Savannah Band

 

Articles...

Milo Miles
T Neck
Coati Mundi
Disco Museum
Scene Online
William Ruhlmann
David Whetstone
Photos

     
         
 

Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band
Milo Miles

Of all the albums I mention as masterpieces,"Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band" draws the most blank stares, so it's clearly a great work in need of further celebration. The record announced itself back then in the best possible manner: with a Top 40 single that jumped out of the background when it came on the radio.
"Cherchez la Femme" was bubbly and saucy in a way that made other hot dance numbers of the time sound like punishment. That song and the record it came from remain as unlikely and original as they were two decades ago.

A pair of Haitians in the Bronx, Stony Browder Jr. and his brother Thomas (who renamed himself August Darnell), formed Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band in 1974 with singer Cory Daye as the centerpiece. Her voice was light and limber, given to tripping scat rather than roars and moans, and the group's music was an effortless blend of big-band swing, jump blues, show tunes, and Caribbean boogie.

The album begins with Stony hissing "Zoot Suit city!" and Darnell has described the liberation he felt the first time he put on baggy yellow pants and a wide-brim hat. The outfit was the perfect mask to unleash the brothers' creativity, and "Dr. Buzzard's" was the first release in many years to suggest that the pop-music past was not dead, an object of nostalgia or ridicule, but held untapped freedom.

   

The debut album was an optimistic glimpse of a partytime society that  never came to pass. The male and female revelers were happy chameleons who tried on cultures, romantic roles, and historic attitudes with childlike insouciance. Darnell sassed his lovers constantly, but he was such a layabout scamp ("Mr. Softee" was one later persona) that  he never seemed brutish. And Cory Daye demolished every trouble with a smile, a sigh, or a shrug. She's such a joyful, confident ironist that it can be heartbreaking to hear the old sides now, because time has brought about a sad change.

Dr. Buzzard made a dull second record and never recovered airplay. The brothers had a falling out and Darnell went on to make wondrous albums all through the '80s as Kid Creole and the Coconuts. The band's manager, mentioned in the first lines of "Cherchez la Femme," was Tommy Mottola, who went on to become the president of CBS Records and Mr. Mariah Carey - not the sort of fellow associated with (as the song describes him) "blowing his mind on cheap grass and wine."

It would be a sin to lump Dr. Buzzard in with one-dimensional imitators like Odyssey ("Native New Yorker"), or worse, hapless campers like Tuxedo Junction ("Chattanooga Choo Choo") from the same era. Darnell, Browder, and Daye's cultural kaleidoscope is far too vivid and desirable to become another disco relic.

 
         
 

Kid Creole / Dr. Buzzard
T Neck

OK. Now that you brought it up, I too was a BIG Kid Creole/Dr. Buzzard fan. I loved the first two Dr. Buzzard albums, but I didn't go overboard 'till I saw Kid Creole & The Coconuts in 1980 (possibly the Beacon in NYC) -totally knocked me out of my seat. BTW - does anyone remember, they were the first act for the Saturday Night Live '80/'81 season? Their first album picked up where Dr. Buzzard left off, and introduced us to Fonda Rae... ''got a weakness here in my heart. Maladie D'Amour''.

Shortly after that, I had the privilege of seeing the final reunion of Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, which originally began around 1974, by some Bronx schoolmates James Monroe HS, where my wife also graduated from)

The originators were Stony Browder Jr. and his brother, Tommy. They were known as SAVANNAH. Their only recording was in 1969 on Pickwick Records titled 'Oh Black Day'. A few years later, they added Stony's girlfriend on vocals, local drummer Mickey Sevilla, then auditioned and hired Spanish Harlem's own Andy Hernandez. He became ''The Sugar Coated'' Andy Hernandez. Stony's girlfriend changed her name to Corey Daye, and Tommy became August Darnell.

   

By the late 70s, after their enormous success, musical differences between Stony and August caused the break up. Corey stayed with Stony, and Andy (now Coatimundi) went with August.

