45 Friday: THE JESTERS – Alexander Graham Bull

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

We’ve been talking about the Jesters. A long-lived band, but little remembered; probably because much of their work was released under other names. There were only three singles under the actual Jesters name. This is the second of them.

The backstory: Billy Lehman’s late-1950s Rock ‘n’ Roll band The Rock-Itts was based around Jamestown but worked North into the Buffalo suburbs.

When they split up Lehman built a new Rock-Itts using singer/guitarist Billy Quad and members of his band, Lehman stepping back into a management role.

Former Rock-Itts Junior Shank (real name: Shenck), Roy ‘Mouse’ Gage and Tony DiMaria formed a new band, The Jesters. Their guitar & vocals, bass and drums (respectively) were augmented by Lee Markish on guitar and ex-Tunerocker, ex-Graduate Johnny Capello on sax. Mousie was soon replaced by Peter Haskell, amping them up to ELECTRIC bass.

Capello left the Jesters for Lehman’s Rock-Itts where he was allowed to be a featured performer. When he had been lead singer of vocal group The Graduates he had worked under the name Johnny Holiday, a name he also used with the Rock-Itts.

Peter Haskell also defected from the Jesters to The Rock-Itts. At some point Billy Quad stepped forward to be the leader, the group now being billed as Billy Quad & The Rock-Itts; and Capello left.

The Jesters had replaced Capello with Eddie Jay. Now they replaced Haskell with Kenny Mills. And and the longest-lived version of The Jesters was complete: Shank, DiMaria, Mills, Jay and Markish.

1960 had seen a single on the national label Madison Records. I’m not sure if this included all the above members. It’s early enough that it could be an earlier lineup. But for the 1962 single “Alexander Graham Bull”/”The Buffalo” (Amy Records, June 1962) the above was definitely the lineup.

“The Buffalo” was one of several Buffalo records to feature themes or slogans from WKBW Radio which also included a writing credit to a KB employee! The others were Neil Darrow’s “Action Central” and The (KB) Buddies’ “Pulsebeat”, both of which used themes and sounds from WKBW’s News segments. “The Buffalo” has a writing credit including KB’s Program Director. Unfortunately “The Buffalo” doesn’t have much going for it, musically.

“Alexander Graham Bull” is similar in origin but more interesting musically. It’s a slow, moody, jazzy thing that’s unusual for a 45 side.

The story is this: WKBW Radio got a baby ‘buffalo’ (a bison, of course) as a mascot and ran a contest to name it. I recall something about it being a new animal at the zoo. In any case the winning name was Alexander Graham Bull. And this is the Jesters’ tribute to it. The writing credit goes to drummer/ band leader DiMaria.

A Billboard article from June 1962 mentions both the naming contest and the new single and thus we can date it verifiably. The article is a report on area music and radio activities by Carl Cisco, “Mercury promotion man”. The same article mentions that KB DJ Tom Shannon is going on active duty with the National Guard on August 1, something that would affect the Jesters’ career greatly in the near future. I believe Cisco was also their manager, a job he’d go on to do with other local bands including Kathy Lynn & The Playboys. Eventually Kathy Lynn’s band, Cisco and Shannon would all move to to Detroit and have various achievements in the music and radio scenes there.

With this release failing, the Jesters only managed one more under their own name (“The Big T” / “What’d I Say”, sung by DiMaria and Shank respectively) for a local release before Shank left and the next phase of their career would begin. While Shannon was away on duty, his release of The Rebels’ “Wild Weekend” had a second start on the charts and became a certified hit this time. With the original Rebels group out of the picture a substitute Rebels was needed. The Jesters now became The Rebels, which was amended to The Rockin’ Rebels; and all subsequent Rockin’ Rebels releases were by DiMaria, Markish, Jay and Mills. Well, almost all. One side was actually by Kathy Lynn and The Playboys, and there was one or two more sides which may have involved studio musicians.

