The Roamers were one of Savoy Records' seemingly inexhaustible roster of groups. While they only made two records (and another two backing up other Savoy artists), they had a good solid New York Metropolitan Area sound.
The Roamers formed in the Greenville area of Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1953. They were four guys who hung out together, singing on the street corners: James Ricketts (lead; now known as Salahuddin Aziz), Billy Williams (tenor), Sam Walton (baritone), and Judge Taylor (bass). At the time they formed, James was 15, Sam and Billy were 17, and Judge was the old man of the group at 20.
Originally called the "4 Flames," they changed it to the "Roamers" when they learned that there was another group using the name ("Roamers" was, of course, a reference to the "Drifters"). The other 4 Flames was probably a local group, since the Hollywood Flames had quit calling themselves "The 4 Flames" in 1952.
The Roamers practiced the hits of the day, as done by the Orioles, the 5 Keys, the Moonglows and the Flamingos. A more obscure choice was Luther Bond & the Emeralds' "What If You," which they loved. They also worked on original tunes that Judge Taylor had written.
In late 1954, they tried their luck with Atlantic Records in Manhattan. But Atlantic wasn't interested in a new group just then; they were trying to push the Chords to get another hit of the magnitude of "Sh-Boom." Undaunted, the Roamers tried Newark's Savoy Records, a little closer to home. "Herman Lubinsky [owner of Savoy] gave us a shot," says Salahuddin.
Their big day came on November 18, 1954, when, at Savoy's studios in Orange, New Jersey, they recorded two songs. The first, "Deep Freeze," had been written by Judge Taylor; the other, "I'll Never Get Over You." was by Charlie Singleton and Rose Marie McCoy. James Ricketts did lead chores on both sides. As long as they were around, Lubinsky also decided to have them back up Wilbert Harrison on "Da Dee Ya Da" (they weren't on the flip, "Women And Whiskey"). Most of the musicians that Savoy used on the session are household names: Sam Taylor (tenor sax), Mickey Baker (guitar), Doles Dickens (bass), Panama Francis (drums), Ernie Hayes (piano), and Jimmy Cleveland (trombone). The session was arranged and produced by Leroy Kirkland.
"Deep Freeze" was issued in December 1954, the same month that Lubinsky announced the signing of the group. Both sides got excellent reviews the week of January 15, 1955. Also reviewed that week were the Medallions' "The Telegram," Gene & Eunice's "Ko Ko Mo," the Flamingos' "Dream Of A Lifetime," the Mellows' "Smoke From Your Cigarette," the Platters' "Maggie Doesn't Work Here Anymore," the Angels' "A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening," and Buddy Johnson's "Upside Your Head." Only "The Telegram" and "Ko Ko Mo" got better grades than "Deep Freeze."
The record did well locally (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut), but failed to hit the national charts. Meanwhile, in early January 1955, Savoy issued "Women And Whiskey" and "Da Dee Ya Da," by "Wilbert Harrison and the Roamers." The record wasn't reviewed, but, based on other Savoy releases, it probably would have been done the same week as "Deep Freeze."
Booked by the James Evans Agency (at 1650 Broadway), the Roamers were sent out on the road. In New Jersey, the guys played the 21 Club (in Bayonne), the Three Tower Inn (in Keyport), Convention Hall (in Asbury Park), and Skalar's Hall (in Newark). There was the Met Theater in Philadelphia (where they headlined, since "Deep Freeze" had broken into the local top 20). Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut were also on the itinerary. Then there was a tour with Latin bandleader Joe Loco, and several with Wilbert Harrison. One of these tours took them through Virginia: Portsmouth, Richmond, Norfolk, and Newport News (home of the 5 Keys, Leaders, Chateaus, and Avalons).
On March 14, 1955, the Roamers were back in the studio, laying down the rocking "Chop Chop Ching A Ling" and "Never Let Me Go," two more songs written by Judge Taylor and led by James Ricketts. (They split the session with Philadelphia's Dreams, who were there recording "I'll Be Faithful" and "My Little Honeybun.") The band again consisted of Sam Taylor, Mickey Baker, and Ernie Hayes; the others were Budd Johnson (baritone sax), Lloyd Trotman (bass), and Dave Bailey (drums). Once again Leroy Kirkland was in charge of the session.
The songs were released in April 1955, and were reviewed the week of May 7. Other reviews that week were for: the Regals' "Got The Water Boiling," the Dreams' "I'll Be Faithful," the Spaniels' "Do-Wah," the Diablos' "Do You Remember What You Did?," Babs Gonzales' "Hair Dressin' Women," Rudy Green & 4 Buddies' "You Mean Everything To Me," and the Dells' "Tell The World."
Two months later, on May 3, the Roamers were asked to provide backup for Savoy thrush Varetta Dillard. The guys backed her on "You're The Answer To My Prayer," issued later that month as by "Varetta Dillard and the Roamers." (They weren't on the flip, "Promise Mr. Thomas.") Both sides got excellent reviews the week of May 28, 1955, along with Chuck Willis & Sandmen's "I Can Tell," the Starlings' "A-Loo, A-Loo," the Rhythm Aces' "Whisper To Me," and the Solitaires' "My Dear."
Although Savoy's Herman Lubinsky had signed the Roamers to a 4-year contract in November 1954, they never again recorded after May 1955. "He said he had money problems and he'd contact us when he wanted us to do some more recordings." Months turned into years and still Lubinsky didn't call. Finally, in 1959, the Roamers started to disintegrate. "We were young. Things weren't going as well as expected. We had to go to work and couldn't find the time. We started families and got disenchanted." At the end, they were still touring with Wilbert Harrison, opening for him in 1959.
In spite of the disenchantment, Billy Williams and James Ricketts gave it another go, recording four songs, as "Billy and Rickey," for Juggy Murray's Sue label in early 1959. "Mama Papa Please" and "Baby Doll" were issued in February 1959, and "How You Sound" and "Buttercup" followed a few months later (and credited to "Billy and Ricky").
Around 1962, James and Billy reunited with Sam Walton, and became a trio called the Astronauts. They hooked up with Van McCoy, who wrote some songs for them. The Astronauts recorded a demo of "Take Me As I Am," which was never released. After a year or two, the guys broke up for good.
Today, Sam Walton sings gospel in the Salem Baptist Church in Jersey City. Judge Taylor and Billy Williams have both passed away. James Ricketts (now Salahuddin Aziz) sang with Earl Lewis' Channels, until his retirement in December 1998 1998 (although by 2003 he was back singing with them). With good reason, "Deep Freeze" and "Chop Chop Ching A Ling" are R&B fanciers' favorites; it's a shame the Roamers couldn't have had more success.
Special thanks to Ronnie Italiano
1147 Deep Freeze (JR)/I'll Never Get Over You (JR) - 12/54
1149 Da Dee Ya Da (I'd Do Anything For You) (WH)/[Women And Whiskey - Wilbert Harrison] - 1/55
1156 Chop Chop Ching A Ling (JR)/Never Let Me Go (JR) - 4/55
1160 You're The Answer To My Prayer (VD)/[Promise Mr. Thomas - Varetta Dillard] - 5/55
LEADS: JR = James Ricketts; WH = Wilbert Harrison; VD = Varetta Dillard
711 Mama Papa Please/Baby Doll - 2/59
716 How You Sound/Buttercup (as "Billy and Ricky") - 1959