Danny Overbea was based in Chicago, but in Cleveland got started in music in a big way when he formed a vocal-instrumental trio called the Three Earls. After doing many local appearances in the northern Ohio area, Overbea left the Three Earls and went out on his own as a solo performer. He gained a great deal of local favor, especially his well received song "Dilemma Blues". During the summer of 1950 he is signed to the Premium label, based in Chicago. He resumes his musical career in late 1952 and soon signs a recording contract with the Chess Record company in Chicago on their Checker subsidiary. The first release for Checker is #768 - "Train Train Train" / "I'll Wait". Overbea then becomes a performing favorite of Alan "Moondog" Freed, and appears with the Cleveland d.j. and Count Basie and the Moonglows on bills in Akron, Youngstown, and Toledo. "Train" gets good airplay and sales and this is born out by the fact that the record is the subject of a pop cover record by Buddy Morrow's Orchestra for Mercury Records, also in Chicago. Overbea now starts to make personal appearances throughout Chicago at night spots such as Martin's Corner, Club Paris, and the Club DeLisa. In mid-June Checker releases #774 - "Forty Cups of Coffee" and "I'll Follow You". These first two Overbea efforts for Checker sell well for the remainder of the year.
The first recorded Overbea work in 1954 was the strangely named "Ebony Chant" and the flip was "Stomp And Whistle". This record did not do anywhere near as well as the first two releases. Overbea was now gaining a name as a writer of songs as well as a performer. In May he did a stint at the Ebony Lounge in his hometown of Cleveland.He returned to Chicago and appeared at the famous Crown Propeller Lounge. Checker released his first ballad performance in June on Checker #796 - "You're Mine" / "Roaming Man". Late in the year he toured the South and Southwestern states with Dinah Washington, The Checkers, and the Cootie Williams Orchestra. At the end of the year a romantic ballad side is released - "A Toast To Lovers" on Checker #808. The reverse side is an uptempo tune with a Latin feel called "Be My Love". The ballad side gets a big boost from airplay by Alan Freed now in New York City and heading the rock and roll explosion. Overbea is on the bill at the first big presentation of this music in the New York City area, the Rock and Roll Ball held at St. Nicholas Arena over two nights in mid January. The large number of White teenagers who showed up for the show attests to the growing popularity of the music. Meanwhile "Toast" continues to attract record buyers across the country. He returns to Cleveland to appear at the Circle Theater and soon is signed to appear at the first Alan Freed show at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater in April. This 'Easter Jubilee of Stars' is a landmark event in the history of American popular music. The attendance at this weeklong event breaks the record set in 1932 by depression-era crooner Russ Columbo. The great majority of the people in attendance are White, seemingly forever burying the labels "race", "sepia" and "Harlem Hit Parade" in denoting R & B records. Overbea records an uptempo tune very much in the same style as "Be My Love". This new song is called "Hey Pancho" and gets immediate attention from record buyers. In the late spring and early summer, Overbea does many dates in the South such as The Palm in Miami Beach.
Changes are under way at the Chess record Company in late 1955. They plan to establish a new label to be called Marterry, in an effort to move toward capturing a portion of the pop music market with artists under contract. One of the first to be recorded on the new label is Danny Overbea. However while the Chess company is figuring out how to reorganize, valuable time is lost in keeping Overbea's name in front of the public which is now discovering this music in all of its forms for the first time. In April of 1956 the company decides to record Overbea exclusively for their pop music label now renamed Argo (formerly Marterry). In May Argo releases #5252 "My Stubborn Heart" and "Hear My Story" which is not well received . It seems as though the great pop music experiment by Chess is a failure, and soon they would lose the Flamingos and Chuck Berry, and barely hang on with The Moonglows and Bo Diddley. Danny Overbea continues to perform throughout the Chicago area in nightclubs and in theaters such as the Regal and Indiana, famous for its midnight shows over the years. Chess gives up on Overbea and he soon finds his way to King Records in Cincinnati. Syd Nathan the company president decides to record Overbea on the company's Federal label. "Space Time" and "Candy Bar" are released on #12324, but these and subsequent sessions do not succeed. In May of 1959 Overbea is signed to Apex Records in Chicago run by Bill Sheppard and Dempsey Nelson. "Don't Laugh At Me" and "Stop" are released on Apex #7751.
I saw Danny Overbea perform at the St. Nick's show and at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater in April of 1955. What stays with me after all these years is the effect of seeing a complete performance from vocals to guitar playing to showstopping moves the kind that I had never seen before. The splits, playing behind the back, the teeth solos and all, were fifteen years ahead of Jimi Hendrix, and as I learned, ten years after T-Bone Walker who originated many of the routines. Combine that with a great sense of ballad style and here was a major performer. How and why he did not become the great crossover artist and a major performer throughout the decade is a mystery that will remain for the years. However I feel fortunate in having seen him in all his expressive glory.
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