Tuesday, April 10, 2012

FROM THE BURGH TO STAX AND BACK WITH PITTSBURGH'S OWN JOHNNY DAYE DIBUCCI


Photo courtesy of Johnny Daye. (L-R) Otis Redding, Johnny Daye & Steve Cropper
I DIG PGH is back from a six month hiatus and here to tell you about the short recording career, and subsequent hiatus, of a local artist named Johnny Daye. Johnny recorded six singles between 1965 and late ‘67. He hit the road at the age of fifteen, with the help of late great manager-extraordinaire Joe Rock, to become one of the most promising blue-eyed soul artists of his generation. Along the way he attracted the attention of the King of Soul, Otis Redding, who brought him to Memphis to record for Stax Records. He released two records for Stax, both produced by Booker T & the MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper. Cropper is quoted "The kid was dynamite. Otis really wanted to do a lot with him. Had Otis lived he probably would have." Daye didn’t record for forty years after Redding’s death. Very little has been documented about his career or his whereabouts since. We hope readers will enjoy excerpts from our recent conversations with him. Although Johnny Daye's days as an entertainer were short lived, as you will read, they were quite memorable.

Born Johnny DiBucci, his singing career began in the early sixties in Brushton, a southern section of Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood. He was in the eighth grade and his first group was The Five Italians, or The Itals for short. They formed on the playground at recess. “We sung around the neighborhood in Larimer. We hung out at Winslow School and we eventually became popular. Local gangsters would make us sing while they were having card games.” The group's first manager was Ralph Fischetti who bought them outfits and Beatles wigs. They hired a drummer for their first job at a school dance where they made two dollars an hour.

“We got word that the Skyliners were performing at Penn Theater (now Heinz Hall).” The Skyliners, who still perform, are Pittsburgh Doo Wop legends who were managed by Joe Rock. They’re regarded as ‘Rock and Roll’ pioneers for integrating Black R&B style vocals with lush string arrangements, a popular music innovation at the time. “Ralph said ‘If Joe Rock hears you you’re going to be a star.’” The Itals met Rock and auditioned for him that night at Penn Theater. The following Monday they were recording at Gateway Records, which was located in downtown Pittsburgh above National Record Mart. “It was an amazing experience to hear myself recorded on tape. You think you know what you sound like, but you don’t really know until you hear yourself recorded. I said to myself ‘I want to make a career out of this.’ I wanted to practice every day.”

The Itals eventually broke up and DiBucci continued as a solo artist under Joe Rock’s management. His voice was much more mature than your typical teenager’s. “Part of it was the type of music that I sang and the people that I emulated. I practiced and I was around those types of people. I learned so many R&B licks when I was younger. Those were big licks in those days. That in itself kind of explains it.” DiBucci sites the likes of Joe Tex and blues singer Johnny Taylor as influences, but it was Jimmy Beaumont of the Skyliners who he credits as his main inspiration. “Until this day if I could sing like any body it would be Jimmy Beaumont. I became who I was because of him. I was R&B (pre) funk and they (The Skyliners) were Doo Wop. Very polished Doo Wop, but Doo Wop none the less. He (Beaumont) played at the Las Vegas Club on Route 51. I was fifteen years old and Joe would take me there to watch him sing. He said ‘Johnny, sing a song. Talk to my guys. They know everything.’ I said ‘How about “Maybe The Last Time” by James Brown?’ So I’d sing it and then Jimmy would say ‘Go ahead, do another one.’ He allowed me to be around on many occasions. I used to go into the studio and watch him record. Jimmy can chew gum and make you cry. That’s how good he is. He’s so professional and such a master.”