But for all intents and purposes, the records credited to The Rockin’ Rebels (including almost all of the LP on Swan Records) were actually played by The Jesters.

And the few Rockin’ Rebels releases that came with a group picture featured the Jesters on the cover!

45 Friday: THE JESTERS featuring Junior Shank – What’d I Say

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

This week saw the passing of a man who was very important in the local music scene.

Junior Schenk’s time in the Buffalo area proper was relatively short but it included that crucial time in Rock’n’Roll between the initial impact of Presley, Holly and Little Richard and the rise of the Beatles. He came from the Southern Tier area and returned there after he was done. In his area – Bemus Point (where he ran the Surf Club) and Jamestown – he became a legend. But his time in Buffalo is not well-remembered and has never been documented.

The ‘big deal’ in the R&R world of the Fifites in the Southern part of this region was Billy Lehman and his group. They cut one of the first true Rock’n’Roll 45s from this area, and followed it with two more. All three were true R&R band records, as opposed to a single artist or vocal group. 1958’s “Take It Easy, Greasy” was a Bill Haley-style raver. Their vision of a Rockin’ R&R band sound stayed true to the roots and continued even as this group of associated musicians changed personnel and band names.

They were known first as Bill Lehman & The Rock-Itts, later as Billy Lehman & The Penn-Men (named perhaps because they ranged down to Northern PA). They got up North enough to have their first 45 carry an address of “The Hotel Hamburg, Hamburg New York”, from which I assume they hold forth at times. Lehman played guitar, Shenck played guitar and sang, and Mousey (aka Mousie, aka Roy A. “Mouse” Gage) played standup bass and sang.

Clyde Dickerson – who later made records out of the Southern Tier as Clyde Dickerson & The Teardops and Red Arrow & The Braves (see previous articles) – played sax. Tony DiMaria was the drummer.

We should probably clarify one things now: Paul R. Schenck, Jr was known to his friends as Junior or Junie. On all records bearing his name he used his stage name of Junior Shank. So from here on out, he will be Junior Shank.

After three 45s things changed. Other musicians got involved and the changes are somewhat confusing. Shank, Gage and DiMaria morphed into The Jesters. Lee Markish joined as lead guitarist and co-vocalist and John Capello came in on sax.

Markish’s real name was Leroy Markish but that didn’t stop him from calling himself Lee Marcus, Lee Davey and Lee Carroll as well. Capello shows up all over Buffalo R&R, as the sax player on The Tunerockers’ “Green Mosquito” and lead vocalist with the Graduates!

At some point Peter Haskell took over on bass in the The Jesters, replacing Mousie’s standup bass with his electric. The group was run by DiMaria who acted as leader, and Carl Cisco became the Jester’s manager.

Bill Lehman himself stepped back into a manager role and formed a new Rock-Itts around guitarist/vocalist Billy Quadt, using members of Billy Quadt’s band (including Dave Rosean on guitar).

[ Quadt used the stage name Quad, and his band may previously have been called Billy Quad & The Ravens, but were once again The Ravens in time for their 1965 single on Sahara. ]

Eventually Capello left the Jesters to join Billy Quad’s The Rock-Itts. The Jesters replaced him with saxist Eddy Jay (Eddie Hoagland). Later Haskell too left to join the Rock-Itts, and was replaced by Kenny Mills.

Peter Haskell eventually ended up joining Stan & The Ravens. Ironic, because Billy Quad had named HIS Ravens in honor of Stan Szelest’s group!

This is simple enough – two separate bands – but it seems that Lee Markish also played with Quad’s Rock-Itts, filling in for Dave Rosean on the road! Markish ended up in a trio with Quad in the mid-60s anyway: The Soulful Bowlful.

Another thing the bands had in common is that both were ‘house bands’ at Downtown Buffalo’s Jann’s Casino. The Jesters were followed in by The Rock-Itts.