Their second phase, had replaced Fonda with Andy's girlfriend, singer/gymnist Lori Easton (who changed her name to Lori Eastside). They opened with a bang in June of '81 at the Ritz-NYC. They added session guitarist, extraordinaire, Jimmy Rippertoe (who changed his name to Jimmy Ripp) and session bassist Carol Coleman (from Teaneck, NJ) ... I had to add that. Also, two new singer/dancers, who along with August's wife Adrianna, were the new Coconuts.

For those of you who have seen them you knew they'd have you boppin' and dancin', all night. They really were amazing to hear, and especially see. I caught every one of their shows between 1981 and 1985.

When I lived in midtown Manhattan, I would always see them in my neighborhood. In fact Stony lived four blocks south of me (51st.) and August lived four blocks north (59th). Several times I 'd eat a sandwich with Andy at the Blimpies on my corner at 55th. Over the years I've spoken to most of them - good people, who are as unique as their special style of music.

 
         
 

Early Years
Coati Mundi

I was bopping in the Barrio back in the 50's & 60's. It represents the most important episode in my life. Lived in Wagner Prjt (50 Pal) & schooled @ OLQA [Our Lady Queen of the Angels] (112th) class of '63 and RICE High ('67).

Went to school with the Machito's kids and used to hang out at his apartment on 111th bet 3rd & Lex. Still miss him. My sister Miriam also went to OLQA ('64). My cuzns were Joe & Ling.

My musical journey began with Eddie Hernandez Band , La Preferida (we jamed for "The Y. Lords" @ the church) , Louie Rey then later on Joe Bataan & Ralfi Pagan before moving on to Savannah & Kid Creole. Pete Terrace was my mentor.

   

Always loved checking out the New Swing , Johnny Colon , King Nando ,La Compania , Kent Gomez and Ray Rodriguez. Got to see Arsenio Rodriguez @ the American Legions Club on 116th , Cal Tjader @ 107th & Lex Theatre , El Rey Tito Puente @ OLQA CYO dance. Never can forget Casita Maria , Ponce De Leon , Cosmo , Eagle , Ben Franklin , Pleasant Ave , Jefferson Pool ... Salsa Museum ... La Marqueta.

Kicking it in the City of Angels now but "mi corazon" is always in El Barrio. Paz y Palante Coati Mundi (aka Andy Hernandez)

 
         
 

Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band
Disco Museum

The group looks like they could have been time-machined right out of a George Raft movie of the forties-three piece suits, shoulder pads, bow ties, oversized fedoras...And they dress this way off stage as well as on!

The Savannah Band's music seems to force you to dance to it but even those who enjoy its disco qualities have become aware that the album can also be listened to alone in their living rooms on quiet evenings at home.

We have to attribute much of our success to voodoo...There's something very powerful about drums and rhythm. We use drums very upfront in our music, and it seems to pull people in. It's voodoo!

The band's name was chosen as a tribute to the group's first manager, Dr. Buzzard, who was from the south and told the young musicians stories about his own band days in the 1940's in places like Savannah. "This is the craziest group I've ever seen", said Andy Hernandez. "When I auditioned to join the group, they didn't even ask me to play any music. They gave me a questionaire to fill out instead". The questionaire asked for information like: What is your political affiliation? What type of women do you go out with? Would you be willing not to wear tight pants? Do you consider yourself straight or a brat? Andy scored 48 out of a possible 100 points---higher than dozens of others that applied and he was invited to join the group. The group consisted of lead singer, and the only female, Cory Daye, guitarist/pianist Stony Browder Jr. bass player August Darnell and drummer Mickey Sevilla.

The origins of the group date back to the early 1970's when Stony and August began playing together in a South Bronx band called The Strangers . The pair cut a very forgettable record for Roulette Records. In 1972 Cory joined forces with August & Stony after launching her own career at age 17 at a Halloween party "after a life of crime proved unrewarding". Mickey, a former teacher at The Manhattan School Of Music, joined in 1974 and Andy gave up social work in 1975 to round out the group as it's vibe player.

