The 5 Keys were a "Groups' Group." Almost every singer I've ever interviewed places the 5 Keys (along with the Moonglows and Flamingos) in the roster of groups that his group enjoyed and tried to emulate. Whether the lead was Rudy West, Maryland Pierce, or Dickie Smith, they still maintained an identifiable group sound. Much has been written about the 5 Keys over the years; this article is an attempt to both synthesize it all and add new material.
The origins of the 5 Keys go back to 1945, in Newport News, Virginia, when two sets of brothers began singing gospel music as the Sentimental Four. They were: Rudy West and Bernie West; Ripley Ingram and Raphael Ingram. They only lived a few blocks away from each other in the Marshall Avenue area of Newport News, and at the time, they were all students. Bernie West (bass/baritone; "I was more of a second baritone") and Ripley Ingram (octave tenor) were about 16 and attending Huntington High School; Rafael (second tenor) and Rudy (first tenor), 15 and 13 respectively, both went to Dunbar Elementary School.
By 1948, the Sentimental Four had branched out into Pop and R&B, as well as gospel. Their influences were the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots (later on, the Orioles) all of whom they idolized. (You can hear Bill Kenny's influence on Rudy West on some of their Capitol material; Rudy was a big fan of Bill Kenny.)
As was the case all over the country, there were lots of theaters in the area that held amateur contests. The Sentimental Four did them all, collecting many $25 top prizes, (let's see, that comes to $6.25 per man; not bad). Some of these venues (in what was called the "Litchman Theater Chain") were: the Booker T. (Norfolk), the Capitol (Portsmouth), the Hippodrome (Richmond), and the Jefferson (right there in Newport News).
In early 1949, they decided to change their sound, adding second tenor Edwin Hall as a fifth member. He was from the same neighborhood, and a mutual friend recommended him to the group. Edwin started showing up at rehearsals, and soon became a permanent member. Four-part harmony is different from three-part harmony, and Bernie credits Ripley Ingram with keeping their sound consistent and together: "Ripley was the key part. He sang the fifth. He could float between first and second tenor and above." Ripley was an "octave tenor," who sings a half note above the scale. Why a fifth member? "We wanted to be different. We were looking for another sound. There was a "hole" when Ripley would go up to octave tenor, and Edwin would fill in the sound. It kept the balance; we always had four-part harmony with a melody." (The 5 Keys would pass on the legacy of this "floating tenor" sound to other Newport News groups: the Avalons, the Leaders, and the Chateaus.)
Although they now had a fifth member, they strangely did nothing about their name for a while, continuing to be billed as the Sentimental Four for a few more months.
With their changed sound, the Sentimental Four (plus one) won the Jefferson Theater amateur show for five consecutive weeks. When you did that (as would the Leaders and the Chateaus in later years), the prize was a trip to New York to appear on the Apollo Theater amateur show. This was the "big time" for amateur performers; everyone in the East dreamed of going there.
Before the Apollo contest, in mid-1949, Rafael Ingram received his draft notice and promptly joined the Air Force to avoid the Army. This may have backfired on him because he ended up being sent to Korea, where he lost a foot to frostbite. When he returned home, he became a member of the Avalons, another Newport News group, which also included James Dozier, George Cox, Charles "Bobby" Crawley and Bernard Purdie.
Rafael's replacement was baritone/second tenor James "Dickie" Smith, a relative of Harptones' lead Willie Winfield. (As Willie told researcher Todd Baptista, "We were raised in the same village in Surrey, Virginia. He's younger. He used to be the crybaby of the road. In later years, I learned that he was singing in a group. His uncle married my father's first cousin. When I heard Dickie first sing, man, I said 'what a voice this guy got behind being a crybaby that I knew'." The quote is from Todd's book, Group Harmony: Behind The Rhythm And The Blues, used by permission of the author.) Dickie, at the time living in the East End area of Newport News, was a neighborhood friend of the 5 Keys. He had been singing with a local group called the Virginia Brown Dots (tenor Jimmy Jones, baritone Rudolph Bachus, and bass Buster Ponton), which frequented the same amateur shows as the Keys. Dickie was now the "baby" of the group, being a year younger than Rudy.
The trip to the Apollo wasn't the only thing they got out of their winning streak at the Jefferson Theater: the theater's manager (and former math teacher) Isaac "Ike" Burton ended up becoming their manager. He also decided that a name change was in order. They were in his office when a key ring with 5 skeleton keys on it fell on the floor, and the "5 Keys" they became. (They even jokingly toyed with "5 Skeleton Keys"; another name they had kicked around was the "Virginia Gentlemen.")
On the big day, the 5 Keys packed their double-breasted gray plaid suits and their blue and white ties with the 'K' stitched on. Then, they all piled into a single car and drove up to New York: Ike Burton, Rudy West, Bernie West, Ripley Ingram, Dickie Smith, and Edwin Hall. Bernie remembers: "We were leaning out the windows of the car, just looking at all the tall buildings." Their first stop was checking into the Hotel Theresa on 125th Street and 7th Avenue. (Yes, the same Hotel Theresa where Fidel Castro would camp out, along with his chickens, in the 60s.)
There were around 30 other amateur acts that Wednesday night, but the 5 Keys came in first. Roy Hamilton was on the same show, singing "You'll Never Walk Alone"; he was yanked off the stage by the crazed stage manager, "Porto Rico" (who, in a dress, would sound an air raid siren, fire a gun with blanks, or simply use a huge hook to discourage acts which he felt the audience wasn't responding well to). Bernie says: "We were looking for Porto Rico to yank us off, before we even got on." Not to worry; the 5 Keys sang the old standard, "Them There Eyes," and got a standing ovation.
But when did the 5 Keys appear on the Apollo Amateur Show? I spoke with four members who were there: Bernie West, Rudy West, Dickie Smith and Edwin Hall and they all had slightly differing memories. The one fact that they all agreed on was that the regular show that week was headed up by Billie Holiday. There was also general agreement that it was in 1949. Due to the heroic efforts of Dave Hinckley, researching Apollo advertisements in the New York Daily News, there was only a single occasion in that period when Billie Holiday headlined: the week beginning Friday, August 19, 1949. This would have placed the amateur show on Wednesday, August 24. Edwin Hall was good enough to send me the following clipping, which had no newspaper name or date on it. However, thanks to Jay Bruder, the clipping was traced to the September 3, 1949 issue of the Norfolk Journal And Guide (Peninsula Edition, page 4). This corroborates the August 24 date.
FIVE KEYS MUSICAL GROUP MAKES HIT
IN NEW YORK
NEWPORT NEWS -- The Five Keys, a local musical organization under the direction of I.M. Burden [sic], manager of the Jefferson Theatre, added a laurel to its musical accomplishments in a recent debut in New York City at the Apollo Theater.
The group, which was first organized in 1944, had given performances at Virginia Beach, Bucks College Tavern, Williamsburg, and in Norfolk before competing in an amateur program at the Jefferson Theater.
Mr. Burden [sic], theater manager, recognizing the possibilities in the group, became its manager, and was instrumental in getting engagements for the Keys in several of the capital chain of theaters in Washington, D.C.
The district manager of the capital theaters suggested the northern trip and aided in making the arrangements for the group. This was the first time that the locals had been up against big city competition, but it was no drawback as they came through with flying colors, to win first place in competition with 31 other groups at the Apollo Theater in New York City.
WEEK AT APOLLO
So well did the Keys perform, that they were invited by a number of clubs, and will be given a week at the Apollo for winning first prize.
It was learned from Mr. Burden [sic] that the group has an opportunity to tour with a show that will be organized this Fall by Duke Ellington, and also to work for a recording agency.
Members of the Five Keys are: Rudolph West, first tenor, 2100 Marshall avenue; Bernard West, bass, 1126 29th street; James "Lucky" [sic; but the photo caption did say "Dickie"] Smith, second tenor, 647 Hampton avenue; Ripley Ingram lead, 1910 Marshall avenue; and Edwin Hall, baritone, 1026 29th street.
Lots of good things came out of being at that show. First, they received $50 for coming in first (divided amongst five members, that comes to $10.00; this is a clear step up from the $6.25 the members of the Sentimental Four received). Next they got to play a week at the Apollo and another week at the Howard, as guest artists with a Count Basie show (and with considerably more money). Then, too, says Rudy West, Eddie Mesner, owner of Aladdin Records was in the audience that night and came backstage to meet them. Maryland Pierce, who'll be joining us in a while, tells a different story. He says that Mesner saw them in Illinois while they were appearing with the Brownskin Models (more about them in a moment). This is when he contacted Burton and began negotiations with him. Dickie Smith's memory is that Amos Milburn came through Newport News, heard the Keys, called Eddie Mesner, and had the guys audition for him over the phone. There are certainly enough stories to choose from! (Jay Bruder found an item in the October 29, 1949 issue of the Norfolk Journal And Guide that Aladdin was using Amos Milburn to launch a national talent hunt. Therefore, it's not unreasonable that Milburn was involved somehow.) However it happened, negotiations started between Mesner and Burton, but it would be a long while before they were actually signed to the label.
After the show, they stayed overnight in Brooklyn, at the home of Ike's sister, returning to Newport News on Thursday. That Saturday, Irvin C. Miller and his "Brownskin Models" revue made an appearance on the "Midnight Ramble" show at the Jefferson Theater. Burton told Miller about the 5 Keys' win at the Apollo, and convinced him to audition the group. Miller, a former musician and tap dancer (and brother of Flournoy Miller, who had written the musical "Runnin' Wild," which introduced the Charleston), was sold, and invited the 5 Keys to tour with the Brownskin Models during the summer of 1950. (Summer was a necessity because both Dickie and Rudy were still in High School.)
[A "Midnight Ramble" show was a common practice in theaters all over the country. It took place on Saturday, around midnight, when there were only supposed to be adults in the audience. The comedians saved up all their "raunchiest" material and the strippers took off a little more. The 5 Keys were present when Miller was there - some of them may have been underage, but they were, after all, managed by the guy who ran the theater.]
Soon after this, the 5 Keys became six by adding guitarist Joe Jones. Joe was from Rocky Mount, North Carolina, but at that time was living in Newport News. When the Keys met him, he was part of saxophonist Lester Shackelford's Quartet (which also had pianist Jack McDuff and bassist Ken Bailey). They played the Liberty Club a lot, and Joe remembers the Keys sneaking in (since some of them were underage).
In the early spring of 1950, before the Brownskin Models tour, Edwin Hall, who had recently gotten married, left the group. Though it was months away, he knew that gallivanting all over the country wasn't the thing for a newlywed! He was replaced by second tenor Maryland Pierce, lead singer of a local group called the 4 Bees. This group (Maryland, Leroy Harris, and future Avalons Charles "Bobby" Crawley and Bernard Purdie) also frequented the local amateur shows, and the Keys and the Bees had gone to school together (Rudy, Dickie and Maryland were still in school). These were groups that would "battle" each other in the neighborhood.
Now the "classic" lineup was in place: Rudy West (first tenor), Maryland Pierce (second tenor), Ripley Ingram (octave tenor), Dickie Smith (baritone/second tenor), and Bernie West (bass), along with guitarist Joe Jones. They also not only had different lead singers, but different kinds of lead singers: Maryland had a bluesy voice for ballads and uptempo tunes (his influences were the Dixie Hummingbirds, Wynonie Harris, and Roy Brown), Rudy had the sweet Bill Kenny-type ballad voice, and Dickie did rhythm and scat numbers. Maryland echoes what Bernie said: "It takes five voices to make the group. All the members were outstanding. The fifth person, the octave tenor [Ripley], separates the 5 Keys from all other groups."
In the spring of 1950, after Edwin had left, the 5 Keys landed a radio show for a couple of months. It was a weekly 15-minute show on WVEC (in neighboring Hampton, Virginia), each Sunday morning. Their repertoire included all kinds of music - gospel, R&B and Pop and as their opening and closing theme song, they chose "The Glory Of Love" (a Billy Hill composition which had been a #1 hit for Benny Goodman in 1936).
That summer, the Brownskin Models joined James E. Straight's Carnival, which started in Syracuse, New York and ended up, after three months of wandering, in Orlando, Florida. The 5 Keys thus became part of a tent show, generally working weekends and using weekdays for travel. They each received $150 a week; not bad for those days. Note that there were only the five singers on this tour; Joe Jones didn't go along. The tour was priceless in terms of experience; they learned to do precision dancing in unison, developing a routine for each song. Their choreographer was Leroy Watts, a former tap dancer, who was now working as a barker at the carnival.
Some of the songs they sang on the tour were: that new smash by Nat "King" Cole, "Mona Lisa"; "When Paw Was Courtin' Maw" (dressed as hayseed farmers), "The Glory Of Love," "I'm So High," and "Hucklebuck With Jimmy" ("it was our dance tune," remembered Bernie). There was an item in the trade papers from December, 1950 which mentioned the 5 Keys, their win at the Apollo and their 14-week tour with Miller. At this time they'd yet to be signed to a recording contract.
When they got back from the Miller tour, Bernie took a job in the local shipyards. Since he, Maryland and Ripley had "real" jobs, and Rudy and Dickie were still in school, the 5 Keys were pretty much limited to weekend gigs. (Rudy had graduated high school in June and was now attending college.)
Joe Jones hadn't gone on the tour with them because he had a "day job" with a gas company. When they returned, there weren't all that many bookings and when Joe lost his job, he came back to live with his parents in Newport News while he looked for a new one (rambling around with the 5 Keys just didn't bring in that much money that often; it just wasn't worth it at that time).
