SAXONY RECORDS STORY (Continued)
Bud Reneau, along with Warren Hauck, Bobby Ball and John Tahenny had formed his band, The Matadors in 1961. Bud talks about his affinity for music and guitar playing, which came from diverse sources.
"... I would say the jazz musicians from around there [Cincinnati] combined with blues people like James Brown and Lonnie Mack. Cincinnati offered a potpourri of music styles back then. My guitar playing developed around a few people like Freddie King, B.B. King, and guitar licks from `hit records' of the times. We loved what Motown was doing. My dad taught me some chords and eventually helped me book gigs around age 17. I played in a lot of trio and quartet size bands, doing things like weddings, DJ sock-hops and small bars. We played every kind of music there was. I recall that being a lot of fun. When I met Paul, I began inventing ideas in order to make records out of his melodies and structures. That proved to be even more fun ... and productive."
Paul and Bud's first production together was on a recording by Rollie Willis, a former member of Otis Williams and The Charms. Paul had been working with Rollie prior to his partnership with Bud. When Saxony Records was formed, Rollie was a logical choice as the first artist on the label. With his new group, The Contenders, he recorded "Whenever I Get Lonely". The record label sported the now legendary "profile" illustration, a gimmick suggested by one of Paul's art school classmates. Different profiles appeared intermittently on the record label. In 1964, Paul and Bud held a contest for a new label design, selecting a large blue "S" in the form of an oval. This design appeared only on Saxony 1007. The final design for most singles was a large black band running the length of the label. The artist creatively tried to give the illusion that the center hole was eliminated, which left little space for information, however. (This would change with the 90s reissues.) Label design selections aside, Paul and Bud were awash in their ideas to create. Paul was sorry that some prime Cincinnati acts were already taken.
"I think I was sorry at the time The Charmaines were tied to Fraternity and Otis Williams tied to King. He [Otis] told me he didn't get his songs promoted and I'm pretty sure he would've come with us if he could have."
When asked if they were going for any sound in particular, Paul says the need to create for a specific market never entered his mind. Even though the partners preferred working with acts that were hand picked, they tried their best with all artists placed on the Saxony roster.
"We recorded stuff we could be proud of. We never charged them for our services. The person only paid actual expenses. Our creative input was free ... an 'exercise' for us. Shows we were young and naive I guess. We [always] tried to get out something we'd like."
Of course, even though no specific sound was sought, Bud always hoped for the best. Usually, he and Paul forged ahead with ideas they thought would work.
"We tried to cut 'hit records'. Styles and trends didn't play a big part in our artist or song selection. Nor did we try to lean our productions in any direction other than that of the artist's vocal capabilities. If it sounded good to us, we did it. I recall that sometimes we had the song first and we would find an artist who could sing it."
Although "Whenever I Get Lonely" didn't break out at the time, it has since achieved cult status on the continuing R&B group harmony scene. Paul and Bud's greatest commercial achievement, however, would come after recording a quartet of teen girls they found singing at a teenage social. The Teardrops were discovered by Bud who heard them when they performed on a bill with The Matadors. He arranged for Paul to hear them at the Olympian Club during an afternoon party. The original group consisted of Dorothy Dyer, Linda Schroeder, Wanda "Wendy" Sheriff and Pat "Punkin" Strunk. Their average age was 15, but to Paul's amazement, their vocals packed quite a punch.
"To me, they sounded adult enough and I guess we introduced ourselves and I never had any problem with their ages . . . "
The first two Teardrops releases, "Tonight I'm Gonna Fall In Love Again" and "I'm Gonna Steal Your Boyfriend" received special attention in their hometown, with "Tonight" breaking out in Okinawa and becoming #1. At this point, Dorothy married and left the group. Tinker Smiddy replaced her. When The Teardrops' third single, "Tears Come Tumbling" was released and enjoying the same regional attention, Paul sent records with copies of the local charts to various record labels. Musicor Records picked up "Tears Come Tumbling" for distribution and release, exercising an option to issue one more single on Musicor, "I Will Love You Dear Forever". (A handful of songs were recorded for Musicor, but some not released until the 1980s in England.)
Besides The Teardrops, Paul and Bud worked on many other productions, notably for J.T Sears and The Roebucks. J. T. was an artist who happened by every now and then, eventually joining Saxony.
"JT showed up somewhere we played and sat in with us. He sang with us throughout the Whiskey-A-Go-Go and Arcaro's years."
Sears worked for Saxony as an artist. Tragically, he was killed in an automobile accident returning from a gig in the late 60s. Tommy Liss was another of Saxony's prolific artists. Bud recalls how they met.
"Tommy was from Mount Adams, a neat little neighborhood on one of the hills of Cincinnati where we used to drink beer at Crowley's tavern and sing a lot of barber shop quartet stuff. This would be another musical influence. Tommy was about 19 when he started singing with the Matadors."
Some acts teetered on the edge of success. A band called The Ditalians almost pushed Saxony onto the next level of stature in the business.
