45 Friday: L.B. WILSON – Don’t

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

 

One of the great things about record collecting and record detective work is when you think you know everything, have heard everything; and you learn something new!

The recent passing of Soul/ R&B singer Danny Cannon, while a loss to our local music community, has had the positive result of his legacy now becoming known to more people, and more parts of his story being revealed. Danny’s neighbor Liesha Williams helped him try to get back in contact with producer Bob Crewe. Through that she uncovered another Danny recording and has brought it to my attention (thanks!).

We’ve covered Danny’s career in the past. I’ll sum it up briefly here, to bring us up to 1963.

Danny was a founding member of The Vibraharps in 1956 and continued with them, through breakups and re-formations, until they splintered for good in 1961. At that time they had auditioned for Berry Gordy. He wanted to sign them – but their management had simultaneously made a deal with ABC-Paramount, an offer they couldn’t refuse.

The producer for their session was Bob Crewe. He had them record a song Danny had written. “Cheated Heart” featured Danny’s lead over the group’s harmonies. But without telling them, Crewe had renamed the group and presented them as leader and backing group – Lenny O’Henry & The Short Stories. He had also signed Danny to a separate contract, sensing that he had the most talent and potential.

This of course didn’t go over too well with the guys, It was the end of the group and the true beginning of Danny’s solo career as ‘Lenny’.

One more for ABC-Paramount followed, in 1962. By 1963 Lenny O’Henry was signed to Smash Records. At the same time, a record by L. B. Wilson appeared on the new Vivid Records label out of New York City.

Bob Crewe had a specific way of working. He gathered the most talented people he could find around him, put them all into the studio, and while he had a ‘directive’ style of producing, was open to creative input from any of them. Many of his artists were songwriters – as Danny was – but they might be encouraged to record a song by another of his artists if it felt right to Bob.

Bob’s inner circle included arranger Charlie Calello and writer Bob Gaudio (formerly of The Royal Teens, and later a member The Four Seasons and their principle songwriter along with Crewe). The Four Seasons were used often in the studio as background vocalists – one website that tried to nail down this information places them on almost 100 ‘outside’ sessions, mostly involving Crewe. Rumor had it that they san on one or two Lenny O’Henry sessions but my latest research shows it more likely they sang on most if not ALL of them!

Other groups regularly used together with or in place of the New Jersey boys were girl groups The Angels, and The Rag Dolls (aka the “Female 4 Seasons”). All these artists sang on each other’s records. Bob Crewe seems to have loved harmony vocals as well as distinctive lead voices. When he found voices he loved he worked tirelessly and open-mindedly to make artistic creations with them. He must have LIVED in the studio, and expected the same from his musicians. He did so much recording you have to wonder if simply creating great records was as much of a goal as ‘making hits’.

For this reason, I think it’s logical to assume that Crewe utilized Danny’s vocal talents on other sessions. This seems to be true of his other artists. But there’s no way to know for sure.

In 1963 Crewe created the Vivid label, running it out of New York City. There was another Vivid label which features R&B and Blues artists like Shakey Jake Horton but it was distributed by VeeJay. It seems to have been from Chicago and unrelated.

However it’s interesting to note that the Four Seasons were also on VeeJay. By the way, for those too young to know- at this time, the Four Seasons were the BEST-SELLING GROUP in the USA. 1963, VeeJay had ’em, as well as The Beatles, the best-selling group outside the USA. And lost boh of them!

So, maybe Vivid had been affiliated with VeeJay at one time, but at this time it was clearly Bob Crewe’s endeavor. There were only four releases on it. Vivid 1001 is a studio-group novelty. Vivid 1003 is a Crewe-Calello creation credited to singer Kevin McQuinn, formerly of the Mello-Kings. McQuinn made further records on other labels with the Crewe / Calello / Bob Gaudio team. His Vivid single was written by Bob Boulanger.

Vivid 1004 was by Van Trevor – real name: Bob Boulanger! It supposedly features the Four Seasons. Later the Four Seasons would record a Boulanger song for their Rag Doll album. Boulanger (aka Bob Bollinger), who also wrote Freddy Cannon’s “Abigail Beecher” and played lead guitar on it, is mostly known under his stage name of Van Trevor, which was concentrated in the Country music field eventually.

[ Train-spotter followers of local music will note a curiosity regarding Van Trevor. His “Satisfaction Guaranteed” was issued on Canadian American, but also on a strange release by Corsican Records. The same Corsican Records as owned by Tommy Shannon and Phil Todaro – well, sort-of. And it strangely was found in a cover version by a Syracuse radio deejay – maybe we’ll cover that some day. ]

Anyway, I say all that to give you the flavor of what it was like to be in the studio with Crewe and associates. Basically, everybody was contributing, and the recording was prolific! Which brings us to Vivid 1002. Credited to L. B. Wilson, it paired “Don’t” with “Poco Loco” (actually an instrumental version of “Don’t”, subtitled “Part 2”).

