More fun tunes from the Ohio Express





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Ohio Express was a musical recording unit, mainly active from 1967 through 1970, and occasionally since that time. Though marketed as a band, it would be more accurate to say that the name "Ohio Express" served as a brand name used by Jerry Kasenetz's and Jeffrey Katz's Super K Productions to release the music of a number of different musicians and acts. The best known songs of Ohio Express (including their best scoring single, "Yummy Yummy Yummy") were actually the work of an assemblage of studio musicians working out of New York, including singer/songwriter Joey Levine.

Several other "Ohio Express" hits were the work of other, unrelated musical groups, including The Rare Breed, and an early incarnation of 10cc. In addition, a completely separate touring version of Ohio Express appeared at all live dates, and recorded some of the band's album tracks.

Beginnings: The Rare Breed (1966-67)

The question of who is the 'real' Ohio Express is difficult. The first record credited to Ohio Express was "Beg, Borrow And Steal", a Top 40 hit in the US and Canada in late 1967. However, exactly the same record had initially been issued as by 'The Rare Breed' in early 1966 on Attack Records. This issue was a complete flop, failing to chart.

The Rare Breed issued one more single in 1966 on Attack, "Come And Take A Ride In My Boat", which was a minor chart hit in the US southwest though it failed to chart nationally. The song hit #6 a year later for Every Mother's Son. The Rare Breed then apparently had a dispute with Super K Productions and left the company, never to record again.

The band's original recording of "Beg, Borrow & Steal" was then re-mixed and re-issued in August 1967 on Cameo Parkway Records, now credited to Ohio Express (a name to which Super K Productions controlled all rights). The record was a number 1 single in Columbus, Ohio by early September, and gradually became a hit across Canada and the US through the following months.

The otherwise exhaustively-annotated Nuggets box set (which includes "Beg, Borrow and Steal") suggests The Rare Breed were from New York or New Jersey, but offers no other data. However, a 2003 interview and a 2009 YouTube post of a performance of "Beg Borrow and Steal" identifies the members of the Rare Breed as John Freno (vocals, guitar) Barry Stolnick (keyboards), Joel Feigenbaum (rhythm guitar), Alexander "Botts" Norbit (bass) and Tony Cambria (drums), all of Brooklyn and The Bronx, New York.

Sir Timothy & The Royals take over (1967)

With no group available to promote the single by playing live dates, Super K Productions hired a Mansfield, Ohio band known as Sir Timothy & The Royals and re-named them The Ohio Express. The lineup consisted of Doug Grassel (rhythm guitar), Dale Powers (lead guitar), Dean Kastran (bass), Jim Pfahler (keyboards), and Tim Corwin (drums). This group toured as Ohio Express, and their touring commitments (and Ohio home base) made it difficult for them to head in to the New York-based Super K offices to record a follow-up single to "Beg Borrow and Steal". Of the "official" group members, only Dale Powers (lead vocals) appeared on the second single credited to Ohio Express, a cover of The Standells' "Try It". The single stalled well outside the US Top 40, peaking at #83.

The group soon after recorded an album called "Beg Borrow and Steal". It mixed the original Rare Breed title track with tracks recorded by the Ohio Express touring group, as well as tracks recorded by the Super K staff musicians with vocals by Powers. The LP came out on Cameo-Parkway Records of Philadelphia in the autumn of 1967. Unfortunately, the record label went into bankruptcy shortly after that and was purchased by music business mogul Allen Klein, who still owns the masters to this day.

(It has been rumored that a young Joe Walsh, later of the James Gang & The Eagles, was part of this band but left after the "Beg Borrow & Steal" LP was recorded. A photograph on the cover of the sole Cameo-Parkway album shows a photo that bears a striking resemblance to Walsh.)

The Joey Levine years (1968-69)

Ohio Express then moved to the home label of bubblegum pop, Buddah Records (purposely misspelled so as not to be sacrilegious). At the same time, Joey Levine (who had co-written "Try It") was coming up with new material for Ohio Express at the behest of Super K Productions. He recorded a demo version of the track "Yummy Yummy Yummy" with Super K staff musicians and his own guide vocal for the Ohio Express to record over. However, Buddah head Neil Bogart liked the demo enough that he released the record "as is", with Levine's vocals intact and no input at all from the touring version of Ohio Express. The song became an international smash hit, peaking at #4 US, #5 UK, #7 Australia, and #1 Canada. Two months after its issue it had sold over one million copies, being granted gold disc status by the R.I.A.A. in June 1968.

The success of the Levine-led "Yummy Yummy Yummy" set a pattern for Ohio Express. They released four LPs and a multitude of singles for Buddah between 1968 and 1970, but the "official" group that appeared on album sleeves and at live shows contributed not a single note to their hit singles. For the year following the release of "Yummy Yummy Yummy", all Ohio Express singles were co-written and sung by Levine, with musical accompaniment by anonymous New York session musicians. Under this arrangement, in 1968 and 1969 the group scored three further top 40 hits in the US, Canada and Australia with "Down at Lulu's", "Chewy Chewy" and "Mercy". "Chewy Chewy" was the group's second million seller by March 1969.

There are no known occasions of Levine performing with the actual Ohio quintet, either live or in the studio. The five lads from Ohio, meanwhile, could only be heard on a few of the album tracks. Allegedly, the touring group was not even informed of the existence of "Chewy Chewy", the new single that had come out under their name - and when fans requested it at a live show, they were consequently unable to play it.

"Recycled" tracks (1968-1970)

Super K Productions often recycled tracks from one act to another, issuing exactly the same recording under two different band names. In addition to the Ohio Express hit "Beg, Borrow and Steal" (initially credited to The Rare Breed), fans have noted that various Ohio Express B-sides and album tracks were in fact initially issued and credited to other Super K acts. Examples include the B-side of the "Sausalito" single, "Make Love Not War", which was originally issued as "Road Runner" by The Music Explosion and the 1970 album track "Shake", originally issued as by Kasenetz Katz Super Circus. As well, the B-side to "Yummy Yummy Yummy" was the instrumental track of 1910 Fruitgum Company's "(Poor Old) Mr. Jensen" recorded backwards.

The Post-Levine era (1969-70)

After five straight singles co-written and sung by Joey Levine (four of which made the US and Canadian Top 40), Levine grew dissatisfied with the amount of money he was receiving from his production deal, and left Super K Productions in early 1969. The company then turned to other hands to write, produce and perform Ohio Express singles. The Ohio touring quintet was not among them.

After Levine left, Ohio Express never again made the top 40 in North America, although three 1969 singles made the lower reaches of the US and Canadian singles charts. One later minor hit single, "Sausalito (Is The Place To Go)" was co-written and sung by Graham Gouldman, and performed by the four musicians who would later make up 10cc. Another late single, "Cowboy Convention", sneaked into the Australian top 40, peaking at #38.

By 1970, with the hits having stopped, the group name Ohio Express was quietly retired. (There was a one-shot 1973 Buddah release credited to Ohio Ltd.)

Ohio Express today

A new touring version of Ohio Express was convened in the 1980s. Today, a lineup led by original drummer Tim Corwin on lead vocals, John Baker lead guitar, Guy Hoffman bass, David Haag on drums, Jeff Burgess Keyboard and Warren Sawyer on rhythm guitar and keyboards tours the oldies circuit with their bubblegum classics. Original keyboardist/vocalist/songwriter Jim Pfahler died in March 2003. Bassist Dean Kastran now plays bass for the Ashland, Ohio based bluegrass band, Faces Made for Radio.

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