The Red Caps were one of the most prolific and long-lived groups of the 1940s and 1950s. While they were primarily a group that fans flocked to see in person, they had releases on many labels, using many names. There was a basic core of five singers, but members came and went at a bewildering pace.
In the music world of the late 30s and early 40s, there were many pioneer black vocal groups, all of whom owed a common debt to the Mills Brothers and Ink Spots. However, other influences were also apparent in their styles. Swing and big band jazz had a tremendous impact in the 30s, and myriad small combo jazz and jive groups resulted, often with members drawn from the larger orchestras. In parallel with this trend were the vocal groups that evolved from these combos in the 30s. In them, all members played instruments besides vocalizing - a combination that all but disappeared from R&B by the middle 50s. It was in this atmosphere that the group later known as the 5 Red Caps was born.
While there were vocal groups in all cities with large black populations, in the 1930s many of them flocked to the Los Angeles area because, in addition to niteclubs, theaters, and radio, there were also opportunities to work in films and cartoon soundtracks. Three of these groups had a hand in the formation of the Red Caps: the original Basin Street Boys, the 4 Blackbirds, and the 5 Jones Boys. In 1938, they would coalesce into the 4 Toppers, the predecessor to the Red Caps.
Steve Gibson, George Thompson, Perry Anderson and Sam Hutcherson started as the 4 Dots in Lynchburg, Virginia, in the early thirties. In the summer of 1935, they were added to bandleader Jean Calloway's very successful tour. She probably met them in June, when she was appearing in West Virginia. (Jean clamed to be Cab Calloway's sister or cousin, but Cab was annoyed enough at his siblings Elmer and Blanche for capitalizing on his name; he singled out Jean, who was also doing it and who, he said, wasn't even related to him.) She renamed them the Basin Street Rhythm Boys, although they had never been anywhere near New Orleans (it was just a more salable name). They were mentioned in a September 20, 1935 newspaper article about Calloway. Strangely, the article said, "Their name is associated with the motion picture production 'Murder At The Vanities,' in which they were featured in a novelty 'spot'." However, this movie was released in May 1934, when the Basin Street Boys weren't within 2000 miles of Hollywood, and they aren't listed in the cast (nor is there even a routine in the film that they might have appeared in under any name).
Leaving her after three months (when the tour was in the southwest), they first went to Phoenix, and then to Los Angeles, where they became somewhat famous (under their truncated name: "Basin Street Boys"), since there were reports of them in the Pittsburgh Courier. For example, it was reported in June 1938, that Samuel Hutchinson [sic] went back to Lynchburg to see his sick mother. In 1937, they appeared on the Mutual Broadcasting System on Wednesdays and Fridays. November of that year found them at the Ten O One Club in Los Angeles and they were at the Tivoli Theater in February 1938.
The Pittsburgh Courier reported, on December 11, 1937, that the Basin Street Boys had been signed by Million Dollar Productions to be in a musical starring Ralph Cooper. This would turn out to be "The Duke Is Tops" (re-released years later as "Bronze Venus"). It also had Lena Horne and the Cats & The Fiddle. (And, if you've never seen it, "Duke" has nothing to do with Duke Ellington.)
In April 1938, they filed a complaint against the Swing-Hi Club in Los Angeles due to non-payment of $100 owed to them. Since it wasn't the first complaint against the club, the labor commission closed it down.
I'm not sure what happened to them after this (Steve Gibson had joined the 4 Toppers by late 1938), but a similarly-named group appeared at the Old Absinthe House at the New York World's Fair in August 1940. They were not the Basin Street Boys who recorded "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman," but we'll touch on that group a bit later.
There is a single known (and extremely raunchy) recording by this group, which also did radio shows (over KPMC in Bakersfield, California), voices for cartoons, and some films:
Steve Gibson in
"Shall We Dance"
Duke Is Tops"
ad for "The
Duke Is Tops"
ad for "Bronze
Swing, Monkey, Swing - 1937 - Columbia cartoon - general scatting and instrument imitating; also part of the "St. Louis Blues" number
Shall We Dance - 1937 - RKO - Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers - part of the ensemble (along with the Plantation Boys) singing "Slap That Bass"
with Fred Astaire (however, the only one I can pick out is Steve Gibson; the main singer is Dudley Dickerson)
The Duke Is Tops - 1938 - Million Dollar Productions (re-released as Bronze Venus) - with Lena Horne - "Thursday Evening Swing"
(still being shown in black theaters in 1950)
The Isle Of Pingo Pongo - 1938 - Warner Brothers cartoon - "Sweet Georgia Brown"
HS-422 Come John Come/ (same title on the flip) - 1937
The members of the 4 Blackbirds were Geraldine Harris, first tenor; David Patillo, second tenor; Leroy Hurte baritone and guitar; and Richard Davis, bass. Supposedly they all attended Los Angeles' Jefferson High (from which many great 50s R&B groups would emerge), but it couldn't have been at the same time, since Richard was around six years older than the others. Note that Leroy Hurte would go on to purchase the Bronze label in Los Angeles in 1940. By that same year, Richard Davis had married Geraldine Harris.
From the fall of 1934, the 4 Blackbirds were extremely popular on Los Angeles radio. They appeared on KFI and, later, on KECA. They were part of Irvin S. Cobb's "Paducah Plantation" radio show and were selected to appear on Bing Crosby's very first outing on the "Kraft Music Hall" (on January 2, 1936).
On March 3, 1936, they were the featured entertainment at the annual meeting and membership banquet of the Los Angeles Urban League.
A newspaper article claimed that they'd be in Start Cheering, a Jimmy Durante comedy/musical, but they don't show up in the credits. (The Internet Movie Database says that dancer Jeni LeGon and the 4 Blackbirds are in studio records/casting call lists as cast members, but they did not appear or were not identifiable in the movie.) Another article says that the 4 Blackbirds would be part of Harlem On The Prairie, a black western with Herb Jeffries and the 4 Tones. Unfortunately, there were two groups in Los Angeles called the 4 Blackbirds, and the one in that movie consisted of James Davis, Edward Brandon, Reginald Anderson, and Jack Williams.
The 4 Blackbirds made several films and several records.
Memories And Melodies - 1935 - an M-G-M short featuring Stephen Foster tunes; no cast listed
The Music Goes 'Round - 1936 - Columbia - not in credits
Clean Pastures - 1937 - Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies cartoon take-off on Green Pastures - they do "Half Of Me Wants To Be Good"
and "Swing For Sale", as well as general background singing and imitations of Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, and Louis Armstrong
Have You Got Any Castles - 1938 - Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies cartoon - "Swing For Sale" was taken from Clean Pastures
Mother Goose Goes Hollywood - 1938 - Walt Disney Silly Symphonies cartoon - general singing in the "Little Boy Blue" number
VOCALION (subsidiary of Columbia)
2895 Miss Otis Regrets/Dixie Rhythm - 3/35
2943 Moonglow/Black Eyed Susan Brown - 5/35
2981 Louisville Lady/Basin Street Blues - 7/35
MELOTONE (subsidiary of Columbia -- Cliff Edwards & 4 Blackbirds)
13347 It's An Old Southern Custom/Hunkadola - 4/35
13403 I Got Shoes - You Got Shoesies/I Was Born Too Late - 6/35
(Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards was the voice of Jiminy Cricket in "Pinoccio")
Originally the Dixie Cotton Pickers from Carbondale, Illinois, they came to L.A. in the mid 30s. Lead tenor Jimmy Springs was joined by William Hartley, Herman Wood, Louis Wood, and Charles Hopkins. They hooked up with Gene Autry and were on his National Barn Dance radio show and some of his tours. In a January 1936 newspaper article, they were characterized as "real rivals (not imitators) of the Mills Brothers." Later that year, they toured with Duke Ellington (as they did in 1937, after a stint at Los Angeles' Cotton Club).
The 5 Jones Boys were occasionally part of a syndicated radio program called "The Laff Parade", hosted by Ken Niles. One reviewer of a 1934 performance thought that they were actually the Mills Brothers. They made several appearances from 1934 through 1937.
They were in several films (those from 1936 were all released within three days of each other) and had a couple of records on Variety. In Ali Baba Comes To Town (an uncredited performance) they're part of a black cast that included the Plantation Boys, Richard Davis, David Patillo, guitarist Oscar Moore, Ormonde Wilson (a member of the Plantation Boys, whom we'll meet later on), and two future Delta Rhythm Boys: Clifford Holland, and Carl Jones. The chorus was directed by Leon René and Earl Dancer.
"The Big Show"
"The Big Show"
"Can This Be Dixie"
"Ali Baba Comes To Town"
Can This Be Dixie -1936 - 20th Century-Fox - provide the "music" while Jane Withers dances - they sing "Uncle Tom's Cabin Is A Cabaret Now"
Racing Blood - 1936 - Conn Pictures (as the Jones Quintette) - "You're So Appealing" and "Lucky Shoes"
The Big Show - 1936 - Republic (as the Jones Boys) - with Gene Autry - "The Lady Known As Lulu"
Hollywood Party - 1937 - M-G-M (as the Jones Boys) - "Chinatown, My Chinatown"
Ali Baba Comes To Town - 1937 - 20th Century-Fox - with Eddie Cantor - part of the "Swing Is Here To Sway" number, along with the
Plantation Boys, and dancer Jeni LeGon.
522 Doin' The Suzi-Q/Mr. Ghost Goes To Town - 4/37
579 Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch/My Gal Mezzanine - 6/37
Leon René, who would later own the Exclusive label (as well as write "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano" and "Gloria"), put the 4 Blackbirds and 5 Jones Boys together to form a large chorus called the Jones Boys Sing Band. (A "sing band" is a group that uses voices to imitate instruments.) The only one missing from this aggregation was Blackbird Geraldine Harris (who may have quit show business when she married Richard Davis), but added, at least in movies, Steve Gibson, of the Basin Street Boys. The guitarist was Oscar Moore (who would later join the King Cole Trio). They not only imitated instruments, but since there were so many voices, they had "sections" of various horns.
Supposedly the entire instrumental sound track to Double Or Nothing consists of the voices of the Jones Boys Sing Band, but the few clips I've seen mostly have Bing Crosby singing with a full orchestra. There is a sing band in the movie, used in "The Moon Got In My Eyes," but the voices could belong to anyone (and also included many female voices). There were many newspaper articles about the movie and they all said that around 75 voices were used for the sing band; plenty of room to get lost. Note that in movies they were credited (if at all) as the "Original Sing Band." On November 18, 1937, they appeared on Rudy Valee's radio show. Part of that blurb said that they'd just finished a movie short called The Canary Comes Across, singing "Doing The Atlantic." I'll include it below, but they're not listed in the cast.
Aside from their films, they only made a single record, "Sleepy Time In Hawaii" and "Pickin' A Rib." There was an article in the Pittsburgh Courier on August 21, 1937 noting that "Sleepy Time In Hawaii" was "sweeping the West like wild-fire" (and, it was attributed to the 5 Jones Boys, not the Jones Boys Sing Band). I'm uncertain as to how that was possible, since the group didn't record it for Decca until September 7. However, since both songs also exist (in slightly different versions) as radio transcriptions, the group might have made the song popular on the radio (although I can find only a couple of radio listings for the Original Sing Band, and those from 1938). "Sleepy Time In Hawaii" was sung in the movie She's Got Everything (released in December 1937) by Ann Southern.
|"Hollywood Handicap" ad||"Hollywood Handicap"||"Hollywood Handicap"||"Hollywood Handicap"||"Streamlined Swing"||"Streamlined Swing"||"Streamlined Swing"||the transcription||
Double Or Nothing -1937 - Paramount - with Bing Crosby and Martha Raye - they may be in the 75-voice sing band
(they don't appear on-screen, but this is Hollywood and who knows if the people you see are actually doing the singing?)
The Canary Comes Across - 1938 - M-G-M - a 20-minute short. If they're in it at all, they sing "Doing The Atlantic."
Going Places - 1938 - Warner Brothers - with Dick Powell and Louis Armstrong (who introduced "Jeepers Creepers"). The only ones I could
honestly pick out were Jimmy Springs and Steve Gibson. (The Cats And The Fiddle were also in this film.)
Streamlined Swing - 1938 - M-G-M - a 10-minute short, directed by Buster Keaton, with only the Original Sing Band - "Pack Your Grip
And Take A Little Trip," "Swing As You Work," and "Dinah."
Hollywood Handicap - 1938 - another Buster Keaton-directed M-G-M short, featuring the Original Sing Band - "Rosalie," "Pickin A Rib," and
"Ride, Red, Ride"
RECORDINGS INCORPORATED (transcriptions)
B-5607 Pickin' A Rib/Sleepy Time In Hawaii - 1937
1439 Pickin' A Rib/Sleepy Time In Hawaii - 1937
By late 1938, a lot of the lucrative film work was coming to an end and the groups we've talked about were going through a rough patch. As a result, they essentially dissolved. But four of them decided to keep going: Jimmy Springs (tenor and drums - from the 5 Jones Boys), David Patillo (second tenor and sometimes guitarist and bassist - from the 4 Blackbirds), Richard Davis (baritone and bassist - from the 4 Blackbirds), Steve Gibson (bass and guitarist - from the Basin Street Boys). Supposedly, they picked the "top" members from each group and called the result the "4 Toppers," but that's just another press agent story; it was a common enough group name.
The first time we encounter the 4 Toppers is in the cast of a Hollywood musical revue called "Shuffle Along Of 1939," which opened in November 1938. It was produced (quite badly according to reviews: "a million dollars worth of talent and two bits worth of staging") by Quintard Miller, brother of the more famous Flournoy Miller (who had written the musical "Runnin' Wild," which had introduced the Charlston). In December (presumably after the show had closed), they appeared at the Burbank Theater to a rave review ("voices from heaven" is a bit over the top, but at least the reviewer liked them).
By July 1938, they had wandered north and were appearing at the Trocadero Night Club, in Santa Cruz. Then, it was off to the Suwannee Inn in San Mateo. By October, they'd returned to Los Angeles and were appearing at the Dunbar Hotel.
The 4 Toppers appeared in a few films around the same time that they began their recording career. From here on, all recordings will be listed in the discography at the end.
in "At The
4 Toppers in
4 Toppers in
4 Toppers in
Take A Bow"
4 Toppers in
Take A Bow"
1950 ad for
Take A Bow"
At The Circus - 1939 - M-G-M with the Marx Brothers - they're included with 96 black voices used in the film. They didn't get credit,
but their participation was mentioned in The California Eagle of September 14, 1939. Part of the "Swingali" number
(however, I can only pick out Steve Gibson).
Son Of Ingagi - 1940 - Hollywood Pictures Corp - an all black horror film - "So Long Pal" and "You Drove The Gloom Away" - the members
have some minor speaking roles
Mystery In Swing - 1940 - Aetna Film Corp - an all black mystery/musical - "Jump, The Water's Fine" and "Let's Go To A Party" - they also
back up Josephine Pearson Edwards on "You Can't Fool Yourself About Love"
Toppers Take A Bow - 1941 - Hollywood Pictures Corp short - "Jump, The Water's Fine," My Dreams Of You," "Great Moon God,"
and "Go Find Somebody New."
By early 1940 (around the time shooting started on Mystery In Swing), they'd hooked up with orchestra leader Larry Breese to record a couple of sides ("Carry Me Back To Old Virginia" and "Jumpin' Jive") for Otis René's AMMOR label (Otis was Leon's brother). Per Tony Fournier, "AMMOR" was an acronym for Automatic Music Machine Operators Recording, which means that the label's purpose was to sell to juke box operators. It's a very strange name: a nice acronym for a long and clumsy term that no one could possibly have guessed. "Operators" were those who actually owned jukeboxes (usually dozens of them, placed in bars, nightclubs, beauty salons, railway stations, and the like). They were constantly visiting the sites to replace worn out records and load new hits, potential hits, or just discs that they'd been bribed to include.
The 4 Toppers may have managed to hit the airwaves in the spring of 1940: for example, a WIP broadcast from 9:45 to 10:00 PM on March 12. However, I'm not sure this is them. There was another, white, aggregation calling itself the 4 Toppers (three girls and a guy). There were many, many radio broadcasts in the early 40s, but I'm not sure if any of them are the Los Angeles group. There was also a Canadian group called the 4 Toppers in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
In July 1940, the 4 Toppers completed a one-year engagement at the Jade Cabaret in Hollywood. This kept them busy when they weren't making all those films. They were "soon to leave" for a cross-country tour, ending up on the East Coast. The blurb seemed to indicate that they were part of the cast of "Broken Strings", another all-black movie from 1940, but they're neither listed in the cast nor was there anything for them to have sung in the film. (They spent a considerable time at the Jade; in August 1941, they celebrated their second anniversary there.)
1941 found them making some transcriptions for the Keystone Broadcasting System, a network of small radio stations. On one of these KBS discs, they reprise two of the songs from their recent movies: "Jump, The Water's Fine" and "You Drove The Gloom Away" (neither is the version that appeared in the film). Other songs were "Jivin'" (the Cats & The Fiddle's "Killin' Jive), "Thursday Nite In Harlem" (the Basin Street Boys' "Thursday Evening Swing"), "Little Jackie Horner," "Great Moon God," "My Dreams Of You," and "Go Find Somebody New" (the latter three from Toppers Take A Bow, although different versions).
In early 1941, they began a three-month engagement somewhere in North Carolina (the blurb wasn't more specific). (Note that at this time, bandleader Jan Savitt had a group called the 4 Toppers: "three boys and a girl.") They were back in time for a May 4 picnic given by the Turlock Sportsman's Club at Owen Recreational Park in Turlock, California. The first appearance of the 4 Toppers ("California's Ink Spots") at the Apollo Theater was during the week of October 17, 1941 (along with bandleader Horace Henderson). Although the write-up of the show the following week also mentioned them (which made me assume that they'd been held over), they weren't listed in the Apollo's weekly ad.
September 1941 found the 4 Toppers turning to Nat Nazarro as their manager. Nat Nazarro, Sr. (who was actually a Lithuanian immigrant, originally named Notel Itziksohn) managed many acts in his time, including Pearl Bailey, Pigmeat Markham, Buck & Bubbles, Moke & Poke, and Stump & Stumpy. While he was famous in the trade for collecting a bigger share of the earnings than his acts received, it's also true that he got them excellent bookings (and therefore more money to begin with). He's also renowned for suing his acts and being sued by them. (He's not to be confused with his foster son, Nat Nazarro, Jr., who was a vaudeville entertainer.)
