The Red Caps were one of the most prolific and influential groups of the 1940s and 1950s, having releases on many labels, using many names. While there was a basic core group of five singers, performers 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 30s, groups flocked to the LA area because of the varied work available: films, cartoon soundtracks, niteclubs, and radio. Four of these groups had a hand in the formation of the Red Caps: the Basin Street Boys, the 4 Blackbirds, the 5 Jones Boys, and the Jones Boys Sing Band. In 1940, 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, Va, in the early thirties. In the summer of 1935, they were added to a tour of bandleader Jean Calloway. She renamed them the Basin Street Boys, although they had never been anywhere near New Orleans (it was just a more salable name). Leaving her after three months, they went to Phoenix, and then to Los Angeles. There is a single known (and extremely raunchy) recording by this group, which also did radio shows, voices for cartoons, and several films:
Top Of The Town (1937 - Universal)
Swing, Monkey, Swing (1937 - Columbia cartoon)
Shall We Dance (1937 - RKO) - with Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers
The Duke Is Tops (1938 - Million Dollar Productions; also called Bronze Venus) - with Lena Horne ("Thursday Evening Swing")
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 had attended Los Angeles' Jefferson High (from which many great 50s R&B groups would come). The members were Geraldine Harris (1st tenor), David Patillo (2nd tenor), Leroy Hurte (baritone and guitar), and Richard Davis (bass). They made two films and several records. Leroy Hurte would go on to purchase the Bronze label in Los Angeles in 1940.
Memories And Melodies (1935 - M-G-M) - a short
The Music Goes 'Round (1936 - Columbia)
Clean Pastures (1937 - Warner Brothers cartoon take-off on Green Pastures)
Have You Got Any Castles (1938 Warner Brothers cartoon - "Swing For Sale")
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 - 1935
(Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards was the voice of Jiminy Cricket in "Pinoccio")
Originally 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 were in three known films and had a couple of records on Variety.
Can This Be Dixie (1936- 20th Century-Fox)
The Big Show (1936 - Republic) - with Gene Autry ("The Lady Known As Lulu")
Hollywood Party (1937 - Louis Lewyn Productions) ("Chinatown, My Chinatown")
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. The only one missing from this aggregation was Blackbird Geraldine Harris. The guitarist was sometimes Oscar Moore (who would later join the King Cole Trio), but when he was unavailable, Steve Gibson (of the Basin Street Boys) would be called on to do the honors (also adding his bass voice to the mix). As was the case with many groups of the day, they imitated instruments; however, 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. Note that in movies they were credited (if at all) as the "Original Sing Band." Aside from their films, they only made a single record.
I recently got to see a clip from Hollywood Handicap in which they sing "Rosalie" and "Pickin' A Rib." While it's difficult to identify many of the members, both Oscar Moore (who's playing the guitar) and Steve Gibson (who's singing) are present. Jimmy Springs and David Patillo are both there too, as is Leon René.
Racing Blood (1936 - Conn Pictures)
Double Or Nothing (1937 - Paramount) - with Bing Crosby, Martha Raye, Andy Devine, and William Frawley
(Group is on the sound track only, they don't appear in the film)
Hollywood Handicap (1938 - Louis Lewyn Productions) - an MGM short ("Rosalie," "Pickin A Rib," "Ride, Red, Ride")
Going Places (1938 - Warner Brothers) - with Dick Powell, Allen Jenkins, and Louis Armstrong (who introduced "Jeepers Creepers")
Streamlined Swing (1938 - Louis Lewyn Productions) - a short, directed by Buster Keaton, with only the Sing Band ("Pack Your Grip
And Take A Little Trip," "Swing As You Work," "Dinah," "Organ Grinder's Swing")
1439 Pickin' A Rib/Sleepy Time In Hawaii - 1937
By 1940, as a result of there not being enough work for all these LA groups, a consolidation took place. Supposedly, they picked the "top" members from each group and called the result the "4 Toppers." They were: 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).
The 4 Toppers appeared in four known films at the same time that they began their recording career.