The Keys countered by getting another accompanist. This time it was a pianist, and, just so they wouldn't have to change the monograms on the towels, he was also named Joe Jones! This Joe Jones had been a child prodigy on the piano, starting before he was four years old. The group knew him from the streets of Newport News, where he was part of a local trio called the 3 Notes. When they played together locally, the entire aggregation was billed as "The 5 Keys and The 3 Notes."
In February 1951, the trade papers reported that Eddie Mesner had gone down to Newport News to sign the 5 Keys to the Aladdin label (which he owned with his brother Leo). (Also in February, Atlantic Records signed the Clovers; in all, it was a good month for R&B.) The only minor problem with this announcement is that it never happened. Bernie says the contracts were mailed to Ike Burton; Mesner didn't make the trip at all. Remember that Burton and Mesner had been negotiating for anywhere from six months to a year and a half. (To further confuse things, in March, the trades had Leo signing the 5 Keys.)
What Mesner did do, in January, was to ask the 5 Keys to provide him with a demo tape so that he could have band arrangements made. The Keys recorded the tape on February 1, 1951, in a Newport News studio.
On February 22, 1951 (just a couple of weeks after Bernie's 22nd birthday), the 5 Keys went into the WOR studios in New York and recorded six sides: "Hucklebuck With Jimmy" (led by Maryland), "Too Late" (Maryland), "With A Broken Heart" (Dickie), "Happy Am I" (Maryland), "Your Teardrops" (Dickie; later retitled "Teardrops In Your Eyes," a song they'd learned during their tour with the Brownskin Models), and "Just Like Two Drops Of Water" (Maryland). Aladdin was very unhappy with the session and only one of the sides ("With A Broken Heart") was released.
Exactly one month later, on March 22, 1951, the 5 keys had their second session, this time at New York's RCA studios. Only five songs were recorded: "With A Broken Heart" (led by Dickie), "Teardrops In Your Eyes" (Dickie), "Hucklebuck With Jimmy" (Maryland), "Too Late" (Maryland), and a new one, "The Glory Of Love" (Rudy and Dickie; one of the trademarks of the 5 Keys was a ballad led by Rudy, with Dickie doing the bridge). For whatever reasons, "Happy Am I" and "Just Like Two Drops Of Water" (from their demo session) were never re-recorded. Mesner had been so upset with the results of the demo session, that he used the same master numbers for the second session (even though each was assigned to a different song).
Unlike the accompanists of most groups, Joe Jones actually played on the Aladdin sessions. On "The Glory Of Love" and "Too Late," you can clearly hear his piano.
In April 1951, Aladdin issued the first 5 Keys record: "With A Broken Heart"/"Too Late" (on 78 RPM only). "With A Broken Heart" gives us two problems. First, due to a pressing plant error, some copies had a Floyd Dixon song in place of "With A Broken Heart," although you can't tell by the label. (Collector Victor Pearlin says that most copies of the record were pressed this way; the probable cause was that both master numbers end in the same digit, and someone at the plant grabbed the wrong one.) Second, although Aladdin had them re-record the song in March, according to the master number (WOR 1641-Q), it was the version from the first session that was used. In spite of these minor glitches, the Keys were on their way.
"With A Broken Heart" was reviewed the week of May 5, 1951, the same week as the Dominoes' "Sixty Minute Man" and the 4 Dots' "You Won't Let Me Go." The Territorial Tips in New York that week were Nat "King" Cole's "Too Young," the 4 Tunes' "Cool Water," and the Larks' "Hopefully Yours."
Although "With A Broken Heart" wasn't a hit, things were about to change. In July 1951, Aladdin issued "The Glory of Love," backed with "Hucklebuck With Jimmy."
"The Glory Of Love," as stated before, had been both the 5 Keys' theme song on their radio program and a #1 hit for Benny Goodman in 1936. "Hucklebuck With Jimmy" was a song Maryland had put together when he was singing with the 4 Bees. The Bees always used it as their closing number; "it was our 'bombshell' tune," says Maryland. The entire first stanza was lifted from Loumell Morgan's 1945 "Garbage Man Blues" (which, in itself, went back to at least 1929, when it was recorded as "New Call Of The Freaks" by Luis Russell). Jimmy Preston and the Prestonians' somewhat similar "Hucklebuck Daddy" was a brief R&B hit in 1949. Philadelphia's Gazelles would later "adapt" "Hucklebuck With Jimmy," calling it "Pretty Baby, Baby."
The record was reviewed the week of August 4, 1951, along with the Red Caps' "When You Come Back To Me." The Territorial Tips went to a couple of the Keys' Aladdin stablemates: Peppermint Harris' "I Got Loaded" (in Newark) and Amos Milburn's "Just One More Drink" (in Savannah).
Their third session took place on August 6, 1951, once again at WOR studios. Another five tunes were recorded, although the last one wasn't assigned a master number (possibly it was never finished). Laid down that day were: "Do I Need You" (led by Dickie), "My Love" (Rudy and Dickie), "Goin' Downtown (8-9-10)" (Maryland), "Old MacDonald" (Maryland), and "Darktown Strutters' Ball" (Maryland). This last song was a real "oldie," having been written in 1917 by Shelton Brooks, and popularized by Sophie Tucker. "Goin' Downtown (8-9-10)" was also an oldie, basically having been adapted from Slim And Slam's 1938 opus, "8, 9 And 10."
The week of August 18, "The Glory Of Love" became the Territorial Tip in Los Angeles; the next week saw it the Tip in Newark.
In September 1951, someone at a trade publication got out his crystal ball and wrote an article about the recent vocal group explosion. While the Ravens and Orioles had been around for a while, now there were also the Dominoes, Swallows, Clovers, 5 Keys, 4 Buddies, Cardinals, and Blenders. What a talent roster!
That same month saw the Keys signing with Billy Shaw's 'Shaw Artists Corp.' as their booking agents. According to Bernie, Billy Shaw helped them along with their career, telling them that they had to be more than just singers: "You sing on your recordings, but you act in person." He also had them wear light uniforms so that they'd stand out more on stage.
On September 3, the 5 Keys were booked into the Club Harlem, in Philadelphia, for a week. Later that month, they started a tour that took them on 30 one-nighters in the Midwest and Southwest with Joan Shaw and Billy Ford's Orchestra (he would later become "Billy" of Billy and Lillie).
In September, while the 5 Keys' version of "The Glory Of Love" was taking off in Philadelphia, DC, New York, Dallas, New Orleans, and Atlanta, the Hollywood 4 Flames released their version, as did the Skylarks. The 4 Knights gave it a try in October. But the Keys were the big winners, entering the national charts and going all the way to #1. Strangely, this would be their only chart hit on Aladdin.
Back in Newport News, Bernie would play "The Glory Of Love" on jukeboxes all the time. This was his dream fulfilled, his ticket out of working in the shipyards.
On October 5, 1951, the 5 Keys were booked into the Apollo Theater for a week. As long as they were in town, their fourth session was held on October 9, 1951, at the RCA studios. This time they recorded four songs: "Darling" (led by Rudy), "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" (Rudy and Dickie), "It's Christmas Time" (Rudy), and a second version of "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" (it was never released, but there's no explanation as to why it got a separate master number). That song had been written in 1925 by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson, expressly for Eddie Cantor. (Cantor would tell the story about how Kahn found the inspiration for the tune in the sounds made by a mechanical toy pig belonging to Cantor's daughter, Marjorie.)
However, there was some contention for the "Keys" name. John "Slim" Furness had been calling his group the "4 Keys" since the early 1940s (they were an outgrowth of the original 3 Keys). In December 1950 (when the 5 Keys were still unknown), it was reported that the Furness Brothers were getting ready to add their youngest brother into the group (that would have been Joe, who replaced drummer Ernie Hatfield). Thus, by 1951, the 4 Keys consisted of Slim Furness and his three brothers, Bill, Peck, and Joe). Supposedly Slim had some lawyers contact Aladdin in October 1951, claiming that the "Keys" name was registered. Although I couldn't find any other mention of this legal action, it's pretty clear that nothing ever came of it. Strangely, Bernie never heard of the 4 Keys, although they were popular in the same circles as the Red Caps and the Treniers for many years.
November saw a report that Aladdin's Leo Mesner was doing so well that he was having a house built. (The 5 Keys, of course, never saw a dime in royalties from Aladdin.)
The third 5 Keys record was released in December, pairing "It's Christmas Time" with "Old MacDonald." It was reviewed the week of December 8, along with Wynonie Harris' "Lovin' Machine," the Ravens' "Everything But You," and Maxwell Davis' "I'll Always Be In Love With You."
With "Old MacDonald" doing well in some localities, Aladdin reissued it in January 1952, without the Christmas tune on the flip. This time paired with "Yes Sir, That's My Baby," it merited another review during the week of February 2, along with Peppermint Harris' "Let The Back Door Hit You," Dinah Washington's "Wheel Of Fortune," and the Cabineers' "Baby Mine." Meanwhile, the 5 Keys had been booked into The Frolics niteclub in Salisbury Beach (Massachusetts) for the week beginning February 1.
Two other 5 Keys masters were scheduled to be released in January: "Darling" and "Goin' Downtown (8-9-10)." They were assigned record number 3119, but never actually issued.
Sometime in the spring of 1952, the 5 Keys played the Howard Theater and met an old friend: guitarist Joe Jones. He was persuaded to rejoin them and now the 5 Keys were actually the "7 Keys," including two Joe Joneses! In order to tell them apart, their pianist was called "Virginia Joe" Jones and their guitarist was "Rocky Mount Joe" Jones. Although "Virginia Joe" usually played on their sessions, "Rocky Mount Joe" usually didn't.
The Keys' fifth Aladdin session, held at RCA on March 4, 1952, produced another four tunes: "Red Sails In The Sunset" (led by Rudy and Dickie), "These Foolish Things" (Dickie), "Be Anything But Be Mine" (Rudy and Dickie), and "Love My Loving" (Maryland, with "Virginia Joe" Jones' bluesy piano). "Red Sails In The Sunset" had been written in 1935 by Jimmy Kennedy and Hugh Williams; it was a #1 hit that year for both Bing Crosby and Guy Lombardo. "These Foolish Things," a 1935 composition by Holt Marvell, Jack Strachey, and Harry Link was another #1 song for Benny Goodman in 1936. "Be Anything But Be Mine" wasn't an oldie, but a contemporary hit for Eddie Howard (which rose to #7 on the Pop charts).
During a tour of California in April 1952, the 5 Keys recorded their sixth and seventh Aladdin sessions at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. On April 2, they laid down "Mistakes" (Rudy and Dickie), "I'll Always Be In Love With You" (Rudy and Dickie), and "I Hadn't Anyone Till You" (Rudy). April 3 saw the recording of "I Cried For You" (Rudy and Dickie), "Hold Me" (Dickie), and "How Long" (Rudy and Dickie).
"I'll Always Be In Love With You" was by Bud Green, Herman Ruby, and Sam Stept (1929); it was a hit that year for both Fred Waring and Morton Downey, Sr. "I Hadn't Anyone Till You" was written by Ray Noble in 1938, the same year both he and Tommy Dorsey had hits with it. "I Cried For You" was by Arthur Freed, Gus Arnheim, and Abe Lyman (1923); it had been a hit on several occasions, the most recent being by Harry James in 1942. "Hold Me" was by Jack Little, Dave Openheim, and Ira Schuster (1933); that year it was a hit for both Eddy Duchin and Ted Fio Rito. The 5 Keys were definitely recording quality material!
In April, Aladdin released "Be Anything But Be Mine" backed with "Red Sails In The Sunset." The record was reviewed the week of April 12, 1952, along with Lynn Hope's "Please Mr. Sun" and the King Odom Four's "Don't Trade Your Love For Gold." The Territorial Picks that week were the Dominoes' "That's What You're Doing To Me" (in New York) and that other Domino (Fats, that is), with "Goin' Home" (in New Orleans). "Be Anything But Be Mine" was quite a popular song that year, also being recorded by Ruth Brown, Wini Brown, and Bobby Smith. While "Red Sails In The Sunset" would be recorded many times in the history of R&B, in 1952 the Keys had it all to themselves.
Also in April, the results of the Pittsburgh Courier's annual Theatrical Poll were announced. In spite of having led the pack for most of the balloting, the 5 Keys were edged out in the end by the Dominoes. (While both the Dominoes and the 5 Keys deserved all the glory they could amass, I've reported in other places that the Pittsburgh Courier Theatrical Poll was useless. Many acts you've never heard of scored big, sometimes even coming out on top.)
On May 9, 1952, the 5 Keys began a week-long stay at the Apollo, along with Big Joe Turner and the Count Basie Orchestra. Then it was off on a series of one-nighters in the South, with Hot Lips Page, Varetta Dillard, and Billy Wright. Says Maryland, "We changed the way entertainers dressed. Others wore very conservative suits. We wore red, green and pink suits. We came out there dancing. The Hucklebuck was our closer and we had dance routines with it." Probably through Ike Burton's Brooklyn relatives, he found out about a New York store that would make these colored suits for them.
Also in May, Aladdin released "How Long," backed with "Mistakes." The record was reviewed the week of May 31, 1952, along with the 4 Buddies' "You're Part Of Me," the Treniers' "Hadacole, That's All," the Swallows' "I Only Have Eyes For You," Joe Turner's "Just A Travelin' Man," and Bill Doggett's "Big Dog." The Territorial Tip in New York was the Dominoes' "Have Mercy Baby."
On July 4, the 5 Keys were booked into Weeke's Tavern in Atlantic City. They spent a week there with Wini Brown and Piney Brown. During this period, the Furness Brothers (4 Keys) were still around too; they were being billed as "Slim Furness and the Keys." They also styled themselves "The Furness Brothers - The Entertainment World's Handsomest Quartet."