In January 1942, the 4 Toppers were part of a USO show ("Harlem On Parade") that also featured Ada Brown and Butterbeans & Susie; it was still going in early March. Sometime after that, sensing that the lush times in Los Angeles were over, they relocated to New York and started appearing in clubs. (I don't know when, but eventually they'd relocate again, this time to Philadelphia.) On June 2, 1942 they began an engagement at the just-opened Ship Deck (at the Breakers Hotel) on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. In early October, they were at the Flanders Grill in Philadelphia (and, it was announced, they'd been signed by M-G-M to appear in Ethel Waters' next film; it never happened). After appearing at the Jungle Room in Harrison, New Jersey, they settled into the Enduro Club, on Flatbush and DeKalb Avenues in Brooklyn, on Thanksgiving eve.
Billboard singled out Jimmy Springs in their September 12, 1942 issue: "Negro singer now part of the Four Toppers, cocktail combo at Flanders Grill, Philadelphia. He is an unusual singer of much warmth, giving songs feeling and using his whispering sweet tenor voice with good effect on blues melodies. Would be okay as a single in vaude or in night clubs."
Probably at the time they started at the Enduro, and although they still called themselves the "4 Toppers," they'd added a fifth member, a young Philadelphia pianist named Beryl Booker. I can't find any references to her prior to joining the Toppers (that is, she wasn't famous), but she always got separate billing: "the 4 Toppers, assisted by Beryl Booker" or "the 4 Toppers, featuring Beryl Booker." However, she was only with them for a short while before becoming ill; by February, 1943, her name no longer appears separately in the Enduro's ads.
She was replaced by pianist and baritone Romaine Brown, a musical prodigy who played many instruments. Part of 1932's Music Week in Harlem, and member of the Colonial Park String Ensemble in 1936, he had been awarded a coveted scholarship to Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied the viola under the tutelage of world-famous violist William Primrose. After school, Brown played piano behind the Philadelphia-based Bon Bon Trio, which included vocalist George "Bon Bon" Tunnell (with whom Romaine had gone to high school), Harry Polk (guitar), and Truman Gibson (bassist - no relation to Steve Gibson). On vacation in New York, he ran into Jimmy Springs, whom he knew somehow. Springs asked him to take Booker's place on piano "for a few days." Brown accepted, and found the work so much to his liking (and the pay so alluring) that he never returned to the Curtis Institute. Brown's frenetic acrobatics while tickling the ivories soon became one of the trademarks of the Toppers.
In early February 1943, they were still at the Enduro Club (the ads for them stopped in May). Fortunately, the show was reviewed (in the February 13 Billboard) and the members of the group listed: Steve Gibson (electric steel and Hawaiian guitars), Richard Davis (bassist), Jimmy Springs (drums), David Patillo (maracas), and Beryl Booker (piano). The article went on to say that Miss Booker had been ill, but was now back with the group. However, they had decided to keep her unnamed ("unbilled" was the way the article put it) replacement also. Therefore, the "4 Toppers" now had six members. While the reviewer liked Beryl's piano work, he was less than thrilled with her voice. Brown, on the other hand was called a "competent" pianist, but was "more valuable at vocals." The most important thing about the group however, was that "Two boys sport goatees."
Probably not long after this, Richard Davis left and was replaced by bassist Doles Dickens, who had led his own band (the Aces Of Swing), and who, until recently, had been a member of the Eddie South Trio. Beryl Booker didn't remain much longer either, subsequently pursuing a successful career with the Slam Stewart Trio, the Austin Powell Quintet, and her own small groups. Richard Davis would turn up in the mid-50s as part of Sarah Vaughan's back-up trio.
The 4 Toppers were now down to a quintet: Steve Gibson, Romaine Brown, Doles Dickens, Jimmy Springs, and David Patillo.
In July 1943, the 4 Toppers signed with Joe Davis, who would make them a nationally-known group. The legendary Davis started out as a manager, publisher, and vocalist in the 1920s. His few vocal endeavors, for Harmony, Okeh, and Vocalion, were nothing to get excited over, but he soon made a name for himself as one of the first independent producers of what were then called "race" records. He wrote songs, published them himself, and then produced recordings of those songs (by various singers) for such labels as Edison, Ajax, and Perfect.
His first venture into a label of his own was Beacon, started in 1942. Later, in September 1944, Davis entered into an arrangement with Gennett Records of Richmond, Indiana (nearly dormant for the past eight years). Davis got Gennett's allotment of scarce, wartime rationed shellac in return for a sum of money to be used to refurbish the antiquated Gennett pressing plant. (This same obsolete equipment was reportedly purchased by National Records in 1947.) Davis actually got into the record business in order to service juke box operators (those who owned the juke boxes in bars and other public places), who were suffering mightily from the scarcity of new recordings. He reserved 75% of his output for them, up until 1945. National records was started for the same purpose.
However, whatever his purpose, the physical quality of his records tends to be really poor. This is because there was a problem with shellac. Shellac, a binding material used in the production of 78 RPM records, comes from an insect that lives in Southeast Asia. It was mostly processed by India and, because of World War 2, supply channels weren't what they had been. The government never called it a strategic war material, but ended up rationing it to record companies anyway. Thus, although there was plenty of it in the companies' warehouses, the government only let them use a measured amount at a time. This led to companies buying up old records and recycling them. Sadly, records made from recycled materials didn't have the same fidelity or durability as regular production disks. This is what Jay Bruder had to say on the quality of these recordings:
Remember he [Davis] was doing this during WWII and in the immediate post-war years. Because he was a start-up he had no allocation of shellac, so he had to make do with regrind and filler to make his records. Manor, King, Southern and many others used the regrind from the WWII scrap drives which had been stockpiled - because the majors refused to use it. In retrospect the entire effort was terribly misguided. Good thing the scrap drives only lasted for a few years. The material managed to contaminate the pressing stock from approximately 1943 on up until the early 1950s. [As an example,] the first record on King was so noisy that it was impossible to hear the music.
Besides the Beacon label, Davis also used the Gennett, Joe Davis, and Davis logos interchangeably, for what purpose we may never know. Some of the material issued came from old Gennett masters dating to the late 1920s, but most was newly-recorded. Some masters were purchased from other sources, and the Davis labels were able to boast an artist line-up that included Harry James, Maxine Sullivan, Coleman Hawkins, Wingy Manone, and Savannah Churchill.
Joe Davis found the 4 Toppers while they were appearing at the Enduro Club, and invited the group to record for him. Of course, you couldn't just relate something as banal as that in the publicity stories given out to the trade papers. This is how it was reported in the August 2, 1943 edition of the New York Enquirer: "While he [Davis] was rushing for a train recently he heard a bunch of Red Caps harmonizing on the station platform. [This was after the group had changed its name to the 5 Red Caps.] Joe fancied their work and asked them to drop into his office some day. They did, gave another audition and left the place with a five-year contract to record exclusively for Beacon Records." It's quite possible that Davis himself wrote this silliness, but it's the typical type of garbage given out to news media.
It's also possible, however, that the first encounter between the group and Joe Davis wasn't an accident. In 1939, Steve Gibson wrote a song (along with Mickey Castle) called "It's Harlem's Music." That tune was published by Joe Davis. Had they ever met before? Did Gibson contact Davis and ask him to come and see the group? We'll probably never know.
Over the years, the group would record many songs that Joe Davis had written. These included: "After I've Spent My Best Years On You," "Boogie Woogie Ball," "I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget," "I'm To Blame," "I Made A Great Mistake," "I Was A Fool To Let You Go," "If You Can't Get Five Take Two," "Just For You," "Mary Had A Little Jam," "Never Give Up Hope," "No One Else Will Do," "There's A Light On The Hill," "Truthfully," and "Words Can't Explain." Davis would issue and re-issue the group's recordings on all his labels: Beacon, Joe Davis, Davis, Gennett, and Celebrity. The tunes from the Joe Davis years had a spontaneity and exuberance that the group's later recordings lacked, even though that excitement would always be present in their live performances.
With their new recording contract in hand, the 4 Toppers changed their name to the 5 Red Caps. Jimmy Springs said that the reason was to get around the recording ban imposed at that time by the American Federation Of Musicians (the first Petrillo Ban). No union musician was permitted to make records between August 1, 1942 and November of 1943. The Red Caps name was intended as a cover-up, since all the members belonged to the union and shouldn't have been recording. According to Romaine Brown, they chose the name because it had a catchy sound and it "sounded black," like the "Ink Spots." The name also reflected the fact that there were now five of them (although that changed almost as soon as they adopted the name). Red caps (the traditional headgear of baggage handlers on trains and planes) were rarely worn by the group (possibly only for some photo sessions, during a show at Loew's State Theater, and in a 1949 movie). However, although it took a while, the ruse was eventually discovered by the union, and the group was fined.
[In a January 1945 article, Steve Gibson said that they'd adopted the Red Caps name because "Toppers" sounded too high-class and white promoters in the south wouldn't book them. However, several years later, Gibson changed his story: it was to avoid confusion with a group called the "Tophatters."]
The 5 Red Caps first recorded in July 1943, in a four-song session that produced "I'm The One," "I Made A Great Mistake," "There's A Light On The Hill," and "Tuscaloosa." Davis immediately began issuing these, on his Beacon label, in August. Later that month, they recorded: "No Fish Today," "Just For You," "Grand Central Station," "I'm Going To Live My Life Alone," "Don't Fool With Me," and "Mama Put Your Britches On."
The 5 Red Caps' recordings for Davis featured both lively jump tunes and beautiful ballads. (Contrast the frenetic beginning of "Tuscaloosa," complete with barnyard noises, with the ethereal "In The Quiet Of The Dawn.") Ballads were usually led by high tenor Jimmy Springs (a definite influence on future Ravens' lead Maithe Marshall), and up-tempo leads were usually taken by Romaine Brown or Steve Gibson.
By the time of that first session, or very soon afterward, Emmett "Snake" Mathews ("Harlem's King Of Jazz" as he was called in a 1931 review of a show at the Regal Theater in Chicago) had been added as a sixth member. A second tenor and soprano sax player, he was very well known and lionized on the New York theater circuit throughout the 1930s. He had been the conductor of Charlie Turner's Arcadians, led his own big band (Emmett Mathews and His Orchestra had had four records on Vocalion in 1936), been an MC and singer, and a sideman with Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong. Because the soprano saxophone was not a common instrument, his addition gave the Red Caps a unique sound (at least in person; it's rarely heard on recordings). Certainly that rare sax wouldn't be used in the studio as long as the group was trying to fool the union.
They were still hiding out from the union at this point, since they appeared at the Apollo Theater the week of August 27, 1943 as the "Six Toppers." Only Romaine Brown and Emmett Mathews were mentioned (and Emmett was referred to as a "clarinetist"). The review compared them favorably to the Ink Spots and the Charioteers. If Emmett was, in fact, part of the group at their first session, I suppose it's possible that the six of them called themselves the 5 Red Caps in order to further throw the union off their trail.
There were six more tunes recorded in September: "I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget," "Words Can't Explain," "Boogie Woogie Ball," "Lenox Avenue Jump," "Don't You Know," and "Strictly On The Safety Side." With 16 recordings under their collective belt, they didn't record again for six months. They did, however, return to Brooklyn's Enduro Club (as the Toppers) in October 1943.
In late 1943, Billboard published its fifth annual Music Year Book. There were two mentions each of the "Five Red Caps" and the "Toppers" (not the "Four Toppers"). Both of the August releases by the 5 Red Caps were listed, as well as the fact that they recorded for Beacon. The Toppers were the subject of a quarter page Nat Nazarro ad, which showed the quartet with Richard Davis (a photo probably taken in 1941) and called them "bizarre and extraordinary". On the other hand, a (very) short bio listed all the Toppers' current members: Steve Gibson, Jimmy Springs, David Patillo, Romaine Brown, Emmett Mathews, and Doles Dickens. There was, of course, no hint that the groups were the same (and the old photo was probably another ploy to throw the union off the trail). Strangely, the bio claimed that, in addition to "A Day At The Races" (the wrong Marx Brothers movie; they meant "At The Circus") and "Mystery In Swing", the Toppers had been in "Poor Little Rich Girl", a 1936 film starring Shirley Temple. However, the only group song in the film was "Buy A Bar Of Barry's" (a fictitious soap), which is heard as a "radio ad". The unseen group isn't named in the film credits, but they sound nothing like the Toppers (and are almost certainly white).
"I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget," released in January 1944, was a big hit for the guys.(it peaked at #3, entering the Harlem Hit Parade chart in February 1944 and not leaving until September). In its review, the reviewer first chides the group for copying the Ink Spots (mostly because the Ink Spots were there first) and then goes on to hint that the Red Caps are just as good. There were three other visits to the national R&B charts that year: "Boogie Woogie Ball," "Just For You," and "No One Else Will Do" (each of which made #10). Their only other hit in that decade was 1948's "Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine" (#21 on the Pop charts). Strangely, as popular as they were as a performing group, they never did particularly well on record.
In March 1944, Nat Nazarro had all six of the 5 Red Caps (Steve Gibson, Romaine Brown, Doles Dickens, Jimmy Springs, Emmett Mathews, and David Patillo) sign a new two-year contract with Davis. One of the stipulations of the contract was that Davis owned the name "5 Red Caps."
During the week of March 10, 1944, the group once again appeared at the Apollo as the "Six Toppers" (along with Fletcher Henderson and Gatemouth Moore). The review said "This splendid aggregation of musicians and vocalists is the outgrowth of the former four Toppers of Hollywood fame. Emmet Matthews [sic], the former band leader is a member of this group." It looks like the union still hadn't discovered that the Red Caps and the Toppers were the same group.
That same month, they had four sessions, for a total of 14 songs: "Somebody's Lyin'," "Was It You," "Red Caps Ball," "I Didn't Mean To Be Mean To You," "The Tables Have Turned On Me," "Never Give Up Hope," "Sugar Lips," "Gabriel's Band," "If I Can't Have You," "After I've Spent My Best Years On You," "It's So Good Good Good," "Spellbound," "I'm Crazy 'Bout You," and "I Was A Fool To Let You Go." This frenzy of recording was followed by three more sides in April ("No One Else Will Do," "Thinking," and "Mary Had A Little Jam").
Nat Nazarro, with one eye on the rapid growth in popularity of trios such as Johnny Moore's Three Blazers and the King Cole Trio (which contained Johnny Moore's brother, Oscar, former guitarist of the Jones Boys Sing Band), formed a Red Caps Trio. This consisted of Romaine Brown (piano), Steve Gibson (guitar), and Doles Dickens (bass). The Red Caps Trio would record four songs in October, but would most often be used to instrumentally back up Romaine's old friend Bon Bon Tunnell, who was now also recording for Davis. In April 1944, they kicked it off by recording "Don't Be Angry With Me" and "Can't You See" behind Bon Bon.
In May, the 5 Red Caps recorded a further four tunes: "In The Quiet Of The Dawn," "Thru Thick And Thin," "I'm To Blame," and "Boogie Woogie On A Saturday Night." There would be no further recordings as the 5 Red Caps for a year.
In August, Joe Davis reported that 75% of his output was being sold to juke box operators. He claimed to be giving serious thought to only selling to them. That same month, it was reported that he sought to end his five-month old contract with Nat Nazarro and the Toppers. (The use of the name "Toppers" strengthens the argument that the union still hadn't discovered the subterfuge, and that the group was planning to resume its use someday.) I don't know what this was about, but in spite of some background legal activity, he kept recording the group.
In October 1944, the Red Caps Trio (Gibson, Brown, and Dickens) recorded "Get Off Of That Kick," "It's Got A Hole In It," "That's The Stuff," and "Monkey And The Baboon." All four, led by Romaine Brown (and the only Red Caps Trio numbers that weren't done as backups), were released on the Joe Davis label in February 1945. They also backed up Bon Bon on "Apple Honey," "Were You Lyin'," "Truthfully," and "Better Stop Playing Around."
All six were present when the group played the Apollo Theater the week of October 6, 1944. Presumably the union had caught up with them by this time because they were finally billed as the "Red Caps"; this is the earliest appearance I can find under that name. They were on the bill along with trumpeter Roy Eldridge.
The Red Caps appeared at the Loew's State Theater in New York City for a week in mid-November. Around this time, Doles Dickens left the group. I'm not sure if he was at that engagement or not, but the review mentioned that they were a sextet. (There's a chance that, if he wasn't there, bassist Israel Crosby was hurriedly brought in.) Since he was standing at the far side of some of the group's photos, his picture was crudely and unceremoniously cut out of those. When he left, the bass playing chores were taken over by David Patillo.
Doles Dickens had obviously intended to leave for a while, since he immediately joined the Phil Moore Four in time for their November 24, 1944 RCA session. He remained with them at least throughout 1945, before forming the Doles Dickens Quartet, with releases on Continental and Super Disc in 1947. This became the basis for the Doles Dickens Quintet that recorded for Gotham and Decca in 1949 and 1951 and for Apollo (as the Whispers) in 1950.
Then the problems started. It was reported on December 2 that Joe Davis had sued the 5 Red Caps. He claimed that he was the sole owner of the name and that they'd agreed not to use it in recording for others. He also sought to legally enjoin them from singing any of the songs that he'd written. The Red Caps, in turn, sued Davis for royalties and an accounting of profits.
The Red Caps immediately rushed to record for Herman Lubinsky's Savoy label. On December 8, they waxed four sides: "I'm Living For You," "Palace Of Stone," "Nat's Boogie Woogie," and "If Money Grew On Trees." In early December, they appeared in Du Mond's (in Philadelphia), as the Toppers.
The Savoy session sheet has the notation: "Label to be changed to Red Caps if and when litigation over name is terminated in favor of Toppers." There was also a fairly reasonable letter (still in the Savoy files in the 80s) from Joe Davis to Herman Lubinsky, saying that he (Davis) invested a lot of money in promoting a group called the "5 Red Caps" and he doesn't want it to go for nothing. There was no hint in the letter that the group was still under contract to him or even that he owned the name. Since the musicians' strike had ended in November, they were free to record as the Toppers, but Savoy wouldn't want that, as they'd already become known as the Red Caps.
