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Friday 5 November 2010

The Five Keys - It's A Groove

Side One:
1. Hucklebuck With Jimmy
2. How Do You Expect Me To Get It
3. Old MacDonald
4. Why Oh Why
5. Serve Another Round
6. I'm So High
7. The Glory Of Love
8. Rockin' & Cryin' Blues

Side Two:
1. She's The Most
2. It's A Groove
3. From The Bottom Of My Heart
4. Close Your Eyes
5. Now Don't That Prove I Love You
6. That's Right
7. Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind
8. My Pigeon's Gone

The definitive online source for The Five Keys is of course on Marv Goldberg’s website. Much of what appears below is distilled from that article, plus total immersion in a whole bunch of Five Keys tracks. All label scans on this post were kindly supplied by Joan K.

1951 was the year of the vocal group in rhythm and blues as a wave of new groups hit the charts. The Dominoes (“Sixty Minute Man,” “Do Something For Me” and “I Am With You”), The Clovers (“Fool, Fool, Fool” and “Don’t You Know I Love You”) and The Five Keys (“The Glory of Love”) all enjoyed substantial hits. There were hits too for The Four Buddies (“I Will Wait”), The Cardinals (“Shouldn’t I Know”), The Swallows (“Will You Be Mine”) and The Larks (“Eyesight to the Blind” and “Little Side Car.”)

The Dominoes’ “Sixty Minute Man” on Federal was the top selling R&B disk of 1951. The Clovers’ record sales along with those of Ruth Brown and Big Joe Turner helped establish Atlantic as the top selling R&B label of the year. The second best selling R&B label was Aladdin thanks to Charles Brown, Amos Milburn, Peppermint Harris, Floyd Dixon – and The Five Keys.

The Five Keys came from Newport News, Virginia. The group originated as two sets of brothers, Rudy and Bernie West, and Ripley and Raphael Ingram who formed a gospel group called the Sentimental Four in 1945. Within a few years they had branched into pop and R&B and started winning talent contests in local theatres. They added a fifth member, Edwin Hall, and remained as a five piece when Raphael Ingram was drafted, being replaced by Dickie Smith in 1949. At this point they became The Five Keys and it was under this name that they appeared in the famed Amateur Hour at the Apollo Theatre in New York. The success of their appearance led to a week long stint at the Apollo and lengthy tours with The Brownskin Models revue.

In 1950 The Five Keys became a six piece group with the addition of guitarist Joe Jones. Edwin Hall left the group and was replaced by Maryland Pierce, thus completing the classic early 50s line-up of the group (as pictured on the LP cover) which was now blessed with two formidable lead tenors. Maryland Pierce handled the bluesy ballads and rockers, while Rudy West led the romantic numbers. Baritone Dickie Smith also contributed occasional lead vocals. In February 1951 The Five Keys signed up with Aladdin Records. Their first release in April 1951, “With a Broken Heart” / “Too Late” failed to hit, but their second platter, released in July 1951, “Glory of Love” / “Hucklebuck with Jimmy” was a smash, reaching number one in the R&B charts and finishing as the tenth best selling R&B record of 1951.

“Glory of Love” was the only hit for the Five Keys on Aladdin for whom they recorded up until September 1953, and, although they nominally remained with the label up until July 1954 when they recorded an unreleased session for Groove, a failure to conclude negotiations for a one year extension to their contract seems to have led to months without recording. According to Marv Goldberg’s article, the Aladdin label and the group had different opinions on the kind of material that should be recorded, with the label wanting the guys to concentrate on up tempo dance numbers, while the group members had a preference for ballads and “classics.”

Side one of this LP has eight tracks recorded for Aladdin, mostly up-tempo, rockin’ R&B. “Hucklebuck With Jimmy,” (based on Jimmy Preston’s “Huckleback Daddy” from 1949), “How Do You Expect Me To Get It,” “Old MacDonald,” I’m So High,” and “Rockin’ And Cryin’ The Blues” are all superb rockers with the obligatory blasting saxes, especially “Rockin’ And Cryin’ The Blues” which has Maryland Pierce in great form and the bonus of a blistering sax break.

“Serve Another Round” is an atmospheric sleazy booze blues with tasty sax fills and another great vocal from Maryland Pierce, “Why Oh Why” is another bluesy ballad with a fine Dickie Smith vocal and of course the Rudy West led “Glory Of Love” (with fine support from Dickie Smith) is one of the all time great vocal group ballad recordings.

