45 Friday: LENNY O’HENRY – Mr. Moonlight

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

 

Last week we talked about Danny Cannon in his one-off identity as L. B. Wilson, recording in 1963 for Bob Crewe’s Vivid label. Today we’ll cover his equally short stay with the big-time Smash Records label. It lasted for just one release, but it’s a great record!

Danny came to Smash having already been renamed ‘Lenny O’Henry’ by Crewe, and having made two singles for the powerhouse ABC-Paramount label . There was still some confusion though, because the first copies of Smash 8200 – the promotional copies – called him ‘Lenny O. Henry’.

Crewe got Lenny signed to Smash at the same time he was recording him under another name for his own Vivid label. As we said previously the reasons for that aren’t clear. But it made for two nice releases for Danny in 1963.

His Vivid single “Don’t” had a pronounced Latin aspect to the Soul sound. But his Smash “Mr. Moonlight” has a more subtle Latin sound, mainly in the rhythm. It’s the same kind of Latin influence that Atlantic was using so successfully on records by The Drifters (“Up On The Roof”, “Under The Boardwalk”), Ben E. King and others. “Mr. Moonlight” takes it to another level though, building to a crescendo worthy of Roy Orbison.

There was another famous “Mr. Moonlight” but it has no relation. Or almost no relation. Performed by Dr. Feelgood & The Interns, it had been written by the band’s guitarist Roy Lee Johnson earlier but recorded by them for Okeh in 1962. Dr. Feelgood & The Interns have their own great story. Dr. Feelgood was previously known as Piano Red (though really named William Lee Perryman), under which name he’d been playing and recording Blues on piano since the 1930s. The Dr. Feelgood identity was his attempt to get back into music, this time in R&B, after having left the musician life for Radio DJ work.

Did the Feelgood track influence the Lenny O’Henry track of one year later? Well, it has a Latin rhythm (maybe it’s supposed to be a Calypso rhythm). Some of the lyrical ideas are similar. But I guess it’s likely two random songs that personify ‘moonlight’ are going to have similarities regardless.

Incidentally, most people know Dr. Feelgood’s “Mr. Moonlight” from it’s John Lennon-sung cover by The Beatles.

 

Danny, er, Lenny’s record is a Big Production number with lots going on. It starts out sparsely. Instruments are slowly added. Backing vocals come in – the first part is done by The Four Seasons. Then after the violins become more pronounced, female studio singers are added. Leading to a big finish and some great lead vocal moves.

“Mr. Moonlight” was first written by Danny, who cut a demo of it and brought it to Crewe who took it, made some changes and brought it back to Danny. He found it hard to sing since the words didn’t fit the meter so well anymore, but in the end it was Bob’s call and that was how it got cut. This is why the writing credit is to Cannon/Crewe. A cynical person might wonder if Crewe made the changes only to take credit, but he doesn’t seem to have been that type of person. He already had successful songs solely written by himself, with much a more extensive and lucrative catalog to follow.

In any case Danny regretted the changes and felt the song would have been better as he’d written it, and could have been a big hit. It did do moderately well. But it took the Europeans to really pick up on it, and as the Popcorn scene developed on the Continent, the song became more and more popular through the Seventies and into the Eighties.

Popcorn is a kind of Soul/ R&B music that has it’s own cult following in Europe. The more uptempo Northern Soul music found its biggest home in England, but the epicenter of the Popcorn Soul music scene is Belgium. In fact, it’s often called Belgium Popcorn. The records tend to be older (early 60s) than the Motown-inspired later 60s tracks popular in the Northern scene, and many have just this type of Latin rhythm. “Mr. Moonlight” is an almost perfect example of Popcorn and it’s considered a classic in that scene.

After this lone Smash release Danny found himself signed to the main exponent of this type of sound, Atlantic Records. Well, Atlantic subsidiary Atco Records. But that is another story,

 

 

45 Friday:- LENNY O’ HENRY – Goin’ To A Party

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

We lost one of the greats recently.

Danny L. Cannon Sr. passed away last Saturday. He was a humble man who kept a low profile. Most of his neighbors knew him as the guy who kept his East Ferry & Wohlers neighborhood clean, something he did for over 20 years on a voluntary basis.