Son Of Ingagi (1940 - Hollywood Pictures Corp) - an all-black horror film ("So Long Pal," "You Drove The Gloom Away." The members have
some minor speaking roles.)
Mystery In Swing (1940 - Aetna Film Corp) - an all-black mystery/musical 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.")
Murder With Music (1941 - Century Productions)
Toppers Take A Bow (1941 - Hollywood Pictures Corp) - short
By early 1940, they'd hooked up with orchestra leader Larry Breese to record a couple of sides for Otis René's (Leon's brother) Ammor label: "Carry Me Back To Old Virginia" and "Jumpin' Jive."
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."
In January 1942, the 4 Toppers were part of a USO show that also featured Ada Brown and Butterbeans & Susie. Sometime after that, they relocated to New York and started appearing in clubs. July 1942 found them at Ship Deck (at the Breakers Hotel) 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). Then they went into the Jungle Room in Harrison, New Jersey, followed by the Enduro Club in Brooklyn (beginning on Thanksgiving eve). By Christmas, they'd been at the El Patio in Washington, D.C. and were currently at the Wisteria Room in Harrison.
By this time, although they were still called the "4 Toppers," they'd added a fifth member, pianist Beryl Booker. However, she was only with them for a short while before becoming ill.
She was replaced by pianist and baritone Romaine Brown. Brown was a musical prodigy who played many instruments; he had been awarded a coveted scholarship to Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied the viola under the tutelage of William Primrose (a world-famous viola player). After school, Brown played piano behind the Philadelphia based Bon Bon Trio, which included George "Bon Bon" Tunnell (vocalistand a high school classmate of Brown's), Harry Polk (guitar), and Truman Gibson (bassist no relation to Steve Gibson). On vacation in New York, he ran into Jimmy Springs, an acquaintance, and was asked 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 back at the Enduro Club. Fortunately, the show was reviewed 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, the group had decided to keep her unnamed ("unbilled" was the way the article put it) replacement also. This was presumably Romaine Brown. Therefore, the "4 Toppers" now had six members. While the reviewer liked Beryl's piano work, he was less than thrilled with her voice.
Probably not long after this, Richard Davis left and was replaced by bassist Doles Dickens (who had been a member of the Eddie South Orchestra). Beryl Booker didn't remain much longer either, subsequently pursuing a successful career of her own, both with 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 mid 1943 the 4 Toppers changed their name to the 5 Red Caps. Romaine Brown said that the name had a catchy sound and it "sounded black," like the "Ink Spots." 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). Springs said that another reason for the name change 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. However, it was soon discovered by the union, and the group was fined.
Also in 1943, the 5 Red Caps signed with Joe Davis, who made 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 quality of his recordings tend to sound really bad. 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. Of course, 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 5 Red Caps while they were appearing at the Enduro Club on Flatbush and DeKalb Avenues in Brooklyn, 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: "While he [Davis] was rushing for a train recently he heard a bunch of Red Caps harmonizing on the station platform. 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 possible, however, that the first encounter between the 5 Red Caps 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.
What we do know is that the 5 Red Caps/4 Toppers had been managed by Nat Nazarro since September 1941. 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.)
Over the years, the Red Caps 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."
The 5 Red Caps' records were issued on Beacon, Joe Davis, Davis, Gennett, and Celebrity. While their later efforts may be more musically proficient, the earlier tunes had a spontaneity and exuberance that the later recordings lacked (although the Red Caps were always crowd pleasers in live appearances).
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.
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."
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."
"I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget," released in January 1944, was one of only two chart hits for them in the 40s ("Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine" was the other). (As popular as they were as a performing group, they never did well on record.) Like so many of their ballads, "I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget" has a structure and sound strikingly similar to songs written and sung by Davis himself, back in the late 1920s. It was a sizeable hit for the 5 Red Caps, entering the Harlem Hit Parade chart in February 1944 and not leaving until September. In the review of "I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget" 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.
In March 1944, Nat Nazarro had the 5 Red Caps sign a new 2 year contract with Davis. They were still Steve Gibson, Romaine Brown, Doles Dickens, Jimmy Springs and David Patillo. One of the stipulations of the contract was that Davis owned the name "5 Red Caps."