The Five Keys had many other good recordings on Aladdin including rockers and bluesers like “Come Go My Bail Louise,” “Oh! Babe!” (not the Louis Prima song), “Mama (Your Daughter Told A Lie On Me),” “My Saddest Hour,” and “Hold Me.” They could turn out gutsy versions of standards like “Red Sails In The Sunset” and “There’ll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover,” and deliver appealing ballad performances like “Someday Sweetheart” and “Story Of Love.” Despite these many fine performances further chart success eluded The Five Keys on Aladdin but this situation changed dramatically when they started recording for Capitol in August, 1954.

By the first session for Capitol, Dickie Smith had left the group, being replaced by Ramon Loper. Rudy West, who had been drafted in late 1952, had not yet returned (he came back in early October 1954) and his replacement Ulysses Hicks was still in the line-up. By the time of the second Capitol session in November 1954, Ulysses Hicks had dropped out of the recording line-up which now consisted of Maryland Pierce, Rudy West, Ripley Ingram, Ramon Loper and Bernie West. This line-up recorded at all subsequent Capitol sessions, the last of which was in February 1958. Ulysses was still part of the Five Keys for live performances, dying of a heart attack at the tragically young age of 25 on the 1st of February 1955 while on tour with the group.

A rock and roll novelty “Ling Ting Tong,” was the first release on Capitol. It was an enormous success, reaching number 5 in the R&B charts towards the end of 1954. The disc also entered the pop charts, peaking at number 28. This success was achieved in the face of heavy sales garnered by a cover version by Otis Williams and The Charms which also reached number 5 on the R&B chart and number 26 on the pop chart.

“Close Your Eyes” was the next release on Capitol and the success of “Ling Ting Tong” was repeated with a number 5 placing on the R&B chart in the spring of 1955. “Close Your Eyes” is a particularly beautiful performance, an ethereal ballad with lead by Maryland Pierce echoed by Rudy West and with subtle vocal backing by the rest of the guys. The instrumental accompaniment is minimalist, leaving the outstanding vocals to carry the song with no background distractions.

Chart success continued with “The Verdict” (number 13 in the autumn of 1955), “’Cause You’re My Lover” / “Gee Whittakers (numbers 12 and 14 respectively in late 1955), and “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” (number 12 R&B, number 23 pop in late 1956). As you can hear from the selection of Capitol sides on Side Two of this LP, The Five Keys’ sound changed from the straight ahead R&B of the Aladdin years and the earliest Capitol sessions. Backing arrangements became bigger and brassier with bands under the supervision of Dave Cavanaugh and Van Alexander. Female choruses were added and the material tended towards out and out pop.

The contrast between the treatment of two ballads, “Close Your Eyes” and “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” is quite marked, with the latter featuring a female backing chorus and band accompaniment (admittedly muted until the final couple of bars) behind a vocal by Rudy West that could have been by The Ink Spots’ Bill Kenny. “It’s a Groove” just about qualifies as rock and roll despite the “square” big band arrangement, but really there is no hope for “That’s Right”, a pure pop novelty. “She’s The Most,” “Now Don’t That Prove I Love You,” and “My Pigeon’s Gone” all rock along in good style, although sounding much more like pop than the Aladdin material. The last in particular is raised well above pop mediocrity by some good sax blasting and a rousing Maryland Pierce lead vocal.

The final Five Keys session for Capitol took place in February 1958 and soon afterwards Rudy West left the group followed by Ramon Loper. The contract with Capitol was allowed to lapse without any further recordings being made, although Five Keys singles were released up until November 1958. In July 1959 the group signed up with King Records for whom they recorded in a more R&B style between August 1959 and March 1960. In the second half of 1960 the group finally broke up, although a group led by Rudy West, “Rudy West and The Five Keys” issued a couple of records in the 1960s.

The real Five Keys were reunited (although they didn’t perform) in 1983 when they received the Pioneer Award at The Rhythm and Blues Foundation. In 1992 the group were inducted into the UGHA Hall of Fame and for the last time Maryland Pierce and Rudy West performed the haunting “Close Your Eyes” on stage. On an earlier post on the Aladdin LP “The Best of The Five Keys,” an anonymous comment said:

“In New York City in 1992, Rudy West, Maryland Pierce, Bernie West, Dickie Smith, and Ripley Ingram appeared on stage together for one last time. They sang "Close Your Eyes." I was in the audience. What a thrill it was. The call and response between Rudy West and Maryland Pierce in that song have never been equalled. Some of my record-collector friends consider the Five Keys the greatest vocal group of all time.”

