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!

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45 FRIDAY: THE BUENA VISTAS – Soul Clappin’

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Buena Vistas and their “Here Come Da Judge”. This one is very similar in concept and origin.

The core group of Kathy Keppen and Nick Ameno dropped the Kathy Lynn & The Playboys name around the time they left the Buffalo area for Detroit, and began issuing records as The Buena Vistas on Swan (while also recording as The LaSalles for V.I.P., but that’s another story) . The previous Kathy Lynn singles had ranged from Rock ‘n’ Roll to Girl Group sounds. But after their 1966 move to Detroit the singles became almost completely Soul/R&B oriented. And they were a particularly funky form of Soul which – if not Funk per se – comes very close to it!

As we previously discussed, there were less band members and more studio musicians as time went on until at some point there recognizable sound of Detroit session men has completely taken over the recordings. And by the time of today’s featured single – 1968 – that process had long been complete.

Their first 45 as The Buena Vistas had an A-side (Hot Shot) which obviously heavily features the Detroit Soul session stars but the B-side (T.N.T.) has the older sound of the early 1960s instrumental craze and is likely played by Keppen, Ameno and their band in large part.

For what it’s worth the writing credit for Hot Shot is Shannon, Cisco, Ameno. That is radio DJ Tom Shannon, manager Carl Cisco and Nick Ameno. At that time Shannon was deejaying at CKLW out of Windsor, Ontario, hitting the Detroit audience. Buffalo-born and raised, he’s well-known to Buffalonians as an early 1960s radio personality here but had been co-managing Kathy Lynn & The Playboys and had taken them with him when he moved West.

Credit for T.N.T. is Cisco, Ameno and Kathy Keppen. Interestingly, T.N.T. is actually a (very) thinly disguised rewrite of Bobby Lewis’ Tossin’ And Turnin’, known also by Bobby Darin’s cover version. Tossin’ N Turnin’ = T.N.T.!

By 1968 Buena Vistas singles were coming out on the new Marquee label. We previously discussed the first – Here Come Da Judge b/w Big Red. As we said, Marquee was a partnership of Tom Shannon, Carl Cisco and Nick Ameno.

Today’s record, Soul Clappin’ (b/w Rappin’) followed about four months after Judge. Like it, Soul Clappin’ starts off with a spoken phrase. My guess is that Detroit Soul produced and personality Richard Popcorn Wiley again performed this duty.

Released on Aug 10, 1968, Soul Clappin’ / Rappin’ entered Billboard’s Bubbling Under (under the Top 100) chart, reaching number 126, but went no farther nationally.

Writing credits on both sides are; Shannon, Cisco, Ameno. I have to go with the general consensus and believe that the performers here are all Detroit session men, but still can’t help but wonder if the only part the Buffalo people played in this was writing it. And how did these Buffalo suburbanites learn to write such funky Soul music?

45 FRIDAY: THE BUENA VISTAS – Here Come Da Judge

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

This week is a followup to last week’s short article on the single by Kathy Keppen as “Lynn Terry”, and previous articles on the Buena Vistas and Kathy Lynn & The Playboys.

This was an evolving series of ‘bands’ – really musical groupings involving the core group of Kathy Keppen and her husband Nick Ameno under many names. Sometimes they used assumed names, especially after their 1966 move to Detroit. It seems that as time went on there were less band members and more studio musicians until at some point there recognizable sound of Detroit session men has completely taken over the recordings. And by the time of today’s featured single – 1968 – that process was complete.

1968 saw the release of their first for the new Marquee label, MQ-443, Here Come Da Judge b/w Big Red. Marquee Records is described at Discogs as a “minor late-1960’s Detroit R&B label believed to be formed out of the partnership of disc jockey Tom Shannon, Carl Cisco and Nicholas Ameno”. Shannon and Cisco had been managers of Kathy Lynn & The Playboys/ The Buena Vistas (which by 1968 meant basically just Keppen and Ameno).

Here Come Da Judge begins with that phrase, one popularized at the time by comedian Pigmeat Markham, and used on TV’s popular ‘Laugh In ‘ show. It’s claimed that the backing track was actually ‘borrowed’ from a single by another Detroit band, Tino and the Revlons, on their Cameo Parkway song Ya Ya (itself a version of the Lee Dorsey classic). Supposedly the vocal track was removed from the Tino record and then Soul singer and sometimes produced Richard Popcorn Wiley overdubbed his spoken interjections. Listening to them back to back this does seem to be the case. One question is – who actually played on the Tino record?

For what it’s worth, the label writing credits on the Buena Vistas record are: Here Come Da Judge (Nick Ameno & Ron Sherae) and Big Red (Nick Ameno, Kathleen Keppen and Jim Fazzolari).

In the case of their earlier Buena Vistas records from 1966 it sounds to me like Kathy Keppen and Nick Ameno (and maybe their band members) play on them. In the case of these 1968 ones, not so much. I’d suspect they don’t play on these at all.