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 and vocals), Steve Gibson (guitar), and Doles Dickens (seemingly even after he'd left the 5 Red Caps). The Red Caps Trio 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 5-month old contract with Nat Nazarro and the "Toppers." I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean, but in spite of some background legal activity, he kept recording the group.
In mid 1944, Emmett "Snake" Mathews was added as a sixth member. A second tenor and soprano sax player, he was very well known on the New York theater circuit. He had led his own big band (the Arcadians), had had four records under his own name on Vocalion in 1936, and had been 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. (According to later member Jay Price, he also played baritone sax.)
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." They also backed up Bon Bon on "Apple Honey," "Were You Lyin'," "Truthfully," and "Better Stop Playing Around."
The Red Caps appeared at the Loew's State Theater in New York City for a week in mid-November. Shortly after this, Doles Dickens left the group. (I can't say for certain whether he was with them at the Lowe's State engagement, but the review mentioned that the group was a sextet.) 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 second tenor 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.
After almost 20 Beacon releases, the Red Caps jumped ship in December 1944 to record for Herman Lubinsky's Savoy label. Although only four sides were recorded (on December 8), Savoy managed to release four records between 1945 and 1949 (two of them on their Regent subsidiary). This was done by issuing "I'm Living For You" three times, changing "Nat's Boogie Woogie" (named after manager Nat Nazarro) to "Steve's Boogie Woogie," and turning "Palace Of Stone" into "I'm All Alone" on reissue. The releases were by the "Toppers" (on Savoy) and "Steve Gibson and the Toppers" (on Regent). In early December, they appeared in Du Mond's (in Philadelphia), as the Toppers.
The Savoy recordings weren't leased from Davis; there's a photo of the Red Caps with Savoy owner Herman Lubinsky. Also, the Savoy session sheet has the intriguing notation: "Label to be changed to Red Caps if and when litigation over name is terminated in favor of Toppers." While this sounds like the stuff that tabloid headlines are made of, it seems to have been occasioned by 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.
I don't know exactly what started these problems, but Joe Davis had sued the 5 Red Caps in December 1944. He claimed that he was the sole owner of the name and that they'd agreed not to use it in recording for others. (This explains the note in the Savoy files.) 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. Their counter-claim was dismissed by the court in mid-January. Davis's suit was to be heard on January 30, 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.") Presumably they 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 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." Also in May, they began a long-term engagement at the Irish Stable in Coney Island. Once again, they were billed as the "Toppers."
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 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.)
November 1945 saw releases by the "Magnolia Five" (four songs 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 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 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.
Success had both its good and bad sides. 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). Early the next year Romaine Brown's car was demolished near Joplin, Missouri while they were on their way to appear in Las Vegas. The accident was caused by a skid on some ice. Fortunately no one was hurt, but touring did take its toll.
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.
In spite of this, 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").
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).
In September 1946, they left Nat Nazarro and acquired a new manager, Murray Weinger (of MCA). He landed 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 Samuel "Jolly Joyce" Jacobs and their quality bookings increased. Joe Davis kept 5 Red Caps' re-releases coming on Davis, Beacon and Celebrity through 1948 (including masters sold to MGM).
The week of September 23, 1946 found them at Ciro's in Philadelphia, followed by three weeks at the Copacabana (also in Philly).
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. It looks like saxophonist Arthur Davey was part of the group during this period.
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," "How Can I Forget We're Not Together," "Lord, Forgive Me!," "A Rose To Remember," "Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow," "My Life Is Empty Without You," "Why Should The Two Of Us Be Lonesome," and "You Always Think Of Everything." Since Davis continued re-releasing tunes that were on this list, presumably there were no buyers.
Lead tenor Jimmy Springs left the group for a while in 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 were 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. Plummer also recorded with the 4 Blues on Apollo (in 1948 and 1950, although he probably was not on any of their earlier Decca or DeLuxe releases).
In April 1947, the Red Caps (or "Original Red Caps" as they were being billed in many of the ads of the time) 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. 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. In May, Mercury released "Jack You're Dead"/"San Antonio Rose."