The Red Caps' counter-claim was dismissed by the court in mid-January. Davis's suit was to be heard on January 30 (delayed until February 9), but, as with so many of these suits, no outcome was reported in the trades. As a blow to Davis, someone named Harrison Smith contacted him in December 1944 and claimed that he (Davis) couldn't own the right to the 5 Red Caps name because Smith had written a song for the "Original 5 Red Caps" in 1930 and it had been recorded for Columbia. (While they may have appeared on radio under this name, Smith was wrong. The record was actually released by the "Grand Central Red Caps Quartet.")
January 26, 1945 found the Red Caps back at the Apollo for a week. This time, they appeared with the Frank Humphries Orchestra and comedian Spo-Dee-O-Dee. Notice that they're bouncing back and forth between the "Red Caps" and "Toppers" names. Not only did they call themselves the Red Caps, but they sang "Boogie Woogie Ball," a song written by Joe Davis. A few days later, he sent a telegram to Steve Gibson (which Gibson refused) to the effect that the group couldn't perform that song (and Davis actually sued the Apollo). They finally all made up, because the Red Caps signed a new contract with him on April 2, 1945.
In February 1945, the 5 Red Caps played the Plantation Club in St. Louis. From there, they went to the Regal Theater in Chicago (however, more people went to see the International Sweethearts of Rhythm - an all-girl orchestra - at the competing Downtown Theater). On March 17, they were back at the Plantation Club.
Also in early 1945, Joe Davis renamed the Beacon label in his own honor. Red Caps releases were now on the "Joe Davis" label, but none achieved the success of "I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget." In mid-1945, he started releasing tunes on the "Davis" label. Soon, this had pretty much replaced the "Joe Davis" imprint.
The 5 Red Caps had a session in May 1945 that gave us "You Thrill Me," "The Boogie Beat'll Getcha If You Don't Watch Out," "My Everlasting Love For You," and "I'll Remind You." Although no longer part of the group, Doles Dickens was present as the bassist. Also in May, they began a long-term engagement at the Irish Stable in Coney Island. Once again, and for unknown reasons, they were billed as the "Toppers."
Seeing that the group had made up with Davis and that he was issuing more Red Caps records, Savoy gave up and released two tunes in May under the "Toppers" name: "If Money Grew On Trees" and "Palace Of Stone."
There was more recording in June 1945, when the Red Caps Trio (Steve Gibson, Romaine Brown, and Doles Dickens, who seemed to have continued recording with the trio even though he was a part of the Phil Moore Four) backed Bon Bon on "If You Cared For Me," "Again And Again And Again," "Please Think Of Me Sometime," and "Don't Go Back On Your Word."
In July, Bon Bon and the trio waxed: "I Drove You Into Some Else's Arms," "Do You Know How It Feels To Be Lonesome," "Playin' The Field," "Riffin' With The Riff-Raff," "Must We Say Goodbye?", "Heaven Happens Tonight," "Building A Dream," "I Just Had To See You Dear," "Too Bad," and "It Was So Nice Knowing You." All but four of these ("Playin' The Field," "Riffin' With The Riff-Raff," "Must We Say Goodbye?" and "Heaven Happens Tonight") were issued as the "Park Avenue Trio." The rest were "Bon Bon and the Red Caps Trio."
[NOTE: Research by Ferdie Gonzalez shows that three other sides credited to the Park Avenue Trio ("I Didn't Mean A Word I Said," "Regretting," and "Do Anything But Cry, Sweetheart") were actually by Bon Bon Tunnell, backed up by the Park Lane Trio (a white group consisting of Frank Signorelli, Andy Sanella, and Robert Michelson).]
In August 1945, Bon Bon and the Red Caps Trio recorded "My Dreams Are Getting Me Nowhere" and "You'd Better Stop Playing With Fire." This time, the Red Caps Trio consisted of Steve Gibson, Romaine Brown, and bassist Israel Crosby (who had been with Fletcher Henderson's orchestra and had briefly been a member of the 3 Sharps And A Flat). There's a possibility that Crosby had been the initial replacement for Doles Dickens at their November 1944 Loew's State appearance, but that can't be verified.
On October 26, the Red Caps were booked for another week at the Apollo Theater, this time with the orchestra of Georgie Auld. According to the small blurb, the Red Caps were a sextet, with Emmett Mathews rejoining after a brief illness. I don't know who the sixth member was, although Israel Crosby is a strong possibility.
November 1945 saw two records by the "Magnolia Five" (four songs, led by Romaine Brown, that had been recorded in September: "It Hurts Me, But I Like It," "Don't Come Cryin' To Me," "If You Can't Get Five, Take Two," and "Ouch!"). This was actually the Red Caps Trio (Steve Gibson, Romaine Brown, and Israel Crosby), augmented by musicians Walter "Foots" Thomas and Reginald Merrill (both sax and clarinet players). At that same session, they did the last Bon Bon and the Red Caps Trio recordings: "I Admit" and "Two Can Play That Game."
Also in November, they were voted the "Best Novelty Possibility For 1946" by the New York Recorded Radio Programs Council. Whatever that might have been, they had good taste, having given the award to the King Cole Trio the previous year. On December 7, the Red Caps were off on a cross-country tour with trumpeter Frank "Fat Man" Humphries.
In January 1946, the 5 Red Caps recorded "Seems Like Old Times," "I'm Glad I Waited For You," "I Love An Old-Fashioned Song," and "Atlanta, Ga." In February, they were booked into The Cove (Philadelphia); they were still there in June. Then, at the end of June, they began a 10-week stay at the Martinique Cafe in Wildwood, New Jersey. This was to become an almost-annual booking for them.
Extensive travel continued for the group, now sporting a popular stage routine combining singing, playing, dancing, and clowning around. The 5 Red Caps played the national theater circuit, in addition to supper clubs in Miami, Washington, Buffalo, Las Vegas, and Hollywood.
The results of a poll taken by the Chicago Defender (published on April 20, 1946) had the Red Caps as the ninth most popular "specialty artists" (behind the King Cole Trio, the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers, the 4 Vagabonds, the Charioteers, the Golden Gate Quartet, the Brown Dots, and the mysterious "Red & Curley"). Over 100,000 readers had sent in ballots.
The last recordings by Bon Bon and the Red Caps Trio were waxed in March 1946: "There's No One But You," "Without Any Strings," and "Foolishly." These were all released as by the Park Avenue Trio.
The 5 Red Caps' final session for Joe Davis was held on March 20, 1946. The two songs recorded that day were "Confused" and "Have A Heart For Someone Who Has A Heart For You." Their contract with Davis was up that same month. If Israel Crosby was still with them at this point, he was soon to leave. Since photos in 1946 Davis ads generally show five members, I don't think that Crosby was looked on as a "real" member of the group. For a long while, David Patillo would assume the function of bassist. While singers and musicians would come and go over the years, the "core group" would be Gibson, Brown, Mathews, Springs, and Patillo.
In spite of the end of their contract with him, Davis released a 4-disc album in April (on the Davis label). Six of the titles were from 1944 ("I Didn't Mean To Be Mean To You," "Spellbound," "If I Can't Have You," "After I've Spent My Best Years On You," "Red Cap's Ball," and It's So Good Good Good"). The other two were from 1945 ("Thru Thick And Thin" and "In The Quiet Of The Dawn"). That same month he also separately issued the two songs from their final session in March.
There are four Davis masters for which I have no recording dates; I mention them here just to account for all the sides: "Don't Say We're Through," "Destination Unknown," and "Pleasant Dreams" (all as the 5 Red Caps) and "I'm Thinking Twice" (Bon Bon and the Red Caps Trio).
It was reported in August of 1946 that the group had invested in a Los Angeles celery farm (of course, the odds are that this is a press agent's fabrication).
While their contract with Davis had expired, ads from May through June (when they were at the Cove, in Philadelphia) and July (when they had started at the Martinique, in Wildwood, New Jersey) still said that they were "exclusive recording artists for Davis Record Co." One reason for this seems to be that, behind the scenes, Davis didn't want to let them go. It got to a point where the Red Caps went to the AFM (the musicians union) to arbitrate. That would take several months.
After shedding Joe Davis, they also left Nazarro (in September 1946) and acquired a new manager, Murray Weinger, a New York City businessman and nightclub owner. He began by landing them a lucrative contract with Mercury Records, where they underwent another name change, this time to "Steve Gibson and the Red Caps." At the same time, the Red Caps hooked up with the booking agency run by ex-vaudevillian Samuel "Jolly Joyce" Jacobs (once billed as "The Fat Boy Of Joy") and their quality bookings increased. Joe Davis kept 5 Red Caps' re-releases coming on Davis, Beacon and Celebrity through 1948 (including masters that he would sell to MGM).
The management of the Red Caps becomes somewhat confusing. A small blurb in the September 28, 1946 Pittsburgh Courier said "The 'Red Caps' opened an engagement at the Ciro Club in Philly as the battle for who's managing them goes on between Nat Nazarro and Jolly Joyce." Murray Weinger is occasionally mentioned as their manager (up to at least 1955), but Jolly Joyce is referred to as "manager-agent" in 1947, and in June 1951, a blurb said that they had a "reunion" with Weinger, who "started them on their way to stardom." While it's possible that Weinger worked for Joyce, I can't find anything to support that. Also, they may have left Weinger and then come back to him.
On September 14, as the "5 Red Caps," they appeared at Indian Echo Cave Park in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The week of September 23, 1946 found them at Ciro's in Philadelphia (with a note that Nat Nazarro and Jolly Joyce were battling it out), followed by three weeks at the Copacabana (also in Philly). After that, it was Chin's Pagoda, in Buffalo, New York.
While their contract with Mercury Records was announced on November 16, it wasn't until December 7 (when they were in the middle of a 4-week engagement at the Dubonnet Club in Newark) that the American Federation of Musicians declared their contract with Joe Davis to no longer be in effect. The 3-year Mercury contract guaranteed them minimum sales of 200,000 the first year, 300,000 the second year, and 400,000 the third year (sounds overly optimistic to me).
On December 23, 1946, they began another 4-week stint at Philadelphia's Copacabana.
Their first Mercury record, released in January 1947, was "You Can't See The Sun When You're Crying," backed with "Bless You" (which had been a smash hit for the Ink Spots' a few months previously). An ad for the record claims that the voices on "You Can't See The Sun When You're Crying" are Steve Gibson and Gordon McKay. This is the only time McKay is mentioned as a member (presumably having replaced Jimmy Springs temporarily), but it's a portent of things to come in the 50s, when the Red Caps became more of a revolving door than a stable group. By May of that year, McKay, "formerly of the Red Caps," is the vocalist with the Snub Mosley Band. It looks like saxophonist Arthur Davey was also part of the group during this period.
In February, it was reported that the Red Caps were due to make their television debut on Al Berkman's "Talent Showcase," broadcast over radio station WPTZ (Philadelphia). I'm not quite sure how appearing on a radio station constitutes a television appearance, but it might have been something like a simulcast for the majority of listeners who didn't own television sets.
On February 10, 1947, Romaine Brown's car was demolished near Joplin, Missouri while they were on their way to appear at the Last Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. The accident was caused by a skid on some ice. Fortunately no one was hurt, but touring did take its toll. Fortunately, Steve Gibson was driving alone in a separate car and they all managed to cram into it in order to make the engagement.
Also on the bill at the Frontier was Rudy Valee. He was so impressed with their act that he wanted them to appear with him at his April engagement at the Copacabana in Chicago. However, they'd already been booked into the Nomad Club, in Atlantic City, for nine weeks. Valee contacted the Nomad and offered to appear there, at no charge, for a couple of days if they'd let the Red Caps out of the contract. But the Nomad had already begun an advertising campaign, so they couldn't accommodate Valee. The blurb seemed a little tame for a press agent's flight of fancy, but it probably was.
On March 22, 1947, Joe Davis placed an ad in Billboard that said: "In View of the Fact That I Intend To Confine Most Of My Efforts to My New Latin-American Music Publishing Enterprise, CARIBBEAN MUSIC, I Am Offering for Sale AS ONE UNIT All the Masters Listed Below:". This was followed by a list of a few hundred masters, broken out by artist. From this, we learn that there were at least ten masters by the 5 Red Caps that were never released: "I May Forgive, But How Can I Forget," "If I'm In The Way," "Nothing Is Too Good For You" (7140), "How Can I Forget We're Not Together" (7140), "Lord, Forgive Me!" (7139), "A Rose To Remember" (7139), "Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow" (7138), "My Life Is Empty Without You" (7138), "Why Should The Two Of Us Be Lonesome" (7137), and "You Always Think Of Everything" (7137). Since Davis continued re-releasing tunes that were on this list, presumably there were no buyers. [NOTE: The numbers in parentheses are what I believe the release numbers were intended to be (based on the way they were listed in the Joe Davis advertisement), except that the 5 Red Caps contract lapsed and the releases were cancelled. "I May Forgive, But How Can I Forget" and "If I'm In The Way" don't seem to have been scheduled for release.]
Lead tenor Jimmy Springs left the group for a while in the spring of 1947 (he was having a drinking problem and not showing up for gigs), and was replaced by Earl Plummer. Over the next few years, both Springs and Plummer would be in and out of the group; sometimes both were there at the same time. "I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget" was re recorded for Mercury, with Plummer taking Springs' tenor lead part.
In March 1947, the Red Caps (or "Original Red Caps" as they were being billed in many of the ads of the time) were at the Plantation Club in St. Louis. In April, they began a two-month stay at the Nomad Club in Atlantic City. The personnel were listed as: Steve Gibson, Dave Patillo, Romaine Brown, Arthur Davey, and Earl Plummer (OK, so it was "Roumaine Brown" and "Arthur Davy," but they meant well). It was reported that they broke all opening night attendance records. After that, it was back to the Martinique Cafe in Wildwood for the summer. September found them at the Twin Bars in Gloucester, New Jersey. I imagine that they started calling themselves the "Original Red Caps" because of a fear that Joe Davis, who claimed to have the rights to the 5 Red Caps name, would get another group to record using it; however, he never did.
Also in April, it was reported that the Red Caps had purchased a "music shop" in Los Angeles. It would, of course, feature all their Mercury recordings. Ho-hum, once again, the press agents had nothing meaningful to do.
In May, Mercury released "Jack You're Dead"/"San Antonio Rose." That same month, the Red Caps were selected "Best Musical Group Of The Year" by the senior class of the City College Of New York (several years before I attended that institution of higher musical appreciation). In June Steve Gibson and "His Original Red Caps" appeared at the Lebanon County Firemen's 25 Annual Convention (held in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania). However, I'm sure the crowd was more interested in the other announced act: The Tumbleweed Caravan.
The next Mercury release was September's "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire," backed with "You Never Miss The Water Till The Well Runs Dry." November saw the release of "Walkin' Through Heaven," coupled with "You're Driving Me Crazy."
For some reason, Savoy released another "Toppers" record in October 1947: "I'm All Alone" (the retitled "Palace Of Stone"), backed with "I'm Living For You." Could the Toppers photo mentioned a few paragraphs back have something to do with this release?
In November 1947, it was reported that the Red Caps had been signed to appear in several musical television programs that were being produced by Jolly Joyce and would originate from Philadelphia. The first show was supposed to be televised on December 1, but I don't know if these ever took place. In late November, they opened at the Club Hi-Top in Chester, Pennsylvania. The photo used for the ad was the one with Gordon McKay from early 1947.
On Mercury, the Red Caps scored with the January 1948 release of "Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine," which reached #21 on the Pop charts. It's flip was "I've Lived A Lifetime For You." What's important here is that it didn't make the R&B charts at all. The Red Caps were now attracting more of a white audience than a black one. About a year later, Mercury pressed up a promo record for the Bourne Music Company (owners of the publishing rights to "I've Lived A Lifetime For You"). One side featured the Red Caps' version of the song and the other had Eddy Howard's. Each side had the same record and master number as its original.
Also in January, the Red Caps began a 4-week stint at Larry Potter's Supper Club in Hollywood. They must have really been appreciated - they were held over for six more weeks. After that, they appeared at the Nomad Club in Atlantic City.
Sometime in late 1947, Jimmy Springs and Emmett Mathews left the Red Caps to start their own group, called the "Toppers". The baritone/guitarist is Napoleon "Snaggs" Allen, who'd been in the Harlem Highlanders and would go on to the Blenders. Also there is long-lost Richard Davis, as well as Austin Johnson (aka Clyde Austin), who had been with the Red Caps for a brief time (he's in an undated photo, see below at July 1952). The sixth member is unknown. They appeared at the Hollywood Restaurant in Pittsburgh in April 1948; the ad says that the group contains Jimmy Springs and Austin Johnson, "formerly with Gibson's Red Caps". The New York Age of May 29, 1948 said "That group....THE TOPPERS are real show stoppers wherever they appear....and why not?" [dots are theirs]. The Age's June 5, 1948 issue said: "Back at the entertainment fore are the 'Toppers' headed by James Springer [sic]; and 'tis said that they will go places with their style, material and finesse. Watch, and then we will know."
The Jolly Joyce Agency kept the Red Caps busy. Unlike most of the R&B acts of the day, they rarely played one-nighters. In the late summer of 1948, the agency reported that the Red Caps were booked solid for most of the next 12 months. Their schedule looked like this:
9/8/48 - Chubby's (North Collingswood, New Jersey) for 4 weeks
10/8/48 - Larry Potter's Supper Club (Hollywood) for 6 weeks
11/19/48 - Last Frontier (Las Vegas) for 4 weeks
12/17/48 - Larry Potter's Supper Club (Hollywood) for 8 weeks
2/16/49 - Beige Room (San Francisco) for 3 weeks
3/21/49 - Chubby's (North Collingswood, New Jersey) for 6 weeks
7/1/49 - Martinique Cafe (Wildwood, New Jersey) for 10 weeks
9/7/49 - Chubby's (North Collingswood, New Jersey) for 6 weeks
Compare this to the bookings that the Orioles and Ravens were getting during the same period: a week here and there at Chittlin' Circuit theaters (like the Apollo, Howard, Royal, Uptown, Regal), as well as grueling one-nighters all over the country. Not to feel left out, thhe Red Caps did a little of that too; for example, they spent the week of May 13, 1949 headlining at the Apollo, along with Little Miss Cornshucks, the Joe Thomas Orchestra, and Dottie & Sonny.