In the early days the quintet played gigs wherever they could be found, mainly in upstate New York. Their big break came when they were offered a contract with RCA Records. But it wasn't without it's problems. "RCA gave us 30 days to make our first album" recalled Stony. "And we just don't create well under that kind of pressure. After 30 days, we didn't have anything finished. Finally, when the album was four months overdue, RCA threatened to call the whole thing off. We finally finished the album almost seven months after we had started it. We spent 620 hours in the studio on that album!". Once the album was released, no one bothered to tell the group about it. They heard the news from friends who had seen it in the record stores.

 

RCA initially gave the album very little promotion, and it received a minimal amount of airplay. The disc seemed destined for a rapid trip into oblivion. But the few people who initially bought it, (I being one of them), began playing it for friends who played it for their friends and so on and the rest is history. "Actually we never thought of ourselves as a disco act in the beginning" remarked Stony. "But the album really got it's start in the disco (read GAY) community. We were unknown artists, and if the record hadn't caught on in the discos, it might never have gotten anywhere". Ironically despite the lack of a 12" single release and poor promotion the album went on to Gold status and even merited a re-release on compact disc in 1988.

However their follow-up releases didn't fair as well. 1978's Dr Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Meets King Penett had the full support of RCA but lacked the luster of it's predecessor. A label change brought their third and final album, 1979's Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Goes To Washington, a somewhat higher quality product with disappointing sales.

After the groups break up Cory went on to record her only solo album 1979's Cory & Me. Highly successful, spawning the hits Green Light and Pow Wow. She also resurface in 1986 and 1987 on Profile Records with a few 12" singles that didn't set the world on fire.

Stony Browder reformulated the band and dropped the "Original" from it's moniker. This incarnation, with Cory at the vocal helm, released an album on Passport Records in 1984. Calling All Beatniks also featured "Original" band member Mickey Sevilla on drums.

August Darnell and Andy Hernandez found the most success after the "Savannah Band" with their creation of Kid Creole & The Coconuts. Releasing 17 albums since 1980 with 2001's Too Cool To Conga being their latest. August Darnell was also prolific as a writer for others, most notably Machine's 1979 hit There But For The Grace Of God Go I. Cory Daye can also be heard on the early Kid Creole albums as a guest vocalist.
If for no other reason Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band earned their place in the Discomuseum for "Sour & Sweet/Lemon In The Honey" and "Cherchez La Femme". A "Thank You" to Cory and the boys...

 
         
 

Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band
Scene Online

They don't make songs like this anymore (-sigh-). Scene gives props to the most strobelight-fabulous old school masterpiece this side of polyester wrap dresses and platform wedges. Straight sunshine, y'all.

It usually goes something like this: During a conversation, you mention Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band. In return, you get blank stares. Moving onto Plan B, you begin to sing the words to their 1976 hit single, "Cherchez la Femme" ("You know...'Tommy Mattolaaaa...lives on the rooaad...'") Watch their formerly clueless expressions brighten as they squeal, "Oh, that joint!"

Yes, children, "Cherchez la Femme" was (and still is) the shit. Cory Daye's light, airy, scat-prone voice? Nothing like it, baby. It was the perfect compliment to a joyful, extravangantly lush rhythm that was equal parts big-band swing, Broadway gaudiness and Afro-Carribbean flavor, created by a pair of Haitian brothers from the Bronx, Stony Browder Jr. and August Darnell.

Although I was barely old enough to keep the beat when this song came out, I remember at least trying--thankfully being able recognize good music when I heard it even then. The perfect moment: New Year's Eve '98, at a live Harlem loft party where everyone was totally vibing and taking it back to the old school, doing the hustle to "Cherchez." Pure dopeness. Simply put, how could you not love this song? When it was released nearly a quarter-century ago, there wasn't anything like it on the airwaves or in the clubs. And people dug it because of its sheer disco sunshine. Even today, the track, with its multiple string and horn arrangements, sounds tighter than a black hole in space. The definition of classic.

 
Dr. Buzzard inevitably bred several copycat singles with "Cherchez," such as Odessey's "Native New Yorker" and (shudder) Tuxedo Junction's "Chattanooga Choo Choo" (damn--I hated just writing that).