Few knew that at one time this man crossed paths with James Brown, Clyde McPhatter, Dionne Warwick, Berry Gordy and Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons. In fact, the 4 Seasons sang backup on Danny’s records! Danny performed at The Apollo Theater and was a familiar face in New York City’s Brill Building scene. He appeared on stage as both one of the Drifters and one of the Clovers. His first group made records for several labels but as a solo artist he appeared on three major labels. His records are still played to this day for dancers on the European Soul scene and the Atlantic coast Beach Music Scene. His music has stayed in print into the Digital Age, with a couple of his songs regularly appearing on CDs compiling classic tracks for the R&B dance crowd.

The real start of Danny’s career came when he met a young Donnie Elbert and formed The Vibraharps. These young men eventually became the most prominent R&B vocal group in Buffalo in the style we now call Doo-Wop. They got a jump start when they were asked to become The Drifters for one night, backing Clyde McPhatter for his  New Year’s Eve show at Buffalo’s Plaza Theater as 1955 turned into 1956. They cut singles for New York City’s Beech Records in 1958 and Atco Records in 1959. Lenny usually got the lead vocal on the uptempo rock’n’roll sides. But that’s not what he really wanted. He wanted to sing the ballads.

Donnie Elbert left the Vibraharps early on and achieved success with hit records in three different decades, becoming a star as Rhythm & Blues turned into Soul music. The Vibraharps cut one more record locally and then drifted apart. Danny and group member Donald “Duck” Simmons found work in Toronto as a duo – Danny & Donnie – where they specialized in doing versions of Everly Brothers songs!

With the promise of more work the group came back together and started performing in and out of town. An audition with Berry Gordy in Detroit resulted in an offer to sign to Motown which the group had to turn down. They had signed with some New York City people just days before. It was 1961. New York City beckoned again. The Vibraharps went off to record a single for ABC-Paramount. At this time Danny met the man who would become a friend and guide his career for the next few years: Bob Crewe.

The record was “Cheated Heart”, written by Danny. When it came out it was billed to Lenny O’Henry & The Short Stories. Danny was told he was going to be the front man, he would be called Lenny O’Henry, and he was asked to sign a contract a separate contract from the whole group. And that was the end of the Vibraharps.

Now a true solo artist, Danny cut a second Lenny O’Henry single for ABC-Paramount in 1962. 1963 found him on Smash Records recording “Mr. Moonlight”. Danny always regretted the changes Bob Crewe made to his composition, believing it could have been a bigger hit his way. Regardless, the track found a home years later in the European ‘Popcorn’ dance scene, where it’s considered a classic.

Danny found his way back to Atco Records in late 1963 where the last three Lenny O’Henry singles came out. The first is the one that’s the most well-known to England’s Northern Soul crowd. “Across The Street” was something of a hit – twice (it was issued in 1963 and again in 1967). The biggest chart success at the time was in the USA but it was issued in many countries and sold well around the world. Even bigger success was to come many years later.

Originally Danny wrote most of the material, with contributions from Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio (of the 4 Seasons, who wrote all of their hits). As time went on Danny found his material was being shelved and he was being presented with songs he didn’t like. He became estranged from the New York City guys. Live performances continued where he associated with the likes of James Brown and Dionne Warwick. But it wasn’t so much fun for Danny anymore. The music business was changing and it was changing him. He saw the bad side of the business – the way some of the stars acted – and didn’t he want to become like that. He missed his original group. He wanted to come back to Buffalo, to his people.

When he walked away from the music business in 1965 it was over for him. He never recorded again. He left that life behind completely. He lived on the East Side among people who never really knew that Danny Cannon was once recording artist Lenny O’Henry. Danny himself didn’t know the true extent of what he had done. Unbeknownst to him, his records became more and more popular over time among Soul music fans in Europe, Japan and certain parts of America. Deejays were spinning them at clubs and buying up original copies and eventually the tracks came back into print on legitimate CDs as well as on unofficial (underground) CD compilations. In two particular places – the UK and the Atlantic coast Resort areas centered around the Carolinas – the name Lenny O’Henry became iconic and “Across The Street” a stone classic.