But I can’t explain why they were given writing credit then. Both tracks are simply ‘riffs’ that required little composition, only arranging. And one of them is apparently a previous recording! If a producer intended to put out a record using their band name but played by session musicians it seems to me he would only use his own name as wrier, and not give away ‘a piece of the pie’ this way – unless those other people helped create the record.

Anyway, there you have it- another mystery only partially solved.

45 Friday: LYNN TERRY – Boy Crazy

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Today’s 45 is a Pop/Pock female vocal effort out of New York City. As it turns out ‘Lynn Terry’ is actually Kathy Lynn of Kathy Lynn & Playboys.

Kathy Keppen worked under many names, and so did the group, including The LaSalles and The Buena Vistas. Like most of their later recordings the actual recording session personnel is unknown but in most cases one must assume the core group of Nick Ameno/ Kathy Keppen/ Carl Cisco was involved on each, as they are credited as writers on each.

Interestingly, Kathy’s actual correct name should be Kathy Ameno as by this time she was married to Nick Ameno! For completeness’ sake we should maybe call this bunch or Kathy Lynn Terry Keppen Ameno & The Buena Vista Playboys.

We’ve previously covered Kathy Lynn & The Playboys and the Buena Vistas so I’ll leave their full story alone for the most part.

This record was a one-off for NYC’s Rust Records. Based on some of the label information (Shan-Todd Publishing, A Magi Production) we can speculate on the discographical place for this 1966 release among their other releases. It came AFTER their work as Kathy Lynn & The Playboys on Swan, at approximately the same time as their early (1966) efforts as the Buena Vistas on Swan, but before their 1967-68 Detroit recordings as the Buena Vistas and The Antiques.

Based on a real close listen to their recordings my personal guess is that their convoluted recording history goes like this: Kathy Lynn & The Playboys 1963-65, recorded in Western New York (or maybe some in NYC); The Buena Vistas recorded in early 1966 in NYC followed by this mid-1966 one, on Rust, also recorded in NYC.

I think it was only after this that they moved to Detroit along with Tommy Shannon, and made their ‘Motown’ single on V.I.P. Records as the LaSalles. based on this record they’re often referred to as “the first white group on Motown records” though I’m not sure that’s exactly accurate.

In any case, that would be late 1966. Following that their associates (including Carl Cisco, who was at some points their manager) created a record label named LaSalle and the group revived the Buena Vista name for a LaSalle release. Other Buena Vistas 45s also came out, on related (and apparently unrelated!) labels.

These records sound unlike the previous Buena Vistas records, which supports the idea that those were earlier ones were recorded in NYC and these later ones in Detroit.

Just to confuse matters they made a couple 45s for LaSalle under other names. For one, they were The Antiques. On the other Kathy Lynn revived the Lynn Terry name for a one-off release in in 1967 or 68. This particular record is rare with very few copies in circulation. On both of these, the writing credits are again Nick Ameno/ Kathy Keppen/ Carl Cisco.

The A-side of Rust R-5109 is a cover of Jackie DeShannon’s “When You Walk In The Room” (also done by The Searchers). But today we present the B-side, their self-penned “Boy Crazy”. It’s a mildly-soulful effort, sounding like a girl group backed by a garage band. Enjoy!

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: : Kathy Lynn & the Playboys – Rock City

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Bob ‘The Record Guy’ Paxon

 

Surf music is a California thing, but it was too popular and too cool to stay that way forever. It was inevitable that bands all over the country would adopt it. WNY, with a deep tradition of instrumental rock, naturally took to Surf. In Rochester they had the Vacqueros and the Vistas, in Buffalo The Buddies and – for one record anyway – Kathy Lynn & the Playboys.

 

 

Kathy Lynn Keppen and band’s stock in trade later became funky soul instrumentals, especially after they moved to Detroit with manager Tom Shannon. These were issued under a variety of names, though most often as The Buena Vistas. But in the days of their first few releases it seems they had no fixed sound, moving from Rockabilly to Pop/Soul. And this one example of killer instrumental Surfin’ Music.

Both sides of this 1965 release are raw and rockin’, featuring great guitar played here by Eddie Bentley, an off-and-on member of the group (to this day, I believe) and familiar to WNY folks from his many musical ventures as well as his music store. Other members are Nick Ameno and Carl Cisco. I believe Tony DiMaria is the drummer here. Trainspotters may want to note that this lineup recorded at least one track that was released under the name The Rockin’ Rebels.

The label of “Rock City” states that it was recorded ‘live at The Peppermint Stick’. This was a teen club on the corner of Niagara Falls Blvd and Ward Road in North Tonawanda. About which I know nothing except the Caveman often played there, and on one snowy night (Christmas, 1965) a little group called The Yardbirds appeared, guitarist Jeff Beck posing proudly with his Telecaster and Vox amps for the KB Teen News photographer. Want to know what THAT sounded like? So do I. But until someone shows up with those tapes, we can listen to this great live track and imagine 1965, Kathy Lynn and band wrapping up a wild set, and Beck watching from the wings, plotting a few flash moves with which to upstage these Yanks.

Kathy Lynn & the Playboys “Rock City/Rockin’ Red River” on Swan 4175