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Soul feeling: The untold story of The Jesters


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I've posted this in Freebasing as it's not about soul music. It does feature Jerry Williams, and Don Gardner appears fleetingly, but it's the previously untold story of a local band from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, who had hopes of making it big.

What follows is a preamble to the actual story, which I published online a couple of days ago.

Some years back, maybe as many as 10, I won an acetate on eBay. A single-sided disc, the label indicates it was cut at Capitol Records in New York on 22nd March 1968. The song - Soul Feeling - recorded by a group called The Jesters, is a blue-eyed, garage soul offering with an intro played on organ that very much reminded me of the original Star Trek theme tune. What’s particularly great is that the label is signed by the members of the band.

As with all acetates, it was important to find out if the song was released or unreleased. Google searches at that time revealed nothing. I’m not sure what prompted me, but in the autumn of last year I thought I’d have another go at seeing if I could find out anything online about the track and the band and came across a website called “Rob’s Williamsport Rock Bands”. There, much to my amazement, was a short biography of The Jesters, and a couple of photos along with the names of the band members - fantastic, I’d struck gold of sorts!

Now I knew where the band hailed from and had the member’s names – except that only one of the signatures on the label of the acetate corresponded with the names given on the Pennsylvania rock band website. Further online digging led me to a Facebook group called “Bands of Central Pennsylvania”. Posting there didn’t bring forth much beyond a suggestion that possibly one of the band members had a recording studio somewhere in the region. Again though, the name put forward didn’t appear to correspond to any of those penned on the acetate’s label.

Armed with the names of the members and knowing that they were all living in the Williamsport area way back when, searching across Facebook indicated that four members of the band might well have accounts, although with privacy settings being what they are, it wasn’t possible to see if these were still active accounts. Nor was it possible to see via their profiles if they were even musically inclined and in the right age group. Regardless, I sent a friend request to each of them, but unsurprisingly none responded. At this point I felt I’d reached something of a dead end and gave up hope of making contact with a member of the group.

Earlier this year, I was contacted by a member of an obscure Milwaukee band called The Inspirations (not the “Your wish is my command” group, but another one). I’d uploaded one side of their only known 45 to YouTube, and as often happens, musicians and performers search to see if anyone’s shared their long-forgotten recordings online. The band member was thrilled, and provided some very interesting insights about the group and the single.

Inspired by that (no pun intended), I revisited the little information I had about The Jesters and realised I’d overlooked the owner of the recording studio. Again, I’d kind of dismissed this as an avenue because his name didn’t seem to be on the acetate’s label. But, galvanised by my contact with the thrilled member of the Milwaukee band, I sent a hopeful message to the Facebook page of the recording studio. I struck gold!

Many emails were then exchanged in which the story of The Jesters was revealed bit by bit. It was a tale of a popular local teen band who borrowed some money from relatives to head from Williamsport to NY to cut their own disc at the custom studios of Capitol Records. The very same day they hawked the acetate around numerous NY music publishers hoping to get signed to a label. And they did!

Then comes a story involving Don Gardner (fleetingly), Jerry Williams Jr (Swamp Dogg), a nightclub owner turned record label proprietor… and disaster, the cause of which was only revealed nearly 50 years later by Jerry Williams Jr himself.

I’ve now put together that story and published it online. It’s the first time the story has ever been told. Additionally, while doing some deep digging online, I struck more treasure in the form of an archive of a Williamsport college community newsletter - a college at which The Jesters frequently played during the years 1965-1968. Sifting through the issues for that period, I found multiple news items about the band’s appearances. Continuing digging, I also found multiple contemporary mentions in music trade papers (Billboard, Cash Box and Record World) about the launch of the soon-to-be-doomed record label, and the release of the debut single by The Jesters, who had now changed their name to Saturday’s Crowd.

As if that weren’t enough, the absolute icing on the cake came when, unexpectedly, the band member I was communicating with sent me a number of brilliant photos from “back in the day”. It’s a fascinating and at the same time kind of bittersweet story, and one I hope you’ll take the time to read via the link below.

In tandem with the posting of the story, I’ve also posted up to YouTube the demo track recorded by The Jesters, which, along with the story, is available to the world for the first time ever.

Click below to read the full story:

https://saturdayscrowd.wordpress.com

The Jester - Soul feeling - demo disc acetate:

 

 

Edited by Amsterdam Russ
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I've posted this in Freebasing as it's not about soul music. It does feature Jerry Williams, and Don Gardner appears fleetingly, but it's the previously untold story of a local band from Williamsport,

Brilliant work Russell. You are the Sherlock Holmes of acetates !!! Cheers Paul

Thanks a lot, Paul. This has been an especially exciting and ultimately hugely fruitful search. Making contact with the band member was more than enough, but then finding the deep-in-the-internet arch

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13 minutes ago, Soul Shrews said:

Brilliant work Russell.

You are the Sherlock Holmes of acetates !!!

Cheers Paul

Thanks a lot, Paul. This has been an especially exciting and ultimately hugely fruitful search. Making contact with the band member was more than enough, but then finding the deep-in-the-internet archive of the local high school community newspaper from more than 50 years ago – that just added greater substance to the whole story. Throw in the press mentions I found in the archives of Billboard, Cash Box and Record World - and then pile on top of that the pics the band member sent out of the blue – and there was a brilliant story that just needed to be told!

I'm thrilled to have had all the components come my way, and to be able to put the jigsaw puzzle together that tells the story of one band's long-forgotten adventures in the music biz in the mid-late 60s. And on top of that - the involvement of luminaries such as Don Gardner and Jerry Williams Jr... wow! I never saw any of that coming! 

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