Danny and his family weren’t aware of his renewed popularity, partly because his new fans couldn’t find him, partly because when they did he didn’t want to reply, choosing to leave the past behind. It was only very recently that he became aware of the extent of his fame and interested in talking about the past, and seemed delighted to find that his music still made peo[ple happy.

It’s likely that somewhere this weekend, in the UK or on the Continent, a DJ will be spinning an original copy of “Across The Street” and people will be dancing to it.

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Today’s post is in honor of Danny’s passing but really in honor of his life and career. I covered his story before but only briefly and I didn’t have as much info. After getting to meet him and talk, I now have lots of info! Keep an eye out for more stuff related to Danny, as there are some projects in discussion.

This is the B-side of the second Lenny O’Henry record, which is really Danny’s first true solo record (the earlier Lenny O’Henry record was actually the Vibraharps with Danny leading).
“Goin’ To A Party” is a very Sam Cooke-sounding song which uses the titles and lyrics to many Soul / R&B songs of its day as the lyrics, showing the clever songwriting of Danny. And it’s a great uptempo track!

45 Friday: CHIC AND THE DIPLOMATS – You Don’t Know

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Chic Cicero was everywhere in the days of Buffalo’s early Rock’n’Roll scene, when instrumentals were the favored type of music, saxophones had equal prominence (at least!) with guitars, and an R&B influence was essential.

In the early days of the 1960s Chic blew tenor sax with The Fendermen. In 1963 he joined an established combo, The Vibratos. They had achieved a lot of success locally, working regularly at the Town Casino and becoming house band at the Glen Park Casino. But singer Emil Lewandowski and guitarist Mike Lustan left, having been pushed to greener pastures on the West Coast to seek fame and fortune. They found some, while playing and recording as The Enemys. But it was nothing compared to what happened when Emil, now called Cory Wells, joined with two more singers to form Three Dog Night.

So Chic was brought in. Older by a decade than the rest of the band (Dick & Jack Terranova and Al Fiorella), he brought his old-school R&B sax-honker antics with him, clowning and ‘walking the bar’ at places like The Colonie on Hertel Avenue.

Around this time Gary Mallaber also  joined the Vibratos, replacing Joe Ferrara on drums. Later a legend but just starting out professionally at this time (and still a teenager), he would go on to work his way up the ladder of success: Stan & The Ravens, then Raven, and eventually Van Morrison, The Steve Miller Band and studio dates with everybody from Springsteen to McCartney.

This version of the Vibratos broke up after recording a single (the second and final recording for the band) around 1964. Chic formed Chic And The Diplomats with some of the cream of Buffalo’s R&B players- Joe Madison on organ, Denny Fox on drums. In their early days they played top clubs like the Candy Cane Lounge alongside The Jesters.

As the Sixties went on they began a long stand as house band at the Ivanhoe Lounge on Forest Avenue. It was during this time they cut their lone waxing, Tears/You Don’t Know. Tears is an old style sax-led ballad instrumental which was already dated at the time, with a lounge-y organ sound more Wild Bill Davis than Jimmy McGriff.

But You Don’t Know is an up-to-date Soul track, a stomping version of the current Sam & Dave hit (also known as You Don’t Know Like I Know), written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

As a side-note: Sam & Dave’s success can largely be traced to WNYer Steve Alaimo who performed on the same show with them at a nightclub in Miami and produced and released them on his own Marlin Records before taking them over to Atlantic, who then turned them over to Stax Records, where they found great success.

This record was released on Ivanhoe Records and all copies came with a postcard-sized photo in lieu of a picture sleeve. The ‘Ivanhoe’ part is easy to understand, while the Pittsburgh address on the back is not.

In any case the record wasn’t a hit but they continued to ply their trade at 561 Forest Ave. A 1967 ad promises “every Tuesday through Sunday- the Soul Sounds of Chic And The Diplomats”.  A 1968 ad puts them at the Safari Inn in East Amherst, probably a step down, and a sign that their career was just about stalled as a new wave of music was coming in – psychedelic/heavy or singer/songwriter – these guys were none of the above.

