Denny Vallette left the group and Ed Bentley took over on bass. Once in Detroit, a bewildering number of recording dates and personnel combinations took place. I don’t know the order of the changes but at various times records were recorded or released by The LaSalles, Lynn Terry, The Buena Vistas, The Antiques, Eddie Bentley, and Jimmy Satan (actually Bentley).

The two most important identities were The LaSalles and The Buena Vistas. The LaSalles put out a couple records and came to the attention of Berry Gordy, who gave them a one-off record deal with Motown subsidiary V.I.P. Records. “La, La, La, La, La” was a minor hit, and they were supposedly the first White artist signed to any Motown label. Gordy wanted to sign Kathy to a solo contract, but she decided to stay with the group and with Cisco & Shannon.

As The LaSalles (sometimes spelled as La Salles, and often credited as Lynn Terry & The LaSalles) they played around Detroit and various parts of the USA. At one point, their lineup was listed as Lynn Terry (Kathy Lynn) – vocals; Nick Massi (who I assume is Nick Ameno) – guitar and brass; Jimmy Brandon – sax & flute; Ralph Tracey – drums.

But it was in their other studio identity, as the The Buena Vistas, that they were most prolific, with seven releases on four labels, and three of them gaining foreign release on other labels. Actually there’s more – but it’s complicated!

Most of these were on the Cisco / Shannon labels Marquee and LaSalle including the minor hit “Here Come Da Judge” on Marquee. Interestingly the label on the NEXT Marquee release – “Soul Clappin’ ” – bears the statement ‘from the album “Here Come Da Judge” ‘. No such album was ever released.

But two Buena Vistas 45s were on Kathy Lynn’s old label- Swan. These seem to be the first Detroit-era releases by the group.

There’s a bit of controversy about who plays on the Buena Vistas records. The Kathy Lynn website states that ‘Nick wrote and recorded the track “Here Come Da Judge” under the name The Buena Vistas’. Some foreign Soul ‘experts’, apparently having trouble believing it could be non-Detroiters, much less White musicians, have assumed they’re simply Detroit session men and not a ‘group’ at all. At least in part, in some cases. Tom Shannon has stated – at least once – that it was session men.

This is where we have to make some assumptions. We could say that Tom Shannon’s most famous group – The Rebels/ The Rockin’ Rebels – were session men. He owned the name and concept, and after the original band was split, he used other musicians to work under that name. The “Wild Weekend” album was mostly recorded by guys who weren’t the original Rebels. But they weren’t really session men, they were a real band – The Jesters.

If you look at the writer credits on every one of the seven Buena Vistas records, each has some combination of the names Keppen and Ameno as well as Cisco and Shannon. It’s hard to imagine canny music business veterans giving away potential royalties to people who weren’t involved.

Therefore, my belief is that the core Buffalo musicians were always involved, and earlier 45s (Swan) were entirely the work of the original Buffalo group, and as time went on (“Here Come Da Judge”) more outside musicians contributed.

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Today’s 45 is from 1966 (one source says 1965), the first on Swan under the name Buena Vistas and probably the first Buena Vistas release. “Hot Shot” is a great Soul instrumental, kind-of prefiguring Funk, somewhere in between Booker T. & The MGs and The Meters.

It of course gets more complicated. The original Rebels put out a side titled “Donkey Walk”. This was the ORIGINAL group, pre-Rockin’ Rebels, but on this one they were called the Buffalo Rebels. The Donkey was a dance and the music imitates a braying donkey. After “Wild Weekend” hit big – the second release – and the original Rebels were no longer, they were replaced MOSTLY by The Jesters.
But for one side of one single, they were replaced by – Kathy Lynn & The Playboys. Or The Buena Vistas, if you will. A track was issued called “Donkey Twine”. It was basically a rewrite of “Donkey Walk” but a little more funky, more soulful. And with another dance name tacked on (The Twine). The writing credit is to Shannon, Cisco, Ameno. The Buena Vistas’s “Hot Shot” is basically a further rewrite of “Donkey Twine”. The writing credit stayed the same.

The flip of “Hot Shot” is “T.N.T.” which turns out to be basically an instrumental version of the hit “Tossin’ N Turnin’ ” (T-N-T, get it?). Writing credit here goes to Cisco, Keppen, Ameno. “T.N.T.” is great in it’s own right, but a little old-fashioned compared to “Hot Shot”.

This single was issued in the UK on Stateside at the time of original release. It  got some notice then, and became a favorite among the Mod Soul fans at legendary clubs like the Twisted Wheel. If you’re splitting hairs, this is a classic Mod sound – as differentiated from the Northern Soul sound.

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The band continued to play various places in the USA until they came back to the Buffalo in 1974 and became Angel Baby & The Daddyo’s. Kath and Nick later joined Solid Grease. Ed Bentley eventually joined Solid Grease. Kathy Lynn & The Playboys were inducted into the Buffalo Museum Hall of Fame in 2010 and since that time the original three – Kathy, Nick and Buddy – have been performing together again.

45 Friday: LOU COURTNEY- Hey Joyce

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

I’m trying hard to track down the full Lou Courtney story, and the information I can’t find is this- what did he do in Buffalo? Before he got signed and did his first recording he must have done something in the field of music, and he must have done something good to get noticed and offered a record deal. So far no mention of him has turned up as far as local performances or membership in a group. Between the time he was born (1944, in Buffalo) and his first recordings for Imperial – either 1962 or 1963, and apparently in New York City – there is absolutely no info available, period.

I hope to have something by next week. So this is kind of a fill-in post this week, but beyond the info I hope to uncover maybe someone will come forward with some knowledge. I need to know, because we need to make the case for his induction into the Buffalo Music Hall Of Fame. He had a 15-year career with some fantastic soul and funk 45s for at least four major labels, and three chart hits – yet info is surprisingly scanty. What little there is comes mainly from across the Atlantic. He’s pretty much unhonored in his home country, much less his home town.

Another interesting facet to Lou is that early on (when still quite young) he was as much a songwriter as a soul singer. And by the mid-1960s he had added ‘producer’ to his resume. Many of his behind the scenes efforts stretched outside of the Soul and R&B fields into the Pop and Rock field. He wrote or cowrote songs for British Invasion artists like Freddie & the Dreamers and the Nashville Teens and pop singers like , Leslie Gore. On the Soul side his songs were recorded by Mary Wells, Gloria Gaynor, Henry Lumpkin, Lorraine Ellison and Dee Dee Warwick. He wrote AND produced three of the Webs records – for Popside and Verve – and I have the feeling he discovered that group and brought them to Popside.

Maybe the most important credit to Lou is that his mid-1960s records for Riverside and it’s subsidiary Popside are among the first Soul records to have Funk elements. He’s certainly there right alongside James Brown at the birth of The Funk.

October 1967 saw the release of the record that’s highly regarded by both the Funk / Soul crowd and the sampler/ beatdigger/ mixoloist crowd. ‘Hey Joyce’ starts off on the right foot with a funky drum break which was later famously sampled by DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist and appears on a seminal Brainfreeze breaks record.

All the while Lou continued working in a variety of styles from Deep Soul to mainstream soul to ballads, alongside the funk.  The last thing I can find on him is work as a backup singer on a mid-70s session with Bonnie Raitt, although the UK magazine New Music Express reports that on rare occasions he has come out of retirement to perform one-off live shows.

More next week!