DiBucci and Rock made frequent trips to New York visiting record label offices on Tin Pan Alley. One cold fall afternoon they found themselves short on cash and unable to pay their hotel bill. “They locked up our clothes and my guitar. I was only fifteen. I was practically crying. We saw this guy Frankie Day who was Bobby Rydell’s manager. He looked like a crisp $1,000 bill, his suit and his shoes. You could tell his hat was a Stetson. Joe knew him and we started talking. He reached in his pocket and pulled out three or four thousand dollars and kept sticking money in my hand.” Frankie Day eventually plays more of a role in Johnny’s career, getting him signed to the Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway label. DiBucci explains that he required a name with a less ethnic ring to it in those days, so he adopted Frankie Day’s surname, in appreciation for his help, and added an “E” to the end of it.


"I'll Keep on Loving You" b/w "One of These Days"
(1965 Blue Star Records, 45-B-230)


It was here in Pittsburgh that DiBucci, who we’ll now refer to as Johnny Daye, recorded his first record for Nick Cenci’s Blue Star label. Blue Star released the Vogues’ debut single “You’re The One” which became a huge national hit. “Nick Cenci was nice to me. He taught me a lot about how things were done. I don’t think we made enough money to cover the session, but I got experience.” The A-side of Daye’s first record was “I’ll Keep On Loving You.” It was penned by Joe Rock and Johnny Jack who wrote the Skyliners’ hit "Comes Love.” “I lip synched on the Clark Race Show, who was on KDKA. I did Terry Lee’s Come Alive show. I did Teen Times on Channel 9 from Stubenville, OH. We got that here in Pittsburgh. I was big in West Virginia. I’d play Weirton, Wheeling and Fairmont. I did the Weirton Community Center and the police had to escort me out of there. There were hundreds of girls going crazy and I wound up cornered in the basement.” The B-side of his recording debut was a Marvin Gaye cover, “One of These Days.” Daye recalls the excitement of meeting Marvin Gaye, perhaps another influence on his stage name, on one of his visits to New York and says “I never possessed the amazing talent of Marvin Gaye or Jackie Wilson. I was young and I could sing and dance a little bit.”


"A Lot of Progress" b/w "You're on Top"
(1966 Parkway Records, 119)


Shortly after the Blue Star single, Frankie Day signed Johnny with Parkway Records who released his sophomore set of tunes, “A Lot of Progress” backed with “You’re on Top.” Daye says “I hate that record (referring to the B-side). I could have done such a great job, but they wanted something kind of like James Brown. It wasn’t until I got to Stax that I was able to do what I wanted. I don’t think they (Parkway Records) liked me. When I was there ‘The Sound of Philly’ was Dee Dee Sharp, Chubby Checker and Bobby Rydell. The Philly soul music at that time wasn’t what it turned out to be. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff eventually changed the sound of it. ‘A Lot of Progress’ is a great song. Burt Keys arranged that. Bernard Purdie played on both sides. He’s one of the greatest drummers of all time. He put all these signs up with his picture that said ‘Pretty Boy Purdie.’” The Parkway single failed to chart and Daye, still under the management of Joe Rock, decided to leave the label. He speaks in appreciation of Frankie Day again “He continued with his generosity and he let me out of the contract.”



"Marry Me" b/w "Give Me Back My Ring" (1966 Jomada, M-600)
"Good Time" b/w "I've Got Soul" (1966 Jomada,M-603)


Daye quickly auditioned for Johnny Nash who signed him to his Jomada imprint. Refer back to the I DIG PGH feature on Gene Ludwig who also recorded for Johnny Nash and incidentally had a similar Bernard Purdie story. “He (Nash) had just signed the Cowsills. His wife was Cissy, but her real name was Margaret and that’s where the Jomada label comes from. Johnny, Margaret and his manager Danny.” The first Johnny Daye release on Jomada was “Marry Me” backed with “Give Me Back My Ring.” It was one of Daye’s more successful singles in the Pittsburgh market. A second single was released on Jomada, “Good Time” along with “I’ve Got Soul” on the flip. Nash’s wife Margaret penned the B-side while Daye recalls that “Good Time” was purchased from Berry Gordy. “Johnny (Nash) visited Motown shopping for a track and they sold it to him. It was intended for Gloria Gaynor. Gloria didn’t come off on it, so I recorded it instead. Johnny Nash and the bass singer from The Drifters are backing me on that track.”