 

 

 

“Don’t” is a Latin Soul / Pop record. L. B. Wilson is actually Danny Cannon. The track was produced and written by Bob Crewe and includes the Four Seasons on backup vocals. It’s a cool track with prominent horns and a twangy six-strong bass guitar. The mostly instrumental flipside adds a wailing harmonica solo over the whole track and a rave-up finish with gospel-y vocal shouts; it sounds like a party in the studio and I bet they had a ball. You can pretty much visualize Danny with Frankie Valli and the boys when you listen.

Incidentally, this record is a good example of the different styles that appealed (and still appeal) to the European Soul club dancers – the A-side is perfect for ‘Soulies’ (Northern Soul fans) while the B-side is one for the Mods.

Billboard Magazine’s Jul 27, 1963 issue carries an ad for Bob Crewe Productions which interestingly promotes the “Poco Loco” side, calling it a Regional Breakout. The same ad mentions a ‘Coming Attraction – Lenny O’Henry on Smash Records’.

The almost-simultaneous release is interesting. Was this was just a way to put out extra product? Or a way around Danny’s contract with Smash?

In any case the L. B. Wilson record wasn’t a ‘hit’ yet it must have sold in decent quantity- it’s fairly available. The Wilson name was retired but Danny continued recording with Crewe as Lenny O’Henry for the rest of his recording career. When Danny had a falling-out with Bob it was the beginning of the end of his career in music and the end of a friendship. Danny didn’t try to contact his former mentor for decades. When he finally did, in 2013, it was to no avail. Bob was in assisted care and not returning phone calls.

Bob Crewe passed away on September 11, 2014. Danny passed away two weeks later, on September 27, 2014.

45 Friday: LOU COURTNEY- Hot Butter N All (Part 1)

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The search for info on Lou’s Buffalo background goes on unabated, but unrequited- so far.

Lots of information on his recording career and record releases is available but nothing had been known about his early life in Buffalo.

Teasing little bits of information have turned up. Someone sent me some links to news articles and each contains another piece of the puzzle. I’ll share some of the pieces with you- maybe it will lead somewhere somehow.

We know Lou was born Louis Pegues in 1944 to Louis R. and Georgia L. Pegues. A news clipping from 1946 shows the birth of a sister, and a family address of 84 Walnut.

A 1960 Courier-Express article from reveals the divorce of Lou’s parents and a new family address of 311 Madison Street.

Another Courier-Express article reveals Lou graduated from Hutchinson-Central Technical School (Hutch-Tech) in June 1962, where he studied Building Design and Construction. My guess is he probably sang with schoolmates there in an informal (pop) group, if not in a school group.

The 1966 Pittsburgh Courier has a photo of Lorraine Ellison as ‘Mercury Record’s New Singing Star’, with a dapper Mr. Courtney – described as her Recording Director – showing her some music charts. A trade publication article from 1966 discusses the signing of Walter Davis by ‘Mercury Records executive Lou Courtney’.

Most recently, a 2012 notice sadly announces the death of Timothy Terell Edwin Pegues in New York City, survived by his father Lou (now ‘Louis Pegues, Jr.’), mother Yvette Moore and two brothers. From that I assume Lou has been living in NYC.

Let’s look back to 1970 when Lou cut an amazing slice of Funk. “Hot Butter ‘N’ All” came out on a one-shot (actually two-shot) label as Hurdy Gurdy #101. It did nothing as far as sales due to its indie-label status but it has subsequently attained high status among Funk and Soul fans.

“Hot Butter ‘N’ All – Part 1” was credited to just Lou Courtney and it’s an amazing slice of hard Funk. Full of explosive energy, with hard drums and blaring horns, Lou puts it over the top with some James Brown-like screams.

The flipside, “Hot Butter ‘N’ All – Part 2”, is an instrumental version. Credited to Mr. C & Funck Junction, it’s the better-known side today because it’s perfect for mixing and sampling. Everything seems slightly ramped-up on this side which is hard to do because the Part 1 vocal version starts on a 9.5 out of 10! It seems to be mixed hotter and has some overdubbed instruments.

Proving that a good track should never go wasted, “Part 2” turns up again on the apparent only other release on Hurdy-Gurdy: “Life Is Free” by Donald Height. Height previously recorded for the Shout label, among others, but here he is uniquely also credited as ‘The Singing Preacher’. Hurdy Gurdy #C-100 uses the exact same backing track as “Hot Butter ‘N’ All – Part 2” but adds entirely new lyrics. Less is known about this tiny label than even is known about the early life of Lou Courtney so we’ll have to be content with this much – for now.

Enjoy the Funk!

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!