In July, Aladdin released the next single: "I Hadn't Anyone Till You"/"Hold Me." The review appeared the week of July 19 (at which time it was also a Territorial Tip in Newark), along with Fat Man Humphries and the 4 Notes' "Lulubell Blues" [this was actually the first record by the Crows], Edna McGriff & Sonny Til's "I Only Have Eyes For You," Ray Charles' "Baby Let Me Hear You Call My Name," the 4 Tunes' "They Don't Understand," the Orioles' "Barfly," and Little Richard's "Ain't Nothin' Happenin'."
The Keys' eighth Aladdin session was held at Nola Studios in New York on July 11, 1952. The four songs recorded were: the unreleased version of "Can't Keep From Crying" (led by Dickie), "Lonesome Old Story" (Maryland), "Come Go My Bail, Louise" (Dickie), and "Story Of Love" (Rudy; this was a reworking of "My Love," done a year earlier).
August 23 found the 5 Keys playing a riverboat cruise on the Chesapeake River, along with the Griffin Brothers.
On September 19, 1952, the 5 Keys played the Apollo again, along with the Jimmy Forrest Orchestra, jazz harpist Olivette Miller, and the 3 Chocolateers. Since they were in town, Aladdin session number nine took place at the WOR studios on September 26, 1952. The three tunes recorded that day were: "Can't Keep From Crying" (Dickie - the released version), the unreleased version of "Serve Another Round" (Maryland), and "If You Only Knew" (Rudy).
Three days later, on September 29, there were an additional two songs recorded at WOR, both led by Maryland: the released version of "Serve Another Round," and "I'm So High."
Only ten days after that (October 9), they recorded six more tunes, this time at RCA Studios: "Rocking And Crying Blues" (led by Maryland), "Someday Sweetheart" (Rudy and Dickie), "Why, Oh Why" (Dickie), "Will My Heart Stand A Chance" (Rudy and Dickie), "Yearning" (Rudy), and "Ghost Of A Chance" (Dickie). "Someday Sweetheart" was the first "oldie" they'd recorded in a while. It dates back to 1921, when it was written by the Spikes brothers, Benjamin and John C. (who were credited on the label as "D. Spikef" and "J.C. Spikef"). "(I Don't Stand A) Ghost Of A Chance With You" was another dusty tune, dating back to 1932, when it was written by Ned Washington, Bing Crosby, and Victor Young. Both Bing and Ted Fio Rito had hits with it in 1933. While "Ghost Of A Chance" was never issued, it was part of the 5 Keys' stage show; the Solitaires heard it and "borrowed" the arrangement for their December 1954 release.
Why the flurry of recording (eleven songs recorded in thirteen days)? Rudy had gotten his draft notice, and Aladdin was stockpiling as many songs with the "5 Keys sound" as possible.
Rudy's replacement was Ulysses K. Hicks, another Newport News singer that they'd met during their Jefferson Theater amateur days, and one who could range from falsetto to bass. The 5 Keys were now Maryland Pierce, Ulysses Hicks, Ripley Ingram, Dickie Smith, and Bernie West (along with a couple of Joe Joneses). (At a show in Connecticut sometime in 1953, they took the only known photo with the "7 Keys".)
On October 16, they began a four-day appearance at the Farm Dell Club in Dayton, Ohio. Later that month they appeared at Uncle Tom's Plantation in Detroit. Also in October the next Aladdin record was issued: "I Cried For You," coupled with "Serve Another Round." (This latter song was another 5 Keys' opus that found its way into someone else's repertoire: Chicago's 5 Thrills cut the song under the title "Feel So Good.")
On November 8, Eddie Mesner presented the 5 Keys with gold keys and key chains in appreciation for their "outstanding record work during 1952." Aladdin also bought them a green 1951 9-passenger DeSoto Suburban, with a luggage rack on the roof. It was decorated with a key ring, on which there were (need I say it?) 5 keys, and also an advertisement for the Shaw Artists Corporation in the back
During this period, the Keys had a valet/chauffeur, named B.C. Curtis. He was also from Newport News, where his siblings had a group. Once, he reported that the 5 Keys' green uniforms had been lost by the cleaners; it was only years later that Bernie found out that Curtis had given them to his brothers to wear in their act.
"I Cried For You" was reviewed the week of November 1, along with Edna McGriff & Sonny Til's "Piccadilly," the Clefs' "We Three," and the Ray-O-Vacs' "Start Lovin' Me." The Territorial Tips were the 5 Royales' "You Know I Know" (in New York), the Clovers' "I Played The Fool" (in Newark), and the Dominoes' "I'd Be Satisfied" (in Philadelphia). At the end of the month, the Keys appeared at the Sportsman's Club in Newport, Kentucky.
From November 28 to December 11, the 5 Keys did a series of one-nighters with Joe Morris, Laurie Tate, and Lowell Fulson. Later in December, they played one-nighters in Bedford, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island, with Edna McGriff and the Buddy Lucas Ork. New Year's Eve found them at the Arcadia, in Providence, along with Charlie Barnet. Barnet, whose big band had once rocked the house with "Cherokee" and "Redskin Rumba," and who had once had the Modernaires, Lena Horne, and Kay Starr as singers, was, at this point, the leader of a small sextet, which remained popular for years. They began the new year with a week's stay at Baltimore's Royale Theater.
A few days later, Aladdin issued the Keys' first release of 1953: "Come Go My Bail Louise" and "Can't Keep From Crying." They were reviewed the week of February 14, 1953, along with the Vocaleers' "Be True," the 5 Bills' "Till I Waltz Again With You," the Ravens' "Don't Mention My Name," the Du Droppers' "Can't Do Sixty No More," and the Orioles' "I Miss You So."
The twelfth Aladdin session was held at the RCA studios on March 11, 1953, with four tunes being waxed: "Mama (Your Daughter Told A Lie On Me)" (Dickie), "There Ought To Be A Law" (Ulysses and Maryland), "When You're Gone" (Dickie), and "White Cliffs Of Dover" (Dickie and Maryland). "Mama" was one of the answer records to Ruth Brown's smash hit, "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean." "White Cliffs Of Dover" was the World War II standard, written by Nat Burton and Walter Kent in 1942, when it was a #1 hit for Kay Kyser's Orchestra. The most interesting thing about this song (to me) is that every R&B version of the song, that I've heard, has at least one mistake in the lyrics. For example, the 5 Keys interchanged the last lines of the first two stanzas (the first one should be "Tomorrow, just you wait and see"; the second one is: "Tomorrow, when the world is free). Other groups use "little Johnny," instead of "little Jimmy"; he sometimes goes "to sleep in his own little crib again" (instead of his little "room"); and remember, the "valley will bloom again," not the "flowers." I know, I know: everyone's a critic.
Aladdin rushed out "Mama (Your Daughter Told A Lie On Me)" later in March, coupled with "There Ought To Be A Law." The latter song has an interesting flaw in it, which Aladdin either never caught or else chose to ignore. Coming off the second bridge, Ulysses says "There ought to be a w..law." Presumably he was about to say "way," then caught himself and quickly said "law."
The record was reviewed the week of April 18, 1953, along with the Orioles' "Dem Days," the 5 Royales' "Help Me Somebody," Van Walls & Rockets' "Big Leg Mama," the Ravens' "Come A Little Bit Closer," the 5 Bills' "Till Dawn And Tomorrow," and Oscar McLollie's "The Honey Jump."
In May 1953, the 5 Keys became the first act to appear at the newly-opened El Sambo in Jacksonville, Florida. Also in May, Aladdin issued "These Foolish Things," backed with "Lonesome Old Story." Actually, "These Foolish Things" had been recorded over a year before; now someone remembered it was there and released it to compete with the newly-issued Dominoes' version. The review came the week of May 30, 1953, along with the Cardinals' "You Are My Only Love," the Balladiers' "What Will I Tell My Heart," and Ruth Brown's "Wild, Wild Young Men."
In July, they appeared at Weeke's Tavern in Atlantic City, along with Milt Buckner and Freddy Cole (one of Nat's brothers).
The thirteenth, and last, Aladdin session was held at New York's Audio-Video Recording Company on September 23, 1953. The Keys wrapped up their Aladdin career by recording five more songs: "Deep In My Heart" (led by Ulysses), "How Do You Expect Me To Get It" (Dickie), "My Saddest Hour" (Maryland and Dickie), "Oh! Babe!" (Dickie), and "How Could You Do This To Me" (Dickie).
September also saw the release of "Teardrops In Your Eyes" and "I'm So High," which were reviewed the week of October 26, 1953, along with Willie Mae Thornton's "They Call Me Big Mama," Rufus Thomas' "Tiger Man," the Swallows' "Trust Me," and Champion Jack Dupree's "Ain't No Meat On De Bone." By the time of the review, the 5 Keys had started a series of ten one-nighters along with Ruth Brown and Woody Herman's Orchestra. In late November, there was another batch of one-nighters in the East, this time with Milt Buckner. On November 13, they were at the Apollo, along with Joe Loco and Bill Bailey (Pearl's brother).
"My Saddest Hour" and "Oh! Babe!" were paired as the next release, issued in early December 1953. The review came the week of December 12, along with Amos Milburn's "Good Good Whiskey," Chuck Willis' "You're Still My Baby," the Magic-Tones' "How Can You Treat Me This Way," the Treniers' "Bug Dance," the Prisonaires' "A Prisoner's Prayer," and the Moonglows' "Just A Lonely Christmas." Note that the Orchids later appropriated "Oh! Babe!," and released it on Parrot under the title "I Can't Refuse."
In late December, Dickie Smith found out from his mother that she'd received his draft notice (he was married and living in New Jersey at the time). He promptly enlisted in the Air Force (as Rafael Ingram had done years before), and recruited a friend of his, baritone Ramon Loper (who was part of a group called the Bob-O-Links that performed around the Newport News area), to be his replacement in the 5 Keys. Dickie's last gig with the 5 Keys was with Louis Armstrong and Illinois Jaquet.
Since the Air Force couldn't take him until mid-1954, Dickie had some time to kill and cousin Willie Winfield ended up getting him a recording date with Bruce Records (home of Willie's Harptones). Although there was an item in the trades, in January 1954, that Dickie had been signed to Bruce, there was only a single session (actually, no one could think of any reason to inform Monte Bruce that Dickie wasn't going to be available for very much longer). The result was Bruce 103: "A New Kind Of Love"/"When You're Gone," issued around March 1954. Both tunes were written by Dickie (and "When You're Gone" had previously been recorded by the 5 Keys on their March 11, 1953 session). Actually, these songs are unusual in that Dickie is singing much higher than he generally does; when I heard them for the first time, my initial thought was that it was a woman singing (not a joke; I re-listened and had the same experience). At the session, Dickie was backed up, not only by the Harptones, but by his wife and in-laws! (However, I can't really hear any group on "When You're Gone," the Harptones might just be on "A New Kind Of Love.")
The 5 Keys were now Maryland Pierce, Ulysses Hicks, Ripley Ingram, Ramon Loper, and Bernie West (along with a couple of Joe Joneses). At some point in the next few months, Maryland was out sick for several weeks and his place was taken by tenor Willie Friday, who had been a member of Ramon's group, the Bob-O-Links. Since he was only a temporary replacement, he had to fit, somehow, into Maryland's uniforms.
It's worth mentioning that the 5 Keys had come a long way from constant practice every day. Dickie, as stated above, lived in New Jersey, and he would journey down to Newport News before a big show, where they'd go over the program tunes both the night before and the morning of the show. The only time that more rehearsal was called for was when they were breaking in a new singer, when there was a recording session coming up, or when there were new songs to practice. Then they'd get together for up to a week to make sure everything went smoothly.
The first Aladdin release of 1954 was February's "Love My Loving," backed with "Someday Sweetheart." That month, "My Saddest Hour" became a Territorial Tip, first in the Baltimore/DC area, and then in Cincinnati.
The 5 Keys' contract with Aladdin was due to expire at the end of 1954. There was a one-year option, but, although bargaining began in early 1954, they just couldn't seem to work out a deal; Aladdin held on to the Keys, but stopped recording them. Bernie sums up his Aladdin days like this: "We had so much to learn; so much to do. We played with everyone: the Nicholas Brothers, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dinah Washington, Andy Williams." Yet they weren't happy with what they were doing there. "Aladdin wanted us to do up-tempo dance numbers, not ballads, not classics."
One other facet of their career on Aladdin remains to be mentioned: the 5 Keys not only sang 'em, they wrote 'em. Some of the songs the guys wrote were: "With A Broken Heart" and "Hucklebuck With Jimmy" (both by Maryland); "Teardrops In Your Eyes," "Can't Keep From Crying," "Mama (Your Daughter Told A Lie On Me)," "When You're Gone," and "Oh! Babe!" (by Dickie); "Do I Need You" and "Story Of Love" (by Rudy); and "Come Go My Bail Louise" and "Why, Oh Why" (by Bernie). The only other consistent writer for the 5 Keys was Rudolph Toombs (author of "One Mint Julep"), who wrote "If You Only Knew," "Serve Another Round," "I'm So High," "Rocking And Crying Blues," "Will My Heart Stand A Chance," and "Yearning"; most of which were unreleased.
The week of March 27, 1954 saw the review of "Someday Sweetheart," the same week as the Spaniels' "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight," the Crickets' "Just You," the Tempo-Toppers' "Always" (featuring Little Richard), and Leon D. Tarver & Chordones' "I'm A Young Rooster" (Tarver had been a former lead of the Cardinals).
