Remembering The Ravens

Stan and the Ravens The Ravens were formed by Stan Szelest who had just left Ronnie Hawkins in Toronto to form his own group in Buffalo in 1961. For more on this click here for pop-up window.

Stan was to through several bass players early on. Among them, besides myself, were were Rebel Payne, Frank Mahaney and Tommy Calandra.

The Ravens in 1962 featured Stan Szelest, Chuck McCormick, Sandy Konikoff, and myself. I am sad to report that there were no recordings made of the early The Ravens band. That particular group was never recorded by anyone to the best of my knowledge. It was just a real bar band playing in a real bar, The Hideaway, in Buffalo, New York

The early The Ravens group never went into a studio; at least not while I was with them. So, unless someone in the Hideaway sometime made a bootleg tape there exists no recordings of that particular The Ravens band. It is highly improbable any bootlegs tapes exist as this was the pre-cassette era and portable reel-to-reel recorders were rare. Besides, the Hideaway crowd noise level mirrored the groups unparalleled decibel level all but making recording impossible.

I was not the first The Ravens bass player. I had replaced Rebel Payne from The Hawks who was Stan's first The Ravens bass player when Stan formed the group in Buffalo after leaving Ronnie Hawkins' Hawks (Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, and Levon Helms) in Toronto.

Frank Mahaney took over the bass slot for me in 1962. The group name, The Ravens, eventually changed to RAVEN and that was when I believe their studio recording started in earnest.

I'm sorry to say that I don't have much physical memorabilia or any recordings from that seminal time with The Ravens but I do have a lot of memories of that fine group.

"Stan & the Ravens" at Lulu Belles On Best St. In Buffalo, NY in November 1961.
(from l. to r.) Stan Szelest, piano; Chuck McCormick, guitar; Pete Haskell, bass; Sandy Konikoff, drums

Stan Szelest was what I would kindly call an energetic piano player. He was a Jerry Lee Lewis type of player and would pound the keys ferociously and accurately. He was a perfectionist when it came to his music and his group. I was to learn to keep really good 'time' when I was with him. He used to lash out with his leg while he was playing and actually kick the bass drum (and sometimes Sandy) in the heat of enthusiasm during a real "rocker" all the time pushing the music.

Chuck McCormick was a James Burton fan and probably still is. James Burton was the guitarist with the early Ricky Nelson band. Chuck introduced me to that style of guitar picking and I have loved it ever since. I am only sorry to say I never perfected the style having jumped directly into the jazz guitar style I now play. Chuck also introduced me to the music of one of his favorite guitar players, the great Freddie King.

Sandy Konikoff was, and still is, one of my favorite drummers for the style of music we played back then. Sandy later was to go on and prove his ability by working with some of the best musicians in the business. Sandy, at least at the time I knew him, was one of a handful of musicians that I have worked with in my lifetime who didn't smoke or drink alcoholic beverages either on or off the stage. I admired that! I didn't know how he did it in the environment we played in but I respected him for it.

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Whereas Spinal Tap may have been the World's Loudest Band in the eighties, The Ravens had that title covered way back in the very early 60's. Prior to forming the Ravens in Buffalo, Stan had played with Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks.

Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks
Stan Szelest, Rebel Payne, Ronnie Hawkins, Robbie Robertson
and Levon Helm at the Concord Tavern on Bloor Street in Toronto ~ 1961

The Hawks were another loud band from Toronto. Here Stan had honed his musical and managerial skills. His early experiences obviously affected even our wardrobe. He had us all buy black mohair suits to match his.

In Buffalo, Helen Morton was the owner of a small corner bar on Delavan Avenue called The Hideaway. The building was darkly painted as I recall and had a long bar on the right as you entered. To the left was a sort of dining room with wooden booths running the entire length along the far left wall. The floors were wooden and the stage was elevated a foot and half or so and located in the dining room front window area. The front windows on both sides of the front entrance were rather large pieces of pane glass, probably Thermopane.

From the street outside looking through the stage window we could see the backs of our Fender amps, Stan's Wurlitzer electric piano and Sandy's drums. From where I stood when I was on the stage Helen and her girlfriend tending bar on the other side were often hidden from view.

Helen always insisted we cracked her huge front thermopane picture window behind bandstand with our sheer volume. Stan always referred to us as the "Volume Kings". Helen wasn't too delighted with the volume we achieved but that was always tempered by the noise of her cash register ringing. After we had been in her employ for a spell I remember she bought herself a brand new shiny midnight blue Buick Riviera."

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Stan Szelest (appearing with Lonnie Mack) live at Carnegie Hall.

~ December 6, 1985 ~

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There is much more on the history of The Ravens in the book "Don't bother Knockin' ...This Town's a Rockin'" by Patti Meyer Lee & Gary Lee. This book on the Buffalo, New York music scene is published and is now available.

Send a check or money order for $19.95 plus $2.00 postage to:

Buffalo Sounds Press
217 Highland Pkwy.
Buffalo, New York 14223
Allow two weeks for delivery. Please contact the authors for bulk rates, etc - Gary Lee and Patti Myers Lee. Buffalosounds@aol.com

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