45 FRIDAY: BEN HEWITT – I Ain’t Givin Up Nothin’

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

We talked about Ben long ago – way back in the early days of 45 Friday a couple years ago. We covered his second 45 (Patricia June / For Quite A While) and the lone single by his guitarist Ray Ethier (Slave Girl). Both of these were issued on Mercury Records in 1959.

Ben had cut enough tracks at his first session to complete his first and second single releases. The first came out earlier in 1959: You Break Me Up/  I Ain’t Givin’ Up Nothin’.

The circumstances behind the session are simple. Ben was discovered at his regular gig at DeFazio’s bar and bowling ally in Niagara Falls by a Col. Parker-type fellow, and taken to New York City he to record for Mercury Records, accompanied by his longtime guitarist Ray Ethier. It sounds like they were high-spirited boys who really cut loose in the big city and had wild times. But in the studio they were made to knuckle down and work.

I believe the producer was Clyde Otis and the arranger Belford Hendricks. By the time of their third single Hendricks was credited as such on the labels. Ben got his self-composed You Break Me Up on the A-side which was as it should be. he was a prolific composer who in later years got his songs recorded by many R&R, R&B and (especially) Country music artists.

The B-side was I Ain’t Givin’ Up Nothin’ (If I Can’t Get Something From You) – which is the actual complete title.

This came to my attention again recently when I picked up a 1962 45 by Jewel Brown, who sang with Louis Armstrong’s small group in later years but also tried her hand in the Pop/R&B market. Maybe I should say, ‘her hand was tried’ by her producer Clyde Otis. The copy I found had a one side credited to Clyde Otis/ Brook Benton/ Belford Hendricks while the I Ain’t Givin’ Up Nothin’ side carried no writer credit. It wasn’t until I played it for someone else that we realized it was the same song as Ben’s!

My inclination was to believe some record company shenanigans had taken place and Ben was being robbed of some royalties. My first research showed it had later been recorded by Clyde McPhatter, also for Mercury (1960), in a session also arranged and conducted by Belford Hendricks, carrying the credit of Otis-Benton: Clyde Otis and Brook Benton.

Furthermore it was cut in slightly later versions by Rockabilly singers Sonny Wilson (for California’s Candix label) and Jimmy “Frenchie” Dee (for two tiny Texas indie labels). Both of these carried the Otis-Benton credit.

I went back to my copy of Ben’s record and found that even on his the credit was Otis-Benton. I still believed that it was probably Ben’s song and had either had the credit stolen or he’d made a deal to give up the royalties.

But finally with a lot more research I learned it had been recorded just a few months earlier (September 1958) by Priscilla Bowman for Abner Records, backed by the Spaniels. It was the B-side of A Rockin’ Good Way, her version of the Brook Benton hit, also written by Otis-Benton. Her session was almost certainly helmed by Clyde Otis too.

It does fit Ben’s style like a glove. Ben loved Elvis (and could imitate him perfectly) though his his idol and the model for his stage presence was Little Richard, whom he saw on a package tour (probably brought here by The Hound, a friend of Ben) – and later met at Buffalo’s Zanzibar Club!

Ben’s March 1959-issued version obviously shows a strong influence from Elvis’ 1956 Don’t Be Cruel in the vocal and vocal arrangement. Musically though it has much in common with local boy Ersel Hickey’s almost simultaneous (February 1959) Bluebirds Over The Mountain. I’m guessing Ben and Ersel knew each other and likely had shared a song or two.

So I Ain’t Givin’ Up Nothin’ was never a Ben Hewitt composition at all. Was it a case of producers pushing their own song on an artist as a way to increase their royalties? It’s so perfect for Ben that maybe it was his own suggestion. Perhaps he’d already been performing it during his marathon bar band shows where he was known as a human jukebox. Ben had wide-ranging taste in music and loved Rock’n’Roll, Rockabilly, Country and R&B. It’s definitely possible he’d heard the Priscilla Bowman song already.

In any case it’s a great track by the guy who many people thought was another Elvis Presley.

45 Friday: FRANK DeROSA & THE DE-MEN – Big Guitar

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

This is a busy week so I’m taking the easy way out, and posting about a record we touched on before! Back to Rochester for this one.

