The Rockin' Rebels

The story of the Rockin' Rebels is one of rock & roll's longest-running mysteries with a pedigree that would do a private detective proud. Their story began when Buffalo, NY disc jockey Tom Shannon and his partner Phil Todaro wrote a theme song, "Wild Weekend," for Shannon's radio show. The song -- originally a vocal -- became a local favorite with his listening audience, and the light bulb went on over his head when he was deluged with requests for a copy of a record that didn't exist. While hosting a record hop, Shannon was approached by a local high school band on the bill, the Rebels, named after Duane Eddy's backing group. The band asked Shannon if they could play an instrumental version of his theme song. Shannon hadn't thought of the tune as an instrumental, but after hearing the group's version of it, he quickly booked them into a studio. Released on Todaro and Shannon's own Marlee label in 1959, the record was a big hit regionally, kicking up enough noise to secure the band a spot on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. It was at this point that Clark told Shannon it was unwise to continue calling the group by the same name as Duane Eddy's nationally known backing group, and on their next two Marlee releases, the group became known as the Buffalo Rebels. By 1962, the original group had broken up and Shannon was in the army, stationed at Fort Dixon in New Jersey. During this time, another DJ (Syracuse, NY's Jimmy O'Brien) had started using the three-year-old record as the theme song for his show. This caught the ear of Swan Records president Bernie Binnick, who tracked down Shannon and struck a lease deal for the master. This time, the single hit the national charts, rising to the number eight spot on the national charts in early 1963. But the story gets more interesting from here, as Todaro and Shannon found themselves with a hit record but no band to record the follow-up. Fortunately, the same time they had been cutting the (Buffalo) Rebels, they also released a 45 on their Shan-Todd label by a Canadian group called Big John Little & the Rockers. Renamed the Hot Toddys, their "Rockin' Crickets" was originally released in March of 1959 and actually made the national charts, peaking out at number 57. It had a sound close enough to the Rebels to make it worthy of resuscitation as the follow-up to "Wild Weekend," while the vocal flipside ("Shakin' and Stompin'") was deemed outdated and unusable. So another local group, the Jesters, was pressed into service to contribute the flip, "Hully Gully Rock," and the subsequent album. By now, Todaro's and Shannon's Rockin' Rebels project had been responsible for three national hits from just two records, the tracks themselves being made by three entirely separate bands who, in total, had worked under at least six different names. Although the Jesters produced more Rockin' Rebels tracks than any of the other configurations, they were the only ones to not have a hit record to their credit. And in one final, oddball addendum to this confusing story, Swan re-released "Wild Weekend" in 1966 and featured yet another group on the flipside. So in a minor footnote to rock history, Kathy Lynn & the Playboys' "Donkey Twine" became the last incarnation of the Rockin' Rebels on vinyl. At least for now, perhaps. After all (as we've just seen), you can't keep a great song and the American entrepreneurial spirit down for too long. ~ Cub Koda

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