“Johnny Nash hooked me up with the Bobby Bland Revue. I did seven days straight with them. I made very little money but I had a nice reception.” Another memorable performance that Daye speaks of is his debut at the Apollo Theater in 1965. “This was during the Civil Rights Movement. There was rioting going on in Harlem and I was the only white person on the show. I was the only white person in that building (with the exception of his parents who flew in from Pittsburgh). James Brown was in the audience wearing a great big white coat and he called me over after my performance. I was so nervous. He complimented me and told me I did well. I could hit the stage like James Brown, but I was a cheap imitation and that bothers me to this day. I was pushed in that direction. I was a good dancer and singer, but I couldn’t hold a candle to him. Jackie Wilson complimented me back stage that night too. He said ‘Next time take that tie off and mess your hair up a little bit.’ James Brown was Mr. Dynamite. Jackie was Mr. Excitement. He was the black Elvis Presley. The crowd exploded when he came out.”

It was also here in Pittsburgh where Daye was discovered by Otis Redding. “Brother Matt (WAMO celebrity DJ) hosted a show at Penn Theater with Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. He (Pickett) didn’t show up, so they asked me to do it. We did three songs. I hadn’t met Otis yet. We went on and I was busting my ass. I had on a silver suit and silver shoes with a bow tie. I was dancing and chirping and I looked to my left, fifteen feet away, and there was Otis Redding slapping his knees laughing. I was nervous. I thought he hated me. Then he blew me a kiss and watched the rest of my show. Afterward he said ‘Why don’t you come to Memphis and make records with me? Give me your number.’ A month later I was at home and my mom said ‘You have a phone call. It’s someone named Otis Redding.’” Redding invited Daye to a NARA Convention in Atlanta, the National Association of Radio Announcers. “We went back to Otis’ house in Macon, GA after. Everybody was there ... Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, Chuck Jackson, James Brown. They were all hanging out drinking and Otis said ‘Somebody give Johnny a glass of milk.’"

“I left home and I worked the Chittlin Circuit with Otis. Wherever he went I went. There was another guy with us named Arthur Conley. He was a great kid. Stax was still a movie theater with a studio in it. The secretary would buzz us in. I watched a lot of great songs get cut there. Dave (Prater, of Sam & Dave) sold Oldsmobiles. He was the kindest person. He always said ‘Damn, you’re good.’ I was intimidated, but they take all that away from you. They were all so gracious and kind. Understand that at that time we weren’t allowed to stay in the same hotel or eat together. We’d walk a few blocks to this black woman’s home where we’d eat instead of restaurants. We spent a lot of money there.” Daye estimates spending at least six months traveling back and forth to record in Memphis. During this time his manager Joe Rock co-wrote “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” with Redding and his wife Zelma. “I was sitting there watching all of this with so much talent around me.”

"What'll I Do for Satisfaction" b/w "I Need Somebody"
(1967 Stax Records, 238)

Daye’s first release on Stax was “What’ll I Do For Satisfaction” backed with “I Need Somebody.” The B-side is his personal favorite of the dozen songs in his discography. “Stax’ house band was Booker T and the MG’s. Al Jackson was always busy during my sessions, so we used Carl Cunningham who was with the Bar-Kays. He came up with that beat for ‘What’ll I Do For Satisfaction.’ He was sixteen. He played on all my Stax sides. We went in one day to do the first record and we went to a James Brown show that night. We did two songs at a time.”

Things were looking promising for Johnny Daye, but they took a turn for the worse on December 10th, 1967.  “We had a gig in Cleveland and I wanted to come back to Pittsburgh since I was only two hours away from home. They (Redding and his band, The Bar-kays) flew that day and the plane crashed. I wasn’t booked on the gig. Rarely did I ever fly in that plane. I think it was only two weeks old.” Otis Redding was only twenty-six years old when he died. The crash also took the lives of the original Bar-Kays line up, including Carl Cunningham, with the exception of trumpet player Ben Cauley. Cauley, the lone survivor of the crash, still resides in Memphis. Daye was still signed to Stax after Redding’s death. He recalls being in Memphis six months later when Martin Luther King was killed. “We were staying at Steve Cropper’s house and we felt like we were imposing, so we went to the Travel Lodge. It wasn’t far from the Lorrain Motel. We were eating at Earl’s Hot Biscuits when that went down.”