Ken Records was a small Rochester-based label but they hit twice, both times with instros. As with many instrumental records of the times, they crossed over from Rock’ n ‘Roll into Rhythm & Blues, Rockabilly into pre-Surf music. Both “Big Guitar” and Chuck Alaimo’s “Leap Frog” feature a rockin’ rhythm and a greasy wailing sax, though “Big Guitar” lives up to it’s name with a extra helping of raunchy six-string.

I’m pretty sure both records were actually recorded at Rochester’s legendary Fine Recordings studio, Ken Records having no studio.

Something else the two have in common is both of them were picked up by national labels after local success. MGM picked up “Leap Frog” and went on to issue three more 45s by Chuck Alaimo. Dot Records picked up “Big Guitar” but alas, it was a one-off release for them, even though it WAS a moderate hit. It became an even bigger hit when covered by Owen Bradley’s Quartet (on Decca, in 1958).

We should note that the group on Ken is THE DE-MEN while on Dot it was changed to THE D MEN. It’s supposed to have been a play on DeRosa’s name, which gets lost in the Dot credit. Maybe that thought DeMen was too much like Demon?

DeRosa, like Chuck Alaimo, was a tenor sax player. Besides DeRosa, the group included Robert Genovese and his brother Sonny Genovese, aka Bobby Geno and Sonny Geno. Bobby is the prominent guitarist on this 1957 track.

Bobby and Sonny may also have been members of The Four Ekkos. They were involved on Ekkos recordings in any case.

Sonny Geno had a later 45 ( which features Bobby on guitar) on the local Rip Records, which also had a Four Ekkos release. Bobby Geno later had a 45 on the First Records label, owned by Buffalo radio station DJ and program director Dick Lawrence. On this record, the label credit is “Bobby Geno – Mr. Big Guitar”!

The B-side of  “Big Guitar” was “Irish Rock”, a typical piece of Irish-sounding music which was probably based on an existing tune which I can almost place but not quite… generic ‘irish’ music I guess. Both sides are credited to DeRosa and Genovese.

The single got a release in England on London Records, and also on a London EP alongside Pat Boone and the Fontaine Sisters. In 1960 The Tielman Brothers (a Dutch/ Indonesian group of brothers) reworked “Big Guitar” into “A.A.A.” and had a European hit with it.

Sonny Genovese passed away around 1990. Until recently Bob Genovese had a regular music gig in Las Vegas. I don’t know what ever happened to Frank DeRosa but I hope he went out or goes out wailing, like his wild sax.

45 Friday: DAWN BREAKERS – Boy With The Be-Bop Glasses

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

The Dawn Breakers were one of the first Buffalo groups to make a record aimed toward the Rock’ n’ Roll audience, even if that record was more like Pop and Jive Jazz in sound.

Jack Blanchard was very talented musically, proficient on guitar, bass and piano. After graduating (he attended Bennett, Lafayette and Kenmore High Schools) he played piano in various joints around town. Don Fronczak joined the Army out of high school, which is where he began performing music – singing first in an Army chorus, then a private group.

Out of the service and looking for an opportunity to sing, Don met Jack at a nightspot in Tonawanda and they decided to form a group. At first it was the boys with two girls and the material was the Pop music of the day. As time went on the ladies were replaced with a succession of male singers, the material started including R&R, and they started working the Western New York circuit (which really means Ontario to Erie), including McVan’s and the Glen Casino. Jack continued to be the ‘musician’ of the group while Jim Warren became the lead singer.

This group did some recording at Howell Studio on Delaware Avenue, as many as a dozen tracks of their music plus advertising jingles and a theme for a local DJ. Probably due to the latter, they hooked up with local DJ ‘Hernando’ (Phil Todaro), as many aspiring local musicians ended up doing. Through his record business contacts Todaro was able to get them a deal with Coral Records. Jack brought out a song he’d written called Boy With The Be-Bop Glasses (And The Suede Shoes). In the interest of group ‘harmony’ he have the credit to all groups members- Blanchard, Fronczak, Warren and Buddy Lee Baker (who had replaced Harry Madrid).