The next Mercury release was in April 1948: "Little White Lies"/"Turnip Greens." The former was led by Earl Plummer, the latter by Romaine Brown. There were two additional records issued on Mercury in June. One was "Scratch! And You'll Find It"/"Danny Boy," and the other was "Money Is Honey"/"Give Me Time." Note that during the Mercury years, Red Caps Trio recordings were still being released on Davis, Beacon, and Celebrity.
In 1948, the group made a film called Excess Baggage, a Rudy Valee production that featured them as red caps (baggage handlers). Filming probably took place in October, when they were at Larry Potter's Supper Club in Hollywood. This color film was made for television and had no commercial distribution. Press releases always had them making other shorts for Valee, as well as shorts for a host of others, and movies every time they played the West Coast. There were also countless reports of television programs starring the group. As far as I can tell, none of those ever materialized.
Also in 1948, as a result of a recession in the record industry, Joe Davis decided to close down his recording companies. As a result, he both sold and leased masters to MGM, which had been pressing up his records for a couple of years. (MGM bought up old masters because, as of January 1, 1948, the American Federation of Musicians had gone out on strike, not allowing their members to record. Since these were pre-strike masters, MGM could issue them with impunity.) MGM thus released three 5 Red Caps records in the last few months of 1948. One of these was "I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget," which Davis specifically requested MGM to issue, in order to compete with the group's re-sung version on Mercury, released in November. (Interestingly, Davis also suggested that "Sugar Lips" be put on the other side, as it had never before been released. This is a rare case of Davis not keeping track of what he'd done in the past, since "Sugar Lips" had been released, on Beacon, in October 1944.)
I don't know why, but the Red Caps didn't play the Martinique, in Wildwood, during the summer of 1948. Louis Armstrong was there in early July and the Ravens were booked for the first three weeks of August. I'm sure they were somewhere, but I can't find any appearances for them at all during that season.
Because old masters were fair game to be released during the musicians' strike, Savoy re-issued the Toppers' 1944 "I'm Living For You" (which had first seen the light of day in October of the prior year) in August 1948. This time, it was on Savoy's Regent subsidiary and had the previously-unreleased "Nat's Boogie Woogie" as the flip. The tunes were credited to "Steve Gibson and the Toppers."
In September, when it was slow in the press agent department, the trades reported that the Red Caps were taking dancing lessons to be ready for television and Broadway appearances.
In November 1948, Mercury released the re-sung "I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget," backed with "You Made Me Love You."
On February 22, 1949, the Red Caps began a 4-week engagement at Eddie Leonard's Spa Club in Baltimore (something must have happened to their projected 3-week stay af the Beige Room, in San Francisco, scheduled for February 16). A blurb from that month said that they were making two more movies for Rudy Valee, but no other titles have ever surfaced. June found them at the Fawn Club in Philadelphia, just prior to their summer stay at the Martinique Cafe in Wildwood, New Jersey (along with Eddie Cole's Three Loose Nuts And A Bolt).
June 1949 saw Mercury release "Blueberry Hill," backed with "I Love You." In August, Savoy issued the Toppers' "I'm Living For You" for the third time (on its Regent subsidiary). The flip was "Nat's Boogie Woogie," now renamed "Steve's Boogie Woogie." Aside from the title change, this was the same pairing as they'd released the year before. It was still credited to "Steve Gibson and the Toppers."
Also in August, Earl Plummer left to do a solo act; in October, he was billed as "former vocalist with the Red Caps". He'd rejoin the group many times over the years. The last Mercury release of 1949 was October's "Petunia," backed with the re-sung "I'm Living For You" (mistitled as "I've Been Living For You"). Was it a coincidence that both Mercury and Regent had released different versions of the same song? I really don't know. "Petunia"'s copyright entry shows that it was written by Roller Landis, Mary Barkley, Steve Gibson, and Jolly Joyce; all names, other than Gibson's were pseudonyms.
Plummer also recorded with the 4 Blues on Apollo in April, 1950, although he was not on any of their earlier Decca or DeLuxe releases. (He probably wasn't on their 1948 and 1949 Apollo releases either. In fact, it's debatable whether he was even ever a member of the 4 Blues. Both acts were booked by Jolly Joyce and, in April 1950, they were both booked into the Quonset Inn in Silver Hill, Maryland [the ad ambiguously has them as separate acts]. It's possible, therefore, that the Blues just decided to include Earl on the session.)
In late November, the "Four Red Caps" appeared, for two weeks, at the Flamingo Club in Las Vegas. From there, it was on to Larry Potter's Supper Club. Considering that the Joyce Agency probably had a full-time press agent working on the Red Caps, the "Four" is interesting. I wouldn't expect it to be a misprint, so it's possible that they were a quartet for a while (their membership was constantly changing anyway).
On December 20, the Red Caps were one of the guest acts on the "Don Otis Show" (on Los Angeles' KLAC at 7:00 PM). The Trenier Twins were there too, as were Peggy Lee, Skitch Henderson, and Art Lund. The program was broadcast from the Boyd H. Gibbons Company Christmas party. (Gibbons was one of the owners of an L.A. Ford dealership and is credited with helping to launch the political career of Richard Nixon.)
By the time New Year's Eve 1949 rolled around, they were in the middle of a 9-week stay at Larry Potter's Supper Club in Hollywood. From there, they went to the Blue Room (in Washington, D.C.), followed by six weeks at Chubby's (owned by former boxer Chubby Stafford). Late April found them at The Click (Philadelphia). Then, it was back to the Blue Room in late May.
There was a Mercury record released in each of the first three months of 1950: "I Wake Up Every Morning (With A Heartache)"/"They Ain't Gonna Tell It Right" in January; "I'll Never Love Anyone Else"/"I Want A Roof Over My Head" in February; and "Are You Lonesome Tonight"/"Sentimental Me" in March.
A review of their appearance at Chubby's (reported April 15, 1950) gives the personnel as Steve Gibson, Romaine Brown, David Patillo, Jimmy Springs, Emmett Mathews, and Andre D'Orsay. D'Orsay, a lead tenor, whose real name seems to have been William Andre D'Orsay and who also went by the names "Billy Andre" and "Billy Young" (he was mentioned by that name in a 1958 blurb). According to later member Jay Price, Andre would be used if neither Jimmy Springs or Earl Plummer was available (although sometimes Steve Gibson used all three!).
The Red Caps appeared in the RKO film Destination Murder (released in June 1950), singing "Let's Go To A Party" and "Palace Of Stone" (as "Steve Gibson's Redcaps"). The group in the film was the sextet of Gibson, Brown, Patillo, Springs, Mathews, and Andre D'Orsay (playing the maracas, but not singing). While Emmett's soprano saxophone isn't usually prominent on the group's recordings, in the movie, you hear a lot of it.
While the Red Caps were only in two films, times had changed and this kind of work was becoming rarer. However they had television exposure in the 50s, on the Jackie Gleason Show, Arthur Godfrey And Friends, and The Toast Of The Town (the Ed Sullivan show).
While they were at their annual 10-week summer engagement at the Martinique, there was another Mercury release (July 1950): "Steve's Blues," coupled with "Dirt Dishin' Daisy."
Unfortunately, none of their Mercury sessions, other than the first, can be precisely dated. Here's a listing of all the songs recorded for Mercury, by session:
Bless You (recorded December 12, 1946)
You Can't See The Sun When You're Crying
Jack! You're Dead
San Antonio Rose
You Never Miss The Water Till The Well Runs Dry (recorded July 1947)
I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire
Walkin' Through Heaven
You're Driving Me Crazy
Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine (recorded October 1947)
I've Lived A Lifetime For You
You Made Me Love You
I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget (recorded November 1947)
Little White Lies
Scratch! And You'll Find It
Money Is Honey (recorded 1948)
Give Me Time
Blueberry Hill (recorded 1949)
I Love You
I've Been Living For You
(this was mistitled; it should have been "I'm Living For You")
They Ain't Gonna Tell It Right (recorded January 1950)
Second Hand Romance
I Wake Up Every Morning (With A Heartache)
Dirt Dishin' Daisy
Let The Rest Of The World Go By
(the only Mercury song that wasn't on a single; it was part of a 1951 Mercury LP;
it's actually "I'm Going To Live My Life Alone")
I Want A Roof Over My Head (recorded 1950)
I'll Never Love Anyone Else
Are You Lonesome Tonight (recorded March 1950)
The Mercury sides are a marked departure from their Joe Davis sides. They're more polished, but more restrained and less spontaneous. This was more in line with the bookings they were getting at prestigious white nightclubs (although it seems that their shows were anything but restrained). Most vocals are done by Steve Gibson, Romaine Brown, and Earl Plummer, although there may have been other leads. Their material is a pleasant variety of ballads and jump tunes. During this period, alto sax man Arthur Davey was in the group for a time, as was drummer Preston "Peppy" Prince (who later headed the Peppy Prince Orchestra on the Million Dollar label).
It was announced in September 1950 that Earl Plummer was joining the Red Caps for one of their engagements at Chubby's, in North Collingswood, New Jersey.
Presumably there had been a one-year extension on their Mercury contract, because it didn't run out until November 11, 1950 (when they were playing the Flamingo in Las Vegas). That same month saw them switch to RCA. This move, to the biggest record company of them all, shows the continuing popularity of the group and its potential (sadly unfulfilled) for selling records. Six of their 13 RCA records were released as by "Steve Gibson and the Original Red Caps" (as they'd occasionally been known since 1946); the rest were by "Steve Gibson and the Red Caps."
Present at the November 10, 1950 RCA session were: Steve Gibson (vocal and guitar), Jimmy Springs (vocal), Dave Patillo (vocal), Ormonde Wilson (vocal), Romaine Brown (piano), Emmett Mathews (saxophone), George "Red" Callender (bass), Willard McDaniel (a pianist who's credited with being a drummer on this session), and Herman "Tiny" Mitchell (guitar); the session was done in Hollywood and presumably Callender, McDaniel, and Mitchell were studio musicians (but with the Red Caps, you can never be sure). The songs recorded were "Am I To Blame" and a cover of Phil Harris' "The Thing." These were released in December. One reviewer called the song an "atrocity" (that's the song itself, not particularly the Red Caps' version.)
Ormonde Wilson, when a high school student in the late 30s, had been part of a popular Hollywood chorus called the Plantation Boys (they appeared with Steve Gibson's Basin Street Boys in Shall We Dance). Later, he was with a group called the Dreamers Quartet (including General White, Leonard Bluett, and Carl Jones, future member of the Delta Rhythm Boys). In 1946, Wilson formed a group called the Mellotones (with Gene Price, Rueben Sanders, and Artie Waters). However, they quickly changed the name to "Basin Street Boys", probably as a homage to Gibson's original group. Wilson's was the group that recorded "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman" for Exclusive in 1947 (as well as more than half a dozen other records). They then switched over to Mercury (two records) and were there at the same time as the Red Caps. After having done one final record for Leda in 1950, the group seems to have broken up (although there's an ad for Charlie Price and the Basin Street Boys in 1954). Note that Wilson was occasionally called Steve Gibson's step brother. That, of course, was something else dreamed up by a press agent (probably somehow playing off the Basin Street Boys name), since Gibson was from Lynchburg, Virginia and Wilson was born in California, growing up in Los Angeles.
In January 1951 they played Larry Potter's Supper Club in Hollywood. Then it was off to the Chi Chi Club in Palm Springs for a month, followed by two weeks at Chubby's and then four weeks at the Blue Mirror Club in Washington, D.C., beginning March 26.
The February 1, 1951 session (done in Hollywood while they were at Larry Potter's; the rest of their RCA sessions were done in New York) had the core group of Gibson, Springs, Patillo, Brown, and Mathews. Ormonde Wilson and Earl Plummer were there too, as was drummer Peppy Prince. On that day they recorded: "Three Dollars And Ninety-Eight Cents," "D'Ya Eat Yet, Joe," and "Shame." The first two of those songs were issued in March.
Shortly after this, Damita Jo enters the picture. The diminutive (4'11") Damita Jo DeBlanc (usually misspelled as "DuBlanc" or "LeBlanc") was born in Austin, Texas in 1930. Probably in 1940 (when she and her mother were enumerated twice in the census, both at their home and living with her mother's family), her parents split up and her father (a Creole chef) moved to California. Damita Jo followed him there, attending junior high school in San Bernardino (she was already there in early 1943). and high school in Santa Barbara. When her father enlisted in the U.S. Navy in April 1944, he said he was divorced. In 1950, she married Thomas H. Smith, whom she would divorce in 1952.
By the time Steve Gibson saw Damita Jo at the Oasis Club in Los Angeles, she'd already had two records on Discovery in 1950, followed by two more on Recorded In Hollywood. She first appeared at Eddie's Oasis (3801 South Western) in March of 1950; having made a big hit the first time around, she returned there, along with the newly-formed Count Basie Sextet, in August. As her tryout with the Red Caps, she appeared with them for their two weeks at Chubby's in March 1951.
[A Jet article from November 27, 1952 claimed that Gloria Smith Kenny, estranged wife of former Ink Spot Herb Kenny, was Damita Jo's sister; however Damita Jo was an only child. (There was an older brother, but he had died sometime before the 1940 census.) It turns out that Gloria was a traveling companion for Damita Jo. When Gloria died, on May 16, 1957, they were still traveling together.]
Damita Jo became the Red Caps' featured singer for several years. She and Gibson (who towered over her at 6'4") were married in Miami, probably in November 1953 (it was mentioned in a November 28 article that they were newly-weds). Although she appeared with the Red Caps all over the country, she also both appeared and recorded as a soloist.
On the Red Caps' April 16, 1951 session, Springs, Patillo and Wilson were gone. "Sidewalk Shuffle" and "I'm To Blame" have Damita Jo, Earl Plummer, Romaine Brown, Emmett Mathews, Steve Gibson, and the mysterious "A. Hawkins" (could it be Andre D'Orsay, misspelled?) doing vocals. RCA issued the tunes in May.
The week of May 15, 1951, the Red Caps ("America's most versatile group") appeared at the Lyric Club in Hanover, Pennsylvania. The ad proudly trumpeted their new singer: "Vamito Jo."
There was a June 18, 1951 session, at which the group (Damita Jo, David Patillo, Steve Gibson, Romaine Brown, and Emmett Mathews) recorded "Would I Mind," "Boogie Woogie On A Saturday Night" (a much less frenetic version of a song that the 5 Red Caps had originally done back in 1945), and "When You Come Back To Me." After this, there was their annual summer-long appearance at the Martinique Cafe in Wildwood, New Jersey. "Would I Mind" and "When You Come Back To Me" were paired for a July release. In September, RCA released "Boogie Woogie On A Saturday Night," coupled with "Shame."
In the summer of 1951, Steve Gibson made headlines when he rode a bicycle from Fitchburg, Massachusetts to Los Angeles in 45 days. However, this was a country singer by that name who financed his trip by entertaining in cities along the way.
There were rumors, in the fall of 1951, that the Red Caps were planning to leave Jolly Joyce as their contract with him was nearly up (although Gibson had signed appearance contracts, negotiated by Joyce, for most of 1952). However, the rumors turned out to be false, since Joyce was still handling them as late as November 1960.
On December 21, they began a 2-week stint at the Black Magic Room of Copa City in Miami Beach (with Billy Daniels). They went over so well that their engagement was expanded to 16 weeks. In spite of the Red Caps having been gone for a year, Mercury issued an LP in December 1951 (Harmony Time With Steve Gibson And The Red Caps) and another in January 1952 (Singing And Swinging With Steve Gibson And The Red Caps).
The Red Caps appeared on Ed Sullivan's Toast Of The Town TV show twice within a month. The first time was on March 30, 1952, when they shared the stage with Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Tony Bennett, and Señor Wences (whom I would probably have liked a lot more than the Red Caps back then). On this show, they sang a single song, along with someone named Dominic Jones. (I can find out neither the song title nor who Jones was. He was obviously good enough to be on Ed Sullivan, but never seems to have done anything else. I doubt he was a member of the group.) The other appearance was on April 27, with opera singer Jan Peerce and, once again, Jackie Gleason. I'm sure there were also bears on unicycles juggling flaming chainsaws, but those weren't listed. As far as I can tell, the Red Caps never again appeared with Sullivan. A clip from the second of these shows has Gibson leading an incredibly frenetic version of "Cow Cow Boogie" (with Jimmy Springs and Emmett Mathews dancing the twist, years before Hank Ballard "invented" it). Romaine Brown (leaping at the piano) and David Patillo are there too. The sixth member is a drummer who isn't Henry Tucker Green (who had joined the group by April of that year). This is the only existing visual record I know of (other than their fairly staid appearance in Destination Murder) and it shows a glimpse of what their night club act must have been like. The song itself is irrelevant (and isn't even particularly well done), but you can't take your eyes off their antics. Without the constraints of the movies or television, they must really have been a dynamite act.
At the April 1, 1952 session ("I May Hate Myself In The Morning" and "Two Little Kisses"), only Damita Jo, David Patillo, and Steve Gibson are familiar names; Bill Doggett and a studio group full of famous musicians (including Abie Baker, Jimmy Cannady, Buddy Tate, Budd Johnson, Taft Jordan, and Tyree Glenn) did backup. Possibly not on any recordings, but part of the live group at this time was drummer Henry Tucker Green, who had been with the Treniers in the late 40s, and was in and out of them, the Red Caps, and, later, the Romaines. The two songs were issued later that month.
After that, Damita Jo recorded a duet with Big John Greer ("Lonesome And Blue"), released on RCA in May 1952. She'd have many releases on RCA, under her own name, from November 1952 through late 1955. She'd also appear as a soloist on many occasions (such as September 1952's engagement at La Vie En Rose in New York).
In May, it was reported that Steve Gibson and Eartha Kitt were having an affair. Eartha was A Big Deal at this time and the gossip columns were full of reports of all the men she was seeing. Most of them were just plain silly.