45 Friday: LOU COURTNEY- Little Old Love Maker

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Louis Russell Pegues was born in Buffalo in 1944. His songwriting credits are often as Louis Pegues – but he’s best known under his performing name of Lou Courtney. Unlike most of the Soul/ R&B artists associated with Buffalo, he WAS actually born here. But like all of the rest he had to go elsewhere to make it in the music business.

He made his first record for Imperial Records in 1962 or 1963. He was still a teenager. Imperial 66006 was the first (Come On Home/ The Man With The Cigar) but Imperial 66043 was the best, a killer Soul two-sider (Professional Lover / Little Old Love Maker), This came as Soul was really just getting off the ground as a separate music from the R&B which gave it birth. You can hear some of Gospel roots in it.

He moved to Phillips for a one-off release in 1965 (I Watched And Slowly You Slipped Away / l Cry If I Want To) and then found a home at the usually jazz-oriented Riverside records where he recorded the dance tracks songs which brought him the most fame – the ‘Skate’ and ‘Shing A Ling’ dancers. 1966 to 1968 saw him release two 45s and an LP on Riverside proper and three on the newly-created Pop offshoot Popside. The biggest of these were 1966’s Skate Now which hit #13 on the R&B chart and #70 on the Pop chart, and 1967’s Do The Thing (#17 R&B, #80 pop).

This, and most of his work at this time, foresees the harder Funk which grew out of Soul.

At the same time he followed in the footsteps of people like Donnie Elbert by working behind the scenes. His songs were recorded by artists like Mary Wells and Chubby Checker (as ‘Louis Pegues’) and he co-wrote with the legendary Pop and Soul producer Dennis Lambert. His group work included a period as studio lead vocalist with the Packers (of Hole In The Wall / Go ‘Head On fame), and later with his own group Buffalo Smoke (1976 -great name, that!), and finally as a member of The 5th Dimension.

His solo recording career never really ended though, and he was prolific! 1968 saw him at Verve for a couple releases (including another dance track, Do The Horse). He went to Buddah Records in 1968. Tryin’ To Find My Woman’ didn’t chart at the time but like many similar records became a cult favorite later on, on the Northern Soul scene. Along the way there were a couple of one-off minor label releases which also didn’t click with the record-buying public.

He had a decent comeback in 1973 when he signed to Epic Records. With producer Jerry Ragovoy he hit with What Do You Want Me To Do (#48 R&B) and I Don’t Need Nobody Else (#67 R&B). Other Epic releases didn’t chart – singles and an album.

A few more releases followed – as Buffalo Smoke, single and album releases on RCA in 1976; and finally on Motown Records as a member of The 5th Dimension on the albums High on Sunshine and Star Dancing. Following these, he effectively disappeared from the music business.

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: DON BARBER & THE DUKES – The Waddle

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Last week we talked about local record label Thunderbird Records – the creation of Buffalo’s Lenny Silver and his associates – and Thunderbird #106, “Kissy Face” by The Dupries. Today we’ll look at Thunderbird #105 and a group closer to home, though maybe beyond the boundary of ‘Western New York’.

Formed in Syracuse in 1959 as Donnie and The Dukes, various members came and went but Don Barber was a fixture on both vocals and drums. By 1961 it was ‘Don Barber And The Dukes’ that they cut their first record at Syracuse’s Riposo Studio. Released on the local Personality Record label, the top side was “I’ll Be Blue” and it was a regional hit, reaching the Top 10 in Syracuse. But the flip got airplay also, and it’s the side most record fanatics care about today. “Henrietta” was a Little Richard-styled uptempo R&B Rocker which had been a hit for Jimmy Dee and The Offbeats. Barber and lead guitarist Skip Seyerle received the writing credit on the Personality release though “Henrietta” was actually an old song, predating Dee’s version.

Radio success was helped by the fact that it was produced by WNDR Radio’s Dan Leonard and the group did work for him, appearing at radio station sock hops and Leonard’s own Sunday “Teen Canteen” Show promotions at Three Rivers Inn.

 

Dan Leonard produced their second and last record which he placed on Buffalo’s Thunderbird Records in May 1965. “The Waddle” was a cover of a 1962 local record by Ithaca’s Soul/R&B legend Bernie Milton (Little Bernie and the Cavaliers, Bernie Milton and the Soul Patrol). This session involved Barber on vocals, replaced on drums by another Radio DJ, WOLF’s Fred Winston! Backing vocal were by The Madisons, whom Barber’s Dukes had been backing instrumentally.

Like most Thunderbird Record releases – and those on Sahara Record as well as many one- or two-off labels -it bore the Master Releasing credit (with a Buffalo address).

“The Waddle” became a local hit and that’s all, but it kept Thunderbird in business, and shortly it would become the home for Buffalo garage bands The Rogues and The Druids and even produce a killer psychedelic garage record from the West Coast by The William Penn Fyve.