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Jimmy Ricks

Jimmy Ricks cover

Jimmy Ricks was born in Adrian, Georgia before his family relocated to Florida. During World War 2, he moved to New York where he worked as a waiter at the 400 Tavern in Harlem (148th Street & St. Nicholas Ave).


Whilst there, he met Warren 'Birdland' Suttles who originally hailed from Alabama. In early 1946, they decided to form a vocal group and recruited Leonard "Zeke" Puzey (who had just won a talent contest at the Apollo Theater) and 'Ollie' Jones. They found a manager, Ben Bart, and an accompanist, Howard Biggs, and made their first recordings for Bart's small Hub record label. They called themselves the Ravens and so initiated the trend for vocal groups to name themselves after birds. Although the group were strongly influenced by the Ink Spots & the Mills Bros, they used Ricks' bass voice rather than a more conventional tenor as the lead on their recordings and this became their trademark style. The Ravens primarily existed to showcase Ricks voice; he made Isaac Hayes sound like Betty Boop. Ricks' voice became the standard against which every rhythm and blues bass was measured for the next decade.


The group had quite a few big chart hits, making it onto the national R&B chart 11 times over a 4 year period (1948 to 1952). This success made them a popular live act and they could command a fee of $2,000 dollars a night. However, Ricks quickly developed an attitude problem and his ego resulted in Howard Biggs quitting. After their initial single, "Honey", Jones had left the group and was replaced by Maithe Marshall. The contrast between Ricks' bass voice and Marshall's tenor soon became an important part of the group's success. They left the Hub label in 1947 to join National Records for whom they had immediate hits (the 1st one making the national chart early in January 1948). Their success with National prompted King to license some of their old Hub tracks for release and one of these even made the US Top 10 in summer 1948. Also that year they were landing gigs at prestigious venues such as the Adams Theater in Newark, NJ, Chicago's Regal Theater, the Million Dollar Theater in LA and a two week long stint at the Club Bali in Washington, DC.


1949 saw them play the Apollo a number of times plus the Paradise Theater in Detroit, the Royal Roost in NY (47th & Broadway), L.A.'s Club Oasis, the Earle Theater in Philly and Broadway's Bop City (Manhattan). Their run of R&B successes continued through to early 1950, with the basic line-up of Ricks, Suttles, Puzey, and Marshall essentially remaining together for several years. The group signed with Columbia & Okeh Records in 1950, before moving to Mercury the following year. In 1951 Marshall and Puzey both left, being replaced by Joe Van Loan and various other shorter-term group members. The group had its final hit on the R&B chart in October / November 1952, when "Rock Me All Night Long" rose to No. 4 (the highest position one of the group's 45's had ever reached). Unfortunately it was to be their last chart entry and in 1953 some of the recordings released as by the group were actually solo efforts by Jimmy. But with the rise of R&R, their style had became increasingly unfashionable. After several break ups within the group, Jimmy's version of the Ravens signed with Jubilee in 1955. But he soon quit the group to try for a solo career (1956).


Jimmy must still have been something of a 'handful' to deal with and this showed as he was signed to 6 different labels before the end of the decade (Josie, Baton in 1957, Decca & Felsted being some of these). He was without a record deal in 1958 but was signed up by Felsted Records in 1959. Felsted Records was part of the Decca family and operated out of the New York office of London Records. They were very prolific with their releases in 1959, putting out 96 singles and about 3 LP's (one of these by the Jimmy Wisner Trio). Jimmy's first release for the label was "Secret Love" and this escaped early that summer. His new record label must have put some promotional effort behind this 45 as it seemed to do quite well (radio play wise) in the 'breakout' market of Baltimore. Here it seems to have been a popular track on radio stations WSID and WITH and this helped Jimmy secure two bookings at the top 'chitlin circuit' venue of Carr's Beach (near Annapolis) in September that year. He appeared on a bill with Hank Ballard & the Midnighters plus Faye Adams on Sunday 6th September and returned alongside the Bill Doggett Trio the following day.


Jimmy continued to record as a solo singer without too much commercial success throughout the 1960's. He had records out on Atlantic, Atco ("Daddy Rolling Stone" with the Raves), Fury, Felsted Records (an earlier recording ?), Mainstream, Sure Shot, Festival ("Oh, What A Feeling") & Jubilee. Having lost his solo recording contract by 1970, he and Suttles got back together and temporarily revived the Ravens (adding additional members Gregory Carroll & Jimmy Breedlove) in 1971. At the time of his death, at the age of 49 in 1974, he was the vocalist for the Count Basie Orchestra.



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