Jimmy Ricks (lower right) and the Ravens
THE GRANDFATHER OF DOO WOP
His voice was considered one of the most influential in the history of rhythm and blues. There was no one who could sing any lower and as well as Jimmy "Ricky" Ricks. As a member of the vocal group, the Ravens, Jimmy Ricks's lead vocals set the standard for doo-wop and rhythm and blues groups that followed him.
Jimmy Ricks was born in Adrian, Georgia in 1924. When he was a small child, Jimmy's family moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where Jimmy remained until World War II, when he removed to New York to seek a career in the music business. Ricks had a unique bass voice, one which would catapult him to stardom in the blossoming rhythm and blues field. In 1945, while working as a waiter in the Four Hundred Tavern in Harlem, Ricks joined the Melodeers, a group led by Herb Kenny, whose brother Bill was the lead singer of the legendary Ink Spots. The group disbanded when Herb joined the Ink Spots as their "talking bass singer." While working at the Four Hundred, Ricks formed a friendship with Warren Suttles. The duo began singing along with jukebox records. They decided to form a group and invited Zeke Puzey, an amateur champion singer, and Ollie Jones. They called themselves the Ravens. They hired as their manager, Ben Bart, who also managed the Ink Spots.
The Ravens re-recorded their first songs with Maithe Marshall, who replaced Jones, as the lead tenor. Listeners of a New York radio station voted the Ravens as the "Best New Singing Group of 1946." The Ravens signed a contract with National Records and began performing with Cab Calloway at the Strand on Broadway. In the spring of '47, the Ravens began their National recording sessions with one of their biggest hits "Ol' Man River, " the classic song of Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern. It rose to number 10 on the R&B charts. Their next hit was "Write Me A Letter," which went to number 5 on the R&B charts and number 24 on the pop charts. The Ravens continued to release cover songs of classics such as "Summertime," by George Gershwin. The Ravens were climbing to the top of the charts. In an effort to cash in on their new popularity and the flying saucer fad sweeping the country, the group reportedly staged a publicity stunt by flinging copies of "Ol' Man River" off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River.
Jimmy Ricks (Upper Left) and the Ravens
Suttles returned in early 1949 just before the Ravens made their national television debut on Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town." Sullivan presented the group with the "Top Vocal Group of 1948," given by the readers of "Cashbox" magazine. The Ravens had enjoyed their most successful year in 1948, breaking records at the Apollo Theater in New York and the Paradise Theater in Detroit. They won six popularity polls and continued their string of cover hits of classic tunes, such as "Deep Purple," "Tea For Two," and "Without a Song." Jimmy, known as "Ricky" to his friends, wrote and sung, "Ricky's Blues," which peaked at number 8 on the charts. The Ravens ended the Forties with their last chart hit, "I Don't Have to Ride Anymore," which also rose to number 8 on the R&B charts. The lyrics told of a man not being thrown out of the house because he had won the numbers game with "6-9-4." It has been said that while the Ravens were performing in Atlanta, local bookies refused to accept the three now famous numbers.
The year 1951 was another successful one for the Ravens as they continued to churn out one song after another for Columbia. They received thousands of dollars a night to perform. Louis Heyward and Maithe Marshall returned to the group, but not for long. The main group broke up and the new Ravens signed with Mercury Records, with Jimmy Ricks as the sole surviving member. The new group continued the old group's success by recording cover versions of classic American songs, such as Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" and Hank Williams's "Hey Good Lookin!"