Saturday, August 9, 2008

Pittsburgh's Soul Station Bobby Wayne

Bobby Wayne from Dark End of the Street

Bobby Wayne has been belting out Pittsburgh R&B for the past 45 years. He's come a long way from his days singing in Wylie Avenue's New Canaan Baptist Church choir, along with future recording artist Terry Collins, and he's still spreading sweet soul gospel.

In 1963, Wayne started his career when he joined The Exceptions. The group included Rodney Mason, James Russell, Sherman McCrae and Floyd Beck. But two members were shipped to 'Nam a year later, and The Exceptions disbanded before they had a chance to record.

Wayne hooked up with Vann Harris (an old La Rell) & The Village Vanguards. The lineup included George Green, Larry "Butch" McGee, Eugene Smith, David "Sugar" Cain and Jimmy Norman, and were regulars on area stages, eventually becoming Bobby and the Vanguards.

Their revue opened and backed some of the top R&B acts of the time including The Five Stairsteps, The Vandykes, Billy Stewart, The O’Jays, Mary Wells & Gene Chandler.

On Fridays, they took the show to Cleveland and played at the House of Blues as the club band for acts like Fontella Bass and Kim Weston. In late 1964, the guys went north of the border to Montreal, spending the winter performing at Rockhead's Paradise and the Silver Dollar.

As the clubs' house band, they shared the stage with The Dells and Darrell Banks & The Artistics. Back home in Pittsburgh for the summer, Wayne was asked to sit in with Banks during a gig at the Hill's famed Hurricane Lounge.

A friendship developed and Banks signed Wayne to open for his show. These performances gave the young singer some professional tutoring, as Banks helped polish his act. School's nice, but nothing beats OJT.

Bobby & The Vanguards stayed busy on the local circuit through 1967. Then they returned to Montreal for a year's run at the Esquire Showbar. They shared the bill with The Sweet Inspirations, Etta James, and Carla Thomas.

Eventually the Vanguards drifted apart and Wayne headed back home to the 'Burgh.

He joined forces with popular WZUM DJ’s Al Gee & Bobby Bennett in 1967-68, when the station was in its brief soul mode. His band played shows at the Hill District's place to swing, the Savoy Ballroom, every Saturday night.

In 1969, Wayne went to LA to record his first songs, "Heart Of A Poor Man" b/w "Make Me Yours." Arthur Wright did the arrangements with The Leon Haywood Band providing the sound. The single was released by Atlantic Records (#2670) and was issued under Wayne’s given name, Wayne Boykin.

Wayne fronted the bands On The Corner in 1976 and Takin’ Names in 1977. From 1978-79, he sang with the Rhythm Kings. An album was recorded by the group, but was never released. Wayne also worked with the Marcels off and on during the ‘80’s and 90’s.

Jeff Ingersoll's local Bonedog Records released his first album, "Long Hard Road," in 1999 (BDRCD-03). The CD was well received, especially overseas where there's a great appreciation of American soul, and a single of the title track was released on the Grapevine 2000 label in the U.K.

His second Bonedog offering was "Hit That Thing," (BDRCD-14) released by the Bobby Wayne Band. The title track and "Homestead Greys" are especially strong cuts, along with a couple of very nice covers of lesser known but sweet R&B songs mingled among the original tunes, like The Masquerader's "This House Is Haunted."

He's just released "Soul Station," also on the Mon Valley's Bonedog label (BDRCD -26). The title track is an ode to the old AM heroes of soul. It's one of eight cuts penned by local songwriter and bassist Mike Sweeney, who's also crafted tunes for Billy Price.

The hot tracks are the title song, the upbeat "Leaving Signs", radio friendly, hook-filled "This Amazing Thing", rocker "Knowing You've Been Loved" and the ballad "Right About The Rain".

Pittsburgh has always been a R&B town, but sometimes it overlooks its own. He's bigger in Japan and England - and still tours overseas - than he is in his native Steel City.

Bobby Wayne can make you forget Motown in a heartbeat and convert you to a northern soul, chunky & funky rhythm, brass lovin' Stax fan in a New York minute.

He's still fronting the Bobby Wayne Band, and if you're a soul man, the group, featuring his sometimes silky, sometimes growling pipes, is a can't miss act.

Bobby Wayne - "Do I Love You?" from "Long Hard Road"

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