"The Ditalians were the kids who cut "Philly Dog New Breed". They had about 9 voices in that group. One of the all-time basketball greats, Oscar Robinson, the Big O, brought them to us. We had a record in the regional charts on them that almost broke on our label."
Critically acclaimed blues guitarist/singer/songwriter Lonnie Mack spent time working with the production duo before really breaking out. Bud recalls that this was also one of the big ones that got away.
". . . We had been talking to Lonnie Mack for a couple of years about going into the studio to cut 'Memphis' and 'Down In The Dumps.' He played them live around Cincinnati and was blowing us away with that 'Flying V guitar' going through a Leslie B3 speaker cabinet. Carl Edmonson had Lonnie in the studio as a backup band for the '2 Of Clubs,' an artist he was producing, at which time they decided to stick those things on tape. The rest is history. I think Memphis was cut in 'one pass'. Lonnie and I were in the process of setting the studio time to cut these songs when this occurred."
Despite favorable beginnings for Saxony, The Teardrops recordings went no further. When these singles received strong local support, major labels wanted to distribute them. Eventually, however, Saxony's productions got lost in the crowd. Bud thinks they short sighted themselves.
"We had several chart records and would have probably established a happening independent label if we had done things a little differently. We were marketing our records better than the major labels who would lease them from us but we always discovered this after the fact. We could have looked harder for financial backing, found a distributor and kept these records on our label. I think we had the goods. In cases where we got the airplay, some of these records went to #1 on a regional scale. Had we properly marketed them, I believe we would have had the same results on a national basis."
Other efforts produced by Paul and Bud fell on deaf ears, much to Paul's dismay, which led to a decision to eventually shelf Saxony Records in 1967.
"My frustration was that we had good stuff that charted and could've done better but didn't. Eventually this had me feeling like I was banging my head against a wall. The Ditalians' singles did really well in the R&B scene in Cinti, but no further. That was after the Teardrops stuff didn't do as well as I thought it should."
Bud says that keeping a record label in business with little day-to-day capital was a difficult chore.
"I guess we felt it necessary to move on to other career possibilities. For the most part, Paul and I bankrolled Saxony out of personal loans that we had to personally pay back. Joe Sheets, an old friend of mine who is now deceased, became a financial partner, which almost got us over the hump, but not quite. I seem to recall that occasionally we would come up with an investor but 'operating capital' was a definite factor."
Bud eventually traveled to Nashville to write songs where he found creative and commercial success. Today, Bud resides in Nashville. Since producing winning talent for Saxony, Bud has continued to have success in the music industry.
"I moved to Nashville in 1967 and wrote a song titled "The Days Of Sand And Shovels" with Doyle Marsh. Waylon Jennings and Bobby Vinton recorded it around 1970 which started out my writing career with some momentum. This song was recorded by about 30 artists and was in the various Billboard singles charts by three artists at one time. I don't know of another case where that has happened to a song ... a bit of trivia for you. I have continued to write over the years and have had a few successes: five #1s, three as a writer and two as a publisher. There were also a bunch of top 5s and 10s in there. The #1s include: 'Chains'... Patty Loveless, 'Got My Heart Set On You'...John Conley, 'Somewhere Between Love And Tomorrow'... Roy Clark. Other cuts include: Gladys Knight and The Pips, Ray Charles, John Denver, George Jones, Etta James, Bad Company and Julio Iglesies. I'm currently in the song publishing and artist development business with two writing partners including a writer/artist I signed twenty years ago and a 'song writing doctor.' We named the company Sound Medicine."
Paul traveled for a time, eventually exiting the music business, settling in San Francisco, making his living as a probation officer. Fast forward to 1997, when this author discovered a picture of The Teardrops on letterhead from Saxony Records while working in a record store. Paul's sideline, now, was sending reissues to specialty stores. The Teardrops were selected to be a part of "Girl Groups - Fabulous Females That Rocked The World", a book featuring 60 female groups from the 50s to the 80s. This promoted renewed interest in The Teardrops material, prompting Paul to officially reactivate Saxony Records, reissuing 45s of not only known material, but previously unreleased gems as well. The icing on the cake for girl group collectors was the release of The Teardrops material on CD. Reissues by other Saxony artists are also available.
The story of Saxony Records is a story of premium creative acclaim. For Bud and Paul, it was the impetus of their existence during the 60s. In reflection, the partners emanate vigorous partiality.
"Those times were magic. I would like to do it again with the same people involved and maybe 'know what I know now.' But I wouldn't trade that experience for anything, exactly the way it was."
"There's so many other labels, artists and producers that had good stuff that didn't make it as well as we did. I look back on the records that did do some charting and the fact that 'Whenever' by Rollie sells for so much on the used oldies market of doo-wop, and we're having . . . an appreciation (even if belated) of the music we produced and the oldies parties that are a result of it and I'm not disappointed about it all. I'm really thankful and proud and happy about it."
Thirty-five years later, that same positive energy still radiates.
San Francisco, CA