The Cues were America's favorite vocal group for a couple of years in the mid-1950s, but the record buyers just never knew it. The only records by the Cues to peek into the Top Pop charts under their own name were Burn That Candle in 1955 and Why? in 1957, yet they were heard on dozens of hits for Atlantic, RCA-Victor, Capitol, MGM and Columbia. They were the first of a new breed – a back-up vocal group, and two men were responsible for their success and the continuing popularity of back-up groups.
Both the Cues and the concept of having a group solely for background work were fathered by Jesse Stone, possibly the most influential figure in the development of American rock 'n' roll (never mind what you've been reading in 'Rolling Stone'). The group he formed was under the leadership of Ollie Jones, a gifted writer and possessor of an uncanny musical ear – which made Jones the vocal equivalent of a sight-reading musician.
Before the Cues, there were vocal groups who cut only their own records, and there were large regimented choruses, such as the Ray Charles Singers, who provided background for many pop tunes in the 1940s. Jesse Stone, in his position as arranger and conductor for Atlantic Records and other companies, saw a need for a permanent cadre of singers who could sing in the new R&B style, which the multivoiced choral groups could not approach.
Stone had been with Atlantic from the very beginning in 1947, coming to the label with credentials in music hat extended back to 1927 and a moderately successful career as a bandleader. With fellow National Records alumnus Herb Abramson, he determined the direction that the fledgling Atlantic label needed to go, if it were to survive.
"When Atlantic first started, at the end of 1947," Stone recalls, "we were trying to do jazz. The jazz didn't sell. We tried to analyze what was wrong. We eventually made a trip down South – Ahmet, Herb, and myself. We found out that our music wasn't right because it wasn't danceable. The kids were looking for something to dance to. I listened to the stuff that was being done down there, and I concluded that the only thing that was missing from the stuff we were recording was the rhythm. All we needed was a bass line. So I designed a bass pattern, and it sort became identified with rock 'n' roll—doo, da-doo, dum; doo, da –doo, dum—that thing. I'm the guilty person that started that."
A few years before, Ollie Jones, born in Philadelphia on December 9, 1929, was hanging around Jimmy Evans' Booking Agency in New York City with Leonard Puzey when a call came in for two singers. Ben Bart, head of Universal Attractions, was building a vocal group around the extraordinary talents of Jimmy Ricks.
"The Ravens were actually looking for a high tenor", Jones says, "because Bill Kenny and the Ink Spots were the thing. Everybody wanted that high sound.
I never did do that, but I said, if they want a high tenor, I'm a high tenor. They hired me and I stayed until Maithe Marshall came along. After that I went with another group of three guys looking for a fourth. We called ourselves the Four Notes and I worked a summer carnival circuit with them before coming back to New York. I think Rickey (Jimmy Ricks) felt a little guilty about the way I was let go by the Ravens and he helped me put together the Blenders."
Jones was heard with Jimmy Ricks, Leonard Puzey, and Warren Stuttles on three recordings made for Ben Bart's own Hub label in the Fall of 1946. Although still only in his teens, Jones contributed the lovely composition Lullaby to the group, the biggest hit the Ravens had during their time on Hub. After a bit of touring in the Midwest, he left the group at the end of 1946, replaced by the thrilling falsetto voice of Maithe Marshall.
During the summer and fall of 1947, Jones worked with the Four Notes, a group that included baritone Tommy Adams. When he decided to form his own group, he acquired Adams, Abel DeCosta, and Jimmy DeLoach. DeLoach did the 'Ricky' bass part on the Blenders' first recording for National in October, 1949. From 1950 to 1952, with numerous personnel changes, the Blenders recorded for Decca, but even this association with a major label could not bring them a hit record. After working for MGM in 1953 they did a few sessions for Joe Davis and then disbanded. While with Davis, the Blenders recorded another Jones composition, Please Take Me Back.