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.
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.
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.