While you may never have heard any songs by the Ivories, once they changed their name to the Love Notes, their recordings included "United," "Tonight," and "If I Could Make You Mine," all very popular, both with audiences in 1957 and with R&B listeners today.
The Ivories started in early 1955, when Johnny Earl Jackson went scouting around Manhattan to find some guys to form a group. After talking to a lot of singers ("I kept at it until I met the right people"), he wound up with the following lineup: Johnny Hicks (lead tenor), Dave Cole (first tenor), Joe Shallow (possibly Shiloh, second tenor), Johnny Earl Jackson (baritone), and James Coney (bass). The pianist and arranger was Sylvester Bradford (who was then also singing with the Bradford Boys, and who would go on to form the Suburbans). The group took its name from Sylvester's piano keys: the Ivories.
About six months after they formed, armed with a couple of songs Sylvester had written, they auditioned for George Bennett, owner of Jaguar Records. He liked them and set up a recording session at which they did the ballad "Alone" (led by Johnny Hicks) and the up-tempo "Baby Send A Letter" (all). They guys were "impatient and just wanted to get on record," so the recordings, utilizing a 5-piece band, weren't of very good quality.
The record was released in November 1955, and doesn't seem to have been reviewed. Its competition was: Fats Domino's "Poor Me," the Valentines' "Lily Maebelle," the Sensations' "Yes Sir, That's My Baby," Oscar McLollie's "Convicted," the Jacks' "My Clumsy Heart," the Midnighters' "The House On The Hill," Marvin & the Chirps' "Sixteen Tons," the Sunbeams' "Tell Me Why," the Saigons' "You're Heavenly," the Squires' "Heavenly Angel," and the Orchids' "You Said You Loved Me."
Because the record wasn't doing well, and because no one was happy with the way the session had turned out, Bennett had the Ivories re-record both sides a couple of months later. This time, there was a 10-piece band, and the session was arranged by pianist Sampson Horton. The re-sung sides were issued in early 1956 and once again weren't sent in for review. Actually, Bennett seems to have shipped most of the copies down to the West Indies (people told Johnny Jackson that they heard them down there).
The Ivories made very few appearances, and those only at small clubs. By late 1956, Dave Cole had decided to leave. His replacement was second tenor Lucy Cedeno.
Lucy, who was attending Williamsburg Vocational High School in Brooklyn, got a phone call from some friends who'd heard about the audition that was being held for the open spot in the Ivories. Says Lucy, who had always wanted to be a solo artist, "I asked my dad about it and he said 'Try it.'" The audition was held on Clinton Street in Manhattan and Lucy walked away with the job. Around the time that Lucy joined, Johnny Earl Jackson left.
[Here's an interesting aside into the mentality of the New York City school system (of which I'm an alumnus). Lucy's name was originally spelled Cedeño, but her teacher told her she was spelling it incorrectly; it should be, said the teacher, with a plain 'n,' not 'ñ.' This shows that the teacher didn't feel like dealing with a letter that wasn't on her typewriter!]
In early 1957, the Ivories changed their name to the Love Notes. Pretty soon they had a contract to record for Danny Robinson and Clarence Johnson's Holiday label. (Danny, of course, is the brother of Bobby Robinson, owner of Red Robin, Whirlin' Disc, Fire, and Fury.) At their first session, they recorded "United" and "Tonight," both led by Johnny Hicks.
Released around February 1957, "United" started taking off in New York. It did so well so quickly, that the Love Notes were hurried into a show at the Apollo, which began the week of March 1. Also on the show were Mickey & Sylvia, the Flamingos, the Channels, Chuck Willis, the G-Clefs, Big Maybelle, Solomon Burke, and Little Joe & the Thrillers. Lucy says that "Mayor [Robert F.] Wagner got me a week off from school to go to the Apollo." Since they shared a dressing room, Sylvia Vanderpool took Lucy under her wing, and watched out for her the entire week.
NOTE: The ad for "United" got the record number completely wrong (it was listed as 292, when it should have been 2605). Another ad for "United," from the same period, gives the identical address for Holiday, but a different phone number! There was a certain lack of quality control to these ads.
The Love Notes did a second week at the Apollo starting May 10. This time it was a Hal Jackson revue, featuring the Cleftones, the Teenchords, Clarence Henry, the Pearls, Chubby Newsome, the Cellos, and Jimmie Scott. They also did the rounds of the usual theaters: the Royal, the Howard, the Uptown, as well as places Lucy describes as being "out in the boondocks."
"United" wasn't reviewed until the week of May 13, along with the Clovers' "I-I-I Love You," the Sophomores' "If I Should Lose Your Love," the Willows' "The First Taste Of Love," the Spaniels' "I.O.U.," the Chestnuts' "Who Knows Better Than I," the Ebbtones' "Danny's Blues," the Flairs' "Swing Pretty Mama," and the Diablos' double-sided disaster "Can't We Talk This Over" backed with "Mambo Of Love," both of which got terrible reviews.
With the record climbing nationally, the trades announced in June that the Love Notes ("three boys and a girl") had signed with the Archer Associates booking agency. "United" was a pick of the week by June 3, doing well in New York, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. It would eventually peak at #13 on the R&B charts.
Somewhere along the way, the Love Notes managed to fit in a second session. This time the songs were "If I Could Make You Mine" and "Don't Go," another pair led by Johnny Hicks. They were released in mid-August, 1957.
On September 14, the Love Notes appeared with DJ Jocko Henderson at a record hop at the Laurel Gardens in Newark. Also on the bill were Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Doc Bagby, Lee Andrews & the Hearts, the Teenagers, the Chantels, the Sentimentals, the Shepherd Sisters, and the Shells.
