Western New York recently lost a music maverick. Many have stepped forward to share their memories of the local legend. Here's Bob's contribution.
Everybody has a Lenny Silver story and so do I. Let’s take a trip back to 1976.
Port Shark was a night spot on Walden near Harlem Road in Cheektowaga, New York. It was a popular hangout and the late Bud Ralabate was the in - house DJ. True to its name, Port Shark had a large tank with a shark in it. A ritual each evening was to feed the shark. When that took place Bud would play Bobby Darin’s “Mack The Knife.” It was done nightly.
Port Shark was well known and had various people dropping in, including Lenny Silver. Bud eventually got to know Lenny on a first name basis. As time went by, Bud and Lenny had conversations and one repeating topic was me! Bud told Lenny a guy he knows has a collection of 45s that are based in and around Buffalo. After a few weeks of this back and forth, Lenny had Bud put up or shut up. Bud called me and had a date set to meet with Lenny in his Harlem Road office of Transcontinent Record. Since I was working for a living, I told Bud to try and make it an hour later. I had time to gather 200 all Buffalo related 45s. Bud picked me up and off we were.
When we arrived, Bud announced to the secretary we were there to see Lenny. She knew about us and said, “He’s waiting, go right in.” The office was impressive. Actually, I was on the construction crew that built his building and warehouse, plus Twin Fairs Corporate headquarters next door. I never saw the final product until then.
I can tell you the sound system Lenny had was impressive. John Cullitan Mahoney was playing his latest and yet to be released single (Amherst 712) “Has Anybody Seen America.” John played it over and over again. Lenny asked him to lower the sound so we could be introduced. He sat behind his desk and Bud and I sat in chairs in front of him. Lenny indicated it was time to play our cards. I started to pull some 45s out, and John would play parts of them. I mentioned what I knew about each single and Lenny did the same. In fact, Lenny had - hands on experience on most of the product I brought.
This is just a brief overview of about the singles we talked about back then. I pulled out a single on Melody (5001) – Bobby Vinton – Harlem Nocturne/Always In My Heart. Lenny countered by lifting the ink blotter pad on his desk and producing a photo of him and Bobby together. He continued that the Melody label was his and done for Vinton.
I pulled out a Swan (4170) single The Buddies – Pulse Beat/The Beatle. Mahoney immediately said that was him. Pulse Beat was an instrumental and continuation of the WKBW Pulse Beat News Cast intro. The Beatle was a play on words of the popular group. Needless to say, John was not happy with the writer credits on the single. He claimed to be the one who wrote them.
Next came the Label record Label. Confusing but that is what it was named. It was a short - lived label and Lenny owned that, as well. I am a bit vague on remembering this, but I believe what Lenny said to me was that Label was English for the Jewish name, Silver.
About this time I noticed that Rich Sargent was in the room, sitting to our left. It was my first meeting with him. We went through a few more singles and after I shifted my seating a bit, I noticed that the entire office was filled with what looked like a couple dozen employees. The place was alive. We stopped at a Sahara (102) single. It was an early release with a painted-on label. Lenny had John play “Tears From My Eyes” by Nap Roman. I will point out that this single was also collectible because of a printing error. Some credited the singer as Net Roman. All Lenny could remember was that he was a large black guy who could really sing. Lenny thought he might re-release it but as far as I know that never happened. Lenny told us, he and his partner came up with the two label names they owned, Sahara and Thunderbird, from their favorite gambling places in Las Vegas. I assume Lenny consolidated all his record labels into Amherst Records and concentrated on that.
Lenny became convinced that Bud and I had a handle on a lot of the music from the Buffalo area. We kept pulling out singles and playing them. None of the employees left the room. What we had was Lenny behind his desk as a teacher while the rest of us were students.
Rich does not remember that day in regards to him walking behind the desk to Lenny and trying to encourage Lenny to make a money offer for all the singles that were sitting on his desk. I held fast and said they were not for sale and left with them all.
Years later when Terri and I were working on our book, “No Stoppin’ This Boppin',” I called Lenny’s office to talk to him about doing an interview. I never got through to him. His secretary said if interested he would call me. I asked her to pass along a reminder of the meeting that took place years back. The call never came. What happened was I got Stu Levy to do an interview and he covered some of Lenny’s career.
Lenny did things in an impressive way. He left behind a legacy. I was more informed on the music business due to Lenny’s talents. Who remembers him working behind the counter at the hot dog stand in the Record Theater store on Main and Lafayette? What a guy!
Lenny Silver January 18, 1927 – March 10, 2017
(He’s now part of Rock and Roll Heaven)