Cleveland, Ohio was a rich source of R&B groups. An explosion in the
50s gave us the Coronets, the Hornets, the Lyrics, the 5 Quails,
Luther Bond & the Emeralds, the Metrotones, the El Pollos, the Shufflers, the
Hepsters, and the Spartans. Possibly the first, however, was the 4 Shades of Rhythm. [Note that "4 Shades Of Rhythm" was a fairly common name. There were groups all over the country using it for years.]
The beginnings of the 4 Shades are shrouded in the mists of the dim past. Forming around 1938, in the Central Area of pre-World War 2 Cleveland, the original members, all neighborhood friends in their twenties, were: Oscar Lindsay (baritone vocalist and cocktail drums), Willie Lewis (guitar and group leader), Sims (not "Sim") London (piano), and Macon Sims (bassist).
They played Pop, standards, show tunes, and jazz around Cleveland and environs, making their reputation, until World War 2 was over. Their only documented appearance was at the Circle Inn in Chicago, during June and July 1944.
After the war, the entire group was restructured. In 1945, June Cobb (a man) replaced Macon Sims on bass; Oscar Pennington replaced Willie Lewis on guitar, and Eddie "Bones" McAfee replaced Sims London on piano. Thus, of the originals, only Oscar Lindsay remained. There's a single reference to them in this period: they played the Club Dixieland in Salt Lake City during July 1945.
In 1946, they were offered a long-term engagement in Chicago, but June Cobb quit, not wanting to leave Cleveland. His replacement on bass was Eddie Meyers. Therefore, by the end of 1946, the group had two Oscars (Lindsay and Pennington) and two Eddies (McAfee and Meyers). The group's management was taken care of by the Frank Sennes Agency, with bookings by Dick Jackson.
By 1947 they were ready to record. Finding no recording companies in Cleveland, they wandered up to Chicago. There, someone from Jack Buckley and Lloyd Garrett's Vitacoustic label (at 20 North Wacker Drive) heard them perform in a club and set up a session for them. Their signing was announced in the November 8 issue of Billboard and they had two sessions in December.
In January 1948, the first appearance of the 4 Shades Of Rhythm on wax (as "Bones' McAfee and the 4 Shades Of Rhythm") gave us the pretty "One Hundred Years From Today," backed with the rollicking piano-led instrumental "Howie Sent Me". Eddie McAfee led the former vocally and the latter pianistically. All other solo lead vocals on released 4 Shades recordings would be by Oscar Lindsay.
"A Hundred Years From Today" (the correct title) had been written in 1933 by Joe Young and Ned Washington, with music by Victor Young. It had been introduced in a revue called "Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1933" by Kathryn Perry, although it was popularized by Ethel Waters. However, nice as the 4 Shades' version was, Vitacoustic was a small label and couldn't promote the disc properly.
The 4 Shades Of Rhythm continued playing clubs, such as the Bar-O Music and the Club Silhouette in Chicago, Chin's Golden Dragon in Cleveland, and spots in Cincinnati, Des Moines, Terre Haute, and Rochester, Minnesota (home of the Mayo Clinic). Making their musical home in Chicago, they never appeared on either the East or West Coast.
However, in March 1948, Vitacoustic admitted that they could no longer meet their current debt (including payments owed to union musicians). They eventually filed for Chapter XI bankruptcy protection, but finally went under in September, releasing no further records by the 4 Shades Of Rhythm.
Vitacoustic owed a lot of money to Egmont Sonderling, owner of United Brodcasting Studio, at which most Vitacoustic recordings had been made. Sonderling refused to turn over the masters (including several by the 4 Shades of Rhythm) and kept them as partial payment. In January 1949, Sonderling set up the Old Swing-Master label (located at 154 East Erie Street in Chicago) to release those masters and make back some of the money owed to him. Old Swing-Master would end up releasing three records by the Shades from the Vitacoustic masters. ("Old Swing-Master" was titled after the nickname of Chicago DJ Al Benson, who was subsequently made part of the company in order to raise sales potential.)
The first of these was the ballad "My Blue Walk" (on which the group seems to have trouble staying together), backed with the up-tempo "Baby I'm Gone"; the record was released in March 1949.
The second record, a double-sided ballad entry, was the pretty "I Can Dream," coupled with "Master Of Me," issued in July. The third record followed closely on its heels, in September: "Yesterday" and "Don't Blame Me." There was also at least one unreleased side: "Everything I Have Is Yours."
The technical aspects of the recordings were poor, as was the distribution, and the records didn't sell well; the 4 Shades Of Rhythm wouldn't record again for three years. By that time, there were some further personnel changes in the group. In late 1949, Oscar Pennington left; his replacement was Claude "Fiddler" Williams (a guitarist, as well as a violinist), who was, after he'd gone off to the Cats And The Fiddle, replaced by Adam Lambert (from the Cats 'N' Jammers/Bill Samuels Trio). Eddie Meyers departed in 1951, to be replaced, at bass, by Booker Collins, formerly of the Floyd Smith Trio.
