BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 

A vocal group of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s which never had any chart success of their own but in a roundabout way had some notable connections to artists that did over the years.

Group founder Ollie Jones had been the original tenor lead of The Ravens in the mid 1940’s, but while he was well-liked and a pretty good singer he didn’t blend well vocally with the others and they informed him they were looking for a replacement. Jones didn’t take it badly and remained with the group until the start of 1947 when they brought in Maithe Marshall whose airy voice contrasted more dramatically with bass lead Jimmy Ricks which was an element that would come to define The Ravens sound.

After spending time throughout 1948 with The 4 Notes, a touring group that never recorded, Jones found himself looking for a new gig when they broke up in early 1949. With The Ravens now the top vocal act in rock ‘n’ roll he sought to emulate them and recruited bassist James DeLoach, tenor Abel DeCosta and baritone Tommy Adams who’d been with Jones in The 4 Notes.

Old friend Jimmy Ricks brought them to National Records who signed the newly named Blenders. Considering the group was at this point completely derivative of The Ravens stylistically their signing with the same company is somewhat odd, unless the National’s owner, Al Green, felt it was better to have them under contract to keep them from in check somehow. Apparently the group, again through Ricks’s urging, was given live bookings for clubs when The Ravens weren’t available, though they weren’t presented AS the more famous group. Nevertheless their intentional similarity to the group, along with their Ravens connections, gave The Blenders plenty of opportunities before they ever stepped foot in a studio, as they had a summer full of club dates around New York and appeared on both radio and even local television without so much as a record to their name yet.

In September 1949 they finally entered the studio and cut four sides for National, only two of which got released a month later. In spite of its failure to connect they were on a bill at The Apollo Theater in November and in early 1950 headed to major label Decca, a rarity for rock acts at this stage. Few groups made so much headway on such little returns, a trend that would continue over the years.

With the loss of bass lead Van Loach, as well as baritone Adams, who was their most distinctive member for their live routines, both due to illness in mid-1950, the group would appear to be floundering, but a year later, despite no hits of any kind, they somehow scored a weekly gig on a local television show in New York, the biggest market in the country. Perhaps optimistic because of this and the growing commercial appeal of rock vocal acts Decca re-signed them to another contract that would take them through 1953. By mid-1951 Van Loach was well enough to return to the group but his presence didn’t lead to any change in their fortunes. In 1953 they wound up with a “minor” major company, MGM, but after two releases they were jettisoned from that label as well.

By this point rock vocal groups were featuring a much younger and rawer sound than the more polished style The Blenders had exhibited and while they’d attempt to keep pace, even cutting a ribald version of a song they did in 1953 for Jay-Dee Records, called “Don’t Fuck Around With Love” which was given to dee-jays along with the tamer released version (“Don’t Play Around With Love”) as an incentive to spin their records, they had little chance of breaking through in this ever more youthful landscape and they broke up in 1954 with no hits to show for their six years as an active group.

But Ollie Jones had found some productive sideline occupations in music during this time, both as a songwriter and as a backing vocalist for the many labels who needed singers who could handle the requisites of studio work behind a wide variety of solo acts. At the encouragement of Atlantic Records jack-of-all-trades and musical genius Jesse Stone, Jones formed The Cues – taking DeCosta with him – and this loose knit group would be used to sing demos to shop around to record companies in the hopes of getting the song put with an established act, as well as backing a ton of artists on recording sessions.

Even without a hit The Blenders managed to make their mark – individually more than collectively – in more ways than some groups that had multiple hits.
 

THE BLENDERS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

COME BACK BABY BLUES
(National 9092; October, 1949)
Good group harmonies, a vocal arrangement which keeps things suitably rhythmic throughout and sidesteps any pop concessions makes for a better than expected Ravens knockoff, even if the individual voices aren’t on par with their more famed brethren. (6)