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Monday, 3 June 2019

The Ravens - The Greatest Group Of Them All

Side 1:
01. Mahzel
02. For You
03. Would You Believe Me
04. Write Me A Letter
05. Until The Real Thing Comes Along
06. September Song
07. Always
08. Searching For Love

Side 2:
01. I'm Afraid Of You
02. Fool That I Am
03. Together
04. There's No You
05. How Could I Know
06. It's Too Soon To Know
07. White Christmas
08. Silent Night

Side 3:
01. Deep Purple
02. There's Nothing Like A Woman In Love
03. Careless Love
04. If You Didn't Mean It
05. Someday
06. Lilacs In The Rain
07. I've Been A Fool
08. I'm Going To Paper My Walls

Side 4:
01. Sylvia
02. Tea For Two
03. Without A Song
04. It's The Talk Of The Town
05. No More Kisses For Baby
06. Moonglow
07. Who's Sorry Now
08. I've Got The World On A String

Two LPs of Ravens sides recorded for National between 1947 and 1950. I found this double LP set a few years ago in a record fair at Glasgow University (in the QMU for those of you familiar with that noble seat of learning) and despite its rather beat up condition the fact that it was part of the Savoy "Roots Of Rock And Roll" series meant that it just had to be purchased. After the first play I was underwhelmed by the crackles, clicks and pops, the rather muddy sound quality, and what seemed to be track after track of schlock sung in a Delta Rhythm Boys or even Ink Spots style.

We're all a few years down the line now and this set has grown on me. A lot of the "schlock" now sounds like pretty hip interpretations of the standards of the day, mainly thanks to the dominant feature of the Ravens' sound, the deep bass voice of Jimmy Ricks. There are a few bluesier sides plus one out and out rocker, "Write Me A Letter" which was the group's biggest hit on National. A sign, surely, that if only they had rocked a little harder they may have sold more records. But then we have to remember that the most commercially successful vocal groups who preceeded The Ravens were The Mills Brothers, The Ink Spots and The Delta Rhythm Boys, and it is likely that The Ravens were hoping to emulate the pop success of those groups.

I should also point out that this collection followed the release of a single LP on Savoy of The Ravens' National sides, "Old Man River" (SJL 1156) which had 15 tracks and was the better introduction to The Ravens on National.

The go-to site for information on The Ravens is of course Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks with this being the first of four pages on the Ravens' career:

The Ravens came together in New York City in 1946 with the intitial lineup being Jimmy Ricks (bass), Warren Suttles (baritone), Leonard "Zeke" Puzey (tenor) and Henry Oliver "Ollie" Jones (tenor).

Their first recordings were for the Hub label in June 1946 with three records being issued from August to October 1946. In early 1947 Ollie Jones was replaced by tenor Maithe Marshall and the new lineup re-recorded the sides they had already recorded on Hub.The group signed for National Records in April 1947 and recorded 4 sides on the 23rd and 24th of that month - "Mahzel," "Ol' Man River," "For You" and "Would You Believe Me."

Their second release on National, "Ol' Man River" / "Would You Believe Me" was a hit, reaching #10 in the R&B charts, but this was surpassed by their third release, "Write Me A Letter" / "Summertime" which not only climbed the R&B chart to #5 but also reached #24 in the pop chart. This success was followed by a series of pop standard and ballad releases which while always classy didn't really bring about much chart action.

"September Song," "Until The Real thing Comes Along," "There's No You," "Together" and others were stellar performances, but the next National chart success wasn't until the autumn of 1948 with a double sided hit - a cover of The Orioles' best selling "It's Too Soon To Know" reached #11 R&B while its flip side, the bluesy "Be On Your Merry Way" reached #13. Just prior to this, The Ravens had a chart hit on the King label which had bought up the Hub masters. "Bye Bye Baby Blues" / "Once And For All" reached #8 in the R&B chart. There was more success and another double sided hit for The Ravens with their Christmas 1948 smash "Silent Night" / "White Christmas." The latter was very much the inspiration for a hit version by Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters in 1954/55.

The autumn of 1948 had also seen some personnel changes within the group. Warren Suttles left in September, being replaced by Joe Medlin. The following month Maithe Marshall left and was replaced by Richie Cannon. Then Medlin left and Marshall returned! In early 1949 Suttles returned and Cannon left, so basically the group was back to what it was when they started with National.

In 1949 failures to chart dominated the Ravens' output although there was one hit with "Ricky's Blues" / "The House I Live In" which reached #8 R&B. As 1949 turned to 1950 there was one last hit on National - "I Don't Have To Ride No More" / "I've Been a Fool" hit #9 in the R&B chart. It's noticeable that the last two hits were both strong blues performances which went down well with R&B audiences. In early 1950 Warren Suttles left again and was replaced with Louis Heyward.

