Tommy Ridgley : New Orleans Original ©2002JCMarion

Tommy Ridgley was born October 30, 1925 in Shrewsbury, Louisiana. After a stint in the U.S. Navy during WWII where he learned the rudiments of playing piano on Okinawa, Tommy returned to his home in New Orleans. Coming from a musical family, he soon began to appear in and around his home town with a group of supporting musicians. He appeared at long time R & B clubs in the town such as the Dew Drop Inn where he won the Monday night talent show, the Starlight Club, the Pelican Club, and Dream Room. By late 1948 he began to jam with members of the Dave Bartholomew band who were members of the house band for so many of the great R & B recordings from the crescent city, and with the band of Earl Anderson. He spent two months in Nashville with his own combo, and returned to New Orleans to study musical composition and arranging at the Grunewald School of Music

In late 1949 Tommy Ridgley recorded his breakthrough on the Imperial Records label with the songs "Shrewsbury Blues" and "Early Dawn Boogie" on #5054 with the Bartholomew band. The band backed up New Orleans performers such as Fats Domino, Little Richard, Lloyd Price, and Shirley & Lee. After good sales and airplay, Ridgley now had name familiarity in the New Orleans area. He followed up this record in early 1950 with Imperial #5074 with the songs "Lonely Man Blues" and "Boogie Woogie Mama". This time the sales and airplay did not do as well as with the first release and soon Imperial Records opted out on Ridgley and he then signed with Decca Records in 1951. During the summer of 1951 Decca Records released #48226 with "Anything But Love" and "Once In A Lifetime" and listed on the label as by Thomas Ridgley & The Royal Playboys. He also recorded the tune "Tra La La" for Decca. However Ridgley was back with Imperial Records in 1952 with #5198 and the songs "Lavinia" and "I Live My Life", and late that year recorded a big R & B song of the time called "Looped" on #5203. The song also recorded by Calvin Boze and others was a big seller in late 1952.

In October of 1953 Tommy Ridgley was signed to Atlantic Records by Jerry Wexler. In early 1954 Tommy's first release for Atlantic is "Ooh Lawdy My Baby" on #1009. The records like many of Ridgley's, immediately sells well in New Orleans. By the late spring of the year Tommy records a blues number "Wish I Had Never" backed with a jump instrumental called "Jam Up" for Atlantic on #1039. The instrumental side takes some time to get heard but by early in 1955 it is a top R & B seller. The frantic tune with featured solos by Lee Allen, Alvin "Red" Tyler, and other mainstays of New Orleans sessions at J & M studios is one of the most driving, solid tunes ever recorded. To this day it remains a classic piece of R & B history. Unfortunately there was no follow up for Atlantic and in 1956 Ridgley found himself on Herald Records. There, his most remembered tune was "When I Meet My Girl", an R & B version of an old Scottish reel. In late 1957 he recorded "Come Back Baby" and "Want'Cha Gone" on Herald #513. In the summer of 1958 the old song revived in the swing era "Mairzy Doats And Dozy Doats" and the song "I've Heard That Story Before" was released by Herald on #526. By the end of the year "Story" becomes a favorite and a good seller in New Orleans. Tommy also recorded for the Waldorf label as "The Shrewsbury Kid".

By the late fifties and into the early sixties, Tommy Ridgley was being called the New Orleans King of the Stroll and he often appeared with a band called The Untouchables. He became the leader of the house band that played behind most of the big names in R & B when they came to perform in New Orleans, and The Untouchables became the house band at the Dew Drop Inn. In the early sixties Ridgley recorded a series of sides with the local Ric label. Among the tunes recorded were "Is It True?" / "Let's Talk It Over", "My Ordinary Girl", "Please Hurry Home", "The Girl From Kooka Monga", and "Double Eyed Whammy". Other Ridgley recordings from the 1960s were "I Want Some Money" on Johen Records in 1964 and "Fly In My Pie" on International City in 1968.

With the formation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Ridgley became a permanent fixture as part of the musical history of the city. During the passing years some of his early recordings were re-issued on Rounder, and in 1990 a well received CD called "How Long" on the Sound of New Orleans label. Two years later "She Turns Me On" was recorded for Modern Blues. and in 1995 another good CD of his music called "Since The Blues Began" for Black Top which received an award from the New Orleans Music Industry Association. Snooks Eaglin on guitar and Kaz Kazanoff on sax were featured on that CD. He appeared on a segment of PBS television celebrating the history of the musical heritage of New Orleans. Tommy Ridgley Day was proclaimed in New Orleans for his music and his dedication to the community. In the late 1990's Tommy was inducted into the Louisiana Hall of Fame, and in 1999 was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from Offbeat, a local music community association.

Tommy had fought kidney disease and recovered from transplant surgery during the nineties when he finally got his due recognition in the world of music. He passed away on August 11, 1999 after giving the world his musical talent for more than a half century in which he represented the rich heritage of his Louisiana roots. Tommy Ridgley was a giant talent in every way and can be seen as an American original.

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