On April 27, they appeared at the Odd Fellows Hall in Wilmington, Delaware and on May 22, they played the Elks Club in Alexandria, Virginia. May also saw the issue of the last Aladdin record for a long while: "Deep In My Heart"/"How Do You Expect Me To Get It." It was reviewed the week of June 26, along with the Platters' "Tell The World," the Sultans' "How Deep Is The Ocean?," Shirley & Lee's "Keep On," Luther Bond & Emeralds' "Starlight, Starbright," Jalacy ("Screamin' Jay) Hawkins' "Baptize Me In Wine," the Jets' "I'll Hide My Tears," and the Velvets' "I Cried."
On June 25, 1954, the 5 Keys were featured on Alan Freed's "Moondog Birthday Ball" at the Akron (Ohio) Armory. Appearing with them were Joe Turner, Faye Adams, Al Savage, and the Joe Morris Orchestra. A week previously, it was announced that Freed would be moving to WINS in New York.
Around this time, Ike Burton had hooked up with Fanny Wolff, who was the manager of the Avalons (and who had written "Love My Loving"). Now the Keys had two managers, although Burton and Wolff appointed Saul Richfield as the one who would actually handle the 5 Keys on a day-to-day basis. "Rocky Mount Joe" Jones remembers not being happy with their management: neither Burton, Wolff, nor Richfield ever traveled with them; they never had a road manager.
Probably due to Saul Richfield's efforts, on July 1, 1954, the 5 Keys did a session for RCA's Groove subsidiary (although they were still probably under contract to Aladdin). Four songs were recorded, all led by Maryland: "I'll Follow You" (with Ripley heard on the bridge), "When Will My Troubles End," "Lawdy Miss Mary," and "Teeth And Tongue Will Get You Hung" (written by Leroy Kirkland). Why did they leave RCA after only one session? Bernie says, "I wish I knew!"
It remains uncertain to this day if anything was ever released. I personally saw the label copy, at RCA, for both sides of the proposed platter ("I'll Follow You" and "Lawdy Miss Mary"), slated to be released as Groove 0031, on August 9. If so, only DJ copies were pressed and, when subsequent events unfolded, RCA recalled them (if they had even been shipped out!) and dropped all plans to issue any formal releases. Per the RCA Archives, the date of withdrawal was also August 9, and the Groove catalog book doesn't show a listing for number 31. The presumption is that no copies were ever shipped at all.
Fanny Wolff knew Glenn Wallichs, the Vice President of Capitol Records, and she made a deal with them, in spite of the session at RCA. The 5 Keys ended up recording at Capitol only two months later: Capitol announced the signing of the group on August 29 (while probably still under contract to Aladdin), and the very next day saw the Keys in the studio.
By the time they got to Capitol, pianist "Virginia Joe" Jones had departed; he would later form a trio and do some touring. Note that the Joe Jones who was a pianist and bandleader on Capitol was yet a third owner of that name. If you want to be more confused, consider drummers Jo Jones and Philly Jo Jones. "Virginia Joe" passed away around 1994.
The first session was produced by their mentor at Capitol, A&R man "Big Dave" Cavanaugh (who had reorganized Capitol's R&B department). At Capitol's New York studios, on August 30, 1954, they recorded "I'm Alone" (led by Maryland), "Ling, Ting, Tong" (Maryland), "Trapped, Lost, Gone" (Bernie), and "I'm Just A Fool" (Ulysses). (Just for a touch of realism, Capitol got a Chinese man to play the gongs on "Ling, Ting, Tong.")
In early October 1954, Rudy was discharged from the army. (While in the service, he'd sung in good company; with him were Jesse Belvin and David McNeil.) He promptly re-joined the 5 Keys, who now had six singers (Ulysses was being kept on with the intention of phasing him out; in the meantime, he knew all the arrangements, including some that Rudy didn't know). However, there were only "5" Keys on stage at any one time; Rudy was usually out there, but he left the stage when they did "Ling, Ting, Tong," and Ulysses came out to replace him.
Rudy had re-joined the 5 Keys by the time they started a week's booking at the Apollo Theater on October 15. It was during this show that co-star Chuck Willis gave them a song he'd just written. It had a two-voice lead, and he thought it would fit the Keys' style; the song was "Close Your Eyes."
"Ling, Ting, Tong" was reviewed the week of October 16, 1954, along with Fats Domino's "Love Me," Charlie & Ray's "I Love You Madly," the Penguins' "Earth Angel," Richard Berry's "The Big Break," the Jewels' "A Fool In Paradise," Lee Andrews & the Hearts' "The Fairest," the Flairs' "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Chill Me," the Bees' "Toy Bell" (no, Chuck Berry didn't write "My Ding-A-Ling!), and the Blue Dots' "Save All Your Love For Me."
The second Capitol session was held on November 16, 1954, and featured the group that would record all subsequent Capitol tunes: Maryland Pierce, Rudy West, Ripley Ingram, Ramon Loper, and Bernie West; Ulysses Hicks wasn't present. Five songs were done that day: "Cause You're My Lover" (Rudy), "Don't You Know I Love You" (Maryland), "So Glad," "Close Your Eyes" (Maryland leads and Rudy does the echo), and "Doggone It, You Did It" (Maryland). (Unfortunately, no one remembers who sang lead on "So Glad"; there are a few others that have been forgotten over the years.)
One of the things they didn't do when they got to Capitol was back up singer Annisteen Allen. I've read that the group behind her on "Fujiyama Mama" and "Wheels Of Love" was the 5 Keys, but Bernie says they never backed her.
Right after this session, on November 19, they began a week-long engagement at the Regal Theater in Chicago as part of "Larry Steel's 'Smart Affairs' Show," which also featured Bullmoose Jackson.
"Ling, Ting, Tong" became a pick hit the week of November 20, doing well in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Nashville, Durham, Providence, and Seattle (where it entered the Pop charts). By December 11, it was also on the Baltimore/DC charts. This was the record that would really start the 5 Keys on their way: by the time "Ling, Ting, Tong" peaked, it had reached #5 on the R&B charts and, amazingly, #28 on the Pop charts. In January 1955, the song was being touted as the first R&B hit on a major label in around two years (the Du Droppers' "I Wanna Know," on RCA, had been the last one, back in 1953). However, there was competition: Otis Williams & the Charms, the black kings of cover records, released a version of "Ling, Ting, Tong," which also started climbing the charts. When the race was over, the Charms had actually won! They too reached #5 on R&B, but inched out the Keys at #26 on Pop.
With "Ling, Ting, Tong" doing so well, Capitol tried to secure another hit by releasing "Close Your Eyes" (backed with "Doggone It, You Did It") in January. At the same time, they issued an EP containing all four released songs.
On January 28, 1955, the 5 Keys became part of the "Top 10 R&B Show," produced by Lou Krefetz, manager of the Clovers. Booked by the Shaw Agency, it kicked off in Norfolk, Virginia, and, for seven weeks of one-nighters (ending in Buffalo, NY), also featured the Clovers (of course!), Joe Turner, Faye Adams, Lowell Fulson, the Moonglows, the Spence Twins, the Paul Williams Orchestra, M.C. Al Jackson, and Otis Williams & the Charms. In spite of the Charms' hit cover, it was the 5 Keys who got to sing "Ling, Ting, Tong."
On January 31, the show played the Court Square Theater in Springfield, Massachusetts. Rudy and Ulysses (who was still touring with them) shared a room in Springfield's Charles Hotel. On the morning of February 1, Ulysses went down early for breakfast; the next thing Rudy knew, he got a phone call that Ulysses had "fainted" in the lobby. An ambulance was summoned, but Ulysses was dead on arrival at the hospital. He had died of a heart attack, at the age of 25. The guys made arrangements to have his body shipped home, and then, in spite of the shock, continued on with the tour.
[Ulysses' entire career was summed up by the February 12, 1955 Pittsburgh Courier as follows: "One of the Five Keys dropped dead the other night in Springfield, Mass." What can you say to heartless reporting like that?]
On February 6, the 5 Keys appeared at the Cleveland Arena. The following week, they appeared with Ray Charles at the Circle Theater in Cleveland. They were still on the Krefetz tour, but acts were allowed to make other appearances, provided that these extracurricular shows were within 25 miles of where the tour was playing that day, so that they could make it back in time. This could mean that they did up to 10 shows a day! Appearances, however, were where the money was; it certainly wasn't in record royalties!
"Close Your Eyes" was reviewed the week of February 5, 1955, along with Dinah Washington's "That's All I Want From You," the Flamingos' cover of Gene & Eunice's "Ko Ko Mo," the Charms' cover of the Flamingos' cover of "Ko Ko Mo," the Orioles' "I Love You Mostly," the Cadillacs' "No Chance," the Strangers' "Dreams Came True," Mac Burney & 4 Jacks' "Tired Of Your Sexy Ways," the 5 Royales' "You Didn't Learn It At Home," and the Gems' "I Thought You'd Care."
"Close Your Eyes" became a pick of the week in mid-March, when the Territorial Tips were: the Cardinals' "The Door Is Still Open" and the Hearts' "Lonely Nights." The song would enter the national R&B charts and peak, like its predecessor, at #5. It, too, was covered (this time by the Admirals), but it was the 5 Keys' version all the way.
Major Robinson, gossip columnist for Jet magazine, had a couple of blurbs concerning the 5 Keys. The first, from February 18, 1954 talked about the June wedding of "Aaron Jones of the Five Keys". The other, from April 7, 1955 told us that "Joe Smith, ex-singer with the sensational Five Keys quartet," started his own group called the Travelers. A call to Bernie West confirmed that the Keys never had singers named Aaron Jones or Joe Smith. Once again, Major Robinson proved that he'd print anything, regardless of whether it was true or not.
The third Capitol session took place on April 25, 1955. The four songs recorded that day were: "I Wish I'd Never Learned To Read" (once again with Maryland leading and Rudy doing the echo on this Leroy Kirkland tune), "Me Make Um Pow Wow" (Maryland), "The Verdict" (Rudy), and "Peace And Love" (Rudy).
Around this time, Capitol arranged for the 5 Keys to audition for the famed Copacabana niteclub in New York City, but they were never called back to appear. "We weren't ready," says Bernie.
In May, Aladdin noticed that the 5 Keys were doing quite well with Capitol and decided to "capitol-ize" on their success. To this end they issued "My Love," backed with "Why, Oh Why," which had been gathering dust on the shelves. This was normal business practice; wait until you see what Aladdin does in June 1956. The record was reviewed the week of June 4, along with Shirley & Lee's "Feel So Good," Arthur Lee Maye & Crowns' "Love Me Always," the 4 Fellows' "Soldier Boy," Marvin & Johnny's "Butterball," the Cues' "Only You," and the Cadets' "Rollin' Stone."
Also in May, Capitol released the third 5 Keys' record: "The Verdict," which was co-written by Alan Freed. It was reviewed the week of May 14, 1955, along with Etta James' "Hey Henry," the Jacks' "Why Don't You Write Me," Big Boy Groves' "I Gotta New Car," the Penguins' "Kiss A Fool Goodbye," the Cashmeres' "Don't Let It Happen Again," and the 5 Dukes' "I Cross My Fingers."
On May 20, 1955, Alan Freed's "Diddley Daddy" show kicked off a week at Boston's Loew's State Theater, followed by three days in Providence. The 5 Keys were there, along with Bo Diddley, Dinah Washington, Al Hibbler, Dakota Staton, the Moonglows, Little Walter, Nappy Brown, and Ella Johnson with the Buddy Johnson Orchestra. Unfortunately, in Boston, the show ran into heavy Rock 'n Roll opposition, and had a disappointing turnout. The gross for the week was a pitiful $27,000. There were plans to take the show to the New York Paramount in July, but that was cancelled because of Boston.
The Keys almost had a real problem with the Freed show, on which they were scheduled to sing "The Verdict" (naturally a Freed favorite). While they were in a restaurant in St. Louis, on their way to Boston, their car was broken into and all their arrangements were stolen, along with some uniforms. Fortunately, Dave Cavanaugh was able to send new arrangements on ahead, and the Keys went on with the show. How did the 5 Keys get along with Freed? "Alan Freed was in our corner 100%," says Bernie.
Once, when they were driving from a show at Turner's Arena (in D.C.) to a show in Paterson, New Jersey, they hit a 9-point deer on the New Jersey Turnpike. The deer, obviously not an R&B fan, made such a wreck of the car's hood, that the police made them remove it before going on. They arrived in Paterson with the hood tied to the roof!
"The Verdict" was a Territorial Tip in Baltimore/DC the week of July 2; it would eventually go as high as #13 on the R&B charts. Other Tips that week were the Voices' "Two Things I Love" in Los Angeles, and the Cadets' "Rollin' Stone" in New Orleans. Also in July, Capitol released "Don't You Know I Love You," backed with "I Wish I'd Never Learned To Read." It was reviewed the week of July 16, along with the Danderliers' "My Loving Partner," the Dominoes' "Learnin' The Blues," and the Twilighters' "Little Did I Dream."
At the beginning of August 1955, the 5 Keys became the first act to play the newly-opened Show Lounge in Kansas City, Missouri. On August 19, they appeared at the Apollo as part of a show put on by WWRL's Tommy "Dr. Jive" Smalls. Also on the bill were Big Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, Charlie & Ray, the Hearts, Dolores Ware, the Spaniels and the Buddy Griffin Orchestra.
As long as they were in town, Capitol held session number four on August 26, 1955. It produced: "Shook My Head," "What Goes On" (Maryland), "Gee Whittakers" (Maryland), and "You Broke The Rules Of Love" (Rudy). Since the next three masters recorded that day belong to Anita Tucker, backed up by an uncredited group, there has been speculation that it was the 5 Keys. Bernie, on listening to them, says it's not (in all probability, it's the Cues).
