The oddly named VISCAYNES were a mixed race, teen harmony sextet formed at high school in the San Francisco dormitory town of Vallejo. They evolved out of a group called the Viscounts (sometimes spelt Vicounts) and became the Viscaynes after winning a recording contract to avoid confusion with other “Viscount” bands. The name Viscaynes, by the way, was a play on the name of a popular car, the Buick Biscayne. The fresh faced and enthusiastic Viscaynes were active between 1961 and 1962. They recorded sporadically, performed at local hops, talent shows and on regional TV and enjoyed little success. Totally unremarkable, except for one thing… one of their members was a young Sylvester Stewart, dipping his toe into the turbulent, shark infested music biz waters long before he became Sly Stone.
Over the years various archive recordings of the Viscaynes have been made available to satisfy Sly Stone fans and collectors but these have usually been poor quality, improperly mastered and taken from bootleg records rather than the original tapes. Now for the first time, Ace Records have collected everything that is properly and legally available on the Viscaynes and released it as ‘Sly and The Viscaynes; Yellow Moon’ and it paints a fascinating picture of both the genesis of a soul superstar and the state of the US record business in the early 60s.
The sound of the Viscaynes was essentially the sound of a naïve teen take on doo-wop. The dates of their existence and their car-inspired name provide the clues and across the album’s 19 tracks the sextet offer their take on the genre. Soul collectors will probably go straight to the Viscaynes’ cover of the Dells’ ‘Oh What A Night’ – a workmanlike take, it clearly, given the ages of the group, lacks the passion and commitment of the original. The harmonies though are authentic and repeated right across the collection which also features tracks by wannabees like Jasper Woods and Gary Stites for whom the Viscaynes provide the bvs. Soul historians will also be delighted to have easy access to the first tracks on which Sly Stone took lead vocals. Backed by his Viscayne colleagues, he offers 4 tracks, billing himself as “Danny Stewart” and one demo where he uses his real name None show any trace of what was to come but, like the whole album, offer intrigue and fascination.