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." The following month, they released "Walkin' Through Heaven," coupled with "You're Driving Me Crazy."
On Mercury, the Red Caps scored with the January 1948 release of "Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine." It reached #21 on the Pop charts. It's flip was "I've Lived A Lifetime For You." 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.
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
Either they got May and June off to recuperate, or there were other engagements that weren't listed. 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 one-nighters all over the country.
The next Mercury release was in April 1948: "Little White Lies"/"Turnip Greens." There were two additional records issued 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.
According to Brown, the group made a couple of appearances in films: Excess Baggage was a 1948 Rudy Valee production which featured them as red caps (baggage handlers). This coincided with their late-year appearances at Larry Potter's Supper Club in Hollywood. Since this color film was made for television, it had no commercial distribution. They were also in Destination Murder in 1950, singing "Let's Go To A Party" and "Palace Of Stone." This is nowhere near the number of similar appearances made in films by groups such as the Delta Rhythm Boys and Golden Gate Quartet, but the 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).
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. (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.)
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). This time, it was on Savoy's Regent subsidiary and had the previously-unreleased "Nat's Boogie Woogie" as the flip.
In December 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. June found them at the Faun 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).
July 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). While it could have been a coincidence, Mercury released the re-sung version (the mistitled "I've Been Living For You") in October.
Earl Plummer had left by October 1949, when he was doing a single (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"/"I've Been Living For You."
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). It was back to the Blue Room in late May, and then their annual 10-week summer engagement at the Martinique.
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, a lead tenor, who also went by the name "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!).
There was another Mercury release in 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 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 1947)
I've Lived A Lifetime For You
You Made Me Love You
I Learned A Lesson I'll Never Forget (recorded December 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. 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).
Presumably there was 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. Some of the RCA records were released as by "Steve Gibson and the Original Red Caps," as they'd occasionally been known since 1946.
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.
Ormonde Wilson had been lead of the 40s incarnation of the Basin Street Boys (who'd recorded "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman"). Wilson was possibly Steve Gibson's step brother, although this may be something else dreamed up by a press agent.
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) 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 rest of their RCA sessions were done in New York. 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") came from Austin, Texas and her bios seem to be as confused as her name. She attended high school in Santa Barbara, California, so that she could be near her father during World War II. By the time Steve Gibson saw her 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. As her tryout with the group, she appeared with them for their two weeks at Chubby's in March. A Jet article from November 27, 1952 claimed that Gloria Smith Kenny, wife of former Ink Spot Herb Kenny, was Damita Jo's sister; however Damita Jo was an only child. It turns out that Gloria was a traveling companion for Damita Jo. When Gloria died on May 16, 1957, she was still traveling with Damita Jo.
Damita Jo became the featured singer for several years. She and Gibson (who towered over her at 6'4") were married in 1954. Although she appeared with the Red Caps all over the country, she also 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.
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" (which 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."
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 along with someone named Dominic Jones. The other appearance was on April 27, with 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 one of these shows has them doing an incredibly frenetic version of "Cow Cow Boogie" (and dancing the twist, years before Hank Ballard "invented" it).
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 did backup (including Abie Baker [Mickey Baker's father], Jimmy Cannady, Buddy Tate, Budd Johnson, Taft Jordan, and Tyree Glenn). 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).
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 (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 [!?!]." 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. "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. At the end of 1952, the Red Caps were back in Miami Beach's Copa City for another 16-week gig.
Earl Plummer left the Red Caps sometime in late 1952, going out as a single. That didn't last too long, because by April 1953, he'd formed the Earl Pummer Quartet. That same month found the Red Caps appearing at the Rendezvous in Philadelphia. After that, they played Sciolla's Café, 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 late December 1952, the Miami News reported that their stage version of "Cry" "put Johnny Ray to shame." They were appearing at Ciro's in Miami Beach (with Joni James and Jack Carter), where they were a smash hit.
In January 1953, RCA released "Big Game Hunter," backed with "Do I, Do I, I Do."
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.)
The Romaines' first session was for Groove, in June of 1954. They later got a contract with Decca, with the help of Harry Mills of the Mills Brothers. Known appearances were at the Chez Paree in Montreal (October 1954) and the White Elephant (Pittsburgh) in June 1955.