Immediately after this, the Keys, Joe Turner, Charlie & Ray, and Bo Diddley joined up with the fall version of Lou Krefetz' "Top 10 R&B Show," touring the East, South, Midwest and Southwest. Others on the show were the Clovers, Gene & Eunice, Etta James & the Peaches, the Paul Williams Orchestra, and M.C. Al Jackson.
Capitol issued the fifth 5 Keys record in October: "Cause You're My Lover," backed with "Gee Whittakers." It was reviewed the week of November 5, 1955, along with Fats Domino's "Poor Me," the Valentines' "Lily Maebelle," the Pearls' "Shadows Of Love," and the Sensations' "Yes Sir, That's My Baby." This was to be the 5 Keys' only double-sided hit: "Cause You're My Lover" made it to #12 (R&B) and "Gee Whittakers" reached #14.
On November 20, 1955, Dr. Jive was booked on the newly-renamed "Ed Sullivan Show" (formerly "The Toast Of The Town") to bring 15 minutes of R&B into the nation's collective living room. He brought the 5 Keys (singing "Ling, Ting, Tong"; they had wanted to do "Close Your Eyes," but "Ling Ting Tong" was specifically requested by Ed Sullivan's daughters!), Lavern Baker, Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson's Orchestra, and Bo Diddley. For some unknown reason, Sullivan got it into his head that Bo Diddley should sing "Sixteen Tons," instead of one of his own songs. That afternoon, everyone showed up to rehearse, and Bo was kept practicing for around four hours (they even pasted the lyrics on the stage itself, so he wouldn't have to memorize them). However, when he got on stage, he simply decided to sing "Bo Diddley," with its pounding Juba beat, instead of "Sixteen Tons." This absolutely infuriated Sullivan (which Bernie will attest to; they were standing near him in the wings) and he never had Diddley on again. (Of course, to put it into perspective, the 5 Keys did exactly what Sullivan told them to and he never had them on again either!)
According to a November 12, 1955 Billboard poll, the 5 Keys were the 11th most popular R&B artists of 1955. Ahead of them were: Fats Domino, Ruth Brown, Joe Turner, Lavern Baker, Roy Hamilton, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters, the Clovers, and [you ain't gonna like this] Pat Boone. Yup, Pat Boone beat out the 5 Keys as an R&B artist!
On December 23, the 5 Keys started appearing with Dr. Jive, on his Christmas week show at the Brooklyn Paramount. Others on the show were Bo Diddley, Ruth Brown, Clyde McPhatter, Shirley & Lee, the Cheers, the Flamingos, the 4 Fellows, the Turbans, Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson and his Orchestra (with Mickey "Guitar" Baker), and (as we've just found out) that epitome of Rhythm & Blues singing, Pat Boone. Problem: the 5 Keys' new record was "Gee Whittakers," which Pat Boone had covered. Question: who would get to sing it? Dr. Jive's decision came down in favor of the Keys, which really angered Boone's manager.
1956 breezed in with the last original gasp from Aladdin Records; in January, they issued "Story Of Love," backed with a re-release of "Serve Another Round" (which had last been issued in November 1952). It was reviewed the week of January 28, along with Chuck Berry's "No Money Down," the Teenagers' "Why Do Fools Fall In Love," Ruth McFadden's "Darling Listen To The Words Of This Song," Brook Benton's "Bring Me Love," Big Maybelle's "The Other Night," Joe Weaver & Don Juans' "Baby I Love You So," Lil Green's "Romance In The Dark," the 4 Tunes' "Rock And Roll Call," the Empires' "Tell Me Pretty Baby," the Victorians' "Heartbreaking Moon," the Orioles' "Angel," and the Marvellos' "You're The Dream." Oh, yes, there was one other record reviewed: the 5 Keys' "You Broke The Rules Of Love"/"What Goes On" (which Capitol had issued in January); it was a good month for the Keys' fans.
(Aladdin would be heard from one more time that year: in late 1956 they'd release an LP called The Best Of The Five Keys. It contained a dozen of their finest sides, although, for some reason, many of the titles would be altered - see the discography.)
The week beginning January 13, 1956 found the 5 Keys back at the Apollo with Ruth Brown, Charlie & Ray, and the Roy Milton Orchestra. Then they joined Irvin Feld's "Super Attractions Tour," featuring the Turbans, the Drifters, Lavern Baker, Bill Haley & the Comets, Shirley & Lee, Red Prysock, Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, and Roy Hamilton. It began January 27 in Pittsburgh. Then it was on to Richmond (28), Birmingham (29), Chattanooga (30), Charlotte (31), Columbia, South Carolina (February 1), Raleigh (2), Winston-Salem (3), and, finally, their own back yard: Norfolk, Virginia on February 4.
Later that month (the 20th), they appeared with DJ Robin Seymour (WKMH) at Detroit's Riviera Theater. Others on the show were the Bonnie Sisters, the Jewels, the Teenagers, the Teen Queens, Ivory Joe Hunter, and Ernie Freeman. Then the whole show moved to Keith's 105th Street Theater in Cleveland for February 24 and 25.
The fifth Capitol session was held on February 27, 1956. Recorded were: "I Dreamt I Dwelt In Heaven" (Rudy), "She's The Most" (a very interesting arrangement, featuring a duet lead with Maryland and Rudy, and then another one with Ripley and Bernie), "That's Right" (Maryland), and the rocking "Boom-Boom" (Maryland).
The 5 Keys' sixth session, two days later (Febryary 29), produced just three tunes: "My Pigeon's Gone (Maryland), "Just Sittin'" (Maryland), and the initial, unreleased version of "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind" (Rudy). "My Pigeon's Gone" was written by John Davenport (pen name of Otis Blackwell), composer of "Fever." In March, they played Gleason's Musical Bar in Cleveland.
In April, Capitol issued "I Dreamt I Dwelt In Heaven"/"She's The Most." It was reviewed the week of April 14, along with the Teenagers' "I Want You To Be My Girl," the Sensations' "Please Mr. Disk Jockey," the El Dorados' "Now That You've Gone," the Pearls' "Bells Of Love," and the Keynotes' "Really Wish You Were Here."
When that record failed to chart, Capitol released "Peace And Love"/"My Pigeon's Gone" in June. It was reviewed the week of June 9, 1956, along with Billy Bland's "Chicken Hop," the Hawks' "It's All Over," the Youngsters' "Shattered Dreams," the Cadillacs' "Woe Is Me," Fatso Theus' "Be Cool, My Heart," the Leaders' "Can't Help Lovin' That Girl Of Mine," the Mellow Keys' "I'm Not A Deceiver," the 4 Fellows' "Darling You," Jimmy Ricks & the Rickateers' "The Unbeliever," Jimmy Castor & Juniors' "I Promise," the Chestnuts' "Love Is True," the Chorals' "In My Dream," and the low-rated 5 Satins' "I'll Remember (In The Still Of The Night)."
Also in June, Aladdin's Leo and Eddie Mesner sued the 5 Keys and Capitol Records for $15,000, claiming breach of contract. They somehow determined (two years after the fact) that the Keys were still under contract to them when they had made their first Capitol recordings. Therefore, they wanted a piece of "Ling, Ting, Tong." It was all settled out of court by Capitol, so the results were never made public. It seems to me that if the charges were true, the Mesners would have had an equally good lawsuit against RCA (remember the pre-Capitol Groove session). Of course, it wasn't the principle of the thing, it was the money; there wasn't any to be had at RCA, since nothing had ever been commercially released.
On June 23, 1956, Billy Shaw, former trumpet player, band leader, and owner of the Shaw Artists Corporation, died. In 1942, he had gone from booking big bands for MCA, to the William Morris Agency, specializing in booking one-nighters. He became Executive Vice President of the Gale Agency in 1945, before starting Shaw Artists in 1949. At the time of his death, his company was booking several hundred acts.
The seventh Capitol session, held in California on June 26, 1956, saw some changes in the 5 Keys' sound. There had been a female chorus added, along with lots more instrumentation. Gone was the simple R&B sound of the 5 Keys; now they were turning more and more to Pop material. However, it was very good Pop material. Moreover, according to Bernie, the 5 Keys enjoyed doing it. That day they recorded: "Wisdom Of A Fool" (Rudy), "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind" (Rudy, the second, released version), and "From The Bottom Of My Heart" (Maryland; a Chuck Willis tune done as a cover of the Clovers' version).
Dave Cavanaugh tried to persuade the guys to move to California, where they'd be closer to the movies and the big club dates in Las Vegas. But, says Bernie, "We didn't want to take the chance at the time."
On July 13, 1956, the 5 Keys began a week at the Apollo Theater, along with George Kirby and the Hines Brothers (including little Gregory).
Around this time, after a Texas tour with Gene Ammons and T-Bone Walker, guitarist "Rocky Mount Joe" Jones left for good. Once again it coincided with a slow time in 5 Keys appearances. He'd been working for a construction company in D.C. that allowed him to take time off when the Keys had a tour, but there were too many dry periods. From then on, they had no permanent accompanist. For tours, the Shaw agency sent them out with one of the great R&B bands (Paul Williams, the Griffin Brothers, Illinois Jacquet), so there was no trouble with the arrangements. For smaller shows, they mostly used guitarist Tim Harris, but he was never a member of the group.
In August, Capitol released "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind." It was reviewed the week of August 25, along with the Channels' "The Closer You Are," the Pipes' "You're An Angel," the Emanons' "Blue Moon," the Blue Notes' "If You Love Me," the Medallions' "Pushbutton Automobile," and the Duponts' "Must Be Falling In Love." The week of October 27, "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind" was a Territorial Tip in Atlanta. On November 3, it was a Tip in Cincinnati. It would eventually rise to #12 (R&B) and #23 (Pop). These numbers don't come close to revealing what a monster hit it was in the New York area.
Later that year, on November 5, there were some more California recordings. The guys were booked on the West Coast for about three months, and Dave Cavanaugh first brought them back to Capitol's Hollywood studios to back up Jack "Big T" Teagarden, jazz trombonist and singer. He was recording some spirituals, which would be compiled into an album (LP T-820 Swing Low Sweet Spiritual). On this date, the Keys accompanied him on four songs: "Git On Board, Little Children," "Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho," "This Train," and "Ezekiel Saw The Wheel." There'd be more later. (The Keys had known Teagarden for years, having been on the bill with him at Washington D.C.'s Floodgate, back in 1951, when he was playing with Louis Armstrong's band.)
Also in November, Capitol released "Wisdom Of A Fool," coupled with "Now Don't That Prove I Love You." The disc was reviewed the week of November 24, 1956, at the same time as Little Richard's "The Girl Can't Help It," the Teenagers' "Baby Baby," Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange," and the Nitecaps' "In Each Corner Of My Heart." By January 5, 1957, "Wisdom Of A Fool" was a Territorial Tip in New York; so was Andre Williams' "Bacon Fat" (in Cleveland), and the Inspirations' "Dry Your Eyes" (in Philadelphia). In spite of extensive airplay (at least in New York), "Wisdom" would only peak out at #35 on the Pop charts (while not making the R&B charts at all).
On January 6, 1957 the Keys were in Minneapolis at an affair that showcased new Wurlitzer juke boxes. Then, it was back to Capitol's Hollywood studios to record some 15 songs over a two-week period. The first of these sessions was on January 9, and produced four songs led by Rudy: "Just For A Thrill," "The Gypsy," "C'est La Vie," and "To Each His Own." These were heavy-duty Pop songs (all but "C'est La Vie" having been done by the Ink Spots) and the 5 Keys were buried under a white female chorus and serious instrumentation. (The chorus really goes wild on "C'est La Vie.") Bernie remembers that one of the girls (there were three of them) was so far gone in her pregnancy that everyone was afraid she'd give birth while they were recording.
In New York, Capitol had mostly backed them with the Howard Biggs Orchestra. (Biggs had been the arranger/pianist for the Ravens for a few years in the 1940s, and had worked with many other R&B groups since then.) Now, in California, there were two big orchestras used for their sessions: the Dave Cavanaugh Orchestra and Chorus, and the Van Alexander Orchestra. (Alexander, writer of Ella Fitzgerald's "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," had been an arranger for Chick Webb and Kay Kyser.)
[There are serious consequences here for discographers, because songs with consecutive master numbers are accompanied by different orchestras: for example, on master number 15651 ("Wisdom Of A Fool"), they're backed by Van Alexander, and on 15652 ("Out Of Sight Out Of Mind"), it's Dave Cavanaugh. The chance of Capitol recording a song and then setting up again with a new orchestra (especially when the first one has to return a couple of songs later) is ludicrous. Bernie agrees that once they got to a session, they were backed up by the same band the whole time. What this means is that master numbers were assigned after the sessions, not during. Unfortunately, this also means that songs recorded on different days could have been booked as having been done on the same day. For the sake of sanity, I will continue to report the sessions based on Capitol's consecutive master numbers, but it's anyone's guess as to how accurate this is. Fortunately, Billy Vera came up with an acceptable explanation: it's possible that some of the numbers were arranged by Cavanaugh and some by Alexander. While the assembled session orchestra remained the same, its name was changed to reflect the arranger.]
On January 11, 1957 they backed up Jack Teagarden again, on three more spirituals: "Gonna Shout All Over God's Heaven," "Shadrack," and "Sing And Shout." Strangely, after all this work, when the album came out in February, the 5 Keys weren't given any credit on it at all! (However, they were only a very weak presence on most of the tunes.)