"Stay Baby Stay" b/w "I Love Love"
(1968 Stax Records, STA-0004)


Daye’s second release on Stax was “Stay Baby Stay.” He considers it to be the best song that he ever recorded. At this point the label was under new ownership and no longer distributed by Atlantic Records. Al Bell became the president of the company, which was now distributed by the Paramount Pictures Corporation. This change is indicated by the switch from the classic powder blue label to the yellow label with the finger-snapping logo. “Joe (Rock) and I collaborated on ‘Stay Baby Stay.’ I wrote the melody on guitar.” Daye laughingly admits, “The three-chord progression I used was used in 10,000 other songs. I would sing some covers in the studio and he (Al Bell) would say ‘That’s good. We’re going to keep that, but where’s the “Johnny Nash” Johnny Day?’ If you listen carefully to ‘Stay Baby Stay’ I challenge you to do some of those licks I did as a 19 year old. At the end of the song there’s a half step modulation. There was a cue with the organ. It took me eight or nine takes before we got it. Steve (Cropper) stopped and showed me the note on the guitar. Booker took it to New York and put the strings and The Sweet Inspirations on it. I’d never even met them.” Daye recalls Isaac Hayes entering the studio as they were recording the B-side “I Love Love.” “Isaac went over and started playing that piano that you hear. He wasn’t even on the date. He still had his coat on. Keep in mind this wasn’t the same Isaac Hayes that we know today. This is when he was part of the song writing team with David Porter (pre-Hot Buttered Soul).”

“Stay Baby Stay” was Daye’s last record. “When Otis died my career died. The mood was gone and nobody wanted to come to work anymore. I didn’t sing again for five years. I was at odds with Joe Rock. Joe did a lot for me, but he was more interested in being (Elvis Presley manager) Colonel Parker than he was interested in me being Elvis Presley. Otis loved me. He thought I was going to be a big money maker for him. I was so discouraged. I had nobody.” Joe Rock, who passed away in April of 2000, signed another group of blue-eyed soul artists, The Jaggerz, to Kenny Gamble’s label that same year. The Jaggerz are perhaps best-known for their 1970 hit “The Rapper” but in 1968 they were label mates with the likes of Billy Paul and The Intruders on Gamble Records. “They’d do The Temptations and The O’Jays. They’d do it all just perfect. There was a time when Jimmie Ross would double on bass and trombone. They were incredibly talented. Billy Maybray was the most soulful cat. He was a great drummer as well as a vocalist. It was light years beyond what I could do. That wasn’t what I was selling. I was a decent looking kid who could sing and dance. They put a silk suit on me and that’s what I was selling.”

Daye attempted to continue performing in the seventies. “I have a whole California history that nobody even knows about. I rented an apartment and lived out there. While I was there I got a call from Steve Cropper. He asked me if I wanted to record some stuff, so we went to Leon Russell’s. Leon played piano. He was a real sweet, kind person. We went over there for four days and recorded. Music changed in the late sixties. You started with the British Invasion and nobody wanted to hear R&B anymore. I remember I was singing one night in 1973 or ’74. People were requesting Chicago songs. Chicago was good and rich in their sound. It’s good music, but it’s not me. I felt passé. I never sang again after that night. I still have songs in the can that never came out with Stax and Johnny Nash. I did ‘I Keep Forgetting’ by Chuck Jackson and it came out really good. We did it at Scepter Studios.” 