By the time the group broke up in 1959, only Romaine Brown and Roy Hayes remained. Earl Plummer had been replaced by Jimmy Thomas, Bobby Bushnell 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
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 the 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 popularity among white record purchasers as the Mills Brothers and Ink Spots, the group also lost its black audience to a whole new generation of singing groups. RCA, in its heavy handed fashion, 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 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.
Remember Andre D'Orsay from the 1950 session? He pops up 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 Young," but I'm not sure if any of the Billy Young recordings from the 60s are by him.
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.
In May 1954, Mercury re-issued "Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine," 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).
In September 1954, it was reported that Leon René, who had owned the Exclusive label, had been hired as the Red Caps' musical director; Steve Gibson 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, it had been over a year since I could find a mention 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.
It took over two years for the Red Caps to get back into the studio. Their next RCA session was on December 17, 1954, when they recorded "Feelin' Kinda Happy," "My Tzatskele," "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.
In January 1955, Emma "Ginger" Smock ("The Lovely Lady With The Violin") was added to the Red Caps roster, along with her electric violin. Since I could only find a single reference to her and her name doesn't appear on any of the RCA session data, she couldn't have lasted long.
The following month, Vivian Cervantes 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 Sonny Brown.
Also in January, RCA remembered the Red Caps and released "My Tzatskele," backed with "Win Or Lose." In April, they put out "Feelin' Kinda Happy"/"Nuff Of That Stuff."
Steve Gibson was arrested in late April 1955 after being found in a Baltimore hotel room with a married white woman (they were both charged with adultery). The group was appearing at Sciolla's Café in Baltimore at the time. Presumably because of this, Gibson missed an appearance on the Arthur Godfrey And His Friends TV show, although the rest of the group was present.
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.) The same blurb reported that Damita Jo had recently returned to the Red Caps (but don't worry, Vivian Cervantes will turn up again later). Also in June, the Red Caps appeared on America's Greatest Bands, a CBS-TV show
In August 1955, an article in the Washington Afro-American named Tom Collier as a former pianist-arranger for the Red Caps.
By the time of their September 23, 1955 RCA session, Henry Tucker Green had left the Romaines and returned to the Red Caps. 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 his only session). A second sax man, Gene Redd, had been added. 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), joined, in addition to Dave Patillo. That means that there were at least 10 members on that session. Two other sax men who were in and out of the group during this period were Frank Heppinstall and Walkin' Willie Smith (both of whom were on the session). The group's last RCA record was November's "How I Cry"/"Bobbin'."
Sometime in the fall, they played Copa City in Miami Beach. Sammy Davis, Junior was around and decided to join them on stage. The Red Caps were back at the Hotel El Rancho Vegas for the month of November 1955.
Within a year, the group had abandoned RCA for 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, New Jersey for the summer, 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. 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; Jay Price thinks that the ninth member at the time was Andre D'Orsay.
A blurb in the trades in June claimed that the Red Caps, along with Damita Jo, were booked solid well into 1957. Things were looking up as they had recently abandoned MCA (their manager, Murray Weinger had passed away) and returned to Jolly Joyce as their booking agency. This time, however, Joyce was also listed as their manager.
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.
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: "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 and "Birdie," the maid, on The Great Gildersleeve. According to Jay Price, she 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. Note that I've read that Steve Gibson and Lillian Randolph were siblings (he's supposedly Barbara's uncle and godfather). If so, their mother must have had a tough time of it: both were born in 1914, Steve on October 17 and Lillian on December 14.
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.
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, 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 lead at appearances. The song was issued that same month, with (fittingly) "Flamingo" as the flip. "Silhouettes" 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; the others 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.
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.
When Jay Price left the Red Caps in 1958 (after a gig at Andy's Log Cabin in 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, Vance Wilson, and Gene Redd. There was also baritone and bassist 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" 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.
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. On August 29, they recorded "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), "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.
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. ABC-Paramount then 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. However, I couldn't find a single mention of the movie title, Joseph, or Vickers 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.
