Notebook Cover

  The Rip-Chords

By Marv Goldberg

based on an interview with Leon Arnold

© 2005, 2009 by Marv Goldberg

[Author's Note: This is one of those tiny filler articles that I've written from time to time. Doesn't say very much and, in truth, I don't even remember writing it. Fortunately, I've been able to update it a bit, using sources that weren't available when it was originally penned in 1978.]

The Rip-Chords started out in Chicago as the 5 Knights Of Rhythm. They were: John Gillespie (alto), George Vinyard (first tenor), David Hargrove (second tenor), and Lester Martin (bass). Within a year of the group's formation, 17-year-old tenor/songwriter Leon Arnold joined. It's unclear whether Leon was a replacement or an additional member (which would have meant that the group wasn't called the "5 Knights Of Rhythm" originally).

They admired the Flamingos and the Moonglows, but could imitate most of the popular groups of the day. In spite of this, their repertoire consisted mostly of original material.

Their manager was Ted Daniels, who also managed the Calvaes and the 5 Thrills. These groups practiced at his house on South Indiana, and soon the Knights would be practicing there too.

In the spring of 1955, the 5 Knights Of Rhythm auditioned for Vee-Jay. The company seemed to be less than thrilled with the group, but liked the songs Leon Arnold had written. This resulted in a split session with the El Dorados, held on June 8. The Knights recorded "Forever Loving You" and "Lorrie"; the El Dorados waxed "Now That You've Gone" and "What's Buggin' You Baby."

Vee-Jay was slow in releasing the 5 Knights' songs (in fact, had no plans to release them at all). On the contrary, on October 21, the company had the El Dorados record "Forever Loving You" (as "I'll Be Forever Loving You"). Disgusted, the 5 Knights Of Rhythm left Vee-Jay and changed their name to the "Rip-Chords."

(Note that another Leon Arnold composition, "Lights Are Low," would be recorded by the El Dorados in November 1957.)

They then turned to Eli Toscano, owner of Abco Records, named after his AB Television And Record Sales store on West Roosevelt. They recorded at least two songs for Abco: "Let's Do The Razzle Dazzle" (written by Ted Daniels and led by Lester Martin) and "I Love You The Most" (written and led by Leon Arnold).

The Rip-Chords The 78 The 45 Released in June 1956, the platter was dismally reviewed on June 23 ("Razzle" rated "fair" and "Most" rated "poor"). Other reviews that week went to the Cleftones' "Can't We Be Sweethearts," the Teen Queens' "Billy Boy," Shirley & Lee's "Let The Good Times Roll," Mabel King's "Alabama Rock 'n' Roll," the Heartbeats' "People Are Talking," the Orioles' "Happy Till The Letter," the Empires' "Don't Touch My Gal," the Kool Gents' "This Is The Night," the Bop-Chords' "Castle In The Sky," and Sugar & Spice's "Don't Be A Bunny." In August, Eli Toscano decided to rename the label "Cobra."

Most of the Rip-Chords' appearances were at dances and clubs in the Chicago area. In August 1956, they appeared at a picnic, along with the El Dorados. In September, they were part of a show at Memorial Auditorium, with the El Dorados, the Dells, the Clouds, and Otis Rush.

Not surprisingly, the record didn't take off, and by the end of the year, the group had broken up. Rightly or wrongly, they blamed it all on Ted Daniels' poor management.

The Wes release After the Rip-Chords' demise, Leon joined the Calvaes as a fill-in member (he wasn't on any of their recordings). In 1961, he did a demo session for Mercury and a single record for Bunky Sheppard's Wes label. This resulted in two songs that Leon had a hand in writing: "But, Goodbye" (partially written by Ted Daniels) and "Here's To The Girl."

When the record went noplace (it wasn't even reviewed by Billboard), Leon gave up the music business for good.

Some of the information in this article was taken from Robert Pruter's Doowop.

UNRELEASED VEE-JAY (as the "Knights Of Rhythm", recorded 6/8/55)
      Forever Loving You

ABCO (as the Rip-Chords)
105 Let's Do The Razzle Dazzle (LM)/I Love You The Most (LA) - 6/56

      LEADS: LM = Lester Martin; LA = Leon Arnold

WES (Leon Arnold)
7751 But, Goodbye/Here's To The Girl - 1961

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