The other day I was going through the dollar records at Rock ‘N Roll Land, a fine indie record store in our corner of Wisconsin. I pulled out a couple of Cowsills records, then couldn’t remember which ones my friend Larry recommended on his Iron Leg blog.
Not far from the Cowsills, there was this.
Wondering what the Buoys sounded like once you got past “Timothy,” I took a flyer on it. Every so often, record diggers do that.
The story of “Timothy,” a hit song in the spring of 1971, is a bit like that of the premise behind “The Producers.”
In what likely was 1969, a Scepter Records executive was tipped to the Buoys. He heard them playing in a pizza place in Exeter, Pennsylvania, and sent them to New York to work with session man Rupert Holmes, who’d worked with the Cuff Links.
Having been given a contract for exactly one Scepter single — but no money to promote said single — Holmes decided to write a song certain to generate attention by being banned from radio. “Timothy,” that notorious tale of cannibalism, unexpectedly became a hit, as did “Springtime For Hitler,” the musical in “The Producers.”
“Rupert was a great doodler on the piano,” Buoys singer and lead guitarist Bill Kelly told the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Times-Leader newspaper in 2002. “He was doodling on the piano and played and sang ‘Timothy.’ We laughed our heads off and agreed to record the song, really just for the fun of it. We thought it was a great joke.”
The Buoys, who’d started gigging around Wilkes-Barre and Scranton as teenagers in the mid-’60s, released “Timothy” regionally in early 1970. It did nothing. A year later, it got a national release, and all that attention.
“It seemed like one day we were playing fire halls and gyms and the next day we were at a pop festival in front of 200,000 people,” Kelly said in 2002, “Here we were 20 years old and opening for Spencer Davis and Ike and Tina Turner.”
Fast forward to today, when Rupert Holmes is known more as a successful composer and playwright than the guy who wrote that long-ago song on the radio. He wrote “Drood,” a murder mystery/musical that won all kinds of Broadway awards in 1985. It’s become so popular that even high schools do it now, opium den and all. Our son Evan had one of the lead roles during his senior year at Green Bay East.
Listening to the Buoys beyond “Timothy” for the first time, Holmes’ five songs clearly foreshadow the stage music to come. He arranged the entire LP, save for “Timothy,” but it isn’t clear whether he sings or plays on the record. Some sources credit Holmes as playing piano on the record, but not its liner notes.
This is a remarkably sophisticated record, and not all because of Holmes. The five Buoys — Bill Kelly (lead guitar and flute), Gerry Hludzik (bass), Fran Brozena (guitar and keyboards), Carl Siracuse (guitar, keyboard and flute) and Chris Hanlon (drums and percussion) — wrote five songs, too. They’re tight, finding just the right grooves for a diverse bunch of songs inspired by the pop, prog and folk of the day.
Hear, then, the pride of Wilkes-Barre:
“Bloodknot,” written by Holmes.
“Memories,” written by the band, with dual flutes!
Both by the Buoys, from “Dinner Music,” 1971. It’s out of print.
Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.