A twenty-year chunk of Daye’s recording hiatus was spent selling cars at P&W BMW on Baum Boulevard here in Pittsburgh. In 1993 Janet Jackson covered “What’ll I Do for Satisfaction.” It appeared as “What’ll I Do” on her fifth studio album, Janet. Unfortunately this is the only one of Johnny’s four Stax sides that he received no songwriting credit for. Hence he’s entitled to no publishing money. When asked to comment he simply replies “I think she did a nice job. It’s actually very similar.” Johnny Daye finally recorded again in 2007. He’s featured on two tracks from long-time friend Robert Peckman’s debut CD, Stirrin’ Up Bees. It was done here in Pittsburgh at Jeff Ingersoll’s Mojo Boneyard Recording Studio. Peckman is a local veteran musician and an original member of the Skyliners. He was also managed by Joe Rock and he played with Daye on many occasions during the sixties. Two of Peckman’s numerous projects over the years include Simon and the Piemen, released locally in Pittsburgh in the mid-sixties, and Mike & Ike, who released a record on the Philadelphia-based Arctic label. Daye received songwriting credits on each of the group’s lone singles, but he admits to having little involvement. “I never had anything to do with those songs aside from sitting around the studio goofing off. Joe Rock wrote them and included my name on them. I was just there. I looked up to Pecky. He smoked a pipe and I started smoking a pipe too because I wanted to be like him.”

Daye rubbed elbows with an impressive roster of artists and celebrities in his day, but it’s his blue-eyed soul contemporaries here in Pittsburgh that he really credits for inspiration. He refers to the local guys who came out of the same scene, many of whom are still performing. “The greatest performers that we have in Pittsburgh are Jimmie Ross of The Jaggerz. He has very unique vocal stylings and tones. He’s the epitome of what I think a singer should be. He released a Jaggerz album in the nineties and I couldn’t stop listening to it. Then of course B.E. Taylor and Billy Price. Who’s to say who’s better? I fall in love with B.E. every time I hear him. I always admired Billy Price. He’s a hard act to follow. Frank Czuri of Pure Gold (who was a later member of the Jaggerz as well) is my age. We went to Penn Hills High School at the same time. I have to give Jimmy Beaumont credit too. He was my idol from day one. I have much respect for him. There was always competition and at times there was no love lost, but I love those guys and I want them to know that.”

Daye admits to “getting the bug to put a band together and do something” on occasion, but most of his time is spent with his family, his wife Tina and their young daughters, Marchella and Gianna. “I don’t really hang out in clubs because I grew up in clubs, but I’m curious to see what the reaction would be. I can’t dance like I used to. I don’t have the stamina to do what I did then. I put on a few pounds, but I’m still in pretty good shape. I’d love to get a call from Steve Cropper to go out and do a Stax show.” Perhaps Johnny Daye will find his way back to the stage one of these days, but for now he seems content just knowing that he was a part of musical history. We thank him for the opportunity to speak with him and wish the best for him and his family. Selections from his discography can be heard on The Complete Stax-Volt Soul Singles, Vol. 2: 1968-1971 and The Complete Stax-Volt Singles 1959-1968. Visit I DIG PGH on YouTube to hear Johnny Daye's complete discography.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Awesome work Jay! Love this!

Anonymous said...

Just wonderful stuff Jay! Johnny was the man, indeed. Do you have anything on my brother, Jack Kacin, a noted guitarist who played with many famous artists.
I recently found out that a recording I had been told he was on, was not him, but rather Tony Janflone Sr. on Mr. Mold by Marshmallow Steamshovel. I'd love to know if there is anything else out there that Jack recorded on. He died in Tarentum in July 21,2002. -Rich Kacin

jeffrey ingersoll said...

Johnny Daye is "THE MAN". I remember seeing him on the "Come Alive" show and being so shocked that he was a white man. "Stay Baby Stay" still gives me chills when i hear it. Even though his Robert Peckman sides were recorded 40 yeard after his Stax sides, it sounded as if he could have done it the next week. - Jeff Ingersoll

Anonymous said...

Johnny Daye needs to be introduced to T.J. Lubinsky. I'd like to see him in T.J.'s next Doo Wop show. Only Pittsburgh R&B insiders know about him. The average Pittsburger does not know Johnny Daye.