The Boy With The Be-Bop Glasses has elements of R&R (the sax solo, the kicking drums and of course the lyrical theme) but also the squarer sound of many of the harmony vocal groups of the 1950s (the Four Lads, the Crew Cuts) – the sound that dominated Pop radio before R&R came along.

I’m not SURE what “be-bop glasses” are, but I have a feeling they’re not talking about Buddy Holly so much as Dizzy Gillespie and the hipster be-boppers of the jazz scene. There’s also a jazz element in the vocals that shows the link between scat singing and doo-wop. In popular perception such jazz scat singing may have been ‘be-bop’ though it meant something much different to actual Bebop musicians.

In any case, the 1956 song was something of a local hit, though some radio stations may have opted to spin the more traditional These Are The Things I Love on the flip. They had trouble getting The Hound – George Lorenz – to play their record unless some considerations were thrown his way (a common practice) which they were unwilling or unable to do. And just as they were getting going there were the usual members resignations due to family and ‘other job’ demands.

With new members they auditioned for the Arthur Godfrey Show and even cut an advertisement for the local Polish newspaper “Everybody’s Daily”. They may have cut one more obscure 45. But finally they just drifted apart.

Jack moved to Florida where his parents already lived. He cut a R&R / Rockabilly 45 but his career dwindled down to writing songs by day and playing lounges and joints at night. He met a woman doing the same thing on the same circuit and was surprised to find that Maryanne Donahue was also an ex-Buffalonian. They began dating and eventually married.
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The other thing Jack was involved with was trying to find backers for the series of independent record labels he dreamed up, and issuing records by himself and others in different combinations. Some of his records included Maryanne who eventually adopted the professional name of Misty Morgan. Working now as the duo of Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan, recording the unusual songs that Jack was producing, they had a couple misses but finally one big hit with the ultra-earworm novelty country song Tennessee Birdwalk. Many will be surprised that this strange record was the product of two Buffalonians who met in another city!

[ Note: the lion’s share of info in this article came from Bob & Terri Skurzewski’s excellent book on local music & radio history, ‘No Stoppin’ This Boppin’. ]

Friday 45: The FOUR EKKOS – Toodaloo Kangaroo

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Finishing up with the Four Ekkos we have their first release proper – the first issued under their own name. This comes in-between their 1957 (debut backing local Rockabilly singer Jerry Engler) and their last 45 on Buffalo’s Label Records.

“Toodaloo Kangaroo” b/w “My Love I Give” was released in 1958, credited to The Four Ekko’s [sic]. The writer of “Toodaloo Kangaroo” was Robert Genovese. I have speculated that Genovese and/ or his brother Sonny were members of the group. Regardless it’s almost certainly Genovese’s lead guitar on the break.

Robert Genovese was known professionally as Bobby Geno. He’d been the guitarist in Rochester’s Frank DeRosa & The De-Men. He played on their 1957 recording “Big Guitar” / “Irish Rock” on Rochester’s Ken Records label. This was picked up by Dot and “Big Guitar” became a moderate hit, though it was dwarfed by 1958’s cover version by Owen Bradley Quartet.

Geno turned up next on a 45 that was owned by Buffalo radio station DJ and program director Dick Lawrence. First Records 101, “The Shawnee” (a Geno composition) b/w “Little Rock Getaway” was credited to Bobby Geno but he was noted as “Mr. Big Guitar” on the labels! The label’s logo actually reads ‘Another First’, leading some collectors to question the actual name of the company; but to me it appears to be actually First Records. Not much is known by local collectors about this label but Lawrence at one time managed both The Graduates and The Tune Rockers, both Buffalo groups.

Bobby Geno’s brother Sonny Geno was also a member of Frank DeRosa’s band. He had one single under his own name – also on Rip Records. Sonny’s 45 “Blue Skies” / “Just Be Good” gave a writing credit to Bobby who is featured on guitar.