Two months later, at a June 2, 1952 session, the old gang is back again: "Wait," "Big Game Hunter," "I Went To Your Wedding," and "Sleepy Little Cowboy" feature vocals by Gibson, Damita Jo, Mathews, Brown, and Patillo. At a session at the end of the month (June 27), Jimmy Springs has also returned. He, Patillo, Gibson, Brown, Mathews, and Damita Jo recorded "Do I, Do I, I Do"; "Why Don't You Love Me"; "Truthfully"; and "A'Fussin' And A'Fightin."
Then it was back to the Martinique for the summer 1952 season. During this time (in August), their contract with Jolly Joyce expired and they switched to MCA to handle their bookings. Joyce had $175,000 in advance contracts for the Red Caps, taking them through April 1953 (although, with options, it could extend well into 1954); he'd be collecting agent fees for some time to come. In 1952, Steve Gibson claimed that the group received $3500 per week for appearances ($3000 for a television spot).
"I Went To Your Wedding," featuring Damita Jo, was released in July 1952 (backed with "Wait") and was a sizeable hit for the Red Caps (one of only two in the 50s), reaching #20 on the Pop charts (until Patti Page's version trumped them by rising to #1). The song was written by Jessie Mae Robinson, who wrote a few other tunes you might have heard: "Black Night" (Charles Brown), "Blue Light Boogie" (Louis Jordan), "Double Crossing Blues" (Little Esther & Robins), "Ice" (Penguins), "Keep It A Secret" (Jo Stafford), "Once There Lived A Fool" (Savannah Churchill & Striders), "Old Maid Boogie" (Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson), "Rooming House Boogie" (Amos Milburn), "Seven Long Days" (Dinah Shore), and "Sneakin' Around" (B.B. King).
An item in the trades in July 1952 talked about Clyde Austin, "formerly of the Red Caps and Toppers." This gives more weight to that 1947 group with Austin, Jimmy Springs, Emmett Mathews, Richard Davis, and Napoleon Allen actually being called the "Toppers". He was appearing as a single in a Coney Island club. Another act on the bill was Billy Bowen's Butterball Four, which Austin ended up joining that same month. Actually, "Clyde Austin" had been with the Red Caps, under his real name of Austin Johnson, at an unknown date (but he took at least one photo with them).
A trade paper blurb in August has drummer Jerry Potter joining the Red Caps. Potter had been with the Tiny Grimes Quintet in 1948 and Bull Moose Jackson in 1950. However, nothing more was ever heard from him in relation to the Red Caps, nor does he turn up in any photos. He'd go on to a long association with Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson.
In October 1952, RCA released "Truthfully" (which the Red Caps Trio had recorded behind Bon Bon many years previously), backed with "Why Don't You Love Me." In November, the Red Caps settled into New York's La Vie En Rose.
In December 1952, saxophonist Arthur Davey returned (after a stint with Plink, Plank, and Plunk). He was just in time to join the Red Caps at Ciro's in Miami Beach. On the same bill were Joni James and Jack Carter. The Miami News reported that their stage version of "Cry" "put Johnnie Ray to shame." (According to Jay Price [coming up in a minute], Johnnie Ray actually joined them onstage in Las Vegas to do the song.) Then, they switched over to Miami Beach's Copa City (which just happened to be owned by their manager, Murray Weinger) for another 16-week gig.
Earl Plummer, who'd been in and out for years, left the Red Caps in October 1952, to go out as a single (he opened at Spider Kelly's, in Philadelphia, in December). That didn't last too long, because by April 1953, he'd formed the Earl Pummer Quartet, also playing Spider Kelly's (and, as we'll soon see, that didn't last long either). That same month found the Red Caps appearing at the Rendezvous in Philadelphia. After that, they played Sciolla's Cafe, also in Philly.
A new addition in late 1952 was white baritone, comedian, and dancer James "Jay" Price, who says, "I had been working around Philly for a few years: the 2-4 Club, the Celebrity Room, and any other saloon that would hire me. A friend of mine that owned a record store and also acted as my manager, named Nick Pertrillo, said 'Why don't you go and see Steve Gibson. He's always looking for something new.' I sang, did comedy, and impressions. I went to Lee Guber's joint on Walnut Street in Philadelphia and auditioned. That was on a Saturday night in October 1952. That Monday, I opened with the group at Harry Altman's Town Casino in Buffalo, New York and stayed with the group until 1958." Interestingly, Jay says, "In the early years, Steve may have had a black following, but when I joined the group in 52, I can only think of one black club that we worked with the group, and that was the Flame Show Bar in Detroit around 56 or 57. The rest of the time we worked Vegas, Miami, New Jersey." (Jay's cousin, Sal Reyes, was the bus driver for the Red Caps, and ended up marrying Joan Proctor, a later female lead of the group.)
In January 1953, RCA released "Big Game Hunter," backed with "Do I, Do I, I Do." March found the Red Caps, along with the Treniers and Nat "King" Cole, at Ciro's in Miami.
In the Spring of 1953, Romaine Brown, tired of the constraints placed on his arranging ambitions, formed his own group, the Romaines (they were originally to be named, according to Jet, the "Musical Sky Caps"). They initially included Romaine Brown (bass voice and piano), Bobby Bushnell (a baritone and bassist who had been with the Ben Smith Quartet), Roy Hayes (tenor and guitar), and Henry Tucker Green (drums). By June, Earl Plummer had joined as lead tenor. Booked by the Jolly Joyce Agency, they spent the summer at the Riptide in Wildwood, New Jersey, along with the Treniers. (There was no competition from the Red Caps; their summer-long Martinique gig went to the Four Tunes in 1953.)
In January 1954, when the Romaines were playing the Beachcomber Club in Miami, booking agent Jolly Joyce wrote to the Miami Daily News to point out that Romaine Brown, Earl Plummer, and Henry Tucker Green had all been members of the Red Caps. (This shows how well-known and regarded the Red Caps were.) The other members were Roy Hayes (guitar) and Jimmy Johnson (bass, who seems to have replaced Bobby Bushnell by then).
The Romaines' first session was for RCA's Groove subsidiary, in June of 1954, although only a single record was released. (Interestingly, RCA released no records by the Red Caps that year.) Two years later, they got a contract with Decca, with the help of Harry Mills of the Mills Brothers.
Known appearances were at the Cafe Society (New York; December 1953), the Beachcomber Club (Miami; January 1954), the Lyric Band Club Room (Hanover, Pennsylvania; June 1954), Chez Paree (Montreal; October 1954), Columbus Center (Chester, Pennsylvania; November 1954), the White Elephant (Pittsburgh; June 1955), the Rainbow Room (Pittsburgh; November 1955), the Starlight Lounge of the Hotel Riviera (Las Vegas; January 1956), Pep's (Pittsburgh; March 1956), the Rainbow Room again (April 1956; followed the next week by the Red Caps), and the Club Harlem (Atlantic City; summer 1956). While I don't know what their act was like visually (compared to the Red Caps), both groups were playing the same types of venues.
By the time the group broke up in 1959, only Romaine Brown and Roy Hayes remained. Earl Plummer (appearing with Earl Plummer and the Earls by July 1955) had been replaced by Jimmy Thomas, Jimmy Johnson (who'd gone off to the Red Caps) by Johnny Eaton, Henry Tucker Green by Frank Shea, and Earl Edwards had been added as baritone (and tenor sax). The output of the Romaines was:
0035 Your Kind Of Love/Till The Wee Wee Morning - 8/54
Weight Broke The Wagon Down
Long Time Dead
30054 Soft Summer Breeze/Autumn Leaves - 9/56
30122 Ooba Dabba Dabba Da/Hold 'Em Joe - 10/56
30399 When Your Lover Has Gone/Satin Doll - 7/57
It was reported, in May 1953, that Steve Gibson had written "Struttin' With My Baby," which the group, with Damita Jo in the lead, was about to record for RCA; no such tune was ever waxed. June 1953 found Damita Jo and the Red Caps at the Hotel El Rancho Vegas in Las Vegas. They would return there for most of the month of December.
However, by 1953, a definite trend was visible in R&B and the Red Caps were not following it: the golden age of vocal groups was under way. Still plugging away in the same old style of the 40s, the Red Caps soon found themselves with a dwindling record-buying audience (not that it was ever that large to begin with). Never having achieved the same popularity among white record purchasers as the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots, the group had seemingly also lost its black audience back in the 40s. Sadly, RCA didn't quite know where the Red Caps belonged. Consequently, through poor material and poor management, the group never succeeded in earning a stable place on the recording scene. However, in person, it was a different story: they were a show band, and, even though you'd be hard-pressed to see the same cast of characters from one gig to the next, they were one of the best at their trade. The Red Caps would remain a hot live act, mostly at white clubs, for many years to come.
My own opinion is that the Red Caps made a big mistake abandoning Jolly Joyce for MCA. While MCA was a huge company, they certainly didn't spend a lot of time or money promoting the Red Caps in the trade publications. Jolly Joyce had taken out ads for the Red Caps at least every two weeks to let readers know where they were appearing. There was none of that with MCA. Without Jolly Joyce to book them, the Red Caps didn't play the Martinique during the 1953 summer season; the honor went to the Four Tunes, who just happened to be booked by Jolly Joyce. Since the Red Caps were back there the following year, it's reasonable to conclude that the 4 Tunes just didn't put on the frenetic show that the Martinique audience expected.
In July 1953, the Red Caps, along with Damita Jo appeared at the Sky Harbor Casino in South Lake Tahoe. Also on the bill was pianist/thrush Hadda Brooks.
Remember Andre D'Orsay from the 1950 session? He pops up again in a January 1952 ad for Detroit's Flame Show Bar (as "dramatic tenor, formerly with Steve Gibson's 5 Red Caps") and again in a November 1953 Jolly Joyce ad (although misspelled as "Andrea D'Orsay") which touted him as a single, appearing at Fogarty's Nightclub in Lucerne, Pennsylvania. He was still with Jolly Joyce in 1957, when an ad billed him as "The voice with a heart." D'Orsay had at least two record releases: "Little Fool"/"There's Gotta Be A Reason" (Spotlite 801 - 1953) and "Without You"/"Doomed" (Zoom 102 - 1956). He also called himself "Billy Andre" and "Billy Young," but I'm not sure if any of the Billy Young recordings from the 60s are by him.
A November 1953 article talked about the sudden death of drummer Ellis Bartee, 34, who had been with Lionel Hampton and "most recently with Steve Gibson's Red Caps." This is another musician I've never seen associated with the group anywhere else.
On February 17, 1954, the Red Caps were a part of the "Show Of Shows" at the Miami Beach Auditorium. This was a benefit performance for the Variety Children's Hospital. They shared the stage with Georgie Jessel, Carmen Cavallaro, Harry Richman, Frances Faye, and the Treniers. A few days later, on February 21, the Red Caps were part of the Miami Beach Police And Firemen's Benevolent Association's fifth annual all-star show, along with Nat King Cole, Christine Jorgenson, Dick Shawn, Larry Storch, Sophie Tucker, Joe E. Lewis, the Ritz Brothers, and the Treniers.
The Red Caps continued on in Miami, appearing at Ciro's Cub Room. There was an article that gave the members as: Steve Gibson, Jay Price, Ginger Smock, Damita Jo, Emmett Mathews ("Emmett The Snake"), Dave Patillo, Andre D'Orsay (recently returned), and Jimmy Springs. Emma "Ginger" Smock ("The Lovely Lady With The Violin," although Steve Gibson called her "Miss Sweet Strings") had been recently added to the Red Caps roster, along with her electric violin. She seems to have only been with them for a few months (she was reported to have left in July because "she couldn't get together with Steve Gibson on her length of tenure with the organization"). However, she was then reported to be preparing to re-join them at the El Rancho Vegas in September 1954. Also, since there was a small blurb in the January 20, 1955 issue of Jet that mentioned Ginger Smock with the Red Caps, I guess that she was another one who returned from time to time. (Ginger was one of the few musicians Gibson hired who wasn't also a singer.)
In May 1954, Mercury re-issued "Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine" (to compete with the 4 Aces hit version), this time pairing it with the previously-unreleased "Second Hand Romance." Note that RCA didn't release any Red Caps records in all of 1954 (actually, other than the one in January 1953, there were none in that year either).
Tom Collier, a pianist, organist, and arranger, was listed as their organist when they played the Martinique in the summer of 1954. He seemingly joined around February and subsequently became their road manager. He was with them at least through December, but by May 1955, he was referred to as their ex-road manager and working for a Washington beer company.
The group was supposed to appear at Chicago's Chez Paree in mid June, but failed to show up since they were held over at the Rancho Vegas. The Chez Paree filed a breach of contract suit and also a complaint with the Americal Federation Of Musicians. As is usual in cases like this, the outcome is never revealed.
In September 1954, it was reported that Leon René, who had owned the Exclusive label, had been hired as the Red Caps' musical director; Gibson, Springs, and Patillo had known him since the days of the Jones Boys Sing Band. The following month, Gibson retained DJ Stan Pat (WTTM, Trenton), manager of Gloria Lynne, to handle their publicity and promotion (MCA sure wasn't doing it). This was a necessary step: at this point, there weren't many mentions of them in the trade papers. However, they held on to their live-performance popularity: they'd been booked into the Hotel El Rancho Vegas for four weeks, beginning September 8, 1954; they ended up staying for eleven (although I bet more people came to see famous stripper Lili St. Cyr than to see the Red Caps).
It took over two years for the Red Caps to get back into the RCA studios. Their next session was on December 17, 1954, when they recorded "Feelin' Kinda Happy," "My Tzatskele (My Little Darling)," "Nuff Of That Stuff," and "Win Or Lose." The session sheet only lists Steve Gibson and Damita Jo, but by this time RCA had generally stopped listing vocalists, so anyone could be present. However, the studio orchestra on this session consisted of Connie Kay, Mickey Baker, Jonah Jones, Taft Jordan, Kai Winding, and Budd Johnson.
Also in January, Vivian Cervantes, who had been with Phil Moore, temporarily replaced Damita Jo as the group's femme vocalist; Damita Jo was pregnant and due to deliver soon. Jay Price remembers two other performers being with the group for a while during the fifties: singer Amanda Thigpen and drummer/pianist Gerald "Sonny" Brown. A March 1955 blurb mentioned a pianist named Mark Young.
In January 1955, RCA released "My Tzatskele (My Little Darling)" backed with "Win Or Lose." (However, "My Tzatskele" doesn't really translate from the Yiddish as "my little darling"; it's more like "my cute little girl." And that translation, I'm assured by my Yiddish expert, only pertains to a little girl. If it's an adult, as in the song, it turns somewhat darker: a woman who's spoiled or overly needy. Yes, I know; I read too much into these things and need to get out more.) A January blurb said that Gibson, appearing in Miami, was looking for a replacement for Jimmy Springs ("they say he goofed something like four days in a row"). Make of that what you will.
In April, RCA released "Feelin' Kinda Happy"/"Nuff Of That Stuff." However, their RCA releases stubbornly refused to chart.
In late April 1955, Steve Gibson was arrested after being found in a Baltimore hotel room with a married white woman (they were both charged with adultery). This, for a change, but sadly, wasn't a press agent's invention and even made the lead headline on the front page of the May 7 Pittsburgh Courier. The group was appearing at Sciolla's Cafe in Baltimore at the time. Presumably because of this, Gibson missed an April 27 appearance on the Arthur Godfrey And His Friends TV show, although the rest of the group was present. In spite of this, a blurb in June, when Damita Jo returned to the Red Caps, claimed that she wasn't going to divorce him. (The woman in question, Doris Bowen, got a divorce and ended up marrying Jimmy Johnson, a bass player for the Red Caps.)
A June 30, 1955 article in Jet magazine said that Gibson had recently increased the Red Caps to 12 members. This gives some indication of how successful the group was, even if their recording career was going nowhere: you can't support that many people if you're not getting big-time work. (However, if you've gained nothing else from this article, you should realize that the "Red Caps" was more of a concept than a consistent bunch of performers; their personnel was constantly shifting.) According to Jay Price, most of the instrumentalists with the Red Caps were also singers, who occasionally would lead a featured song. Also, on June 25, the Red Caps appeared on America's Greatest Bands, a CBS-TV show. They were back on that show on September 17, this time with Les Elgart, Russ Morgan, and Tito Rodriguez.
In August 1955, old friend Andre D'Orsay ("the voice with a heart") was appearing at the 3 Rivers Inn in Syracuse, New York, along with Johnnie Ray and Guy Marks. As you'll soon see, it's amazing that they didn't include "formerly with Steve Gibson and the Red Caps" in the ad.
By the time of their last RCA session, on September 23, 1955, Henry Tucker Green had left the Romaines and returned to the Red Caps. (According to Jay Price, there was also an occasional drummer named Jerry Rosen.) On that day, they recorded "How I Cry" and "Bobbin," as well as the Damita Jo solos "Freehearted" and "Always." Others present were Ormonde Wilson, David Patillo, Emmett Mathews, Steve Gibson, and Jay Price (in five years with the group, this is the only time he recorded with them). A second sax man, Gene Redd, Sr. had been added (he was also an occasional vocalist). Carrying on this double-threat mode, a second drummer, Bobby Gregg, who was white, was added to augment Henry Tucker Green, and a second bassist, Jimmy Johnson (a veteran of Chris Powell & the Blue Flames, as well as the Treniers and the Romaines) was there, in addition to Dave Patillo. Two other sax men, who were in and out of the group during this period, were also present: Frank Heppinstall and Walkin' Willie Smith. That means that there were at least 12 members on that session. (Jay Price says that Henry Tucker Green and Bobby Gregg would have 15 minute drum "battles" that some patrons loved and others found really annoying.) The group's last RCA record was November's "How I Cry"/"Bobbin'." Their contract was up that month and RCA didn't renew it.
Another press agent triumph, from October 1955: Jay Price was supposedly chosen "favorite crooner" by the WAC detachment at Fort Dix, in New Jersey. That month, the group lost an engagement at La Vie en Rose, when it was padlocked by the IRS for failure to pay taxes. Fortunately, they were able to slide into Sciolla's, in Philadelphia.
