THE SATURDAY MORNING SONG CHRONICLES - PAGE 29

-- Paul B Allen III: November 23, 2019

JIMMY RICKS AND THE RAVENS

Some women will tell you that for them, nothing is more exciting than listening to a man with a deep, resonating, bass voice, and especially if he is singing to them. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I have been in groups that had superlative bass singers, and I have seen how thousands of women over the years react to them and their performances. It is truly amazing. 

Today, when we think of deep voices in music, probably the one that comes to mind as the quintessential bass singer would be Barry White. And before Barry, there was Isaac Hayes. In each case, solo artists, and that is pretty much how we see bass vocalists today. But, it was not always that way. 

In the 1940s, the foundation was being set for what would in the next decade be called Rock & Roll, paving the way for the many Doo-Wop groups to come. The groups of the 1940s would set the standard, and one group in particular, was absolutely stellar! The name of the group was Jimmy Ricks and the Ravens. The group was founded by Jimmy Ricks and Warren Suttles. 

There were many things that made this group unique, and here are just a few. They were one, if not the very first of the groups, to give themselves the name of a bird, and because of their great success, suddenly there were groups with names like the Orioles, the Cardinals, the Flamingos, the Larks and the Penguins (Earth Angel). 

Another unique thing about the Ravens is that their leader, who sang baritone/bass, was the one that was featured. He led on most of their songs. And I have to be honest with you. Listening to him now from his recordings in the 1940s, I am of the belief that he may have been the best bass singer of all time in pop music. He did not have the very deepest voice, but it was extremely low, and the amazing thing is that not only did Jimmy Ricks have phenomenal range, but he also had vocal techniques that were more akin to those of a tenor or alto vocalist. Vocal gymnastics are nearly unheard of for bass singers. They are striving to hit and hold those low notes. But this guy sang all over the place with his vocal runs. I have never heard a more vocally agile, nimble bass singer, before or after him. 

And here is one thing more. Jimmy Ricks and the Ravens had perhaps the best singers in every position of any group I have ever heard, bar none. Ricks was one of the best bass singers of all time, but each of the vocalists in that group was not just excellent, they were exceptional, extraordinary,  and completely world-class! Had this group begun ten years later, when Rock & Roll was coming into its own, they would be a household name now, much like the Platters, Coasters, Drifters, Temptations, and Chi-Lites. But they came and went just before the party got started. A shame for them, and a greater shame for all of us, because we never got to hear them live. They were magnificent. 

Most of these rare recordings are probably songs you have never heard before, as again, they were recorded in the forties and very early fifties. This was Race Music (the name it had before being dubbed R&B) and it was paving the way for what would come. I was amazed to find that this group recorded "White Christmas" many years before my friend, Bill Pinkney and his Drifters recorded it with a great new arrangement and made it an international hit. But in their version, you can hear clearly that the Drifters based their hit off of what the Ravens had done previously. Still, listen to how deep Jimmy Ricks sings it, and again, how amazing his technique was. 

As you listen, notice that you will hear them doing things that other groups who came after would emulate. For instance, notice how in many songs that each of the members of the Ravens would take a lead part. This is exactly what the Temptations would do fifteen or twenty years later in the way they presented songs, and even they didn't have each member sing a lead regularly, but Rick and his guys were truly amazing.

Notice how the very high vocal. the soprano. would be preceded or followed by the bass vocal, much in the way the Dells would later do.

And remember that what you are about to hear had no "multi-tracking." The guys had to stand there all together and sing at the same time. If there was a mistake, the whole song had to be re-sung from the top. Also, if someone was sharp or flat or if their voice cracked, there was no "pitch correction" or a way to just re-sing that little part. It all had to be done at the same time and it all had to be right. Even still, you are about to hear some of the most beautiful vocals ever, and some of the prettiest songs ever.

I don't believe I have ever posted this many videos on one group before, however, each of these songs is so wonderfully written and performed with such beauty and grace that I had to include them. Strangely, the uptempo tune which was their greatest hit, "Rock Me All Night Long," I barely like when compared to the other masterpieces they recorded and that I have posted here. As you listen to these videos, enjoy the stellar harmonies, the phenomenal leads, and the sheer beauty of the voices and songs of Jimmy Ricks and the Ravens. They are true gems in the history of modern music. Time has nearly erased them from memory. But I hope you will love what you hear, and that from here on out you will remember them. I know I will. 

See you next week for a new Saturday Morning Song Chronicles.