Frank Guida developed a strong interest in music. During World War II he had been stationed in Trinidad in the West Indies, where he heard a lot of calypso music. He loved it. In the early 1950's he moved from the Bronx to Norfolk, Virgina. Guida opened a record shop on Church Street and called it Frankie's Birdland. But his interests extended beyond selling records to writing, producing, and promoting them also.
Guida had written a song titled High School U.S.A. Virginia. He brought in Tommy "Bubba" Facenda, who had sang backup vocals with Gene Vincent earlier in the 50's, to record the song in his makeshift Norfolk Recording Studio at Church Street and Sewells Point Road. The song, originally released on Guida's Legrand Records label, mentioned the names of a number of different high schools around Virginia. Eventually over 25 different versions of the record (now called High School U.S.A.) were released by Atlantic Records, each one mentioning the names of different high schools in different areas. It was popular enough to make the top forty nationally in late 1959.
There was a minister who traveled the South and stopped by occasionally in Norfolk to preach in a church over at the corner of Princess Anne Road and Church Street in Norfolk known as the House Of Prayer. His name was Bishop "Daddy" Grace, and he was known for his fire-and-brimstone sermons. The house band at Guida's Legrand Records recording studio took its name from the location of the church, calling itself the Church Street Five, one of whose members was sax player Gene Barge. Others were Ron "Junior" Fairley on bass, Willie Burnell on piano, Leonard Barks on trombone, and "Nabs" Shields on drums. Others who played with the band at one time or another included sax player Earl Swanson, drummer Melvin Glover, and Eric Sauls and Wayne Beckner on guitar. The group liked to play Mardi Gras-style music coming out of New Orleans. Two such songs were Sing A Song Children and A Night With Daddy G (with lead singer Gene Barge), by the Church Street Five. The group was quite good and enjoyed having fun during their recording sessions. Combined with Guida's love for calypso music, his stable of artists produced some great party tunes. It came to be known as the Norfolk Sound.
Guida discovered a young talent named Gary Anderson and signed him to a recording contract. He thought this young artist would be the perfect choice to capture on vinyl the sounds he had heard in Bishop Daddy Grace's torrid, tempestuous sermons. Guida noticed a poster in the window of Codd's Deli on Princess Anne Road that urged Americans to buy U.S. Bonds, and decided that would make a good name for his new recording artist. When Legrand released New Orleans by U.S. Bonds in 1960, it went to the top ten.
U.S. Bonds was a very good vocalist. Next up, Bonds took a shot at a song based on A Night With Daddy G, backed by the Church Street Five. Called Quarter To Three in Bonds' recording, the song became immensely popular, and it reached number one in the summer of 1961. Renamed Gary U.S. Bonds, he went on to have a number of hits for Legrand in 1961 and 1962, including three that went top ten: School Is Out, Dear Lady Twist, and Twist, Twist Senora.
Frank Guida was not finished producing fun songs that sold well.
He had other record labels, including one known as S.P.Q.R. A twenty-year-old named James McCleese out of Portsmouth, Virginia came to Guida's attention. Known as "The Wonder Boy," McCleese had sung with church choirs and built up a regional reputation. His Twistin' Matilda on S.P.Q.R. made the top forty and established a national reputation for McCleese, who recorded under the name Jimmy Soul. Then came his big one. "Don't let your friends say you have no taste, go ahead and marry anyway, though her face is ugly, her eyes don't match, take it from me, she's a better catch." Though it would undoubtedly be regarded as politically incorrect today, Jimmy Soul's If You Wanna Be Happy topped the charts for two weeks in 1963. But he would not reach the top forty again.
Other artists who recorded for Frank Guida included Pamala Stanley and Lenis Guess. Bill Deal sang and played organ on many of Frank Guida's recordings; in the late 60's, recording with Bill Deal and the Rhondells, he managed to put a few hits of his own in the top forty. Tommy Facenda would go on to a career as a firefighter in Virginia. Gary U.S. Bonds' career was later revived by a long-time admirer of his work who had become quite popular himself as a recording artist, Bruce Springsteen. Recording under contract with EMI America, Bonds managed to put two more hits in the top forty in the early 1980's. Jimmy Soul served in the army (and in Vietnam) before suffering a fatal heart attack in New York City in 1988. Gene Barge was a music teacher in the Norfolk area and moved on to Chicago to act in movies (including The Fugitive) and arrange for artists such as Natalie Cole and Inez Andrews; he is listed on dozens of Chess Record releases in the late 1960's. Frank Guida kept his music business going in Norfolk for decades and received a star on the Walk of Fame in Norfolk, right in front of his old record store. Following a long ilness, Guida died at his Virginia Beach, Virginia home on May 19, 2007.
And by the way -- just who is Daddy G. anyway? Well, some say it is Frank Guida, but most agree that it is Church Street Five sax player Gene Barge, who picked up the nickname Daddy G from Bishop Daddy Grace. This group out of Norfolk sure did come up with some fun tunes during the golden days of rock and roll.
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