Sometime in the fall, they played Copa City in Miami Beach. Sammy Davis, Jr. was around and decided to join them on stage. With them was Jeruth "Jeri" Gray, a dancer and husky-voiced singer, ex-wife of saxophonist Wardell Gray. Once part of an act billed as "Jerri Gray, the Satan Doll, and Her Five Devils," she'd recently returned from Paris, where she'd been a night club hostess. (As Jeruth Persson, she'd go on to play the annoying old lady, "Ms Geri" on the TV show Martin.) The Red Caps were back at the Hotel El Rancho Vegas for the month of November 1955. January 1956 found them at Lenny Litman's Copa, in Pittsburgh. The blurb said there were nine of them, including Damita Jo and Steve Gibson, but no other names were given.
Within six months, the group had hooked up with ABC Paramount. On April 3, 1956, they recorded "Love Me Tenderly" (led by Damita Jo with barely a group behind her) and "Rock And Roll Stomp" (led by Dave Patillo). "Stomp" is embarrassing; it's possibly something that their supper club audiences would accept as Rock and Roll, but no self-respecting teenager would. Those two songs were released in May, just as the group was appearing at the Melody Room in Hollywood.
When the group settled into the Martinique in Wildwood for the 1956 summer season, there were at least nine of them: Steve Gibson, Damita Jo, David Patillo, Emmett Mathews, Bobby Gregg, Jay Price, Earl Plummer, and baritone and bassist Kenny Mitchell. (Jay thinks that the ninth member at the time was Andre D'Orsay.) If you look closely at the accompanying photo with Emmett at the microphone, you'll see that there are Red Caps behind him, Earl, and Steve.
A blurb in the trades in June claimed that the Red Caps, along with Damita Jo, were booked solid well into 1957. September 7, 1956 saw them wax "Write To Me" (led by Damita Jo) and "The Gaucho Serenade" (a frenetic offering, in which everyone got a turn at lead). These became a November release on ABC.
In January 1957, their manager, Murray Weinger, died suddenly from a heart attack; he was only 39. However bad that news may seem, things started looking up when they abandoned MCA and returned to Jolly Joyce as both their booking agency and manager.
On January 22, 1957, they did "Story Tellin' Baby" (led by Damita Jo) and the old standby, "Flamingo" (led by Steve Gibson). Then, on February 6, there were "You May Not Love Me" (led by Damita Jo), "Time Out For Tears" (Damita Jo again), and "You've Got Me Dizzy" (with Steve Gibson out in front). "You May Not Love Me" and "You've Got Me Dizzy" were issued in March.
In February 1957 all the Red Caps (nine musicians plus Damita Jo) appeared at the El Morocco in Montreal.
In March, it was reported that Jolly Joyce had done so well booking Bill Haley and the Comets into European venues that he was setting up tours for other acts that he handled (including Alan Freed and the Red Caps). The Red Caps were scheduled for three weeks in Paris in September, followed by another three weeks in London. Alas, neither Freed nor the Red Caps ever made it to Europe.
On April 11, they recorded four more numbers for ABC: "Disillusioned Lovers," How Will I Know," "I'll Never Cry," and "My Heart Is Home (Crying For You)." These resulted in two records, although only Damita Jo was credited on them. That same month found them at the Preview, in Chicago. On May 25, 1957, the Red Caps appeared on the Jackie Gleason Show on CBS-TV.
Sometime in 1957, the Red Caps added two female singers, but this time with a twist. One of them was Lillian Randolph, who had played "Madam Queen" on Amos N Andy, "Birdie," the maid, on The Great Gildersleeve, and Beulah. (She was the younger sister of actress Amanda Randolph.) According to Jay Price, Lillian sang somewhat risqué Sophie Tucker-type songs. The other singer was 15-year-old Barbara Ann Sanders, who had been in the movie Bright Road with Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. The twist is that Barbara was Lillian's adopted daughter. While they only remained with the Red Caps for a couple of months, Barbara went on to greater fame as "Barbara Randolph." In 1964, she replaced Zola Taylor in the Platters (and led "Hard Hearted Hannah," the last song the Platters ever recorded for Mercury). After that, she became a Motown soloist, although she would periodically return to the Red Caps.
Note that it's common to read that Steve Gibson and Lillian Randolph were siblings and that Steve is Barbara's uncle. However, Steve and Lillian weren't related at all. Jay Price says that they always joked around and referred to each other as "brother" and "sister." (And, affectionately, Barbara would call Steve "uncle.") Presumably this all started with a little blurb in Major Robinson's gossip column in Jet magazine (December 31, 1953) that said Lillian Randolph received a gift of a Jaguar automobile from her brother, Steve Gibson. The most important thing to remember here is that Major Robinson would print anything that was given to him (or even hinted at) without any verification whatsoever. (Steve Augustus Gibson's death record shows that he was born October 12, 1914. In 1910, Lillian's mother was around 50, far too old to have given birth to Steve in 1914.) In late 1940, both the 4 Toppers and Lillian Randolph appeared at the Jade Cabaret in Hollywood; it's possible that's where they met. Actually, Steve did have a sister: Maude Gibson. According to Jay, Maude, who was unmarried, traveled around with the Red Caps. While I was researching this, I found Steve's 1940 census record: he's 25, living in Los Angeles, and is a "singer, musician, stage, screen, studio".
That summer, Jolly Joyce booked them back into the Martinique Cafe. Since Dick Clark held Bandstand Record Hops five nights a week at Hunt's Starlight Ballroom in Wildwood, it's reasonable to expect that they made at least one appearance with him. In fact, according to Jay Price, the Red Caps, along with Bill Haley & the Comets and Dave Appell & the Applejacks were chosen for the filming of the color pilot of American Bandstand (with the Red Caps wearing their red suits). Earl Plummer was back with the group for this engagement, although this is the last time I can find his name associated with the Red Caps.Another short-time member of the group during that summer was Gloria Smythe. She'd go on to be a West Coast jazz singer, having releases on World Pacific (as both "Gloria Smythe" and "Gloria Smyth") in 1959 and 1960.
Then it was on to gigs at Sciolla's (Philadelphia), the Copa Club (Pittsburgh), and the Rainbow Club (York, Pennsylvania). The Joyce agency took out a nice ad advertising all those engagements, but spelled her name "Damito Joe."
There was no further recording until September 13, 1957, when they did a cover of the Rays' "Silhouettes." The lead on this song was Nate Nelson (current lead of the Decca Flamingos), whom Steve Gibson brought in specifically for the session. This was done, according to Jay Price, to have a "teenage sound," which no one else in the group at the time was capable of. (The Flamingos had been appearing with the Red Caps at the Martinique that summer, so Gibson had a chance to assess Nate Nelson's voice.) Nelson never appeared with them and newly-added high tenor George Tindley (former lead of the Dreams on Savoy) sang the tune at appearances. The song was issued that same month, with (fittingly) "Flamingo" as the flip. "Silhouettes," although a national Pop chart hit (#63), would be the last song recorded for ABC.
Also in September, the Red Caps, with Damita Jo, appeared at Pittsburgh's Copa for a week. They did three shows nightly, four on Saturday and Sunday.
Vance Wilson (who had been with Chris Powell's Blue Flames - he's the sax "lead voice" heard on the Johnny Echo records) was playing with an 18-piece band when the Red Caps rolled into Philadelphia to play at the Uptown Theater. It turned out that they needed a saxophone player at the time (to replace Frank Heppinstall) and someone suggested Vance. After giving his two-week notice to the band, Vance joined the Red Caps, who were: Steve Gibson, Emmett Mathews, Dave Patillo, Jimmy Springs, Bobby Gregg, and newly-added George Tindley.
On December 20, 1957, the Red Caps began a 10-week engagement at the Casanova Room of the new Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach. It was their sixth winter season in Miami.
In January 1958, the Red Caps were part of the United Cerebral Palsy telethon at the Miami Beach Municipal Auditorium. They appeared along with Sammy Kaye, Lord Flea, Tito Puente, the Bell Boys, the Treniers, Connie Boswell, Georgia Gibbs, Don Rickels, Rip Taylor, Jerry Lester, and Dick Shawn.
In April 1958, the Red Caps appeared at the Northern Lounge at Northern Lights Shoppers City, in Baden, Pennsylvania. In June, they were at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City.
When Jay Price left the Red Caps in the spring of 1958 (after a gig at Andy's Log Cabin in Gloucester City, New Jersey), the vocalists were Steve Gibson, Damita Jo, Dave Patillo, George Tindley, and Emmett Mathews. The musicians included drummers Bobby Gregg and Henry Tucker Green; the sax men were Frank Heppinstall (who would have his own band by October 1959), Vance Wilson, and Gene Redd. There was also baritone and bassist Kenny Mitchell, who would soon leave to form the Kenny Mitchell Duo ("formerly with Steve Gibson's Red Caps" read his December ads; by the following April, it would be "The Ramblers, featuring Kenny Mitchell"). While Tindley had been brought on board to replace Jimmy Springs, Springs would soon return as an addition to the group.
Jay Price says that Steve Gibson "was a good boss." However, he didn't pay his performers a lot of money (except for the core: Patillo, Springs, Mathews, and Brown) and the only names that people were supposed to know were "Steve Gibson," "Damita Jo," and the "Red Caps." This might account for the huge turnover in the group over the years. Sometimes, however, club owners slipped up and, in an ad for the Crescendo, Jay's name was set in type as large as that of the Red Caps. Gibson was not amused. Jay went on to say that Steve was "a likeable, nice guy; everybody knew him." And, he was "one of the smartest guys I've ever seen. He wasn't that great a guitarist or singer, but he knew how to surround himself with people who were terrific." Speaking of the turnover, Jay said that "A lot wouldn't stay because of the money." While he was young and having a good time, the older performers were "there for the money." And the money was hard-earned: while they didn't do the one-nighters that most groups had to endure, they would play seven days a week, possibly six shows a night (alternating between a venue's large room and smaller room), for weeks (if not months) on end (and, in some places, matinee shows on the weekends). "I used to beg for time off," said Jay. By late June 1968, the Frank Brent Quartet, featuring Jay Price, "former main attraction with Steve Gibson's Red Caps," was playing at the Cove in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.
But all wasn't happiness: Damita Jo filed for divorce from Steve Gibson in March 1958 (it wouldn't become final until April 1961). However, she remained with the group until sometime in 1959, since there were contractual obligations for appearances.
Presumably their ABC-Paramount contract was up in April 1958 and not renewed, because later that year, the Red Caps hooked up with Al Browne's Rose Records. They recorded four tunes for Rose on August 29: "Itty-Bitty" (led by George Tindley), a pretty version of the venerable Savannah Churchill tune "I Want To Be Loved" (led by the mysterious June Henry, who wasn't a member of the group and to whom I can't find a single other reference), "It's Love" (led by George Tindley and featuring a harmonica), and "Forever 'N' A Day" (George again). These were all released on Rose's Hi Lo subsidiary that year.
They spent what was touted as their "twelfth consecutive summer season" at the Martinique. I guess someone forgot that they hadn't been there in either 1948 or 1953, nor can I find any listing of their summer bookings for 1955. It was, however, to be their last year at that venue: their stay was cut short by a fire, on July 31, that did an estimated $80,000 worth of damage, and destroyed $7,000 of musicians' instruments (possibly some belonging to the Red Caps).
The Red Caps were slated to appear at the Flamingo Room, Hazleton, Pennsylvania on June 5. Also appearing with them, was their singer, "Damiti Joe." Fame is so fickle! Later that month, Hazleton was home to the Kel Trio, featuring Earl Plummer, "former vocalist with Steve Gibson's Red Caps." When I started this article, decades ago, I never guessed how well-known and influential the Red Caps were.
The Red Caps played Lenny Littman's Copa (Pittsburgh) on September 5 and 6. The accompanying blurb said "Gibson will feature his new vocalist, Gloria Smith, who replaces Damita Jo in the act." This is not the Gloria Smith who was Damita Jo's former traveling companion (who had died in May 1957), but a singer named Gloria Smythe (misspelled in the blurb). Another blurb, dreamed up by a press agent with far too much time on his hands, appeared in November 1958: "Steve Gibson and the Red Caps have applied for permission to visit Moscow because they want to introduce a new song they are writing called 'The Russian Rock 'n' Roll'." More mundanely, the Red Caps went into Ciro's (Miami Beach) in December 1958; in January, it was announced that they were held over.
Next, they recorded "Bless You" and "I Miss You So" (both led by Steve Gibson) on January 29, 1959. These were released on Rose in February. Although ABC-Paramount hadn't renewed the group's contract, they began a practice of purchasing Red Caps masters from Rose. "Bless You" and "Cheryl Lee" (another song from the January 29 session, probably led by George Tindley) were released on ABC's Hunt subsidiary in March, just a month after "Bless You" had appeared on Rose.
In a March 28, 1959 article in the Baltimore Afro-American, someone named William Spann Joseph is named as having been the pianist with the Red Caps. He'd just written the score for the movie "Thanks For Girls," starring Lorie Vickers and Kim Argus. However, I couldn't find a single mention of the movie title, Joseph, Vickers, or Argus in the Internet Movie Database.
When the Romaines dissolved in 1959, Romaine Brown returned to the Red Caps; he would stay for about a year, at which time he went out as a single. July 1959 found the Red Caps at Basin Street East, on East 48th Street in Manhattan, inside the Shelton Towers Hotel.
A small entry in a write-up of Ampeg, manufacturers of amplifiers, specifically mentioned that Steve Gibson's was custom-covered in red vinyl.
On August 27, they waxed "Where Are You" (an outmoded, but pretty sound, fronted by George Tindley) and "San Antone Rose" (with Steve Gibson out front). These were released on another Rose subsidiary (Casa Blanca), as "Steve Gibson and the Original Red Caps") in September. Once again, ABC-Paramount purchased them and released them, on Hunt, in October.
Over the years, Damita Jo had been in and out of the Red Caps, as she both recorded and appeared as a solo artist, as well as a member of the group. If she wasn't available (and, of course, after she'd left for good in 1959), she was replaced by a succession of female singers (sometimes multiple ones). Here's a list of the ones I know about (there were probably others). Note that we haven't met some of them yet (and, in truth, I have nothing to say about some), and they're in no particular order.
- Vivian Cervantes (a former model, and singer with the Phil Moore Four, who replaced Damita Jo briefly in 1955)
- Gloria Smythe (with the Red Caps briefly in 1957; she'd have jazz releases on World Pacific in 1960 as both "Gloria Smythe" and "Gloria Smyth")
- Amanda Thigpen (vocalist with the band of former Count Basie saxophonist, C.Q. Price; with the Red Caps at an unknown date)
- Raynetta Yvonne Clay (as "Rayna Clay," she was formerly the vocalist for the Calvin Jackson Quartet; with the Red Caps, starting in the spring of 1959, she called herself "Rayna Schyne")
- Joya Sherrill (who had sung with Duke Ellington's orchestra in the 40s and who would accompany Benny Goodman's Band on a tour of the Soviet Union in 1962)
- Roberta Sweed (mentioned in a November 1961 blurb)
- Jeri Gray (born Jeruth Walker, she'd been married to saxophonist Wardell Gray and would go on to play the annoying old lady, "Ms Geri" (as Jeruth Persson) on the TV show Martin)
- Joan Proctor (who had been a six-time winner on Horace Heidt's Swift Show Wagon talent show on NBC-TV in 1955, when she was 14)
- Dottie Joy (who also played the organ)
- Tammy Montgomery (soon to become famous as "Tammi Terrell")
- Wynona Carr (pianist and former Specialty R&B artist)
- Barbara Randolph (whom we've already briefly seen and who would be back on several occasions in the 1960s)
- Lillian Randolph, Barbara's mother (actress and singer)
- Pepi Mitchell (another model/singer)
- Ginger Smock (non-singing violinist)
- Beryl Booker (pianist and singer with the 4 Toppers)
It's worth mentioning that, unlike most other singers who are with a band and then go out on their own, Damita Jo had also been appearing as a soloist almost from the beginning of her tenure with the Red Caps. This gave her a tremendous advantage: she emerged as a polished entertainer. While it's true that most of her records didn't do well, she was a highly-regarded performer who always commanded top billings. Strangely, though, even as late as October 1962, she was being advertised as "formerly with Steve Gibson and the Red Caps."
Another alumnus of the Red Caps popped up in late 1959: Frank Heppinstall was advertised ("formerly did his sax blowing for Steve Gibson's Red Caps") with the Allegros Organ Trio.
In November 1959, the Red Caps appeared at the Northern Lounge at Northern Lights Shoppers City in Baden, Pennsylvania. The vocalist at the time was Joan Proctor, who seems to have been with them in late 1959 and most of 1960.
I was surprised to learn that in late 1959, the Roxy Theater in New York (one of the big Vaudeville houses of days gone by) still had stage shows. However, I found a review for a movie called "The Man Who Understood Women" that opened at the Roxy in October. The review mentioned that Steve Gibson and the Red Caps were the featured act on the stage show; the singers were Joan Proctor and Rayna Schyne (or "Rana Shyne" as the Roxy ad put it). Joan was the "rhythm and blues singer" and Rayna was the "swing singer." A photo that ran with the Roxy engagement shows the Red Caps to be composed of Steve Gibson, Emmett Mathews, Dave Patillo, Jimmy Springs, George Tindley, Vance Wilson, Kenny Mitchell, Bobby Gregg, Joan Proctor, and Rayna Schyne. From there, they were booked into the New Frontier in Las Vegas.
The Red Caps recorded "Poor, Poor Me" (led by George Tindley, with a Drifters-type Latin beat) for Rose on October 26 and "Blueberry Hill" (with a solo by Steve Gibson and some nice sax work by Emmett Mathews) on November 14. These were paired for an early 1960 release on Rose's Stage subsidiary.
When they returned to Larry Potter's Supper Club (in Hollywood) in January 1960, Joan Proctor was mentioned as the featured singer. Sometime in 1960, drummer Bobby Gregg left, to be replaced by Peter "Chippy" Brancato.
ABC-Paramount purchased another two Rose masters that had been recorded in late 1959: "I Went To Your Wedding" and "Together" (both led by Steve Gibson). These were released on ABC itself (as the last Red Caps single) in April 1960. According to Jay Price, most of the songs that the Red Caps recorded for Rose were big favorites in their act.
