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Monday, August 30, 2010

Vocal Harmony groups: The 5 Red Caps, 4 Blackbirds, Basin Street Boys, 5 Jones Boys...and more!!

The 5 Red Caps
Basin Street Boys

5 Jones Boys

4 Blackbirds
The Jones Boys Sing Band
 Ormonde Wilson and the Basin Street Boys

From Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks:

The Red Caps

By Marv Goldberg

Based on interviews with Romaine Brown,
Jay Price, Vance Wilson, and Gerald Smith (by Marv Goldberg)
Jimmy Springs and Steve Gibson (by Ray Funk)

© 2001, 2009 by Marv Goldberg

The Red Caps were one of the most prolific and influential groups of the 1940s and 1950s, having releases on many labels, using many names. While there was a basic core group of five singers, performers came and went at a bewildering pace.

In the music world of the late 30s and early 40s, there were many pioneer black vocal groups, all of whom owed a common debt to the Mills Brothers and Ink Spots. However, other influences were also apparent in their styles. Swing and big band jazz had a tremendous impact in the 30s, and myriad small combo jazz and jive groups resulted, often with members drawn from the larger orchestras. In parallel with this trend were the vocal groups that evolved from these combos in the 30s. In them, all members played instruments besides vocalizing - a combination that all but disappeared from R&B by the middle 50s. It was in this atmosphere that the group later known as the 5 Red Caps was born.

While there were vocal groups in all cities with large black populations, in the 30s, groups flocked to the LA area because of the varied work available: films, cartoon soundtracks, niteclubs, and radio. Four of these groups had a hand in the formation of the Red Caps: the Basin Street Boys, the 4 Blackbirds, the 5 Jones Boys, and the Jones Boys Sing Band. In 1940, they would coalesce into the 4 Toppers, the predecessor to the Red Caps.


Steve Gibson, George Thompson, Perry Anderson and Sam Hutcherson started as the 4 Dots in Lynchburg, Va, in the early thirties. In the summer of 1935, they were added to a tour of bandleader Jean Calloway. She renamed them the Basin Street Boys, although they had never been anywhere near New Orleans (it was just a more salable name). Leaving her after three months, they went to Phoenix, and then to Los Angeles. 

There is a single known (and extremely raunchy) recording by this group, which also did radio shows, voices for cartoons, and several films.

(I included this one raunchy cut, "Come John Come")


The members of the 4 Blackbirds had attended Los Angeles' Jefferson High (from which many great 50s R&B groups would come). The members were Geraldine Harris (1st tenor), David Patillo (2nd tenor), Leroy Hurte (baritone and guitar), and Richard Davis (bass). They made two films and several records.


Originally from Carbondale, Illinois, they came to L.A. in the mid 30s. Lead tenor Jimmy Springs was joined by William Hartley, Herman Wood, Louis Wood, and Charles Hopkins. They were in three known films and had a couple of records on Variety.


Leon René, who would later own the Exclusive label (as well as write "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano" and "Gloria"), put the 4 Blackbirds and 5 Jones Boys together to form a large chorus called the Jones Boys Sing Band. The only one missing from this aggregation was Blackbird Geraldine Harris. The guitarist was sometimes Oscar Moore (who would later join the King Cole Trio), but when he was unavailable, Steve Gibson (of the Basin Street Boys) would be called on to do the honors (also adding his bass voice to the mix). As was the case with many groups of the day, they imitated instruments; however, since there were so many voices, they had "sections" of various horns. Supposedly the entire instrumental sound track to Double Or Nothing consists of the voices of the Jones Boys Sing Band. Note that in movies they were credited (if at all) as the "Original Sing Band." Aside from their films, they only made a single record.


By 1940, as a result of there not being enough work for all these LA groups, a consolidation took place. Supposedly they picked the "top" members from each group and called the result the "4 Toppers." They were: Jimmy Springs (tenor and drums from the 5 Jones Boys), David Patillo (second tenor and sometimes guitarist and bassist from the 4 Blackbirds), Richard Davis (baritone and bassist from the 4 Blackbirds), Steve Gibson (bass and guitarist from the Basin Street Boys).
As well as appearing in four films, the 4 Toppers hooked up with orchestra leader Larry Breese and recorded a couple of sides for Otis René's (Leon's brother) Ammor label in early 1940.

In mid 1943 the 4 Toppers changed their name to the 5 Red Caps.


From The Vocal Group Harmony Website:

    In 1945, The 5 Red Caps consisted of Steve Gibson (bass/guitar), Romaine Brown (baritone/piano), Jimmy Springs (lead tenor/drums), David Patillo (2nd tenor/bass) and Emmett Matthews (2nd tenor/soprano sax). In parentheses are (vocal/instrument). Around this time, Doles Dickens also played bass for the group, moving Patillo to a straight vocalizing role.

The 5 Red Caps had at least 24 records released on Beacon (and simultaneously on Gennett and Joe Davis labels) between 1943 and 1946. Joe Davis (owner of all three labels) took credit for writing many of these songs. 

For some perspective I included several cuts by Ormonde Wilson and the Basin Street Boys....a later group from the '40s.....because the is sometimes a confusion between them and the other Basin Street Boys....well, and also 'cuz they are a favourite vocal harmony group :)

Here is a selection of recordings that I have from most of these groups..........some amazing stuff!! ENJOY!! :)

Steve Gibson's Red Caps-Three Dollars and Ninety-Eight Cents
Ormonde Wilson and the Basin Street Boys-Jumping at the jubilee
The 4 Blackbirds-Dixie Rhythm
5 Red Caps-Boogie woogie on a Saturday night
Basin Street Boys-Sweet Georgia Brown
Basin Street Boys-Thursday evening swing
5 Red Caps-Boogie woogie ball
Basin Street Boys-Come John come (pretty raunchy....hilarious!!)
5 Red Caps-Confused
5 Red Caps-I'm crazy 'bout you
5 Red Caps-Don't fool with me
Basin Street Boys-For you
5 Red Caps-Have A Heart For Someone Who Has a heart for you
Ormonde Wilson and the Basin Street Boys-I Sold My Heart To The Junkman
Steve Gibson and the Original Red Caps-I Went To Your Wedding
Ormonde Wilson and the Basin Street Boys-I'll get along somehow
Ormonde Wilson and the Basin Street Boys-I'm gonna write a letter to my baby
Steve Gibson And The Red Caps-I've lived a lifetime for you
Ormonde Wilson and the Basin Street Boys-Josefine
5 Red caps-Just for you
5 Red Caps-Lenox Avenue jump
5 Red Caps-Mary had a little jam
Ormonde Wilson and the Basin Street Boys-Near to you
5 Red Caps-No one else will do
5 Red Caps-Somebody's lyin'
The Five Jones Boys-Doin' the Suzi Q
The Five Jones Boys-Lazy bones
The Five Jones Boys-Mr. Ghost comes to town
The Five Jones Boys-Nagasaki
The Jones Boys Sing Band-Pickin' a rib
The Jones Boys Sing Band-Sleepy time in Hawaii
5 Red Caps-There's a light on the hill
Ormonde Wilson and the Basin Street Boys-This is the end of a dream

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