I don’t know what happened to the rest of the band, but Chic Cicero left the music world for fame (or notoriety) of a different sort, not germane to our discussion here. We’re left with this – not great, not bad, but a perfect evocation of a time when you could walk into a Buffalo club and hear a bar band pound out R&B for the dancers.

45 Friday: FOUR ANDANTES – Hipper Than Me

45-Friday_4 By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Mo Do Records label and recording studio was located in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighborhood. Label owner William ‘Billy’ Nunn, Sr. made his first try at the singles market with Bob & Gene’s “You Gave Me Love” / ” Your Name” (Mo Do 101, 1967).  Bob was his son Bobby Nunn and Gene was Bob’s friend Eugene Coplin. In 1968 the next Mo Do single was issued – “Hipper Than Me” / “The End Of Love” (Mo Do 102, 1968), credited to The Four Andantes. The only thing I know about them is that the lead singer was Levi Ruffin, Jr. Other collectors, either local or part of the international Soul scene, don’t seem to have discovered anything either. Collector interest in the Mo Do label really only started in the late 1980s/ early 1990s with the growth of the Northern Soul scene. The original scene was mostly focused on the hits and major labels. As the ’70s gave way to the ’80s, more obscure tracks and second-string labels came into vogue. DJs all wanted to have records on their playlists that no one else had, or even knew. By the 1990s second-tier labels, third-tier and beyond had been exhausted and attention turned to ultra-obscure labels. Mo Do Records was one, having never had a hit in its time, with very few copies of Mo Do singles having ever left the Western NY area. As is often the case, a collector ahead of the curve was the first to contact Billy Nunn who sold him most of the leftover records for a pittance. Along with Mo Do’s many Gospel releases were the four Bob & Gene releases, the Four Andantes single and a couple other Soul/R&B titles. These made their way to the biggest market for USA Soul records. In England, The Four Andantes developed a reputation not only as the best but as the scarcest record on the label. Endeavoring to find out more, UK collectors contacted Mr. Nunn directly. He was less than forthcoming with them, feeling he’d been burned by the previous collector. No, he couldn’t remember much about the Four Andantes, but he could connect them with one member. Levi Ruffin, Jr. was just coming off a long period of success as keyboard player with Rick James’ Stone City Band, who backed Rick as well as putting out records under their own name. For whatever reason, Ruffin couldn’t or wouldn’t provide additional information on the group beyond verifying he was the lead singer (he is also credited on the labels as the writer). Eventually a blurry picture of the Four Andantes turned up. They look as you’d expect – the photo reveals very little – and no additional names were forthcoming. Typical young Soul singers circa 1968. And the tracks themselves are typical 1968 Soul with a ballad side and an uptempo side. Maybe a little on the under-produced side, and not the greatest recording quality (typical Mo Do characteristics). Yet coming through that is the feeling of hopes and dreams, a first shot at success. For Levi Ruffin Jr, it was the start of a career in music. Label mates Bobby Nunn and Billy Nunn, Jr. attained equally successful careers in music in bands or as solo artists. For Billy Nunn, Sr. there was no chart success for his label, though he did get to see his sons make their mark in the business later.  Eventually, vindication: in the 2000s a local collector was able to obtain his trust, this time gaining access to unreleased material he had. This led to a Bob & Gene album being issued which sold well to the niche market of hipster Soul collectors and attained critical praise. The financial rewards continued in the form of royalties when two of the Bob & Gene tracks were used in motion picture soundtracks. Luckily Mr. Nunn was able to experience this before he passed away. By the way, Andante is a musical term. They may have become the FOUR Andantes after discovering that Motown Records already had a ‘The Andantes’.  This was a girl group who sang mostly backgrounds, rarely issuing their own records, but were on an unbelievable number of Motown tracks including many mega-hits. Interesting, in that Ruffin and both Nunn boys ended up on Motown labels as well.

45 Friday: DARRELL BANKS – Open The Door To Your Heart

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By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon

Following our recent Donnie Elbert posts, here’s a record that shot up the national charts in 1966 – and embroiled Donnie in a court case with his former friend, the singer!