In July 1960, the Red Caps appeared on NBC TV as part of the Music On Ice show, with June Valli and Johnny Desmond; Joan Proctor was the femme singer. In September, they played the Michigan State Fair with the Brothers Four, Brian Hyland, and Brenda Lee. Also in July, there's an ad for Romaine Brown, "formerly with the Red Caps." As far as I can tell, he never appeared with them after that.
Even though they were all long gone, ABC-Paramount released an album in November 1960: Damita Jo: The Big 15 - With Steve Gibson And The Red Caps. This contained 15 ABC and Rose numbers, nine of which feature Damita Jo's lead. The LP was probably put together to capitalize on her current hit,"I'll Save The Last Dance For You". ABC released two of the album cuts ("How Will I Know" and "Disillusioned Lover") as a single in January 1961 (they'd both been on separate singles in 1957).
In October 1960, there was an odd advertisement for a show at the El Rancho Club in Chester, Pennsylvania. The band was Billy Ford and the Thunderbirds "featuring Billie and Lillie of record fame." They were touted as "a fabulous vocal and instrumental group similar to the Red Caps." In November, the Red Caps returned to Larry Potter's Supper Club in Hollywood.
In December 1960, there was a little advert for Danny Martin "formerly with Steve Gibson's Red Caps", who was appearing at the Club Sofia. I have no idea who he might have been, but there were so many singers and musicians in and out of the Red Caps, what's one more? However, a July 30, 1959 ad might give us part of the answer: it says he "just completed a successful engagement with Steve Gibson's Red Caps, at Basin Street East in New York City." However, it doesn't say if he's a singer, musician, or other kind of entertainer.
In March 1961, they were at the El Rancho Club, in Chester Pennsylvania. In early May, they were at the Calabria Club, in Reading, Pennsylvania ("direct from Latin Casino, world's largest night club"). From there, it was back to the El Rancho. In early November it was the Club Bcara [sic] in Altoona, Pennsylvania. They appeared at the Fiesta Cocktail Lounge, in Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania in mid-November 1961. Sadly, the first day's advertisement had them as "Steve Gibson & The Redcoats." Early December found them back at the Fiesta; then it was on to the 21 Key Club in Philadelphia. The interesting one here (which will make more sense in a couple of minutes) is the May appearance at the El Rancho, because the other act on the bill was the Furness Brothers. Stay tuned.
In early 1962, the Red Caps split into two groups due to what Vance Wilson described as "tax problems." (There was a "rumor" of the group's disbanding reported in the February 8, 1962 issue of Jet.)
Here's part of what happened: James M. Scanlon, a former Internal Revenue Service officer whose function was to collect unpaid taxes, was indicted on April 16, 1962 for keeping tax money he'd collected. The taxes in question had been assessed against Steve Gibson, Damita Jo, and the Red Caps.
Scanlon had collected, but failed to turn over to the IRS, $11,620 of taxes for the period April 1956 through July 1958. He filed fraudulent reports saying that he'd been unable to collect those taxes and had then resigned.
I don't know what the outcome of the case was, but Scanlon could have received a sentence of up to 275 years. I also don't know why this had anything to do with the group splitting into two units.
George Tindley, Vance Wilson, Chippy Brancato, and Dave Patillo, formed the "Modern Red Caps." According to Vance, even manager Hymie Diamond went with the new group. (I could find out nothing about him; this is the only mention of him in conjunction with the Red Caps.) The fifth member was guitarist Bert Payne (who had been with Louis Jordan). The first mention of the group that I can find is an ad for the "Blue Caps" ("originally with Steve Gibson and the Red Caps"). This January 5, 1962 ad said they'd be appearing at Pushnik's Cocktail Lounge (Lebanon, Pennsylvania) the following week. On January 12, there was a Pushnik's ad saying that the Blue Caps would be starting their engagement that night. The very next night, however, the ad was amended to say the "Modern Red Caps". It looks like they originally decided on Blue Caps as a name. It gets even crazier: the January 13 ad says that the Modern Red Caps will be held over for an additional week "by popular demand" - they'd only been there one night, under the advertised name of the Blue Caps.
Dave Patillo didn't last too long, however, and was replaced by bass player Stanley Gaines, formerly of the Cats And The Fiddle. Note that Tindley was the only male member of this Modern Red Caps who routinely sang. Per a mid-1962 blurb, Dottie Joy was the female singer with the Modern Red Caps and Joan Proctor fronted Steve Gibson's aggregation. The earliest appearance that I could find for the Modern Red Caps was at Roxy's, in Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania, in April 1962. October found them at the Carnival Room of the Broomall in Chester, Pennsylvania.
Dave Patillo then joined up with Jay Price in the Jay Price Revue by May of 1962. The other members at the time were Patti Malone (singer), Dicky Yuzon (singer), Tommy Wray (drums), and Art Romano (guitar). In time, they became the "Jay Price Sextette," with Patillo and Romano as the only other holdovers. The new members were Fred Back (tenor sax), Johnny Walker (trombone), and Francis Mickey O'Donnell (drums). They lasted for a couple of years.
Note that, as Damita Jo had done, George Tindley had recorded some solos while still a member of the Red Caps. There were releases on Ember (1960), Herald (1961), and Parkway (1962; recorded in 1961).
This Modern Red Caps group lasted a little over a year. For part of that time they were the house band at a club in Wildwood, New Jersey (where they'd back up the headliners, like Dinah Washington and the Isley Brothers).
There were records by the Modern Red Caps on Mercury's Smash subsidiary ("I Couldn't Care Less"/"Done Being Lonely") in June 1962, and Rowax ("Don't You Hear Them Laughing"/"They Can Dream") in June 1963. The Smash sides are basically Tindley solos (with a little screaming from the band); those on Rowax sound like they have a studio group backing Tindley. Note that a blurb in the trades (June 1962) said that Smash had purchased "Done Being Lonely" from Cotton Records of Philadelphia.
To thoroughly bewilder fans, here's an advertisement for the Modern Red Caps at the Carnival Room in Broomall, Pennsylvania, in October 1962. The very next week, the same establishment had booked Steve Gibson's Red Caps.
The Modern Red Caps (there were six of them, including Dottie Joy) and the Treniers appeared at Tony's Fish Market Cabaret Theater in Miami during February 1963.
By early 1964, George Tindley had disbanded his Modern Red Caps and was in the process of re-forming them. In the meantime, he was appearing at the State Theater in Philadelphia, as a soloist. Also on the bill was Gerald "Twig" Smith, who was entered in the talent part of the show. At the time, Twig was also a member of the Sapphires, a local group that recorded for Swan (the other members were Carolyn Jackson, George Garner, and Joe Livingston).
The next incarnation of the Modern Red Caps was almost ready to go. Tindley had his old friend, tenor George "Pepi" Grant (from the Castelles), along with Kirk Manuel (tenor and drummer), and Sherman "Slim" Marshall (tenor and bassist) ready to rehearse. What he was looking for was a tenor who also played the guitar; Twig fit the bill perfectly.
Tindley approached Twig and "asked if I had any interest in traveling." Twig did, and "I stayed with the Sapphires for another month or so, and then left to travel with the Modern Redcaps" (of course, there were lots of rehearsals during that time). Twig also became their musical director.
There seems to have been some confusion with the group's name when they played Pushnik's Cocktail Lounge (in Lebanon, Pennsylvania) in June 1964. Ads for June 18 and 20 referred to them as the Modern Red Caps; those for June 22 and 27 called them the Roof Toppers. When they played Davey's Pub, also in Lebanon, during August, they were billed as the "Original" Modern Red Caps. In September, when they returned to Pushnik's, it was just as the Modern Red Caps.
The first recordings by this group ("Free"/"Never Kiss A Good Man Good-bye") were released on Penntowne, in January 1965. In July 1965, they issued "Our Love Will Never Be The Same"/"Empty World" on Lawn (a subsidiary of Swan). A few months later, in January 1966, the group had "Golden Teardrops"/"Never Too Young (To Fall In Love)" on the parent Swan label. George Grant sang lead on "Golden Teardrops"; all other Modern Red Caps' leads were by George Tindley. Actually, there were only three singers on all the Modern Red Caps' songs released between 1965 and 1967: George Tindley, George Grant, and Twig Smith (all tenors). The only exception to this was that Billy Taylor (second tenor and baritone), a former member of the Castelles, was overdubbed onto "Golden Teardrops."
The group played the 3 Rivers Inn (Syracuse, New York) in July 1966. Also on the bill was Vincent Edwards (whose "Ben Casey" series had just ended) "in his new singing act." A reviewer who caught their act at the El Rancho in December 1966 was impressed with the professionalism of the group ("they have a choreography routine with every number"), even though there were only about 10 patrons who gave scant applause. By this time, there were seven of them: George "Fatty" Tindley (tenor), Tommy Cooke (baritone), George "Pepi" Grant (tenor), Gerald "Twig" Smith (tenor and guitar), Sherman "Slim" Marshall (tenor and bassist), Ray Smith (aka Ray Garcia; tenor sax), and Aaron "Stump" Lewis (drums). Note that Tommy Cooke had been with the Sensations, as well as his own Philadelphia groups, the Fantastics and the Preludes.
The last known recordings of the Modern Red Caps were for United Artists, on July 14, 1967, but none of the half-dozen songs they waxed were ever issued.
There's a release on Doo-Wopp ("Since I Met Cindy"/"Ain't Gonna Worry About You"), but it resists all attempts at dating. The tunes were recorded prior to the 1967 United Artists session (and have George, George, and Twig), and were produced by George Tindley. It's possible that he even owned the label, although his name is constantly misspelled as "Tinley." Since the first known use of the term "doo-wopp" (especially with that spelling) was from the Bagdads' "Bring Back Those Doo-Wopps," released in the fall of 1968, it's reasonable to suspect that this record was issued in the 70s, when the term gained popularity.
Soon after the United Artists session, the Modern Red Caps were history. "I'm sorry I can't recall why there were individual departures," says Twig. "I just know that we argued a lot." Only George Tindley and Twig Smith remained.
George had a cousin named Henry Seaward, who called himself Henry Trenier and pretended to be related to the Treniers). "He wasn't!" says Twig. "He was somehow able to get away with this farce. He worked some of the best hotels in Miami, including the Fontainebleu."
As Twig tells it:
George and Henry decided to start a group as co-leaders (right now I can't recall the group's name; I think it was something like the 'Modern Treniers'), but there was trouble from the very beginning. Henry thought we should rehearse Broadway songs like "Maria" and "Tonight" from West Side Story. George's opinion was that we should rehearse dance music like Wilson Pickett's music, or Jackie Wilson's.
The other singers were James "Sonny" Ross and Henry's girlfriend, Gina. Additionally, there was Ray Smith on tenor sax and someone named Raggs on bass.
This could have been a good group, but there was all this resentment between the singers. The group really sucked. We drove all the way to Miami, only to be fired the first night. After we recovered from that, we went to "Rockhead's Paradise Lounge" in Montreal, Canada. The two leaders were making advances on the band's pay and not telling each other what they were doing. At the end of the week the money was not right. I kid you not: the fight that broke out between the two leaders looked just like a Hopalong Cassidy or a Roy Rogers bar brawl. Needless to say we were instantly fired from that gig also.
Later in 1967, after the Modern Treniers fell apart, George, Twig, Sonny, and Ray created another group called "By George and Company," mostly using former members of the Modern Red Caps.
The members were Ray Smith (tenor sax, no vocals) James "Sonny" Ross on trumpet (sang tenor lead and background vocals), Phaon Hughes on bass (no vocals), Tommy Cooke (baritone lead and background vocals [he'd been in the Modern Red Caps towards the end]), Aaron "Stump" Lewis (drums), George, of course, and myself.
This was probably the most versatile group of all. In 1967 we were sent to the El San Juan Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We were scheduled to do eight weeks there, but were pulled out by the Jolly Joyce Agency after just five. It seems George had signed with a gentleman named Herb Paloff, but was still under contract to the Jolly Joyce agency. When Norman Joyce got wind of what had happened, he pulled us out of San Juan so fast it made our heads swim. Man,...what a letdown.
After we were pulled out of Puerto Rico, I was more than ready to try some other things, which I did. In 1968 I wound up in a vocal group called the Dells. [Twig became one of the three back-up musicians for the Dells.] That was an experience I will never forget. I didn't stay long. I did a few more sideman things with some fly-by-night groups that George had assembled, but it was basically over. George fell on hard times financially, and that changed everything. In the early 70's we tried some song writing but the attempts were feeble to say the least. We saw each other sparsely over the years until his death.
After it was all over, George Tindley had some really good solo releases on Wand. "Ain't That Peculiar" rose to #37 on the Soul charts in 1969 and "Wan-Tu-Wah-Zuree" was #50 in March 1970. After that, he seems to have become an independent producer. The last mention I can find of him was as lead of the "Sound Of The Flamingos," a group that played Essington, Pennsylvania in December 1977.
After the splitting up of the Red Caps, Steve Gibson and Emmett Mathews constructed a new Red Caps group around the Furness Brothers (Bill, Joe, and Arthur "Peck" Furness). A fourth brother, leader John "Slim" Furness, had passed away in mid-1955. Once again Bon Bon Tunnell is part of the history: he, Slim Furness, and Bob Pease had recorded for Columbia, Brunswick, and Vocalion as the 3 Keys. Around 1942, Slim, Bill, and Peck Furness (guitar, piano, and bass respectively) were, with drummer Ernie Hatfield, calling themselves the 4 Keys and backing up Ella Fitzgerald on Decca. By 1950, brother Joe was the fourth member, making the 4 Keys a true "family affair." (When the 5 Keys burst upon the music scene in 1951, the 4 Keys tried to enjoin them from using the name, but lost; instead they changed their own group name to the Furness Brothers: "The Entertainment World's Handsomest Quartet.")
The Steve Gibson Red Caps appeared at the El Morocco in Montreal in May 1962; the female singer was Joan Proctor. The review said "... They even manage to make the deadly dull slam slam of the twist rhythm sound interesting once in a while. To make this pitiful excuse for music sound good all the time is impossible. To do it once in a while is remarkable...." Note that Joan Proctor, like Damita Jo, bounced back and forth between the Red Caps and solo appearances.
The last known original release by Steve Gibson and the Red Caps was on Band Box in late 1962: "No More" and "Peppermint Baby" (both probably led by one of the Furness Brothers). Trying to keep up with the times, these songs were part of the twist craze (and, although light years from "Tuscaloosa," weren't really all that bad). By that time, guitarist Bert Payne had switched from the Modern Red Caps to the Steve Gibson unit.
To really confuse their fans, both Steve Gibson and the Red Caps and the Modern Red Caps were at nearby venues in Atlantic City in the summer of 1962. Joan Proctor was the singer for Steve's group and Dottie Joy fronted the Modern Red Caps. In October, the Modern Red Caps played the Carnival Room in Broomall, Pennsylvania. The advertisement has Steve Gibson's Red Caps coming in the following week!
When the Red Caps played the Riptide, in Wildwood, during the summer of 1962, their female singer was one Thomasina "Tammy" Montgomery, who had had some releases on Scepter and Wand in 1961-2 (she'd go on to have more on Try Me in 1963, and on Checker in 1964). Of course, she'd go on to have her name changed to "Tammi Terrell," be paired with Marvin Gaye, and have a string of Motown hits.
The Flamingo Room (Hazelton, Pennsylvania), in February 1963, boasted "The Swinging Sounds of Frank Heppinstall and Sen-sational Dottie Joye [sic] - Recently starred with Steve Gibson's Red Caps."
The Red Caps did the New Year's Eve bit at the Carnival Room of the Broomall, in Holmes, Pennsylvania. However, the appearance was in May. The room advertised "New Year's Eve party every Thursday Nite! Novelties, hats, dance contest." At least it was different.
Just to keep a tradition going, when the Modern Red Caps played Pushnik's Cocktail Lounge in June 1964, the ads read: "Featuring George Tindley, Vocalist - formerly with Steve Gibson & The Red Caps." I fully expect to find an ad that says "Steve Gibson & The Red Caps - formerly with Steve Gibson & the Red Caps."
In the fall of 1964, Joan Proctor, who'd been doing a single, re-joined the Red Caps for their engagement at the Latin Casino in Philadelphia.
When Jay Price returned from a tour of the Far East in 1965, he rejoined Gibson, Mathews, and the Furness brothers for a while. Chippy Brancato had returned as drummer, Wynona Carr (50s gospel and R&B singer for Specialty Records) was pianist, and Vince Brando was the bassist. They played the Q Lounge in Wildwood, the Eden Roc in Miami Beach, and four weeks at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
A short blurb in June 1965 talked about George Guy, "The Man With A Thousand Voices." It claimed that he'd toured in Europe with Steve Gibson's Red Caps. (This doesn't necessarily mean that he was a member of the group, however. He might just have been part of the tour package. It's even possible, given his nickname, that he was an impressionist, rather than a singer.) The strange thing is that I can't find any announcements that the Red Caps had been to or were going to Europe.
An interesting trade paper article from December 1965 claimed that the Red Caps were one of the acts that had recorded music videos that would play on coin-operated music movie machines. Filmed in Philadelphia, they were produced by the David Rosen Organization for a company called Filmotheque-Discotheque. Other acts that had filmed videos were Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Petula Clark, Bill Doggett, Neil Sedaka, and Paul Anka.
I don't know exactly when the Furness Brothers left, but they're gone by sometime in 1966, at the latest. They then reverted to the "Furness Brothers" name and, with Joan Proctor as their femme singer, they were appearing in Albany, New York in November of 1967.
Next for the Red Caps was an appearance at the El San Juan in Puerto Rico in March 1966, with Barbara Randolph as the vocalist. They were at Harry's Bar in Chicago from July through October of that year, and returned to the El San Juan hotel, for their annual winter stay, by January 1967. (A review gave the members as Steve Gibson, Emmett Mathews, Jimmy Springs, Barbara Randolph, Wynona Carr, Chippy Brancato, and pianist Willie Preston.) April 1967 found them at the Penn-Sheraton Riverboat Room (Pittsburgh) for three weeks. They opened with Barbara Randolph, but a week later had switched to Pepi Mitchell ("Miss Sepia Of 1960"), who had recently been the vocalist with the Eddie Piper Quintet. In June 1967, the Red Caps were at the Tangiers in Akron, Ohio. In October, they opened at the Seven Seas Club, at the Newport Hotel in Miami Beach.