January 14 saw the recording of four more Rudy-led Pop tunes: "The Face Of An Angel," "Let There Be You," "This I Promise You," and "Maybe You'll Be There." There were three more on January 16: "Who Do You Know In Heaven" (Rudy), "It's A Groove" (Maryland), and "Tiger Lily" (Maryland). At least this time there were a couple of Rock 'n Roll songs thrown in. (Actually, these were the only songs in this round that weren't led by Rudy.) "Maybe You'll Be There" had been a #3 hit in 1948 for Charles Lavere, singing with the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra. "Who Do You Know In Heaven" (a minor 1949 Ink Spots hit), is so heavily Pop that it only barely sounds like Rudy.
The end of the marathon came on January 21, when the final five tunes were done, all led by Rudy: "Open Sesame," "The Blues Don't Care," "Four Walls," "All I Need Is You," and "Dream." "Dream" had been a #1 hit in 1945 for another Capitol group, the Pied Pipers; the 5 Keys did a very credible Pop version of this pretty song (which, incidentally, had been written by Johnny Mercer, one of the founders of Capitol).
Why did the Keys record all this stylish high-class Pop material? As Bernie explains it: "We were trying to become a niteclub act, to get away from the one-nighters." It worked to some extent; while they were doing these sessions, they were booked into the El Cortez Hotel in Las Vegas for a month. At some point they were supposed to return and record a whole slew of Pop tunes featuring Maryland, but unfortunately that never came to pass. Another disappointment was when Cavanaugh took them to Joe Glaser's Associated Booking Corporation, which handled more big-time bookings than Shaw Artists; nothing ever materialized from this either.
To go along with these big band sounds, the 5 Keys travelled with arrangements for a 16-piece orchestra. This was standard when they played a big theater or when they were on tour.
During this period, Bernie says, they referred to him, Ripley, and Ramon as the "oo boys," paying tribute to the "harmony guys." They made the harmony blend with the lead to create that 5 Keys sound. Their motto was, "If you couldn't feel the song, you couldn't sing the song."
While they were in Hollywood, they played the Rendezvous Ballroom, along with the Penguins, Joe Houston, Chuck Higgins, and Johnny "Guitar" Watson. The show was hosted by KPOP's Earl McDaniel.
On February 15, the 5 Keys became part of Irvin Feld's "Biggest Show Of Stars For 1957" tour, playing the East, Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, and Western Canada. This Shaw Artists show started in Pittsburgh, and was on the road for 80 days. Others on the bill were: Lavern Baker, Clyde McPhatter, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Bill Doggett, the Moonglows, the 5 Satins, Eddie Cooley & the Dimples, Charles Brown, Ann Cole, the Schoolboys (who certainly weren't in school while this was going on), and the Paul Williams Orchestra.
In February 1957, Capitol issued a whole raft of 5 Keys material. First, there was a single in the regular numbering series, "Let There Be You"/"Tiger Lily." Then there were several releases all having the number 828. There was an LP, T-828 (The Five Keys On Stage); a single with the same number, containing two cuts from the album: "Just For A Thrill" and "The Gypsy"; and a three-volume set of EPs, each containing a third of the songs on the LP (see discography). While the public might think, by the title, that they were buying a live performance album, the cuts were actually culled from their last couple of sessions. These were almost all old standards like "Just For A Thrill," "Dream," "To Each His Own," and "The Gypsy," but there were a few rockers, like "Tiger Lily" and "Boom-Boom."
"Let There Be You" was reviewed the week of February 23, along with Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'," Lloyd Price's "Just Because," the G-Clefs' "Symbol Of Love," the Gladiolas' "Little Darling'," the Miller Sisters' "Sugar Candy," and Vic Donna & the Parakeets' "Teenage Rose." This song would prove to be the 5 Keys' last national chart hit, rising to #69 on the Pop charts.
The next Capitol release was in April 1957: "It's A Groove," backed with "Four Walls." The disc was reviewed the week of April 27, along with Fats Domino's "It's You I Love," Lavern Baker's "Jim Dandy Got Married," the Six Teens' "Arrow Of Love," the Tunedrops' "Rosie Lee," the Mello-Tones' "Rosie Lee," the Hurricanes' "Now That I Need You," the Suburbans' "Leave My Gal Alone," the Serenaders' "When You're Smiling," and the 5 Dollars' "How To Do The Bacon Fat."
In May 1957, Aladdin announced that they would release a line of budget LPs, on their Score Records subsidiary, to sell for $1.98 rather than the usual $3.98. The 5 Keys would be represented, as would Shirley & Lee, Lloyd Glenn, and Amos Milburn. The Keys album was called On The Town With The Five Keys, and was nothing more than a re-release of the prior year's The Best Of The Five Keys. At the end of the month, the Keys checked into the Apollo again, beginning their week on May 31. This time they were with Ruth Brown, the Schoolboys (still not in school), Nipsey Russell, and the Paul Williams Ork.
June saw the issue of "The Blues Don't Care" and "This I Promise You." They were reviewed the week of June 24, along with the Jive Bombers' "Cherry," the Velours' "Can I Come Over Tonight," the El Torros' "Yellow Hand," the 4 Haven Knights' "In My Lonely Room," the Serenaders' "A Sinner In Love," and Dion & the Timberlanes' "Out In Colorado."
Sometime before August 5, 1957, the 5 Keys appeared on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" (that was the date when it went National; Bernie remembers that it was only broadcast on about 13 stations at the time). They were playing Philadelphia's Earle Theater, and it was arranged for them to sing "The Glory Of Love" (an odd choice, considering their more recent hits, but it might have had something to do with the Velvetones' release of that song in March 1957). They did their one and only guest shot on the show between performances at the Earle. Bernie theorizes that they were never invited back because they didn't turn over their checks to Clark. Says Bernie, "We were trying to make a living; this was our livelihood."
In August 1957, Capitol released "The Face Of An Angel," backed with "Boom-Boom" (which had appeared on the 828 LP and on volume 1 of the 828 EP set back in February). It was reviewed the week of August 12, 1957, along with the Tune Weavers' "Happy Happy Birthday Baby," Clarence Henry's "I Found A Home," Pretty Boy's "Bip Bop Bip" ("Pretty Boy" was actually Don Covay), the Cookies' "Hippy-Dippy-Daddy," the Dominoes' "St. Louis Blues," and the Rhythm Casters' "Love Love Baby." [However, the real significance of August 12, 1957 is that it was the 80th anniversary of the first sound recording. On August 12, 1877, Thomas Edison had recorded "Mary Had A Little Lamb," thereby setting the stage for the 5 Keys.]
Then it was back to the Apollo for a week beginning August 16. They were part of a show featuring Clyde McPhatter, Clarence Henry, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, and Edna McGriff.
Following that, the Keys did Alan Freed's Labor Day Week show at the Brooklyn Paramount with Jo Ann Campbell, Little Richard, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, the Moonglows, the Del Vikings, the Diamonds, Larry Williams, and Ocie Smith.
Their twelfth Capitol session (not counting the Jack Teagarden ones) was held in New York on September 9, 1957. Backed by the Sid Feller Orchestra, they turned out four more tunes: "Do Anything" (led by Rudy), "From Me To You" (Rudy), "Every Heart Is Home At Christmas," and "With All My Love" (Rudy). Session number thirteen took place the next day, adding another four songs: "Handy Andy" (Maryland; an Ollie Jones' composition), "Dog Gone Baby," "It's A Cryin' Shame" (Maryland), and "Whippety Whirl" (Maryland).
I'm not sure what to make of "Every Heart Is Home At Christmas." The lead only sounds vaguely like Rudy and there are no discernable 5 Keys on it, just the Dread Chorus. It first made its appearance on a Capitol CD, Christmas Kisses, in 1990. I played it for Bernie West and not only didn't he remember the song at all, but he concurred that there were no 5 Keys voices on it and it only sounds like Rudy in spots. However, its master number places it squarely in the middle of a 5 Keys session.
In November, Capitol released "Do Anything" and "It's A Cryin' Shame." The review came the week of November 11, 1957, along with the Bobbettes' "Speedy," the Coasters' "Sweet Georgia Brown," Little Joe ("the Thriller")'s "The Echoes Keep Calling Me," the Valiants' "This Is The Night," and Lee Andrews & the Hearts' "Tear Drops." Then, the Keys returned to the Apollo for the week beginning November 15, sharing the stage with Ruth Brown, Jackie Wilson, Betty Carter, and Redd Foxx.
December 1957 saw Capitol release "From Me To You," backed with "Whippety Whirl." The songs were issued on a normal single (Capitol 3861), and on a promo EP (also Capitol 3861), with a pair of Ferlin Husky songs on the flip. The record was reviewed the week of January 20, 1958, along with Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly," the Couplings' "Young Dove's Calling," the Robins' "Snowball," and the Champions' "I'm So Blue."
The final Capitol session took place on February 11, 1958. This time it was "Emily Please" (Rudy), "One Great Love" (Rudy), "Really-O, Truly-O" (Maryland), and "You're For Me" (Rudy). Since they were backed by the Dave Cavanaugh Orchestra, it probably took place in Hollywood.
Back in late 1957, Rudy had gotten married and, soon after the February 11 session, left the 5 Keys. Rudy felt that he now had more responsibilities and was also sick of the road. Needing steady work and a constant paycheck, Rudy went to work for the Post Office.
The Keys replaced Rudy with Thomas "Dickie" Threatt (pronounced "Threet"), who had sung with a local Newport News group called the Highlighters. He was a good choice, since his voice sounded very much like Rudy's (and he looked a bit like him too).
After doing a few more shows, Ramon Loper became another casualty. His mother was living in New York, and he decided to stay with her. He ended up working with one of the many Ink Spots groups around.
Ramon's replacement was baritone Charles "Bobby" Crawley, who had sung with Maryland Pierce in the 4 Bees (back in the late 40s), before joining the Avalons (with that other Bee, Bernard Purdie). Also gone was manager Ike Burton (Fanny Wolff had died around mid-1956), and the group took over their own management (with Bernie becoming the road manager); they continued to be booked by the Shaw Agency. The group was now: Maryland Pierce, Thomas Threatt, Ripley Ingram, Bobby Crawley, and Bernie West.
Capitol's Dave Cavanaugh had been at Rudy's wedding, but was unaware that Rudy had left the 5 Keys. In late February or early March 1958, Cavanaugh came to see them at the Dominoes Club (in Wildwood, NJ, where they were appearing along with the Red Caps and the Treniers) and asked if they were ready to record again. Since they were busy breaking in Thomas and Bobby, they had no new material, and this was when Cavanaugh found out that Rudy wasn't there anymore. Dave stayed for the show and told them to get in touch with him as soon as they had enough new material for a session.
At that time they had a repertoire of three sets of five songs each. These could be switched around into limitless combinations, depending on need (if they only got to sing two sets, for example). The middle song of each five was usually one of their well-known ballads ("our spot number," says Bernie). While a year before, they could have easily held their own with dynamite club groups like the Red Caps and the Treniers, this time they took it slow: "We had to stick to basics because of the two new members," remembers Bernie.
In March, Capitol put out "With All My Love," backed with "You're For Me." They were reviewed the week of March 31, 1958, along with Chuck Willis' "What Am I Living For," Lee Andrews & the Hearts' "Try The Impossible," the Versatones' "Tight Skirt And Sweater," the Cellos' "What's The Matter For You" (what's the matter for the guy who dreamed up that grammar?), the Tangiers' "Don't Try," the Cozytones' "I'm Alone," the Maharajahs' "Why Don't You Answer," and the Columbus Pharaohs' "Give Me Your Love."
Later that spring, they did a 25-day tour of Iceland, giving them more of an opportunity to thoroughly break in the new members.
Another Capitol record was released in July. This time it was "Handy Andy," coupled with "Emily Please." It was reviewed the week of July 7, along with the Del-Larks' "Lady Love," the Rivieras' "Count Every Star," and the Catalinas' "Castle Of Love."
Capitol's ads from this period not only mentioned the songs, but who was singing lead on them. For example, an ad for "From Me To You"/"Whippety Whirl" said of the top side, "Beautiful ballad lead vocal by Rudy West" and of the flip, "Maryland Pierce steps out for the lead on this up-tempo flyin' rocker." Then, with the latest release: "Rudy West rockin' slow on 'Emily Please'" and "Maryland Pierce flyin' home on 'Handy Andy'." This same ad proclaimed: "The 5 Keys, noted for their group sound, have switched to the more commercial lead vocal type performance. Rudy West handles the ballads and Maryland Pierce takes on the up tempo material. The great Keys' blend is prominent as background." This seems to say, in English: "the heavy instrumental backing and Ink Spots arrangements aren't selling, so we'll go back to a Rock 'n Roll format and see what happens."
Speaking of the Pop material, Bernie says: "They were nice songs to do, but you've got to put something on the charts." Of course, in this, the heyday of Rock 'n' Roll, DJs weren't happy about playing Pop tunes with an old-fashioned sound. (It wasn't the songs themselves, but the arrangements that held them back. Many old standards were being re-recorded: "Blueberry Hill," "When My Dreamboat Comes Home," "Hands Across The Table," just to name a few.) Rudy, on the other hand, was especially happy with the lush arrangements; he feels that to have continued with the sound they'd had on Aladdin would have been to stagnate. They aspired to get big-time bookings, not simply the "Chittlin' Circuit."
The 5 Keys did another Dr. Jive Apollo show starting August 29, 1958. Others on the show were: Jackie Wilson, Big Maybelle, the Heartbeats, the Videos, the Flamingos, the Bobbettes, Arnett Cobb, and the heavily-interwoven Satellites, Bob & Earl, and Bobby Day (all variations of the Hollywood Flames).