Darrell Banks (Eubanks) was born in Ohio to an unwed teenage mother who gave him his surname and left him in the care of his grandparents. He followed the usual path of learning to sing in the local church. After high school he sought out his father in Buffalo where he began singing with local bands. I don’t know much about his local work and I’d love to find out more.

 

Banks eventually met up with a club owner named Doc Watson. Doc put him on stage at his Club Revilot. Darrell also crossed paths with Donnie Elbert, already a legend due to his membership in The Vibraharps and his early solo success. Donnie acted as something of a mentor to the young singer.

Donnie had written a song he titled “Baby Walk Right In” which he gave to Darrell, who made some changes and then pit it in his back pocket for possible future use.

Meanwhile in Detroit, LeBaron Taylor was trying to compete with Motown’s dominance of the Motor City at Golden World Records, a label with Buffalo connections. Golden World’s studio equipment was formerly Tom Shannon’s Buffalo studio and it had been used to make many records locally, including the hit “Wild Weekend”! Tommy had moved to Detroit where he was becoming a power in the radio business, and he brought with him some of the WNY recording artists he managed as well as some associates trying to break into the record production business.

Detroit at that time was the epicenter of the Soul / R&B music world. The Motown SOUND was dominating the charts and influencing others. The Motown business model was attracting attention as well: a Black-owned company recording Black artists that was able to cross over to pop radio mega-success, with its own studios and studio musicians.

Golden World Records copied that model in every way. They even utilized moonlighting Motown session players. They did it so well that in 1966 Motown bought out the company and the studios. There was money to be made copying Motown either way, selling your own records or selling out to Berry Gordy. Another label of the Golden World partners, Ric-Tic Records, similarly sold out to Motown in 1968.

Some Golden World employees together with Don Davis and George White of Detroit’s WXYZ had formed a production company, Solid Hitbound Productions, which similarly made perfect faux-Motown recordings. They had several record labels but their first was Revilot Records.

Darrell Banks was apparently singing “Open The Door” in Cleveland when talent scouts for Don Davis heard him. By some accounts it was a chance meeting, by others Doc Watson’s Detroit connections made it happen. For what it’s worth, Davis signed Banks to be the first artist on a new label and since it was apparently named for Watson’s Club Revilot in Buffalo, you can draw your own conclusion!

A major reason Darrell was signed was the potential hit song he brought with him. “Baby Walk Right In” was now titled “Open The Door To Your Heart” and after successfully auditioning with it at Solid Hitbound, Darrell apparently claimed sole composing credit.

“Open The Door To Your Heart” featured Motown session stalwarts like Dennis Coffey. The flip side “Our Love Is In The Pocket” was co-written by George Clinton (later of Parliament/Funkadelic), whose Parliaments were also signed to Revilot.

The record peaked at #2 R&B and #27 on the Billboard Hot 100. When Donnie Elbert saw that he’d been cut from the credits (a valuable copyright, considering that it was a million-seller), he went ballistic. A protracted legal battle ensued but the courts ultimately found in Elbert’s favor.

It was immediately covered by The Capitols on Atco Records. Atco was a home for many Buffalo R&B artists over the years, including Donnie Elbert, Lenny O’Henry and The Vibraharps, and soon Darrell would find himself there too. Jackie Wilson covered also it, in 1967, and Betty Wright in 1976, among others.

Banks’ second single on Revilot placed high on the charts. On to Atco Records, he released some singles which didn’t chart and his first album, which included his Revilot singles. After one more single on Atco subsidiary Cotillion Records, he signed to Stax Records. It  released another full-length album of his material in 1969 and two more non-charting singles. Don Davis produced the Stax Records; his mandate at Stax was to make Motown-sounding records.

Darrell continued performing, mostly in Detroit, at places like the Pink Pussy Cat. His sister recalls her last meeting with him there; he had a large white ankle cast as a result of a stage injury.

In February 1970, Banks was shot and killed by policeman Aaron Bullock in a dispute over Marjorie Bozeman, a West Side lounge barmaid with whom Banks had also been involved. Bullock was dropping Miss Bozeman off at her home on the West Side when Banks approached and grabbed her by the coat. Bullock identified himself as a police officer, Banks then pulled out a .22 revolver and Officer Bullock fired one shot, striking Banks in the neck.