Amen to that, good brother or good sister!

Ripped from vinyl at 320 kbps.

Download from here:

Tracklist: tracks 1 – 8 recorded for Aladdin, 1951-1953. Tracks 9 – 16 recorded for Capitol, 1954-1957.
Month of recording and month of release are given where known.

1. Hucklebuck With Jimmy (March, 1951; Aladdin 3099, July 1951)
2. How Do You Expect Me To Get It (September, 1953; Aladdin 3245, May 1954)
3. Old MacDonald (August, 1951; Aladdin 3113, December 1951)
4. Why Oh Why (October, 1952; Aladdin 3263, May 1955)
5. Serve Another Round (September, 1952; Aladdin 3158, October 1952)
6. I'm So High (September, 1952; Aladdin 3204, September 1953)
7. The Glory Of Love (March, 1951; Aladdin 3099, July 1951)
8. Rockin' & Cryin' Blues (October, 1952; unreleased)
9. She's The Most (February, 1956; Capitol 3392, April 1956)
10. It's A Groove (January, 1957; Capitol 3710, April 1957)
11. From The Bottom Of My Heart (June, 1956; Capitol LP T-828, February 1957)
12. Close Your Eyes (November, 1954; Capitol 3032, January 1955)
13. Now Don't That Prove I Love You (?; Capitol 3597, November 1956)
14. That's Right (?; Capitol 3502, August 1956)
15. Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind (June, 1956; Capitol 3502, August 1956)
16. My Pigeon's Gone (February, 1956; Capitol 3455, June 1956)

Capitol EPs:

Capitol EAP 1-572 released January 1955

Capitol EAP 2-828 released February 1957: not a live performance!

Recommended reading and listening:

Marv Goldberg’s article on The Five Keys appeared in issues 246 and 247 of Blues and Rhythm magazine, February and March 2010. Take out a subscription now by going to and don’t forget to order the required back issues. Read Unca Marvy for the full lowdown on The Five Keys. Find out how many guys called Joe Jones were in the group! Find out how The Five Keys became Seven at one stage! So who were The Four Keys? Find out who sang what! And when! Read about double breasted grey plaid suits! Discover the Fidel Castro connection! And how Bo Diddley pissed off Ed Sullivan! And guess how much the guys earned in royalties from Aladdin and Capitol! (not difficult …)

Rocking and Crying: the Complete Singles 1951 – 1954 (Jasmine JASCD 555)
A mid price 2CD set from Jasmine with a total of 58 tracks This one is on my “to buy” list, for just as soon as I can get the readies together. This collection includes all their Aladdin singles and early Capitol singles. And as a bonus, the “almost but not quite released” single on Groove.

Rocking and Crying the Blues: 1951-57 (Rev-Ola Bandstand)
A mid price 30 track CD spanning the best of their Aladdin, Groove and Capitol output.


luthier said...

Great post! Thank you. :)

Anonymous said...

Glad to see that you're back. Missed ya!

soulboy said...

many many thanks for sharing

Howdy said...

Glad You're still Be Boppin Around! Thanks for remembering that the 5 Keys more than just an asterisk in music!!

Exeter said...

Thanks for such an informative post!

Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent post! Thanks for sharing both the music and the stories. How good are The Five Keys??

Paul in Rochester said...

Excellent piece. I've only just discovered the Five Keys -- glad to see that others think as highly of them as I do.

Don't understand why "She's the Most" wasn't released as a single and so wasn't a chart hit.

Anonymous said...

Howdy Be Bop,

Any chance of posting Rocking and Crying the Blues: 1951-57 (Rev-Ola Bandstand) please ?

Blue Dragon has it but I don't know how to download it from there.

Hope you can assist,


boogiewoody said...

Hi Richard, I never did get round to buying a Five Keys CD! Rocking And Crying The Blues was a recommended purchase that I never made. Rev-Ola stuff is now hard to get, I'm afraid.

I don't post CDs here anyway. In order to download from Blue Dragon you have to go through all kinds of hoops to find out the procedure and that's something I'm not willing to do.

Sorry I haven't been able to help.