The last original Capitol release was in November 1958: "One Great Love" and "Really-O, Truly-O." They were reviewed the week of November 24, along with the Fiestas' "So Fine," the Emersons' "Joannie, Joannie," the Pyramids' "Ankle Bracelet," and the Fi-Tones' "It Wasn't A Lie." After this, it was quiet on the 5 Keys scene for a while. (There would be four other Capitol singles and an LP, but these were all reissues in the 60s and 70s.)
Remember that back in the spring, Dave Cavanaugh had told them to call him when they had enough material for a new Capitol session, but they never did. In fact, they never heard from Capitol again, and their contract was allowed to lapse. Bernie remembers Dave Cavanaugh fondly: "He always told us 'You are the salesmen of songs.' You have to study the song in order to put it over; that helps you to develop a style."
While their sound had changed dramatically at Capitol, for many reasons they were happier with the company than with Aladdin: it was a bigger company and more precise; they got to do more takes of a song; they got to practice and perform a song for a long time before recording it; and Dave Cavanaugh pretty much let them pick and choose the songs they'd record. Just as with Aladdin, though, there were no royalties.
Around July 1959, saxophonist Gene Redd, then an a&r man for King Records, brought the 5 Keys to see King president Syd Nathan in Cincinnati. Nathan was thrilled to get the Keys.
After the initial contracts had been signed, Bobby Crawley got sick and decided that touring wasn't the life for him. Fortunately, Dickie Smith was available, and rejoined as baritone. Whereas they once had two members named "Joe Jones," there was now a James "Dickie" Smith and a Thomas "Dickie" Threatt. No one said singing was easy!
While in the Air Force, Dickie Smith had been in the Tops In Blue Review in Special Services. When he was discharged, he spent time in Columbus, Ohio, since he was dating a woman who lived there. He joined Rusty Bryant's band, mainly as a bass player (he had learned bass and piano from "Virginia Joe" Jones), but also as a background vocalist behind thrush Nancy Wilson. He was also on the 4 Pharaohs session ("Pray For Me" and "The Move Around"), as leader of the "Dick Smith Band." After that, he worked briefly with a band called the Mello-Tones back in Virginia, before re-joining the 5 Keys.
In August 1959, the 5 Keys went to Cincinnati and recorded four songs on each of three days (August 18, 19, 20). They were: "How Can I Forget You" (led by Thomas), "I've Always Been A Dreamer" (Thomas), "I Took Your Love For A Toy" (Thomas), "Your Teeth And Your Tongue" (Maryland; remember when they recorded this for Groove?), "Ziggus" (Maryland), "Gonna Be Too Late" (Maryland), "When Paw Was Courtin' Maw" (Maryland), "You Broke The Only Heart" (Thomas), "Dream On" (Maryland and Bernie), "I Burned Your Letter" (Maryland), "Dancing Senorita" (Maryland), and "Rosetta" (Maryland). With King, the 5 Keys returned to their R&B roots: most of the songs are very well done, and Thomas Threatt has an uncanny knack of sounding like Rudy.
Later that month, King released the first of nine 5 Keys records: "I Took Your Love For A Toy," backed with "Ziggus." The record was reviewed the week of August 31, 1959, along with Johnny Preston's "Running Bear" (spelled "Runny Bear" in the review), Arthur Prysock's "My Faith," the Passions' "Just To Be With You," Della Reese's "Don't You Know," the Isley Brothers' "Shout," Don & Dewey's "Fiddlin' The Blues," and Johnny Two-Voice's "You And Your Lovin."
Around October, 1959, Rudy told Bernie that he wanted to record again, but this time as a soloist. Bernie brought him to see Syd Nathan, and Rudy ended up having three releases on King in late 1959; however, none of them sold well.
While "Ziggus" had been very highly rated, it failed to take off. The next try was "Dream On" and "Dancing Senorita" (which contained the lyrics: "She's from the wilds of Barcelona"; the guys always assumed that meant the local red light district!). The record was reviewed the week of October 26, 1959, along with Jimmy Ricks' "Goodnight My Love," Haywood Henry's "Furango," the 5 Royales' "It Hurts Inside," Muddy Waters' "Recipe For Love," the King Crooners' "Now That She's Gone," and Rudy West's "Just To Be With You" (the proofreaders were out to lunch again; his name is spelled "Rude West").
"Dream On" was the song the 5 Keys pinned their hopes on, and the guys were quite disappointed when it didn't become a hit. "It could have been big if King had pushed it," says Bernie. (Actually, "Dancing Senorita" had gotten a higher rating than "Dream On.")
The next 5 Keys release was in November, pairing "How Can I Forget You" and "I Burned Your Letter." They started off December as part of a Universal Attractions tour with Jackie Wilson, Little Willie John, Valerie Carr, Sil Austin, Big Daddy, Bobby Lewis, and Frankie Lymon. While their King sides weren't national hits, they did well enough so that the Keys were booked on the Christmas week show at the Apollo, beginning December 25, 1959. They shared the stage with Lloyd Price, the Hollywood Flames, and Tarheel Slim [Allen Bunn of the Larks] & Little Ann.
In March 1960, the fourth King release was issued: "Gonna Be Too Late"/"Rosetta." Later that month (March 21), the 5 Keys journeyed to Cincinnati once again to record five more sides: "Girl You Better Stop It," "Stop Your Crying," "Wrapped Up In A Dream," "Will You," and "I'll Never Stop Loving You." All were led by Maryland, except "Wrapped Up In A Dream," which was fronted by Dickie Smith.
Three days later (March 24) they were back in the studio, recording another seven sides (the largest session the 5 Keys ever did). This time it was: "Valley Of Love" (Maryland and Thomas doing a duet lead), "I Didn't Know" (Thomas), "I Can't Escape From You" (Dickie and Bernie), "No Says My Heart" (Dickie), "That's What You're Doing To Me" (Maryland), "Bimbo" (Maryland), and "Do Something For Me" (Thomas and Dickie). (Note that since he was there first, I use "Dickie" to refer to James Smith, not Thomas Threatt.) On some of these, especially "That's What You're Doing To Me," you can hear Sam "The Man" Taylor's frenzied sax playing. Four of these songs ("I Can't Escape From You," "No Says My Heart," "That's What You're Doing To Me" and "Do Something For Me") pay tribute to the Dominoes; this was Syd Nathan's idea (the Dominoes had recorded those songs for his Federal label back in the early 50s and, of course, King owned the publishing rights).
In June 1960, King released "I Didn't Know," backed with "No Says My Heart." In September, it was "Valley Of Love," coupled with "Bimbo."
Not long after, the guys "got a little tired of fighting" and called it a day. Maryland decided to keep a 5 Keys group going, and got some replacements: Gene Moore replaced Thomas Threatt, Raymond Haskiss replaced Bernie West, Daytill "Pepper" Jones replaced Ripley Ingram, and Ramon Loper came back to replace Dickie Smith (as he had in 1954). They only stayed together for a few months, and then Maryland moved to Cleveland, where he's been ever since. Since there was still a 5 Keys group around, King continued to release their records. Royalties? Why even bother to ask?
Maryland sums up his days with the 5 Keys like this: "The years I had with the 5 Keys were very fruitful and productive. I personally met a lot of friends out there. There's still a lot of fans (and their children) out there buying our records. That means a lot to me. It shows we were doing something right.... We didn't take away from the business, we strengthened it."
January 1961 saw King issue "You Broke The Only Heart" and "That's What You're Doing To Me." "Stop Your Crying" and "Do Something For Me" were released in May.
As I stated before, the 5 Keys' King material is superior (as R&B) to most of the Capitol recordings (which are themselves musically superior to the R&B material). It's nice to see the Keys returning to their R&B roots on King, but that's really a selfish attitude. Rudy is basically right: a group has to evolve. The King group was going in the wrong direction, with a sound that was years behind what the public was buying. Unfortunately, Pop was dying too, so the only recourse for the 5 Keys would have been to turn to that new James Brown-Jerry Butler soul sound in the early 60s. Who knows what might have resulted?
Some familiar names wrote the King songs: Rudolph Toombs penned "Ziggus," "Gonna Be Too Late," "Dream On," and "Dancing Senorita"; Howard Biggs (their early bandleader on Capitol) wrote "How Can I Forget You" and "I've Always Been A Dreamer"; Earl Bostic did "Stop Your Crying," Billy Ward wrote the four Dominoes songs; and Gregory Carroll (of the 4 Buddies) turned out "Valley Of Love." In addition, "I Took Your Love For A Toy" was written by Ripley Ingram; "You Broke The Only Heart" by Bernie West; and "I'll Never Stop Loving You" was by Bernie and Maryland.
By late 1961, Rudy was the featured singer with Clarence "Jap" Curry's band (Curry was a fellow Post Office worker). Rudy and the 5 Keys, backed by the Curry band, recorded four songs. Rudy said that the tunes, including an updated version of "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind," were done to showcase the band, but that doesn't make sense since Curry's name isn't mentioned on the label at all. Who were the "5 Keys" who backed Rudy? Well, they were some of the old gang: Bernie and Ripley reunited with Rudy. In place of Maryland (now in Cleveland) they used tenor James "Saggy" Boyd and, in place of Dickie, there was tenor Willie Friday (remember him from 1954?). Two of the songs were leased to Seg-Way Records (started by George Goldner, his brother Sam, and their lawyer, whose name was Ed - thus the "Seg"). Released as by "Rudy West and the 5 Keys," the offering wasn't bad at all. The instrumentation was very similar to the Capitol side, but gone was that female chorus! The flip of the record was called "You're The One." The other sides recorded at that session ("Hey Girl" and "No Matter," both written by Jap Curry), weren't released until 1967, on Curry's Inferno label. All the sides were led by Rudy.
One thing to keep in mind is that the concept of "Rudy West and the 5 Keys" was strictly a 60s innovation. Prior to that it was just the "5 Keys." And for good reason: there were always multiple lead singers. An analysis of their recordings on Aladdin, Groove, Capitol and King, shows that Maryland Pierce sang lead on 40% of the tunes, Rudy West on 34%, Dickie Smith on 13%, Ulysses Hicks on 3%, and Thomas Threatt on 5%. (This, of course, doesn't count the other voices heard on bridges, songs whose leads aren't remembered, one lead by Bernie West, and two songs with duet leads.) The 5 Keys were not a group that fronted a single lead!
The last King release was in May of 1964: "I'll Never Stop Loving You," coupled with "I Can't Escape From You." In 1964, this sound was truly a relic.
A 5 Keys group was at the Apollo Theater for the "Old Goldies" show, which began January 1, 1965. This extravaganza reunited the Orioles, the Solitaires, the Bobbettes, Charlie & Ray, the Hollywood Flames, the Clovers, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Jackie & the Starlites, Paul Winley, and the Reuben Phillips Orchestra. The best thing about this show is that I was there (ask me sometime how Sonny Til had me stand up and take a bow). Three who weren't there, however, were Bernie, Rudy and Maryland; it's possible that it was a group Ripley put together. During that period various combinations of the originals would do weekend gigs, but they were all firmly entrenched in "real" jobs by now.
The concept of the oldies show at the Apollo proved popular enough so that promoter George Smith put on two more of them. The first was held the week of March 11, 1966, and featured, in addition to the 5 Keys (whoever they may have been): Ben E. King, the Bill Doggett Band, Shep & the Limelites, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Faye Adams, Charlie & Ray, and Wilbert Harrison. The other took place the week of December 9, 1966. This time the 5 Keys (whoever they may have been) shared the stage with Clyde McPhatter, Frankie Lymon, Ruth Brown, Sonny Til & the Orioles, Ruby & the Romantics, Charlie & Ray, and Vivian Reed.
While various members reunited during the oldies craze of the 70s, there were to be no further recordings by any 5 Keys group that could be considered original. In 1973, Rudy teamed up with the Chateaus, another group from Newport News. The original Chateaus, who formed in 1952, were Oliver Sidney (tenor), Leroy Jones (falsetto), Fred Harris (tenor), George Winfield (baritone and tenor; a cousin of Willie Winfield), and Charles Sidney (bass). Also managed by Ike Burton, they recorded for Epic, Warner Bros., and Diamond (backing up the Bobbettes on "Close Your Eyes"). By the early 60s, the Chateaus were Oliver Sidney, George Winfield, Theodore Jones, Leroy Jones, and Edwin Hall (who'd left the 5 Keys back in 1950). All of them, except Leroy Jones, joined with Rudy to do some recording for the Landmark and Bim Bam Boom labels in 1973. Rudy occasionally sang with George Winfield, Oliver Sidney, and Edwin Hall as "Rudy West and His Keys" right up until the time of his death. (Rudy said that earlier billings as "Rudy West and the 5 Keys" was the work of promoters.)
On September 11, 1983, the Capitol group (Rudy, Maryland, Ripley, Ramon, and Bernie) got together for a single concert in New Jersey. In 1989, Rudy, backed by California's wonderful Calvanes, had two releases on the Classic Artists label out of California.
In early 1991, the 5 Keys were reunited to receive the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm And Blues Foundation. For the first time since 1952 (when Rudy West went into the Army), he, Maryland Pierce, Ripley Ingram, Dickie Smith, and Bernie West shared the same stage.
Then on April 25, 1992, the 5 Keys were inducted into the UGHA Hall Of Fame. They didn't come prepared to sing, but we knew better (we simply refused to let them off the stage until they did!). Maryland and Rudy teamed up to lead a wonderful version of "Close Your Eyes." Since they didn't perform at the Rhythm 'n Blues Hall of Fame presentation, the UGHA show marked the first time in 40 years that the original five recording members of the group sang together. Unfortunately, that was also the last time the original 5 Keys would ever appear; Ripley Ingram passed away in early 1995. The beautiful voice of Rudy West was stilled on May 14, 1998. Ramon Loper passed away in October 2002; Thomas "Dickie" Threatt left us in October 2007. Bernie West died on December 22, 2018.