The Red Caps played the Zanzibar Room of the Sheraton Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico in March and April 1968. At that time, Emmett Mathews, Jimmy Springs, and Wynona Carr were still present; Count Lewis was on the organ and Perry Christen was the drummer. Wynona sang "Around The World," "Blue Moon," "Yesterday," and "Every Day I Have The Blues." Emmett Mathews tackled "I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town" and "Around The Clock." Jimmy Springs belted "San Francisco" and "Stagger Lee."
Both the Red Caps and the Treniers opened at the Seven Seas Club, at the Newport Hotel in Miami Beach for a month beginning October 31, 1968. This was considered a gamble, since it was prior to the Miami "season" and both groups were costly to engage. The male vocalist, described as a "classy little singer," was Gary Perkins. The last mention that I can find of the Red Caps is when they played the Manila Hilton's New Year's Eve celebration at the end of December 1968. According to Jay Price, when the group returned from the Far East (having also played in Thailand), they were supposed to open at Caesar's Palace, but there were some internal problems and the group never performed again.
Around 1980, Steve Gibson was part of the "New Ink Spots." A promotional album (The Wonderful World of the New Ink Spots on Spot Records) listed Gibson as baritone, Lucius "Dusty" Brooks (formerly of the 4 Tones) as bass, Johnny Taylor as lead tenor, and LaRue "Rufus" McKay as second tenor. Old friend Henry Tucker Green was the drummer.
Dave Patillo died in September 1967; Romaine Brown in June 1986; Jimmy Springs in October 1987; Steve Gibson had a stroke and subsequently passed away, in Las Vegas, in March 1996; Damita Jo in December 1998 (there's now a street in Austin, Texas named after her); Emmett Mathews, the last of the Red Caps core group, in February 1999.
The recorded output of the Red Caps shows that they tried to change with the times. However, that's a tricky thing to do and not many acts adapt successfully. On record, the Red Caps were left behind in the dust by the early 50s, although they remained crowd-pleasers at live shows for over a decade more. This prolific and long-lived group helped bridge the gap between the "race" era groups of the 40s and the R&B and Rock 'N Roll eras of the 50s, leaving many, many fine recordings behind them.
Special thanks to Peter Grendysa, Ferdie Gonzalez, Ray Funk, Greg Centamore, Phil Beauchamp, Paul Ressler, Richard Reicheg, Joel Scherzer, Victor Pearlin, Bruce Woolf, Frank Pellicone, Val Shively, Mark Seganish, and Jay Price.
Also used were the liner notes to Krazy Kat 779 ("The 5 Red Caps - Lenox Avenue Jump") by Bruce Bastin.
AMMOR (Larry Breese and His Orchestra, vocal by the 4 Toppers)
100 Carry Me Back To Old Virginia/(I Found A New Baby - instrumental) - ca. 3/40
101 Jumpin' Jive/(What's New - vocal by Dyana Gayle) - ca. 3/40
KBS (Keystone Broadcasting System) 16-inch transcriptions (flips by other artists)
62 Little Jackie Horner / Great Moon God / My Dreams Of You / Go Find Somebody New - 41
76 Thursday Nite In Harlem / Jump, The Water's Fine / Jivin' / You Drove The Gloom Away - 41
Notes on the Joe Davis recordings: Davis assigned a series to each artist, so missing numbers might exist. Consecutively-numbered records were not necessarily issued in order. Except for the first four Beacon releases, the same number series was used on several of his labels (Beacon, Davis, Joe Davis, Gennett).
BEACON (The 5 Red Caps)
115 I'm The One/Tuscaloosa - 8/43
116 I Made A Great Mistake/There's A Light On The Hill - 8/43
117 Don't Fool With Me/Mama Put Your Britches On - 10/43
118 No Fish Today/Grand Central Station - 11/43
7115 I'm The One/I Made A Great Mistake - 43
7116 There's A Light On The Hill/Don't Fool With Me - 43
7117 Tuscaloosa/Mama Put Your Britches On - 43
7118 No Fish Today/Grand Central Station - 43
7119 Just For You/I'm Going To Live My Life Alone - 4/44
7120 I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget/Words Can't Explain - 1/44
7121 Boogie Woogie Ball/Lenox Avenue Jump - 2/44
7122 Don't You Know/Strictly On The Safety Side - 8/44
7123 Somebody's Lyin'/Was It You - 5/44
7124 Sugar Lips/Gabriel's Band - 10/44
7127 Red Caps Ball/I Didn't Mean To Be Mean To You - 44
7128 If I Can't Have You/After I've Spent My Best Years On You - 44
7129 It's So Good Good Good/Spellbound - 44
7130 No One Else Will Do/I'm Crazy 'Bout You - 7/44
(NOTE: Beacon 7115-7123 were re-released on Davis' Gennett label, with the same numbers, in September, 1944)
JOE DAVIS (The Red Caps Trio)
7220 Get Off Of That Kick/It's Got A Hole In It - 2/45
7221 Monkey And The Baboon/That's The Stuff - 2/45
JOE DAVIS (The 5 Red Caps)
7115 I'm The One/I Made A Great Mistake - 45
7120 I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget/Words Can't Explain - 45
7121 Boogie Woogie Ball/Lenox Avenue Jump - 45
7123 Somebody's Lyin'/Was It You - 8/45
7125 Don't Say We're Through/Destination Unknown - 6/45
7126 The Tables Have Turned On Me/Never Give Up Hope - 3/45
7130 No One Else Will Do/I'm Crazy 'Bout You - 45
7131 I Was A Fool To Let You Go/Thinking - 9/45
7132 Pleasant Dreams/Mary Had A Little Jam - 10/45
7133 I'm To Blame/Boogie Woogie On A Saturday Night - 4/45
7135 You Thrill Me/The Boogie Beat'll Getcha If You Don't Watch Out - 12/45
7136 I'll Remind You/My Everlasting Love For You - 9/45
JOE DAVIS (Bon Bon And The Red Caps Trio)
7190 Apple Honey/Were You Lyin' - 2/45
7191 Don't Be Angry With Me/Can't You See - 2/45
7192 Truthfully/Better Stop Playing Around - 2/45
7199 Please Think Of Me Sometime/Don't Go Back On Your Word - 45
7201 I Drove You Into Someone Else's Arms/Do You Know How It Feels To Be Lonesome - 45
7203 Building A Dream/I Just Had To See You, Dear - 45
7206 You'd Better Stop Playin' With Fire/My Dreams Are Getting Me Nowhere - 45
7210 I Admit/Two Can Play That Game - 45
SAVOY (As The Toppers)
559 If Money Grew On Trees/Palace Of Stone - 5/45
DAVIS (The 5 Red Caps)
7134 In The Quiet Of The Dawn/Thru Thick And Thin - 45
7135 You Thrill Me/The Boogie Beat'll Getcha If You Don't Watch Out - 12/45
7136 I'll Remind You/My Everlasting Love For You - 8/45
JOE DAVIS (Bon Bon and The Park Avenue Trio)
7196 Again And Again And Again/If You Cared For Me - 45
7200 Playin' The Field/Riffin' With The Riff-Raff - 45
7202 Must We Say Goodbye/Heaven Happens Tonight - 45
7205 Too Bad/It Was So Nice Knowing You - 45
7207 Harriette/Don't Be Surprised - 45
JOE DAVIS (As Magnolia Five)
6666 It Hurts Me, But I Like It/Don't Come Cryin' To Me - 11/45
6667 If You Can't Get Five, Take Two/Ouch! - 11/45
DAVIS (The 5 Red Caps)
2101 Seems Like Old Times/I'm Glad I Waited For You - 3/46
2102 I Love An Old-Fashioned Song/Atlanta, Ga. - 3/46
7141 Confused/Have A Heart For Someone Who Has A Heart For You - 4/46
DAVIS (5 Red Caps album from 4/46)
DA-1-1 I Didn't Mean To Be Mean To You
DA-1-3 If I Can't Have You
-4 After I've Spent My Best Years On You
DA-1-5 Red Caps Ball
-6 It's So Good Good Good
DA-1-7 Thru Thick And Thin
-8 In The Quiet Of The Dawn
JOE DAVIS (Bon Bon and The Park Avenue Trio)
7213 Foolishly/Do Anything But Cry, Sweetheart ** - 46
(** this title is really by Bon Bon & the Park Lane Trio; see text)
DAVIS (Bon Bon and The Park Avenue Trio)
2106 I Didn't Mean A Word I Said **/Regretting ** - 46
2109 There's No One But You/Without Any Strings - 46
(** these titles are really by Bon Bon & the Park Lane Trio; see text)
BEACON (The 5 Red Caps)
7142 Words Can't Explain/Strictly On The Safety Side - 46
OTHER 5 RED CAPS MASTERS (offered for sale in a March 1947 Joe Davis Billboard ad)
Why Should The Two Of Us Be Lonesome (presumed scheduled as 7137, but cancelled)
You Always Think Of Everything (presumed scheduled as 7137, but cancelled)
Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow (presumed scheduled as 7138, but cancelled)
My Life Is Empty Without You (presumed scheduled as 7138, but cancelled)
Lord, Forgive Me! (presumed scheduled as 7139, but cancelled)
A Rose To Remember (presumed scheduled as 7139, but cancelled)
Nothing Is Too Good For You (presumed scheduled as 7140, but cancelled)
How Can I Forget We're Not Together (presumed scheduled as 7140, but cancelled)
I May Forgive, But How Can I Forget (never scheduled for release)
If I'm In The Way (never scheduled for release)
MERCURY (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
5011 You Can't See The Sun When You're Crying/Bless You (For Being An Angel) - 1/47
DAVIS (Bon Bon And The Red Caps Trio)
7210 I Admit/Two Can Play That Game - 2/47
BEACON (The Red Caps Trio)
7220 Get Off Of That Kick/It's Got A Hole In It - 47
7221 Monkey And The Baboon/That's The Stuff - 47
MERCURY (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
8038 Jack You're Dead/San Antonio Rose - 5/47
8052 I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire/You Never Miss The Water Till The Well Runs Dry - 9/47
BEACON (Bon Bon And The Park Avenue Trio)
7201 I Drove You Into Someone Else's Arms/Do You Know How It Feels To Be Lonesome - 10/47
7202 Must We Say Goodbye/Heaven Happens Tonight - 10/47
BEACON (Bon Bon And The Red Caps Trio)
7210 I Admit/Two Can Play That Game - 10/47
MERCURY (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
8059 Walkin' Through Heaven/You're Driving Me Crazy - 11/47
SAVOY (As The Toppers)
656 I'm All Alone/I'm Living For You - 10/47
("I'm All Alone" is the same master as "Palace Of Stone," released on Savoy in 1945)
MERCURY (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
8069 Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine/I've Lived A Lifetime For You - 1/48
CELEBRITY (Bon Bon And The Red Caps Trio; this is a Joe Davis label)
2008 I'm Thinking Twice/Truthfully - 3/48
MERCURY(Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
8085 Little White Lies/Turnip Greens - 4/48
BEACON (The 5 Red Caps)
4120 Words Can't Explain/Strictly On The Safety Side - 48
MERCURY (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
8091 Scratch! And You'll Find It/Danny Boy - 6/48
8093 Money Is Honey/Give Me Time - 6/48
REGENT (Savoy Subsidiary - As Steve Gibson And The Toppers)
130 Nat's Boogie Woogie/I'm Living For You - 8/48
MGM (The 5 Red Caps) (Old Masters Purchased From Joe Davis, 8/48)
4001 Thru Thick And Thin/I'm To Blame - 48
10285 Boogie Woogie On A Saturday Night/If I Can't Have You - 10/48
10330 I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget/Sugar Lips - 12/48
MERCURY (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
8109 I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget/You Made Me Love You - 11/48
BOURNE MUSIC CO. (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
8069 I've Lived A Lifetime For You /
5233M I've Lived A Lifetime For You - Eddy Howard - early 49
(This was a promo, pressed by Mercury. Bourne Music owned publishing rights to the song.)
MERCURY (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
8146 Blueberry Hill/I Love You - 6/49
REGENT (Savoy Subsidiary - As Steve Gibson And The Toppers)
1008 Steve's Boogie Woogie/I'm Living For You - 8/49
("Steve's Boogie Woogie" is the same master as "Nat's Boogie Woogie," released on Regent in the previous year)
MERCURY (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
8157 Petunia/I've Been Living For You - 10/49
(same song as the Toppers' "I'm Living For You")
8165 I Wake Up Every Morning (With A Heartache)/They Ain't Gonna Tell It Right - 1/50
5380 I'll Never Love Anyone Else/I Want A Roof Over My Head - 2/50
8174 Are You Lonesome Tonight/Sentimental Me - 3/50
8186 Steve's Blues/Dirt-Dishin' Daisy - 7/50
RCA VICTOR (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
47-3986* Am I To Blame/The Thing - 12/50
47-4076* Three Dollars And Ninety-Eight Cents/D'Ya Eat Yet, Joe - 3/51
50-0127* I'm To Blame/Sidewalk Shuffle - 5/51
50-0138* Would I Mind/When You Come Back To Me - 7/51
47-4294 Shame/Boogie Woogie On A Saturday Night - 9/51
(* label says "Steve Gibson And The Original Red Caps")
MERCURY (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
MG-25115 Harmony Time With Steve Gibson And The Red Caps - 12/51
I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire, You're Driving Me Crazy, Little White Lies, Danny Boy,
Let The Rest Of The World Go By, Sentimental, I'll Never Love Anyone Else, I Love You
MG-25116 Singing And Swinging With Steve Gibson And The Red Caps - 1/52
Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine, Blueberry Hill, You Made Me Love You,
San Antonio Rose, Bless You, I've Lived A Lifetime For You, You Can't See The Sun When You're Crying,
I Wake Up Every Morning
RCA VICTOR (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
47-4670* I May Hate Myself In The Morning/Two Little Kisses - 4/52
47-4835* I Went To Your Wedding/Wait - 7/52
47-5013 Truthfully/Why Don't You Love Me - 10/52
47-5130 Big Game Hunter/Do I, Do I, I Do - 1/53
(* label says "Steve Gibson And The Original Red Caps")
MERCURY (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
EP-1-3215 Blueberry Hill / Are You Lonesome Tonight / Sentimental Me / I'll Never Love Anyone Else - 3/54
70389 Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine/Second Hand Romance - 5/54
JAY-DEE (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps - old Davis masters originally released as the Magnolia Five)
796 Ouch!/It Hurts Me But I Like It - 11/54
RCA VICTOR (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
47-5987 My Tzatskele (My Little Darling)/Win Or Lose - 1/55
47-6096 Feelin' Kinda Happy/Nuff Of That Stuff - 4/55
47-6281* Freehearted/Always - 10/55
47-6345 Bobbin'/How I Cry - 11/55
(* Label credits the Red Caps, but they're only instrumentalists behind Damita Jo
ABC-PARAMOUNT (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
9702 Love Me Tenderly/Rock And Roll Stomp - 5/56
9750 Write To Me/The Gaucho Serenade - 11/56
9796 You May Not Love Me/You've Got Me Dizzy - 3/57
9822 How Will I Know*/I'll Never Cry* - 5/57
9849 My Heart Is Home (Crying For You)*/Disillusioned Lovers* - 8/57
9856 Flamingo/Silhouettes - 9/57
(* Label only credits Damita Jo, but the group is present)
HI LO (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps; part of Rose Records)
101 Itty Bitty/I Want To Be Loved (with June Henry) - 9/58
103 It's Love/Forever 'N' A Day - 1958
ROSE (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
5534 Bless You/I Miss You So - 2/59
HUNT (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps; part of ABC-Paramount)
326 Bless You/Cheryl Lee - 3/59
CASA BLANCA (Steve Gibson And The Original Red Caps; part of Rose Records)
5505 Where Are You/San Antone Rose - 9/59
HUNT (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps; part of ABC-Paramount; these are the Rose masters)
330 Where Are You/San Antone Rose - 10/59
STAGE (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps; part of Rose Records)
3001 Blueberry Hill/Poor, Poor Me - 60
ABC-PARAMOUNT (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
10105 I Went To Your Wedding/Together - 4/60
10176 How Will I Know*/Disillusioned Lovers* - 1/61
(* Label only credits Damita Jo, but the group is present; these are reissues)
ABC-378 Damita Jo: The Big 15 - With Steve Gibson And The Red Caps - 11/60
(Those marked "DJ" are led by Damita Jo)
How Will I Know (DJ), My Heart Is Home (DJ), Write Me (DJ) [mistitled; should be "Write To Me"], The Gaucho Serenade,
I Went To Your Wedding, Love Me Tenderly (DJ), Silhouettes, Story Tellin' Baby (DJ), I'll Never Cry (DJ), Disillusioned Lovers (DJ),
You May Not Love Me (DJ), You've Got Me Dizzy, Together, Time Out For Tears (DJ), Flamingo
BAND BOX (Steve Gibson And The Red Caps)
325 No More/Peppermint Baby - 62
SMASH (George Tindley And The Modern Red Caps - first group)
1768 I Couldn't Care Less/Done Being Lonely - 6/62
ROWAX (George Tindley And The Modern Red Caps - first group)
801 Don't You Hear Them Laughing/They Can Dream - 6/63
PENNTOWNE (The Modern Red Caps - second group)
101 Free/Never Kiss A Good Man Good-bye - 1/65
LAWN (a subsidiary of Swan; the Modern Red Caps - second group)
254 Our Love Will Never Be The Same/Empty World - 7/65
SWAN (The Modern Red Caps - second group)
4243 Golden Teardrops/Never Too Young (To Fall In Love) - 1/66
No Sign Of You
Tammie Is Coming Home
UNITED ARTISTS (The Modern Red Caps - second group) - recorded 7/14/67; all unreleased
The Sound Of Music
When You Wish Upon A Star
We Walked In The Moonlight
As Long As I Want Someone
Layers And Layers
When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through Her Eyes
DOO-WOPP (George Tinley [sic] And The Modern Red Caps - second group)
101 Since I Met Cindy/Ain't Gonna Worry About You - probably 70s (recorded mid-60s)