Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B

Richard G. Carter | 10/4/2012, 1:59 p.m.
"Well, it's three o'clock in the morning. Baby, I just can't get right. Well, I...
Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B

Vintage movie aficionados may recall the Brill Building lobby in a key scene in 1957's stunning film noir "Sweet Smell of Success." Burt Lancaster, as calculating columnist J.J. Hunsecker, lived with his sister Susie (Susan Harrison) on an upper floor.

How well I recall the day when, en-route to a local gig while writing my book, Susan and I stopped by to talk with Colony staffers Warren Tesoro and George Littles--the fount of all knowledge on original Black R&B and doo-wop. Tesoro was a member of several R&B vocal groups, loved the Spaniels and was a valued resource for my work.

At the time, he told me the Spaniels "were very much revered in my Williamsburg [Brooklyn] neighborhood when I was growing up. I knew about them long before I got into the record business. And listening to them helped inspire me.

"The group is totally unique," he continued. "Pookie is a wonderful writer, a great ballad singer and he can really sing the blues, too, like 'Baby, It's You.' He's got that range still today. He and the group have a style all their own. I don't know how the bass, Gerald [Gregory], gets down there. It's almost as if the wind is coming out of his voice. He sounds like a baritone sax or a bass sax."

Since 1970, Colony Records commanded the corner of West 49th and Broadway after 22 years three blocks north. Founded in 1948, the store stocked more than a million vinyl records and sold sheet music from Broadway shows and movies. It was a magnet for many big names such as Mick Jagger and the late Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Ed Bradley of CBS-TV. I occasionally bumped into the latter, a noted lover of doo-wop.

Colony's demise after 64 years in business reportedly comes in the wake of a startling rent increase from around $1-million-a-month to as much as $5 million. The record store's co-owner, Michael Grossbardt, has said he will house its huge inventory of records in his garage and then sell it on the Internet.

But to me, Colony Records meant the best in well-known, and obscure, original Black R&B. It was the very best place in the city to find it, hear it and buy it. Colony is simply irreplaceable and will be sorely missed. And that's the name of that tune.