"If I Could Make You Mine" was reviewed the week of September 16, 1957, along with the Clovers' "Down In The Alley," the Moonglows' "Confess It To Your Heart," the Demens' "You Broke My Heart," the Cuff Links' "It's Too Late Now," and the Rob Roys' "Tell Me Why" (another song that received a very poor rating).
Then, all of a sudden, the Love Notes disappeared. Bass Jimmy Coney was arrested for an armed robbery in New Jersey, and that was the end of the group. Says Lucy, "We weren't thinking about anything except having a good time and singing. They were real great guys.... And we never got a dime!"
Meanwhile, Johnny Earl Jackson wasn't idle. After leaving the Ivories, he formed a new group. Since the Ivories were no longer in existence (having become the Love Notes), he recycled the name. This new Ivories group consisted of Johnny Earl Jackson (baritone/bass), his girlfriend, Ella Lewis (lead), her brother, Richard Lewis (first tenor), Moses Brown (baritone), and a second tenor named "Blinky." (Richard Lewis, who had replaced James "Poppa" Clark in the 5 Crowns, had been with that group when they recorded "You Came To Me" and "Popcorn Willie.")
The Ivories hooked up with Morty Craft, who got them a contract with Mercury Records (he was an a&r man there). They recorded a pair of tunes led by Ella: "Me And You" and the bouncy "I'm In Love," which was written by Johnny. The record was released in November 1957, and reviewed the week of December 2. Other reviews that week were of Fats Domino's "The Big Beat," Chuck Willis' "Betty And Dupree," the Chantels' "Maybe," the Pastels' "Been So Long," the Teenagers' "Flip-Flop," the Falcons' "Now That It's Over," the Cadets' "Ring Chimes," the Cadillacs' "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz," the Gone All-Stars' "7-11", and Andre Williams' "The Greasy Chicken."
Unfortunately for the Ivories, their mentor, Morty Craft, left Mercury in December (after having been with them only a few months) to go to MGM. The Ivories, being under contract, couldn't go with him and got pushed aside.
Then Moses Brown got disgusted and left the Ivories, to be replaced by a baritone named "Chink." Not being sure if they were still under contract to Mercury, they took the precaution of changing their name to the Ivoleers. Under that name, they recorded "Lovers' Quarrel" and "Come With Me" for Bobby Smith's Buzz label in early 1959. (Smith had been one of the bandleaders for Apollo Records.) The tunes were written by a guy named "Yankee," an on-again, off-again member of the group, who probably would have been on the session, but he ended up in jail shortly before the recording date. "Come With Me," an interesting cha-cha, with seagull sounds at the beginning and end, features the duet lead of Johnny and Ella; the flip just has Ella out in front.
The Buzz sides didn't do as well as the Mercury record. Says Johnny, "We got some work out of it, but not much." Pretty soon, when nothing materialized, the whole group got fed up and called it a day. Johnny ended up managing the Montegos, who recorded "Most Of All" on Black Falcon in 1968.
Meanwhile, Lucy Cedeno wasn't sitting around doing nothing. Remember, she had always wanted to be a soloist. Now she got her chance. She recorded "Make Me Queen Again" and "IFIC" for End, under the name "Lucy Rivera" ("they wanted to keep me Puerto Rican"). "IFIC" (the catchphrase in Beech-Nut gum advertisements) had also been recorded by the Chantels. It had been written by none other than Sylvester Bradford, pianist for the original Ivories! (The flip was written by Sonny James, "The Southern Gentleman.")
There was one more record by Lucy Cedeno/Lucy Rivera. Released in 1961 as an answer to the Miracles' "Shop Around," it was entitled "Don'cha Shop Around." The tune was written by Richard Barrett (former lead of the Valentines) and David Clowney (formerly of the Pearls, and better known as Dave "Baby" Cortez). Issued on the Guaranteed label, a subsidiary of Carlton, the flip was called "Red Blooded, True Blue American Boy." The song was not received well by Motown Records (for which the Miracles recorded), and they forced it to be withdrawn. However, don't look for either "Lucy Cedeno" or "Lucy Rivera" on the credits, this time the label read "Laurie Davis."
While this was the last record Lucy Cedeno/Lucy Rivera/Laurie Davis would make, she never left the music business. In 1962, she married Gary "U.S. Bonds" Anderson, and is now known as Laurie Anderson (all this would give a skip tracer indigestion). When Gary makes appearances, Lucy/Laurie is right there (with their daughter) doing backup.
Special thanks to Ferdie Gonzalez, Victor Pearlin, Nikki Gustafson, and Chris Buccola. Ads, are as usual from Galen Gart's First Pressings series.
THE IVORIES (first group)
3019 Alone (JH)/Baby Send A Letter (JH) - 11/55
3023 Alone (JH)/Baby Send A Letter (JH) - 56
NOTE: 3023 is not a reissue, both songs were re-sung.
THE LOVE NOTES
2605 United (JH)/Tonight (JH) - Ca. 2/57
2607 If I Could Make You Mine (JH)/Don't Go (JH) - 8/57
THE IVORIES (second group)
71239 Me And You (EL)/I'm In Love (EL) - 11/57
101 Lovers' Quarrel (EL)/Come With Me (EL/JJ) - 59
1041 Make Me Queen Again/IFIC - 2/59
GUARANTEED (subsidiary of Carlton)
218 Don'cha Shop Around/Red Blooded, True Blue American Boy - 61
LEADS: JH = Johnny Hicks; EL = Ella Lewis; JJ = Johnny Earl Jackson