That brings us back to today’s record. The Four Ekkos’ “Toodaloo Kangaroo” and Sonny Geno’s “Blue Skies” are the only two releases of which I’m aware on Rip, apparently a local label. Since Bobby Geno has a writing credit on both, and had probably just left the DeRosa group, I have a feeling he was a member. Aside from that, and the K. Reinhardt who wrote the other side of the Rip Records 45, I have no clues as to possible membership of the Ekkos. After their next (and last) release in 1959, nothing was ever heard fom them. I’m also not aware of any further activities of Bobby Geno. Sonny Geno ended up later in Patsy Cline’s band – playing pedal steel guitar!

Anyway, “Toodaloo Kangaroo” is a decent R&R record with an interesting feature in the middle- a vocal buildup to the guitar solo.

I welcome any further info about the Four Ekkos or the Genos, especially any other involvement in the Buffalo music scene. And any info on Rip Records, Label Records or First Records.

45 Friday: The FOUR EKKOS – Hand In Hand

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By Bob ‘The Record Guy’ Paxon

Last week we talked about Rochester Rock’n’Roll singer Jerry Jaye on Buffalo’s Label Records label. This week we’ll look at one of the other two releases on Label Records, that by the Four Ekkos.

I don’t know a whole lot about the Four Ekkos. I’m not even sure of  their names. As usual that’s not going to deter me from sharing with you what I DO know! Hopefully, as sometimes happens, someone will com eout of the woodwork with more info.

The Ekkos first hit a recording studio when they backed Rochester Rockabilly vocalist Jerry Engler on his 1957 Space Age-themed “Sputnik (Satellite Girl)”, receiving a label credit along the way – ‘Jerry Engler & The Four Ekkos’. This was cut at Rochester’s Fine Recordings but picked up and issued by Brunswick Records. [I covered this record in a long-ago article.]

Engler later was befriended by Brunswick labelmate Buddy Holly after they both performed at a legendary Rochester War Memorial show. At that same show, a young Ersel Hickey met the Everly Brothers backstage and got the excellent advice to write a song, as the ticket to success Rock’N’Roll game.

Next for the Ekkos was a release on Rip Records (a cool-looking label, with a ripsaw blade for a logo!). The address for Rip is given on the label as Los Angeles but the only two records that I know of on it are Rochester artists so I think this is merely marketing. A trade ad of the time gives addresses of Rip Records as both Rochester and Hollywood. I have a feeling the only thing they had on the West Coast was someone redirecting mail to Rochester!

“Toodaloo Kangaroo” b/w “My Love I Give” was released in 1958, as by The Four Ekko’s [sic]. “Toodaloo Kangaroo” was credited to Robert Genovese. Genovese (aka Bobby Geno) may have been an actual member of the Ekkos. If not he was likely the arranger and guitarist on the track.

Bobby was the guitarist with Frank DeRosa’s band. He played on their hit “Big Guitar” which was first released on the local Ken Records label, later picked and charted by Dot Records; still later covered by Owen Bradley. On one of his other records he’s referred to as ‘Mr. Big Guitar’.

Bobby and his brother Sonny Geno (Sonny Genovese) were musicians around town. They did some work as on-call sessions musicians for Fine Recordings, where I believe the Ken Records recording sessions were held. I learned from Steve Foehner after last week’s article was completed that Bobby and Sonny were the musicians on the Jerry Jaye 45, recorded at Fine.

The early R&R scene in Rochester was small one, where everybody knew everybody. Per Steve Foehner again (thanks Steve!): Steve Alaimo, Ersel Hickey, and Jerry Jaye all played together. And they hung out together at a Duke Spinner’s Rochester music store which is where Vince Jan (Fine Recordings) discovered them.

The only other name I can suggest as a possible Four Ekkos member is the K. Reinhardt who wrote the other side of the Rip Records 45.

That brings us to today’s record. Their third and last, it was released in 1959 on Buffalo’s Label Records and was a moderate hit locally. There’s no writers listed for either “Hand In Hand” or “Think Twice” and no other further info to help us solve this case. That leaves us with just the music. “Hand In Hand” is a good R&R vocal group effort. Enjoy!

45 Friday: JERRY JAYE – Going To The River

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

Here’s a nice Rock’n’Roll record on a Buffalo record label, by an apparent Rochester guy, but little seems be known about him locally. And nationally, information is sketchy because he’s gotten confused with another Jerry Jaye – or two.