Unfortunately, Dr. Buzzard's hits didn't last--actually, they pretty much began and ended with "Cherchez." I believe the group's second release went, like, cardboard, and it never really recovered airplay after that. Shortly thereafter, the brothers had a falling out and went in separate directions. Darnell found success for a while during the 80s as Kid Creole and the Coconuts. But many fans (myself included) wonder whatever happened to lead singer Cory Daye (are you listening, VH1?). Side note: Yes, in the song they ARE speaking of THAT Tommy Mattola, president of CBS Records (aka "the former Mr. Mariah Carey"), who was the group's manager at the time.

Wherever they are now, let's thank them for giving us the chance to get away from the "bling-bling" and "I'm creeping with your honey" assembly line that saturates the airwaves right now. Every one in a while, you'll hear "Cherchez" on 98.7 or 105.1, and I swear it's like an oasis in an early 21st century R&B (read: "Repetition and Bullshit"). It's the kind of refreshment that's well-received.
 
         
 

Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band
William Ruhlmann - All Music Guide

Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band was one of the most original musical ensembles of the disco era.

They were formed in the Bronx in 1974 by Stony Browder, Jr. (b.1949), his brother August Darnell (born Thomas Browder, 1951), singer Cory Daye (b.1952), Andy Hernandez (b.1950), and Mickey Sevilla (b.1953). The concept of the group was the re-creation of a '30s dance band...a la Cab Calloway, with witty lyrics and a disco beat.


   

All of this was in evidence on their debut album, Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, released in 1976. It produced the dance-floor hit "Cherchez La Femme" and went gold. A follow-up album, Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Meets King Pennett, was less successful.

After the release of a third album, James Monroe HS Presents Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Goes to Washington, the group fragmented, with Darnell and Hernandez going off to form Kid Creole & the Coconuts. Browder reorganized and issued a Dr. Buzzard's Savannah Band (dropping the "original") album titled Calling All Beatniks! in 1984.

 
         
 

Kid has lost his lovely bunch of Coconuts (Extract)
David Whetstone - The Journal November 12th 2001

August Darnell, a proud New Yorker, has not only had the horrors of the World Trade Centre attack to contend with, but also a tragedy closer to home. August's older brother, Stony, died two months ago of alcoholism. It was Stony we can thank for the very existence of the character Kid Creole and all the fun he has given us.

Without the older brother's youthful ambition, his younger sibling would never have figured on the show business Richter scale. "It was quite difficult because he was the big influence on my life," says August, remembering his big brother. "It happened just as the tour was kicking off. We were in Scotland and there was a point where I thought: this is the worst thing that could possibly have happened. I didn't know if I could continue. "But after a while I realised it was my destiny to continue and that it could be a tribute to him if I did so."


   

Without the intense rivalry between the two brothers, there would never have been a Kid Creole, says the man behind the alias. "My brother was always the musician in the family. He was the first to follow his Bohemian dream and did music while I was still a conventional school teacher." In the end August joined the band, writing the lyrics for the songs. "But in my silly, youthful head, I thought it was the guy who wrote the music who would get the accolades. He thought you couldn't do the music and the lyrics and so he wanted things to continue as they were. The more he restricted me, the more I rebelled. "When things really started falling apart, I suggested I could do it all on my own. They all laughed and I left."

The brothers parted and followed different courses. "His lifestyle was quite the opposite to mine," says August. "He liked the Bohemian lifestyle and he always liked to drink. I have never wanted to. "We tried to steer him away from alcohol but we never managed to do it. We could see the way he was going but couldn't do anything about it. It's strange because Mum and Dad brought us up the same way. "It's just amazing how two people can be brought up the same and go such different ways. It has taught me an extremely important lesson.


         
 

Savannah Band Photos (click to view full size)

     
 







Stony and Signey (Stony's wife at the time) at the Magique Club in New York, August, 1980, where the Savannah Band played a show.
(Thanks to John Rynsky)

   
 
 




 
         
 
Songs from the Calling All Beatniks! cassette
(This is a totally different mix to the LP version)

Pretty Baby

 
 

 

We Went Into This Thing

 
         
         
 

Stills from the 'Cherchez la Femme' video

     
 
 
 
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