The killing shocked Detroit, and the Soul music world in general. Banks was considered a humble, friendly but reserved, non-violent man. Soul music royalty of the Motor City gathered for a Banks family benefit at Watts Club Mozambique on Detroit’s West Side. Isaac Hayes, The Spinners and Martha Reeves & the Vandellas turned out to support the family and a trust fund for Banks’ children.

Life went on and before very long Banks’ memory was left behind in the USA. He was buried in an unmarked grave.

Meanwhile, Northern Soul fans in the UK had never forgotten. Bank’s records, particularly “Open The Door To Your Heart.” It went from initial 1960s chart popularity to “classic” status after  regular spins at influential clubs like the Wigan Casino and the Twisted Wheel in the early 1970s.

Once a Northern Soul classic, forever a Northern Soul classic (their motto is Keep The Faith). In 2003, a Scottish fan who hadn’t forgotten traveled to Detroit searching information concerning Banks’ death. Shocked to discover the unmarked burial site, he gathered fellow Northern Soul fans and raised $2,000 to give Banks a solid marble grave marker. Fans from around the world gathered to honor Banks with a party followed by memorial service.

Grave marker #539 now has a beautiful bench inscribed with both Darrell’s name and “Open the Door to Your Heart”.

45 Friday: DONNIE ELBERT – I Got To Get Myself Together

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By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon

We’re returning to Donnie Elbert for one last time. Because he’s that important, and he’s that great!

Donnie spend the end of the 1960s in England, where he issued records, produced other artists, and found a wife. He returned to the USA in 1970 and cut a record for the Rare Bullet label – the first release on that imprint (Rare Bullet 101). I Can’t Get Over Losing You was the top side and I Got To Get Myself Together was the flip.

 

 

This became his first chart hit in over a decade, in the USA anyway (he’d had chart hits in England). I Can’t Get Over Losing You reached the number 26 spot on the R&B charts.

Rare Bullet was an affiliate of Sylvia Robinson’s All Platinum label. Sylvia was the female half of Mickey & Sylvia with guitarist Mickey Baker. She would later hit with Pillow Talk, and Shame Shame Shame which ended up in court, the subject of a battle over composing credits with Donnie, which Donnie lost. Shirley later founded the Sugar Hill label which made many millions as the king of the Rap / Hip Hop labels.

The plot thickened when soon after when the two sides were issued again, this time with I Got To Get Myself Together as the A-side. This was on Donnie’s own Elbert label. Soon after the Elbert label released it’s second and last 45, with I Can’t Get Over Losing You AGAIN, this time as the B-side to a new track, Sweet Baby.

What was the Elbert label, and why was he re-releasing his own work while it was still in ‘hit’ status? It doesn’t appear to be a local (Buffalo) label, the address appears to be in New Jersey the home of Rare Bullet and All-Platinum. Was it approved by the folks at All-Platinum?

We can only guess. I Got To Get Myself Together was the more popular side of Rare Bullet 101 in England. Maybe Donnie wanted to prove a point, that they’d got the sides promoted wrong. It seems to be in keeping with his maverick, rebellious (some say paranoid) nature.

I Got To Get Myself Together is today considered a Northern Soul classic, and if you search YouTube you’ll find there’s at least a dozen uploads for it. I chose this one because it’s the only one showing the scarcer “Elbert” version. He achieves a real Curtis Mayfield sound on this one!

If these releases were known to the honchos at All-Platinum it must not have bothered them, because soon after he was on the parent label itself. 1970’s All-Platinum 2330, a cover of the Supremes’ Where Did Our Love Go, hit number two on the R&B charts, number 15 on pop charts and number 8 in the UK. Interestingly, Where Did Our Love Go had actually been recorded two years earlier in England.

Donnie had more hits at All-Platinum, then left in a disagreement and headed to Avco. He soon left Avco in a disagreement and went back to All-Platinum, where he stayed until the aforementioned lawsuit over Shame Shame Shame.

Speaking of copyright controversies, next week we’ll look at the copyright argument between Donnie and another Buffalo soulster over another hit R&B record.