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Johnny Angel's Ginchy Stuff

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Throw Back Thursday: First "Bird" Group ... the "Ravens!"

Posted on May 7, 2020 at 9:50 AM

Hey Ginchers,

Time once again for Throw Back Thursday and a visit to Birdland to find a Raven.  A little confussing?  Let me clear that up a bit.  The Ravens, are one of the most influencial vocal groups of the 40's and 50's and the group that initiated the trend to name themselves after different birds like those that followed i.e.; the Orioles, the Crows, the Larks, the Robins, the Flamingos and even the Penguins.  The Ravens were influenced by the earlier sounds of groups like the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers.  How did the Ravens begin you ask?  Well, during WWII Jimmy Ricks (one of, if not the greatest bass voices in vocal group history) met Warren "Birdland" Suttles (a power baritone) in New York city where Ricks was working as a waiter.  In early 1946 they formed a vocal group by adding Leonard "Zeke" Puzey and Ollie Jones, both strong tenors.  They found a manager, Ben Bart and an accompanist, Howard Biggs and made their first recordings for Bart's small record label called Hub Records.  They called themselves the Ravens and capitalized on the strong Bass/lead voice of Jimmy Ricks playing off the high tenor.  Their music was considered "Race Records" but soon crossed over to the pop charts.  Their popularity amongst the younger crowd soon put them in a new category called R&B music.  As soon as a Ravens record began, you knew it was the Ravens by the Bass dominace on the record...the king, Jimmy Ricks ... leaving the strong presence of the baritone (Warren "Birdland" Suttles) to be the foundation of the smooth harmony blending with the two, near perfect tenors.  When I first met Warren "Birdland" Suttles I had a ton of questions for him.  I had to know how they came up with the structure for their harmonies, how Jimmy Ricks became the dominant lead voice, how the Ravens were viewed as one of the bird groups of the late 40's and early 50's.  Warren must have looked at me like Foghorn Leghorn looked at the little Chicken Hawk in the cartoon world.  I look back now and think to myself, "why didn't Birdland say ... go away kid you bother me?"  Well, the reason he didn't is because he was a gentleman and saw a young person wanting to know more about the men who began the music.  He could see the passion that I had for the science of vocal harmony and the admoration I had for him and his accomplishments.  Talking with Warren "Birdland" Suttles just added another toll in my music toolbelt.  To this day, when I play a Ravens Reccord on my radio show, I often flash back to the time I spent with Warren and the schooling I recieved from one of the masters!   Till tomorrow stay safe, stay healthy, help a neighbor when you can ... and, God Bless!

Johnny


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