The Ravens : 1951 And Beyond©2005JCMarion


Early on 1951 National Records files suit in court against The Ravens for breach of contract because they signed with Columbia records and recorded for that label before the terms of their contract with National was over. Columbia releases the Midnight Blues" and "You Don't Have To Drop A Heart To Break It" on Columbia # 39112. Jimmy Ricks takes the lead on the up tempo blues tune while high tenor Maithe Marshall does the honors on the ballad side. The group does a one nighter at Middlebury College in vermont and then leave on a tour of Southern states. Infebruary National Records brings out a side from on the shelf by The Ravens - "Lilacs In The Rain" and "Time Is Marching On" on # 9148. In March Columbia releases "You're Always In My Dreams" with lead vocal by Maithe Marshall and Louis Hayward and "Gotta Find My baby" with Jimmy Ricks. In May Columbia Records announces the return of the Okeh label which will concentrate on Rhythm & Blues, and among the artists slated for the change are The Ravens.

In late May a third label gets in on The Ravens scene with Rendition Records # 5001 (from masters of National Records) with "Write Me A Letter" and "Marie" with Ricks and Marshall on lead (the arrangement would be used in 1954 by The Four Tunes on Jubilee for a crossover hit). In June Columbia releases "You Foolish Thing" with Ricks and Marshall, and Ricks on lead with "Honey I Don;t Want You" on # 39408. In August former member Warren Suttles forms his own group to be called The Dreamers. In August The Ravens are set to be the first artists with a new record out on the reconstituted Okeh label. The songs are the old pop standard "Whiffenpoof Song" (identified with Bing Crosby) and "I Get All My Loving On A Saturday Night" with Jimmy Ricks on lead. The record is released on # 6825. In October however, everything is thrown into disarray as The Ravens sign with Mercury records of Chicago. Further muddying the waters for the group is the complete reorganization of the vocalists. Maithe Marshall is out as lead singer and will reportedly form his own group to be called The Marshall Brothers. Jim Stewart and Louis Frazier replace Leonard Puzey and Louis Heyward, but Jimmy Ricks will remain with the group and they will do a series of one nighters with the Joe Thomas band during the second half of October with stops at Detroit's Paradise Theater and New York's Apollo. Okeh Records releases "That Old Gang Of Mine" and "Everything But You" on # 6843. In November, Mercury Records releases the first sides by the group with "Out In The Cold Again" and "Hey Good Looking" with Jimmy Ricks and Dinah Washington on # 8257. At year's end Mercury debuts the new lead singer for The Ravens, James Van Loan on the song "There's No Use Pretending" and "Wagon Wheels" with Jimmy Ricks on # 5764. The group closes out the year with a three week engagementat Cafe Society in New York as "Hey Good Looking" recorded with Dinah Washington shows good sales numbers in the Midwest cities of Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland.

In January of 1952 the Ravens begin the year with a week at Philadelphia's Earle Theater. In March Mercury releases # 5800 - "Begin The Beguine" and "Looking For My Baby" both with lead by Ricks. The group hits the road again for a series of one nighters throughout the Midwest with Wini Brown and Burnie Peacock's band. "Looking For My Baby" is a good seller in New York into April. In June of 1952 the now defunct National Records institutes a second lawsuit against The Ravens and Columbia. In May The Ravens play the Earle Theater in Philadelphia with Dinah Washington, Arnett Cobb's band and nine year old Leslie Uggams. That month Jimmy Ricks again leads the group on "Chloe" and "Why Did You Leave Me" released on Mercury # 5853. In July Okeh Records brings out one from the shelf with "Mam'selle" and "Calypso Song" featuring Ricks, Maithe Marshall, and Leonard Puzey on leads. That month the Regal Theater in Chicago features The Ravens with Count Basie & his orchestra. In September Mercury releases "Write Me One Sweet Letter" and "Rock Me All Night Long" both with Jimmy Ricks on lead. In October Mercury Records spotlights The Ravens in an advertising campaign touting that label as the top major in the R & B field. "Rock Me" jumps out in sales in New York and Philadelphia. In November the group appears with that other figure of musical royalty Duke Ellington at the New York Paramount.

In 1953 Mercury starts off with # 70060 of "Don't Mention My Name" with a soaring James Van Loan lead and "I'll Be Back". In April "She's Got To Go" and "Come A Little Bit Closer" on # 70119. In May the 8th annual poll conducted by the Pittsburgh Courier is out and The Ravens take top honors for vocal groups. In September Jubilee Records buys the catalog of defunct label National Records, including many sides by The Ravens. On the road The Ravens substitute for The Dominos in New York. In October Mercury issues # 70213 with the group now listed as Jimmy Ricks & The Ravens with "Rough Ridin" and "Who'll Be The Fool". At the same time # 70240 features the group on "Without A Song" and "Walking My Blues Away". In December The Ravens appear with Johnny Otis and Marie Adams at the "Jazz-O-Rama" revue in Los Angeles. The group appears over the holidays into 1954 with Percy Mayfield at the 5-4 Ballroom in L.A.

