Wild Weekend

Tom Shannon was the top dog in what was basically a two-man operation. A disc jockey in the late 1950s at Buffalo, New York's Top 40 station WKBW, he and fellow deejay Phil Todaro had access to a recording studio and called the shots for several bands who lived near Buffalo. Take, for example, the Hot-Toddys of Port Colborne, Ontario, about 20 miles away along the northern shores of Lake Erie. "Rockin' Crickets" was written by the enterprising pair and recorded by the Canadian band. Bill Pernell's hot sax highlighted the instrumental (he received label credit) while the B side, "Shakin' and Stompin'," featured a vocal by bandleader Big John Little (also noted on the label). Released on Shan-Todd Records, after Shannon and Todaro, the record picked up airplay in several nearby cities and from there spread coast-to-coast; it had a considerable mid-chart run in the spring of 1959.

Then there was The Russ Hallett Trio, a band from Binghamton, New York, further east near the Pennsylvania border. Hallett's group had only one known single release ("Frosty") backing Shannon, though it's doubtful Tom played an instrument on the record. Guitarist and singer Hallett, guitarist Aldo Brozzetti and drummer Jack Sinchaski made one lasting contribution: they wrote and recorded a theme song for Shannon ('KB radio, Tommy Shannon Show...') Later, the melody of that radio jingle, expanded and adjusted to fit a rock and roll beat, came out in an instrumental version and eventually became a top-selling nationwide hit.

Enter The Rebels, four teenagers attending Baker-Victory High School in Lackawanna, a few miles down the road from Buffalo near the eastern shores of Lake Erie. The group was made up of brothers Jim Kipler (guitar) and Mickey Kipler (saxophone) with bass player Paul Balon and drummer Tommy Gorman, fully aware of hitmaking "twangy" guitarist Duane Eddy's Rebels band. Hey, they didn't care; they liked the name. The guys hooked up with Shannon and recorded an instrumental variation on his radio theme, titled "Wild Weekend." Tom and Phil came up with a new label, Mar Lee (based on the names of their girlfriends) and the resulting Rebels single made some noise in 1960 on stations in the Great Lakes region and a few markets further away. It wan't a huge hit, but it made Shannon and Todaro a little money...which, according to one if not both Kiplers, they neglected to share with the band.

At any rate, the single, showing Todaro and Shannon as writers, did well enough to get the Rebels an appearance on American Bandstand, the increased exposure creating some confusion as to their name, so it was changed to The Buffalo Rebels. Two more singles came out on Marlee (now one word but still two girls). "Donkey Walk" and "Theme from The Rebel" (taken from the TV series starring Nick Adams) weren't widely played and the group split up with very little money to show for their fleeting moment of glory.

The Rebels

A couple of years went by. Jim O'Brien had been working as an on-air personality at WKBW during Shannon's time there and when he moved to WNDR in Syracuse, New York, some 40 miles to the south of the shores of Lake Ontario, he figured Shannon would be none the wiser and used "Wild Weekend" as the theme for his own show. Sometime around the fall of 1962, Swan Records owner Bernie Binnick happened to be driving through town, most likely on a record promotion road trip, and caught O'Brien's show. He flipped for the cool theme song and through some effort managed to locate Shannon and secure the rights to release it. So the song went a second round, picking up enough airplay to break onto the charts in December, gradually making its way to the national top ten by the end of February '63. The band members themselves were nowhere in sight, finding out about the single's success only after hearing it played on the radio. The group's name once again became an issue due to its conflict with Duane Eddy's Rebels, something Binnick hadn't considered when he had the thing pressed. The name was again changed, this time to Rockin' Rebels, and depending on where you lived, the song was by one or the other (for me, living in Los Angeles, it was the Rebels; I didn't know about the Rockin' Rebels until many years later).

Things actually got more complicated after that. Russ Hallett voiced his discontent over the Todaro-Shannon composers' credit for a song he and his bandmates had actually written, but his complaints fell on deaf ears. With the original group out of the picture, the follow-up single was "Rockin' Crickets"...not a new recording, but the original Hot-Toddys version! Big John Little and his band were still around but like Hallett found no real reason to be happy about the situation. In April, "Crickets" hit the charts as a Rockin' Rebels record but had a less eventful run than the first time around in '59. Swan rushed out a Rockin' Rebels album titled Wild Weekend, basically a collection of covers of recent instrumental hits. Another Buffalo group, The Jesters (Tony DiMaria, Lee Markish, Eddie Jay and Kenny Mills), assumed the band's identity, recording most of the tracks (other than "Wild Weekend," its flip "Wild Weekend Cha-Cha" and "Rockin' Crickets") with additional contributions by Kathy Lynn and the Playboys, one of those ever-so-rare instrumental bands with a female leader. At least four groups in various configurations made up what the public accepted as either Rebels or Rockin' Rebels! It was all very confusing. I'm still a bit baffled by the whole thing.

In the end, Tom Shannon and Phil Todaro pocketed most of the proceeds, along with Binnick and the execs at Swan Records. More singles were released, mostly written by mix-and-match combinations of Shannon, Jesters members DiMaria and Markish and the group's manager, Carl Cisco, with titles like "Happy Popcorn," "Flibbity Jibbit" and the obligatory "Another Wild Weekend." The party ended sometime in 1964, though Swan took another stab at rereleasing "Wild Weekend" in '66.

In 1964, The Rebels (Kipler, Kipler, Balon and Gorman, not Duane Eddy's more consistently employed backup band) finally resurfaced as The Sophisti-Kats with an eponymous "budget album" release (subtitled Formerly the Original Rebels of "WILD WEEKEND" Fame). In a twist on the pieced-together Rockin' Rebels LP, it was a collection of instrumental covers, but with additional rock and roll tracks including two Beatles tunes. Few at the time were even aware it existed.

- Michael Jack Kirby


Wild Weekend