Adam Lambert was replaced for a while in 1951 by guitarist Emmett Spicer, who'd been with Duke Groner.
Thanks to the efforts of the Red Saunders Research Foundation, more 4 Shades recordings from this period have come to light, turning up at an estate sale near La Crosse, Wisconsin in 2007. In 1951, not long after Booker Collins joined the group, they cut at least 16 sides at C. H. Bomgardner's Custom Sound Recordings in Evanston, Illinois (a Chicago suburb) for unknown reasons. Ranging up to 5 minutes in length, the sides were just semi-professionally recorded and never commercially issued (they're listed in the discography). The personnel on all these recordings was: Eddie "Bones" McAfee (piano and vocals), Emmett Spicer (guitar and vocals), Booker Collins (bass and vocals), and Oscar Lindsay (cocktail drums and lead vocalist).
Sometime after this session, Emmett Spicer departed and Adam Lambert returned.
In 1952, Eddie McAfee, who had just gotten married, left too, and was replaced, briefly, by Floyd Morris. Floyd didn't last very long before being replaced by pianist Ernie Harper, who had been with the 5 Blazes. So, by the time they recorded a single session for Chance Records in September or October of 1952, the group consisted of Oscar Lindsay, Adam Lambert, Ernie Harper, and Booker Collins. (Once again Oscar Lindsay saw a complete turnover in his group.) They reprised "Yesterday" (although the label spelled it "Yesterdays"), released in December; its flip, "So There", is an up-tempo tune.
Chance also booked "Everything I Have Is Yours," which was either re-recorded for Chance or was purchased from Al Benson (who seems to have owned the Old Swing-Master catalog by now). Chance purchased "My Blue Walk" and "Baby I'm Gone" (originally the Vitacoustic masters) for unknown reasons; they were never released on Chance.
Not many more appearances to note. In February 1954, they were at the Casbah, in Miami. On May 17, 1957, they opened at the Opera Cocktail Lounge in St. Louis.
In the fall of 1957, the 4 Shades Of Rhythm recorded "Ghost Of A Chance" and "Come Here" for Thomas "Mad Man" Jones' Mad label (at 1207 East 53 Street in Chicago). Released in November, "Come Here" features Oscar alternating leads with the rest of the group; "Ghost Of A Chance" is an instrumental "featuring Mad Man Jones" (as the label proudly declares) on saxophone.
It was reviewed the week of November 25 ("Come Here" was ranked "good"), along with Sam Cooke's "I'll Come Running Back To You," the Ravens' "Lazy Mule," the Metronomes' "Dear Don," the Solitaires' "Thrill Of Love," Lee Allen's "Walkin' With Mr. Lee," the Sultans' "If I Could Tell," the Plants' "Dear I Swear," the Debonaires' "Whispering Blues," and Mad Man Jones' "Hi Fi Apartment."
There was one final record credited to the 4 Shades Of Rhythm that appeared, in January 1960, on Chicago's Apex label (owned by Bill Sheppard, Dempsey Nelson, and Mad Man Jones). The top side was a remake of "A Hundred Years From Today" (with the title spelled correctly this time); the flip was "Life With You." Considering that Oscar Lindsay (whose name appears on the label) is backed by a host of violins and the The Dread Chorus, it's possible that he was just using the name with no actual group behind him (if there is, it's drowned out by the chorus). After listening to the record, I can't understand just what audience it was aimed at. It's so over-violined and over-chorused that no self-respecting teenager would have bought it; but it didn't seem right for adults either. That probably goes a long, long way towards explaining why it didn't sell.
As of this writing (November 1997), Eddie McAfee still lives in Cleveland; Oscar Lindsay has recently passed away.
Special thanks to George Moonoogian, Victor Pearlin, Bob Campbell (of the Red Saunders Research Foundation), and Rosemary McAfee.
1005 One Hundred Years From Today (EM)/Howie Sent Me [Instrumental] - 1/48
13 My Blue Walk (OL)/Baby I'm Gone (OL) - 3/49
23 I Can Dream (OL)/Master Of Me (OL) - 7/49
33 Yesterday (OL)/Don't Blame Me (OL) - 9/49
UNRELEASED OLD SWING-MASTER: Everything I Have Is Yours
MASTERS RECORDED IN 1951 FOR UNKNOWN REASONS
[Stompin' At The] Savoy (OL)
Without A Song (OL)
Old Black Magic (OL)
Rockin' (Good Rockin' Tonight) (OL)
12th Street Rag (instrumental)
Robbin's Nest (instrumental)
I Apologize (OL)
100 Years From Today (EM)
Too Soon To Know (EM)
Boozie Woozie (instrumental)
Satchel-Mouth Baby (ALL)
I've Got It Bad (instrumental; title should be "I Got It Bad")
Ol' Man River (OL)
Cottage For Sale (OL)
1126 Yesterdays (OL)/So There (ALL) - 12/52
1202 Ghost Of A Chance [Instrumental]/Come Here (OL) - 11/57
969 A Hundred Years From Today (OL)/Life With You (OL) - 1/60
LEADS: EM = Eddie McAfee; OL = Oscar Lindsay