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.
Damita Jo and Steve Gibson were divorced in 1958, but she remained with the group until sometime in 1959 (there were contractual obligations for appearances). When she finally left, she was replaced first by Gloria Smythe, and then by a succession of other female singers, one of whom was named "Rayna Shine" (possibly "Rayna Schyne"). Others were Joya Sherrill (who had sung with Duke Ellington's orchestra in the 40s), Vivian Cervantes (who had replaced Damita Jo briefly in 1955), Dottie Joy, Roberta Swede, Jeruth "Jeri" Gray (who'd been married to saxophonist Wardell Gray), and Joan Proctor. There were several other members in the group over the years, including drummer Chippy Broncato, who replaced Bobby Gregg.
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.
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.
When they returned to Larry Potter's Supper Club (in Hollywood) in January 1960, Joan Proctor was mentioned as the featured singer.
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.
ABC-Paramount purchased another two Rose masters, 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. In September, they played the Michigan State Fair with the Brothers Four, Brian Hyland, and Brenda Lee.
Even though they were all long gone, ABC-Paramount released an album in 1961: 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 some recent hit she'd had for Mercury: "I'll Save The Last Dance For You" and "I'll Be There" (an answer to "Stand By Me"). ABC released two of the album cuts ("How Will I Know" and "Disillusioned Lover") as a single (they'd both been on separate singles in 1957).
December 1961 found the Red Caps at the 21 Key Club in Philadelphia.
In the spring of 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 Broncato, and Dave Patillo, formed the "Modern Red Caps" [even manager Hymie Diamond went with the new group]. The fifth member was guitarist Bert Payne (who had been with Louis Jordan). 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 member of this Modern Red Caps who routinely sang. This aggregation lasted a little over a year, during which 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).
[When Dave Patillo left the Modern Red Caps, he joined up with Jay Price in the "Jay Price Sextette." The other members were Fred Back (tenor sax), Johnny Walker (trombone), Art Romano (guitar), and Francis Mickey O'Donnell (drums). They lasted for a couple of years.]
Hedging his bets, George Tindley had some releases on Ember (1960), Herald (1961), and Parkway (1962). While it's possible that the Modern Red Caps are instrumentally backing him, they're not credited on the labels.
There were group vocal records by the Modern Red Caps on Smash ("I Couldn't Care Less"/"Done Being Lonely" - June 1962), Rowax ("Don't You Hear Them Laughing"/"They Can Dream" - around May 1963), and Penntowne ("Free"/"Never Kiss A Good Man Good-bye" - released in 1965, but recorded earlier); however, the group on these records is unclear. Note that a blurb in the trades (June 1962) said that Smash had purchased "Done Being Lonely" from Cotton Records of Philadelphia. However, I can't find any evidence that it was ever issued on Cotton.
The Modern Red Caps (there were six of them) and the Treniers appeared at Tony's Fish Market Cabaret Theater in Miami during February 1963.
In early 1964, George Tindley was appearing at the State Theater in Philadelphia, as a soloist. By this time, he'd disbanded his Modern Red Caps and was in the process of re-forming them. 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).
Tindley had his old friend, tenor George 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 vocalist who also played the guitar; Twig fit the bill perfectly.
Tindley approached Twig (another tenor) 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 Recaps" (of course, there were lots of rehearsals during that time). Twig also became their musical director.
In July 1965, this Modern Red Caps group released "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. (One unreleased Swan track was "No Sign Of You.") 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 recorded 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." (An unreleased tune from the Swan sessions is "Tammie Is Coming Home.")
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 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 the Modern Red Caps' 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.
Late in 1967, after the Modern Treniers fell apart, George and Twig created another group called "By George and Company."
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 Cook (baritone lead and background vocals), 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 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.
After the splitting up of the Red Caps, Steve Gibson and Emmett Mathews constructed a new Red Caps group around three of 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 doing backup work on Decca. By 1950, brother Joe was the fourth member, making the 4 Keys a true "family affair." (When Rudy West and the 5 Keys burst upon the music scene, 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 Red Caps appeared at the El Morocco in Montreal in May 1962 (I'm not sure if this was before or after the split; my feeling is that it was before); the 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...."