The Ravens recorded their last session for National in August 1950 and then signed to Columbia. Their last release on National was in February 1951- the tender "Lilacs In The Rain," featured a beautiful vocal by Maithe Marshall, while the other side "Time Is Marching On" was a rousing rockin' blues with a lead by Jimmy Ricks and some stinging electric guitar in the arrangement. It failed to chart.

For the rest of the Ravens story - get yourself over to Marv Goldberg's website.

Original Release Details

01. Mahzel - National 9034
02. For You - National 9034 / 9039
03. Would You Believe Me - National 9035
04. Write Me A Letter - National 9038 / Rendition R-5001
05. Until The Real Thing Comes Along - National 9045
06. September Song - National 9053
07. Always - National 9064
08. Searching For Love - National 9039
09. I'm Afraid Of You - National 9098
10. Fool That I Am - National 9040
11. Together - National 9042
12. There's No You - National 9042
13. How Could I Know - National 9059
14. It's Too Soon To Know - National 9056
15. White Christmas - National 9062
16. Silent Night -National 9062

01. Deep Purple - National 9065
02. There's Nothing Like A Woman In Love - National 9085
03. Careless Love - National 9085
04. If You Didn't Mean It - National 9089
05. Someday - National 9089
06. Lilacs In The Rain - National 9148
07. I've Been A Fool - National 9101
08. I'm Going To Paper My Walls - National 9111

The remaining eight tracks (Side 4) were not released on single -
09. Sylvia
10. Tea For Two
11. Without A Song
12. It's The Talk Of The Town
13. No More Kisses For Baby
14. Moonglow
15. Who's Sorry Now
16. I've Got The World On A String

Ravens Singles On National

Titles in italics are not on this compilation. They are mostly on the LP "Old Man River" (SJL 1156) with the exception of - Be On Your Merry Way; I'm Gonna Take To The Road; Phantom Stage Coach.

National 9034 - April 1947 - Mahzel / For You

National 9035 - June 1947 - Ol' Man River / Would You Believe Me - #10 R&B

National 9038 - October 1947 - Write Me A Letter / Summertime - #5 R&B, #24 Pop

National 9039 - December 1947 - Searching For Love / For You

National 9040 - December 1947 - Fool That I Am / Be I Bumblebee Or Not

National 9042 - February 1948 - Together / There's No You

National 9045 - May 1948 - Until The Real Thing Comes Along / Send For Me If You Need Me

National 9053 - August 1948 - September Song / Once In A While

National 9056 - October 1948 - It's Too Soon To Know / Be On Your Merry Way - #11 R&B / #13 R&B

National 9059 - November 1948 - How Could I Know / I Don't Know Why I Love Like I Do

National 9062 - December 1948 - The Raven's Rendition Of: Silent Night / The Raven's Rendition Of: White Christmas - #8 R&B / #9 R&B

National 9064 - January 1949 - Always / Rooster

National 9065 - February / March 1949 - Deep Purple / Leave My Gal Alone

National 9073 - May 1949 - The House I Live In (That's America To Me) / Ricky's Blues - #8 R&B

National 9085 - August 1949 - There's Nothing Like A Woman In Love / Careless Love

National 9089 - September 1949 - Someday / If You Didn't Mean It

National 9098 - December 1949 - I'm Afraid Of You / Get Wise Baby

National 9101 - February 1950 - I've Been A Fool / I Don't Have To Ride No More - #9 R&B

National 9111 - April 1950 - Count Every Star / I'm Gonna Paper All My Walls With Your Love Letters

National 9130 - December 1950 - I'm Gonna Take To The Road / Phantom Stage Couch (Sic)

National 9148 - February 1951 - Lilacs In The Rain / Time Is Marching On

Rendition R-5001 - autumn? 1951 - Write Me a Letter / Marie 
(Rendition was a subsidiary of National)

Recommended listening -
Double CD spanning releases from Hub, National, King, Columbia / Okeh, Mercury and Jubilee.


slr in tx said...

Very pleased to see this and the 5 Royales as well. I am a relative latecomer to both groups, but an enthusiastic one, nonetheless. The Ravens did a fabulous duet with Dinah Washington - 'Hey Good Lookin' (definitely not the Hank Williams number) and a single entitled 'Rock Me' that will indeed, rock you.Very hip outfit. Jimmy Ricks can get more mileage out of a single "Baby!" than many a singer can manage on 3 verses, 2 refrains and a chorus!
The patter on the Dinah Washington number is a master class in Cool...

Bob Mac said...

Thanks BW, I'm looking forward to having a listen to this.

boogiewoody said...