In late 2009, Maryland Pierce had heart surgery, but assured me that he'll soon be back out there with his group: George Winfield, Oliver Sidney, Spencer Tracey, and Larry Jarvis.
The 5 Keys were one of the most talented and prolific groups to ever record. There's little that can be added to the adulation that's been heaped on them by so many of their peers. It has been a true pleasure to have listened to the Keys for all these years. On a very positive note, Bernie tells me that recently, due to the efforts of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, the 5 Keys are finally starting to receive some royalties. It's about time! Although Bernie is now on the Deacon Board of his church, he can still look back and say "I still get goosepimples when I think of the 5 Keys."
Special thanks to Ronnie Italiano, George Moonoogian, Les Moss, Pete Grendysa, John Jackson, Dave Hinckley, Victor Pearlin, Jeff Beckman, Nikki Gustafson, Mike Caldarulo, Steve West, and Dan Romanello. Ads, of course, are courtesy of Galen Gart's First Pressings series. Discographical info, as usual, has been cheerfully plagiarized from Ferdie Gonzalez's Disco-File.
Extra special thanks have to be extended to Mr. & Mrs. Bernie West for the grace with which they endured my seemingly endless phone calls.
3085 With A Broken Heart (DS)/Too Late (MP) - 4/51
3099 Hucklebuck With Jimmy (MP/DS)/The Glory Of Love (RW/DS) - 7/51
3113 Old MacDonald (MP)/It's Christmas Time (RW) - 12/51
3118 Old MacDonald (MP)/Yes Sir, That's My Baby (RW/DS) - 1/52
3119 Darling (RW/DS)/Goin' Downtown (8-9-10) (MP)
(scheduled for release, but not issued)
3127 Red Sails In The Sunset (RW/DS)/Be Anything But Be Mine (RW/DS) - 4/52
3131 Mistakes (RW/DS)/How Long (RW/DS) - 5/52
3136 I Hadn't Anyone Till You (RW/DS)/Hold Me (DS) - 7/52
3158 I Cried For You (RW/DS)/Serve Another Round (MP) - 10/52
3167 Come Go My Bail Louise (DS)/Can't Keep From Crying (DS) - 1/53
3175 Mama (Your Daughter Told A Lie On Me) (DS)/There Ought To Be A Law (UH/MP) - 3/53
3190 These Foolish Things (DS/RI)/Lonesome Old Story (MP) - 5/53
3204 Teardrops In Your Eyes (DS)/I'm So High (MP) - 9/53
3214 My Saddest Hour (MP/DS)/Oh! Babe! (DS) - 12/53
3228 Love My Loving (MP)/Someday Sweetheart (RW/DS) - 2/54
3245 Deep In My Heart (UH)/How Do You Expect Me To Get It (DS) - 5/54
3263 My Love (RW)/Why, Oh Why (DS) - 5/55
3312 Story Of Love (RW)/Serve Another Round (MP) - 1/56
LP 806 "The Best Of The Five Keys" - late 1956
(Note change in title, from the single, for tunes marked with *)
Glory Of Love (RW/DS) *
Red Sails In The Sunset (RW/DS)
Oh, Baby (DS) *
Too Late Baby (MP) *
My Saddest Hour (MP/DS)
Teardrops (DS) *
Hucklebuck With Jimmy (MP)
Be Mine (RW/DS) *
These Foolish Things (DS/RI)
Love My Loving (MP)
Christmas Time (RW) *
Serve Another Round (MP)
(re-released as SCORE SLP-4003 "On The Town With The Five Keys" -1957)
Hucklebuck With Jimmy (first version) (MP/DS)
Too Late (first version) (MP)
With A Broken Heart (first version) (DS)
Happy Am I (MP)
Your Teardrops (DS - this is the first version of "Teardrops In Your Eyes")
Just Like Two Drops Of Water (MP)
Do I Need You (DS)
Goin' Downtown (8-9-10) (MP)
Darktown Strutters' Ball (MP)
I'll Always Be In Love With You (RW/DS)
Can't Keep From Crying (first version) (DS)
Serve Another Round (first version) (MP)
If You Only Knew (RW)
Rocking And Crying Blues (MP)
Will My Heart Stand A Chance (RW/DS)
Ghost Of A Chance (DS)
When You're Gone (DS)
White Cliffs Of Dover (DS/MP)
How Could You Do This To Me (DS)
0031 I'll Follow You (MP/RI)/Lawdy Miss Mary (MP) - 8/54
The above, if released at all, was as DJ copies only, which were recalled.
When Will My Troubles End (MP)
Teeth And Tongue Will Get You Hung (MP)
2945 Ling, Ting, Tong (MP)/I'm Alone (MP) - 10/54
3032 Close Your Eyes (MP/RW)/Doggone It, You Did It (MP) - 1/55
EAP 1-572 The Five Keys - 1/55
Ling, Ting, Tong (MP)/I'm Alone (MP)
Close Your Eyes (MP/RW)/Doggone It, You Did It (MP)
3127 The Verdict (RW)/Me Make Um Pow Wow (MP) - 5/55
3185 Don't You Know I Love You (MP)/I Wish I'd Never Learned To Read (MP/RW) - 7/55
3267 Cause You're My Lover (RW)/Gee Whittakers (MP) - 10/55
3318 What Goes On (MP)/You Broke The Rules Of Love (RW) - 1/56
3392 I Dreamt I Dwelt In Heaven (RW)/She's The Most (MP/RW/RL/BW) - 4/56
3455 Peace And Love (RW)/My Pigeon's Gone (MP) - 6/56
3502 Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind (RW)/That's Right (MP) - 8/56
3597 Wisdom Of A Fool (RW)/Now Don't That Prove I Love You (MP) - 11/56
T-820 Swing Low, Sweet Spiritual (a Jack Teagarden Album) - 2/57
(The 5 Keys are only on the cuts marked with an *.)
Git On Board, Little Children *
Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho *
This Train *
Ezekiel Saw The Wheel *
Gonna Shout All Over God's Heaven *
Sing And Shout *
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen
Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
T-828 Just For A Thrill (RW)/The Gypsy (RW) - 2/57
T-828 The Five Keys On Stage - 2/57
Just For A Thrill (RW)
Let There Be You (RW)
All I Need Is You (RW)
Who Do You Know In Heaven (RW)
Maybe You'll Be There (RW)
The Gypsy (RW)
Tiger Lily (MP)
From The Bottom Of My Heart (MP)
C'est La Vie (RW)
To Each His Own (RW)
EAP 1-828 The Five Keys On Stage - Volume 1 - 2/57
Just For A Thrill (RW)/Who Do You Know In Heaven (RW)
To Each His Own (RW)/Boom-Boom (MP)
EAP 2-828 The Five Keys On Stage - Volume 2 - 2/57
Maybe You'll Be There (RW)/Tiger Lily (MP)
The Gypsy (RW)/From The Bottom Of My Heart (MP)
EAP 3-828 The Five Keys On Stage - Volume 3 - 2/57
C'est La Vie (RW)/Dream (RW)
Let There Be You (RW)/All I Need Is You (RW)
3660 Let There Be You (RW)/Tiger Lily (MP) - 2/57
3710 It's A Groove (MP)/Four Walls (RW) - 4/57
3738 This I Promise You (RW)/The Blues Don't Care (RW) - 6/57
3786 Boom-Boom (MP)/The Face Of An Angel (RW) - 8/57
3830 Do Anything (RW)/It's A Cryin' Shame (MP) - 11/57
3861 From Me To You (RW)/Whippety Whirl (MP) - 12/57
3861 From Me To You (RW)/Whippety Whirl (MP) - 12/57
[Flip has 2 sides by Ferlin Husky]
NOTE: 3861 was issued both as a regular release and as an EP promo
3948 With All My Love (RW)/You're For Me (RW) - 3/58
4009 Handy Andy (MP)/Emily Please (RW) - 7/58
4092 One Great Love (RW)/Really-O Truly-O (MP) - 11/58
4828 From The Bottom Of My Heart (MP)/Out Of Sight Out Of Mind (RW) - 8/62
NOTE: 4828 was issued as by the "Fantastic Five Keys"
T-1769 The Fantastic Five Keys - summer 1962
Ling, Ting, Tong (MP)
Wisdom Of A Fool (RW)
Out Of Sight Out Of Mind (RW)
Let There Be You (RW)
Doggone It, You Did It (MP)
She's The Most (MP, RW)
From The Bottom Of My Heart (MP)
The Blues Don't Care (RW)
The Verdict (RW)
Just For A Thrill (RW)
6049 Close Your Eyes (MP/RW)/The Verdict (RW) - 4/64
6186 Out Of Sight Out Of Mind (RW)/The Verdict (RW) - 6/72
6192 Ling, Ting, Tong (MP)/Wisdom Of A Fool (RW) - 6/72
Trapped, Lost, Gone (BW)
I'm Just A Fool (UH)
So Glad (??)
Shook My Head (??)
Just Sittin' (MP)
Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind (alternate take) (RW)
Open Sesame (RW)
Every Heart Is Home At Christmas (RW?)
This appeared on a Capitol CD, Christmas Kisses (CDP 7 94701 2), in 1990 and on a 45 that Capitol released on an
Aladdin label around 2000 (the flip was "Frosty The Snowman," by Fats Domino, on a "The Right Stuff" label).
Dog Gone Baby (??)
5251 I Took Your Love For A Toy (TT)/Ziggus (MP) - 8/59
5273 Dream On (MP/BW)/Dancing Senorita (MP) - 10/59
5302 How Can I Forget You (TT)/I Burned Your Letter (MP) - 11/59
5330 Gonna Be Too Late (MP)/Rosetta (MP) - 3/60
5358 I Didn't Know (TT)/No Says My Heart (DS) - 6/60
5398 Valley Of Love (MP/TT)/Bimbo (MP) - 9/60
5446 You Broke The Only Heart (TT)/That's What You're Doing To Me (MP) - 1/61
5496 Stop Your Crying (MP)/Do Something For Me (TT/DS) - 5/61
5877 I'll Never Stop Loving You (MP)/I Can't Escape From You (DS/BW) - 5/64
LP688 The Five Keys - 1960
I Took Your Love For A Toy (TT)
How Can I Forget You (TT)
I Burned Your Letter (MP)
When Paw Was Courtin' Maw (MP)
Gonna Be Too Late (MP)
You Broke The Only Heart (TT)
Dancing Senorita (MP)
I've Always Been A Dreamer (TT)
Dream On (MP/BW)
Your Teeth And Your Tongue (MP)
LP692 The Five Keys - Rhythm And Blues Hits, Past And Present - 1960
Valley Of Love (MP/TT)
I Can't Escape From You (DS/BW)
That's What You're Doing To Me (MP)
Wrapped Up In A Dream (DS)
Now I Know I Love You (TT) **
Will You (MP)
I'll Never Stop Loving You (MP)
Do Something For Me (TT/DS)
Stop Your Crying (MP)
No Says My Heart (DS)
Girl You Better Stop It (MP)
** "Now I Know I Love You" is "I Didn't Know," retitled.
K-5013X 14 Hits - 1978
How Can I Forget You (TT)
You Broke The Only Heart (TT)
I've Always Been A Dreamer (TT)
Dream On (MP/BW)
I Took Your Love For A Toy (TT)
I Burned Your Letter (MP)
Your Teeth And Your Tongue (MP)
Dancing Senorita (MP)
Gonna Be Too Late (MP)
Girl You Better Stop It (MP)
When Paw Was Courtin' Maw (MP)
Stop Your Crying (MP)
KING (RUDY WEST SOLOS - backed by a studio group)
5276 Just To Be With You/You Were Mine - 10/59
5285 My Mother's Prayers/As Sure As I Live - 11/59
5305 The Measure Of My Love/This Is Something Else - 12/59
SEG-WAY (Rudy West & Five Keys)
1008 Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind (RW)/You're The One (RW) - 12/61
IMPERIAL (Aladdin masters)
016 The Glory Of Love (RW)/My Saddest Hour (MP/DS) - 5/62
INFERNO (Rudy West & Five Keys - SEG-WAY masters)
4500 No Matter (RW)/Hey Girl (RW) - 1967
1003 Sweetheart (RW/DS)/[Sittin' Here Wondering - Marylanders] - 1972
NOTE: "Sweetheart" is the Aladdin master "I'll Always Be In Love With You"
UNITED ARTISTS (Aladdin masters)
XW150 The Glory Of Love (RW)/My Saddest Hour (MP/DS) - 1972
LANDMARK (5 Keys)
101 Goddess Of Love (RW)/Stop What You're Doing To Me (RW) - 10/73
Peace And Love (RW)
The Verdict (RW)
BIM BAM BOOM (5 Keys; a cappella recordings)
116 Out Of Sight Out Of Mind (RW)/Close Your Eyes (RW) - 1973
LEGRAND (Rudy West)
1051 Everybody Is Somebody's Fool/Oh Say Can You See - 1986
1052 Lady Liberty's Birthday Party/Oh Say Can You See - 1986
1053 Everybody Is Somebody's Fool/Everybody Is Somebody's Fool (Rap version) - 1986
1054 A Clean Song/[A Clean Song - Instrumental] - 1986
CLASSIC ARTISTS (Rudy West & Five Keys)
112 Miracle Moment Of Love (RW)/When Was The Last Time (RW) - 1989
115 I Want You For Christmas (RW)/Express Yourself Back Home (RW) - 12/89
RW = Rudy West; MP = Maryland Pierce; DS = Dickie Smith
UH = Ulysses Hicks; RI = Ripley Ingram; BW = Bernie West
RL = Ramon Loper; TT = Thomas Threatt