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, Bert Payne had joined Steve Gibson's unit as a guitarist.
In the mid 60s, the Red Caps' female singer was one Thomasina "Tammy" Montgomery, who had had some releases on Scepter and Wand in 1961-2. Harvey Fuqua (of the Moonglows, then working for Motown) heard her and thought she'd sound good paired with Marvin Gaye. Her name was changed to "Tammi Terrell" and she had a string of hits with Gaye, starting in 1967.
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 short while. Chippy Broncato had returned as drummer, Wynona Carr 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.
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.
Gibson kept the Red Caps circulating for a few more years, before disbanding them for good. There was an appearance at the El San Juan in Puerto Rico in March 1966; Barbara Randolph was the vocalist. They were at Harry's Bar in Chicago from July through October 1966. 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. In June 1967, the Red Caps were at the Tangiers in Akron, Ohio.
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."
The last mention that I can find of the group is when they opened at the Newport Seven Seas in Miami (along with the Treniers) 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 was Gary Perkins.
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 Rufus Larue McKay as second tenor. Old friend Henry Tucker Green was the drummer.
Dave Patillo died in 1966; Romaine Brown and Jimmy Springs in 1987; Steve Gibson had a stroke and subsequently passed away, in Las Vegas, in March 1996). Damita Jo died in 1998 (there's now a street in Austin, Texas named after her). Emmett Mathews died in 1999, the last of the Red Caps core group.
No one would deny that the Red Caps declined musically in the waning years of their career, although remaining crowd-pleasers at live shows. The fact remains, however, that this prolific and long lived group helped bridge the gap between the "race" era groups of the 40s and the R&B era 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) 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
Note 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
SAVOY (As The Toppers)
559 If Money Grew On Trees/Palace Of Stone - 45
JOE DAVIS (The 5 Red Caps)
7115 I'm The One/I Made A Great Mistake - 45
7116 There's A Light On The Hill/Don't Fool With Me - 45
7117 Tuscaloosa/Mama Put Your Britches On - 45
7118 No Fish Today/Grand Central Station - 45
7119 Just For You/I'm Going To Live My Life Alone - 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 - 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 - 7/45
7132 Pleasant Dreams/Mary Had A Little Jam - 10/45
7133 I'm To Blame/Boogie Woogie On A Saturday Night - 4/45
7136 I'll Remind You/My Everlasting Love For You - 8/45
JOE DAVIS (Bon Bon And The Red Caps Trio)
7190 Apple Honey/Were You Lyin' - 45
7191 Don't Be Angry With Me/Can't You See - 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
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
(** this title is 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)
I May Forgive, But How Can I Forget
If I'm In The Way
Nothing Is Too Good For You
How Can I Forget We're Not Together
Lord, Forgive Me!
A Rose To Remember
Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow
My Life Is Empty Without You
Why Should The Two Of Us Be Lonesome
You Always Think Of Everything
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 - 10/47
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
REGENT (Savoy Subsidiary - As Steve Gibson And The Toppers)
130 Nat's Boogie Woogie/I'm Living For You - 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
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 - 12/48
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 - 7/49
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 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/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 instrumentalists only)
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* - 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 - 61
(Those marked "DJ" are led by Damita Jo)
How Will I Know (DJ), My Heart Is Home (DJ), Write Me (DJ), 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)
1768 I Couldn't Care Less/Done Being Lonely - 6/62
ROWAX (George Tindley And The Modern Red Caps)
801 Don't You Hear Them Laughing/They Can Dream - 63
PENNTOWNE (The Modern Red Caps)
101 Free/Never Kiss A Good Man Good-bye - early 65
LAWN (a subsidiary of Swan; the Modern Red Caps)
254 Our Love Will Never Be The Same/Empty World - 7/65
SWAN (The Modern Red Caps)
4243 Golden Teardrops/Never Too Young (To Fall In Love) - 1/66
UNITED ARTISTS (The Modern Red Caps) - 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)
101 Since I Met Cindy/Ain't Gonna Worry About You - probably 70s (recorded 60s)