Thanks for the comments, people! slr in tx - I followed up your recommendations on YouTube, and yes the duet with Dinah is one hep platter! Also found that I have it on a Dinah CD set. I have various Ravens sides from their post National career scattered across various LPs and CDs, although not many from Okeh and hardly anything from Mercury.

Bob - please excuse the various clicks and pops and occasionally poor overall sound quality. This set was in pretty poor condition and needed a fair amount of TLC to revive it. I also spent months trying to work out how to scan the gatefold!


Bob Mac said...

Thanks again BW. While having a few coldies this evening I listened to several tracks, no complaints whatsoever about sound quality, which sounded good to me. Also good job with the covers. Keep 'em coming bro.

Tony aka Pismotality said...

Great to see this! I bought a copy of this double album in an Edinburgh record shop some time in the eighties. Yes, sound quality isn't all that great but then neither are equivalent CDs - beware, in particular, of the CD version of this double as it omits one of the best tracks, There's No You, and possibly some others, for reasons of space and sounds particularly lousy, worse than the vinyl. Other Ravens CDs I've come across are slightly better.

That said, what a great collection this is. As you say, it grows on you - so much so that although I regularly used to sell off batches of my LPs once I had wearied of them I took this one out of the pile at the last minute and am glad I did. I agree that the schlockiness is overshadowed by the power of Jimmy Ricks's voice - and there's often some subtly jazzy stuff going on the backing, which is what distinguishes the Ravens from older groups like the Ink Spots.

True, there's more jazz than R&B in the backing, and the singing style may not show all that much by way of gospel inflections, but the group are a definite stepping stone between the Ink Spots and doo wop pioneers like the Orioles. Their cover of It's Too Soon to Know may not be as soulful as the Orioles but it has a charm of its own. Not to mention an opening verse.

Incidentally that song was written by Deborah Chessler, a largely forgotten name though once admired by Jerry Leiber; she became the Orioles' manager and wrote quite a few songs for them. I have written about her on my blog, in the context of a musical about the Orioles which was staged in America last summer, featuring Sonny Till's grandson in the Sonny Till role, and there may be another American production soon. (I have done what I can to generate interest in it in the UK but no luck.)

Other personal faves on this album are I'm Afraid of You and Tea for Two - listen to the guitar on the latter, which really keeps things swingin'. If memory serves the sleevenotes point out that one of the numbers on Side Four, No More Kisses for Baby, is atypical: more bluesy in the singing and subject matter. For those new to the Ravens, their sound may seem a little old-fashioned at first, but if you stick with it you will succumb.

boogiewoody said...

Thanks for the in depth comment, Tony. The Edinburgh shop wouldn't have been Backbeat, would it? I used to buy LPs in there, especially some of the Jonas Bernholm labels.

I read about the poor sound quality of the CD issue of this album while doing doing some reading for the blog post. I've got the "Old Man River" Savoy single LP in CD form and I must say that the sound quality isn't very great. I wonder if the problem goes back to the original National recordings which had a reputation for sub standard sound. I'm thinking especially of the Billy Eckstine National sides which suffered from this.

Enjoyed your choice of tracks from the collection. I'm a sucker for "Always" and "Who's Sorry Now" which are real singalong material! It's a shame that the jazzy accompaniment to many of the tracks isn't more prominent but nevertheless a lot of this stuff swings. "I'm Going To Paper My Walls" is a real Mills Brothers rip off, it must be said!

I must search your Pismotality blog for Deborah Chessler. I posted on a Jonas Bernholm Orioles LP many years ago, so I've heard of her.

Thanks again for your great comment!


Tony aka Pismotality said...

BW, the CD version of The Ravens Rarities is rather better soundwise and has a nice version of the Ink Spots' Bless You For Being an Angel. Ditto the CD set Their Complete National Recordings 1947-1950, which is probably as good as these essential Ravens sides are going to sound. I have a feeling that The Greatest Group of Them All sleevenotes say the masters have long since disappeared, though I could be wrong.

Re the Edinburgh record shop - I honestly can't remember! Maybe in Nicolson Street.

Below is a link to the website for the Orioles musical, which is called Soul Harmony. You can listen to, and download, songs from the show, a mix of newly written songs, recreations of Orioles numbers and recordings of the time. The show is the story of the group's rise to fame, tied in with Deborah Chessler getting to know them and manage them, and her eventual decision to part company with the group in order to give a new relationship a chance.

tanktop said...

Thank you so much, Woody. The Ravens and so much more that you and Joan share--SEND me!! :)

boogiewoody said...

Sam Cooke? :)

carlos said...

Muchas gracias por compartir, y por todos estos grupos.

neil said...

Just posted "Write Me a Letter…" at the Savoy blog; many thanks for all these great tracks...