In late January of 1954 The Ravens appear for a week at New York's Apollo Theater. In February "September Song" and "Escortin Or Courtin" (a Jimmy Ricks solo) is released on Mercury # 70307. In April "Going Home" with James Van Loan on lead, and "The Lonesome Road" with Van Loan and Ricks on lead is out on Mercury # 70330. In mid July "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "Love Is No Dream" with each lead taking a side is released on # 70413. In September The ravens joined by Hal Singer's combo lead off a number of one nighters throughout the South. The group closes out the year with their version of "White Christmas" and "Silent Night" on Mercury # 70505 from an original national Records master. Jimmy Ricks and Maithe Marshall are the leads. A second National master was issued by Mercury # 70554 with the tunes "Old Man River" and "Write Me A Letter". These eight year old masters are released as The Ravens leave Mercury and sign on with Jubilee Records to start out the year 1955.

In March of 1955 Jubilee releases # 5184 - "Bye Bye Blues" and "Happy Go Lucky Baby" both with leads by Jimmy Ricks. In June Jubilee realizes that The Ravens have not had a good seller or chart hit in some time and advertises their new recording as "recapturing the old Ravens sound" with "Green Eyes" featuring Jimmy Ricks and Jimmy Stewart, and "The bells Of San Raquel" with a rare lead by Louis Frazier. In August in an interesting double bill, The Ravens appear with Les Brown & His Band Of Reknown at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia. In August Jerry Blaine announces that he is putting Jubilee Records up for sale including their catalog containing many sides by The Ravens. In October "On Chapel Hill" and "We'll Raise A Ruckus Tonight" is released on Jubilee # 5217 with both songs led by Jimmy Ricks.

In March of 1956, The Ravens play the famous Crown Propeller Lounge in Chicago. By now it is apparent that The Ravens are not a top draw among the rock 'n rollers and their biggest fans are the adult listeners from the late forties and early fifties. In April of 1956 Argo, a subsidiary label of Chess and Checker announce the signing of The Ravens. Again the group totally reorganized. The new lineup features James Van Loan along with his brothers Joe and Paul, and David Bowers replacing Jimmy Ricks. In June The Ravens appeared at a benefit for Arnett Cobb held at New York's Savoy Ballroom. In July Argo releases "I Can't Believe" and "Kneel And Pray" # 5255. In december The Ravens appear with old friend Dinah Washington in Cleveland for a week. At year's end "A Simple Prayer" and "Water Boy" are released on Argo # 5203.

In 1957 The Ravens see their place as a performing act with their recordings not doing well in either sales or airplay on radio stations around the country. In July "Dear One" and "That'll Be The Day" on Argo # 5276. In September, once again, the National Records catalog containing many forties recordings by The ravens is up for sale. The buyer this time is Savoy Records. In November the Argo label releases one from off the shelf - "Here Is My Heart" and "Lazy Mule" on # 5284. At year's end Savoy releases a standard from the National catalog - "White Christmas" and "Silent Night" on # 1540. In late December The Ravens appear at a big show with Al Benson in Chicago at the Regal Theater.

Meanwhile what of The Ravens famous bass lead voice Jimmy Ricks ? After leaving the group when they signed with Argo he recorded as a solo artist with a number of labels and never had a hit but as the group did, remained a good draw on the personal appearance circuit. For Josie # 796 listed as Jimmy Ricks & The Rickateers - "The Unbeliever" / "She's Fine She's Mine" in 1956 followed by "Do You Promise" and "The Sugar Man Song" on Paris #504 in 1957. That year also Ricks recorded "Bad Man Of Missouri" and "I'm A Fool To Want You" backed up by The Suburbans on Baton # 236. Later sides by Ricks were recorded for Felsted, Signature, Atlantic (with LaVern Baker and Esther Phillips), Atco, Fury, Festival, and Arnold through the early sixties. Ricks passed away in July of 1974 at the age of fifty.

Meanwhile The Ravens kept at it into the later fifties. In 1959 in May "The Rising Son" and "Into The Shadows" was released on Top Rank on # 2003. In October "There's A Hole In The Middle Of The Moon" and "Solitude" on Top Rank # 2016. These Top Rank sides were reportedly by an uncredited vocal group using the name of The Ravens. The Ravens gave top recorded performances for more than a decade and are recognized as one of the all time pioneers of the musical style. They stand with The Inkspots and Orioles as the founding triumverate of the R & B vocal group era.

There are a few CDs available featuring the work of The Ravens and the best of the lot is a two disc set called "Birds Of A Feather" on Proper Pairs with 50 tracks from their career. A more completist collection of their early work is the three disc set called "Complete National Recordings" which features sixty four tracks from the days at that label beginning in the late forties.

The Ravens are the bedrock of what this music is and are a most important ingredient of that time in history. Previous articles in this series include The Ravens : 1950 in # 9, and The Ravens and National Records # 23.

 

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