Which brings us to today’s record. 1963’s “The Big T” / “What’d I Say” came out on Candy Cane label in 1963. The Twist craze was in high gear and both songs do have a Twist rhythm. Jann’s Casino opened a room called The Candy Cane Lounge, referencing the famous Peppermint Lounge of NYC which was ground zero for the Twist fad. “The Big T” seems to refer to The twist itself. The labels proudly boast “Recorded Live at The Candy Cane Lounge” and includes crowd noises, like Joey Dee’s “Peppermint Twist” and “Shout” and others of the genre.

Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” is perfect for this frenzied treatment. For this reason it was covered by many bands, from frat-rockers and Rockabillys to garage-rockers.

Junior sings both sides of this, and it sure sounds frantic! From listening to this you can guess at the wild show they delivered. And the story on Junie is that in later years he only became MORE of a showman – doing handstands and back flips onstage.

At some point he left the now Buffalo-based group. He pursued a music career ‘down South’ and eventually focused his efforts on his Chautauqua Lake club.

Not long afterward The Jesters reached the pinnacle of their career when they were picked by Tom Shannon to replace the original Rebels and become The Rockin’ Rebels, recording many singles under that name, and most of the “Wild Weekend” album.

Junie has passed on but his Rocking efforts live on; on vinyl, on YouTube, and in the memories of the people who saw his entertaining shows.

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Note: in the pictures used in this video, the Jesters are Jay, Haskell, DiMaria, Markish and Shank.

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.)  

45 Friday: BILL LEHMAN – Take It Easy, Greasy

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 By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Billy Lehman’s name appears prominently on three records out of the Western New York area in the 1958-59 period. All of them are good Rock’n’Roll, and they involve a number of local musicians who collectively are responsible for a large chunk of the Rockin’ music that came out of WNY in the post-Elvis, pre-Beatles world. I hope to untangle their whole story out over the next few weeks, as it’s confusing. I’m still pretty confused about it! But it’s a story that needs to be told and will be told.

When recording and playing out, whether as Bill Lehman & The Rock-Itts, Billy Lehman & The Penn-Men, Billy Quad & The Rock-Itts, Billy Quad & The Ravens, The Jesters, or even The Rockin’ Rebels, this bunch of musicians consistently delivered a no-nonsense straight ahead rocking sound that kept the kids dancing until the British Invasion swept the old style away.

Here’s the first record from this crew. Credited to Bill Lehman And The Rock-itts, it appeared on the Prime 1 label and carried an address of The Hotel Hamburg, Hamburg New York.

Take It Easy, Greasy is in a Bill Haley style, and the title sounds like an answer to See You Later Alligator. In reality Bobby Charles wrote both songs, as well as some others that also used that kind of rhyming jive talk. Other R&R artists jumped on the trend with their answer songs but Bobby Charles’ 1956 See You Later Alligator was the original. He recorded it himself after Fats Domino turned it down, only to have Bill Haley’s cover version eclipse his own.

But Take It Easy, Greasy was all Bobby’s. Or was it? Lil Johnson, singer of bawdy Blues tunes, had written and recorded a hit with that title and very similar words back in 1936. Bobby Charles’ version credits his real name (C. Guidry – Robert Charles Guidry) and Bill Lehman’s cover does also.

Musicians in The Rock-Itts at this time were probably Lehman on guitar, Junior Schank on guitar and vocals, Clyde Dickerson on sax (see my recent writeup on PAT AND THE SATELLITES for more on him!), Roy A. “Mouse” or “Mousie” Gage on standup bass. The drummer is unknown to me – it could be Stan Pembleton (aka Stan Robbins) though eventually Tony DiMaria drummed for several of this family of bands.

Lehman and crew worked mainly the area from Hamburg down south to Jamestown and Bemus Point at first, gradually becoming more of a “Buffalo” band. For today, we will leave off with the release of Take It Easy, Greasy / Rock Around The Horn in 1958.