Jerry Jaye (born Gerald Jaye Hatley) hit the charts in March 1967 with a cover of Fats Dominos’ “My Girl Josephine”. It was a nicely rockin’ track, not ‘wild’ but closer to the original R*R stuff than what either Nashville was doing with country, or what psychedelic popsters were doing with Rock.

Some saw it as a return to Rockabilly – and it did have that sound –  but aside from a few old timers who never quit, and just a HANDFULL of rebels among the flowers and beads crowd (like CCR), Rockabilly didn’t return for another decade. But Jerry Jaye (Hatley) continued on with more singles for Memphis’ HI records label, and eventually an album. Most (more than half) of his recordings were reworkings of Fats Domino tracks. His love for Fats continued unabated, despite the public never really reconnecting after that first single.

Compilers of info on R&R and Rockabilly will tell you that despite his 1967 success Jerry Jaye (Hatley) was a first generation Rock’n’Roller who actually started in 1958. And this Rochester/ Buffalo recording (today’s Friday 45) was his first release. But they’re wrong. The 1967 Jerry Jaye was a Southern boy (Tennessee), a different Jerry Jaye from the 1958 local artist we’re celebrating today.

Not much is known about our local boy. I don’t even know his real name. It probably wasn’t really ‘Jaye’. He later had a trio and they were a fixture at Rochester’s 414 Club, J&I Lounge, The Avenue, and Garden Grill. The Jerry Jaye Trio included Neil Marvel and Gene Newman.

Along the way he cut a record for Fine Recordings in Rochester using Sonny and Bobby Geno as backup. After a small pressing on Fine (supposedly only 250 copies) it was issued on a label out of Buffalo with a 20 West Tupper St address, intriguingly named Label Records. This was related to the Masters Releasing group (essentially a Lenny Silver company).

Label had only three releases, all R&R. The others were the Four Ekkos – a Rochester R&R vocal group – and the Cornell Sisters – a pop/ R&R duo). All were pressed by Columbia.

Think about the confusion involved with that: Label Records. Real “Who’s On First?” stuff.
“What record company is it on?”
“Label.”
“Okay: label?”.
“Yes.”
“Yes what?”
“The Record company!”

But I digress. Our local JJ’s recordings for Fine, picked up by Label Records, sold some copies regionally but ultimately stiffed. A guy who COULD be the same Jerry Jaye (pretty likely) cut a track in 1958 for Stepheny Records (out of Illinois), both sides of which have been compiled on a Buffalo Bop CD of Rockabilly tracks. Unfortunately for music detectives they’ve also been included on an unauthorized compilation of the Memphis Jerry Jaye’s music. I’m not sure if the Stephney Records JJ is the Label Records JJ but I know neither of them are the 1967 Memphis JJ!

To complicate things further there there was a 1959 release by a Jerry Jaye on Pallette Records out of Allentown PA. It even has picture sleeve, which shows this JJ playing an electric bass. I don’t THINK this is our man – though it’s possible – but I’m pretty sure it’s not the Memphis cat either.

In doing some research I found that the Memphis JJ apparently never recorded before the mid-1960s and apparently never left the South. So I’m pretty sure none of the other JJ’s are related to him. Yet the foremost resource for Rockabilly info lists two of their records (those of our guy and the Stephney Records guy) as his first records.

It’s easy to see why the R&R historians got this wrong, because the Memphis Jerry Jaye’s fixation on Fats Domino coincides the plug side of the Label Records release by ‘our’ guy, a Rockabilly cover of another Fats Domino tune. “Going To The River”.

So this should be perfectly clear- two different white guys named Jerry Jaye covering Fats Domino tunes Rockabilly Style almost a decade apart, with no other apparent connection. Got it?

Anyway, “Going To The River” is a good rockin’ track. The flip is a slow ballad version of the standard “A Cottage For Sale”. After this our Jerry Jaye disappeared into the mists of time, leaving only confusion in his wake.

Oh, one more thing: in 1958 a group called the The Jaye Sisters (??) released a record on Atlantic. A cover of a song by – you guessed it – Fats Domino. Another version of “Going to The River”!!