Not really a rock group but they occasionally were drafted by record companies to fill the role without much success, giving them a backdoor entry into the club.

Formed in a Cleveland high school in the mid-1930’s the group settled on a lineup of Joel McGhee, Eddie Parton (younger brother of legendary comedienne Moms Mabley) and Howard Greene by 1938 and the next year they appeared at The Apollo Theater as well as getting their first recording contract with Decca.

As was the custom at the time they primarily were focused on the Midwest and East Coast club scene rather than recording, getting just three scattered singles over their first decade. In 1948 however, a year or so after Bunny Walker replaced Greene in the group, they signed with fledgling Atlantic Records and got four releases in just three months, most of which had them backing either Joe Medlin or Manhattan Paul which brought them to the outskirts of rock ‘n’ roll.

Their recording career as backup singers continued when they joined LaVerne Ray on some sides for Jubilee Records in 1949 but they finally got he chance to headline their own records for Apollo in 1950, showing off their versatility on songs that ran the gamut from pop harmony to novelty to borderline rock ‘n’ roll.

When none of their releases made any impact they continued with their club work which generally got good reviews, although frequently it was their comedic talents and impersonations that got more raves than their straight singing. Considering Parton was co-writing his famous sister’s material, and with McGhee’s interest in acting (he’d later get dozens of roles on Broadway, films and television under the name Joe Seneca), this gives some indication what type of an act they had… a little bit of everything, which for a time included a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll.

They broke up by 1957 though McGhee wound up making a bigger splash in rock with his subsequent songwriting than the group ever had with their own records, as he penned Little Willie John’s hit “Talk To Me, Talk To Me” the next year.

Their career lasted twenty years and marked the passing of the thriving club scene that enabled groups like this without much recorded output to subsist on year in and year out as the musical landscape changed around them, briefly pulling The Three Riffs into the orbit of rock.

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

(Atlantic 868; December, 1948)
As backing vocal group… to Manhattan Paul. Though hardly legitimate rockers they come off pretty well here by adding a salacious undercurrent of their own to the racy themes, helping to give the record some added credibility. (5)

(Apollo 1164; June, 1950)
Not exactly convincing as a rock vocal group, the trio at least makes an effort to fit in, especially down the stretch when spurred on by Bobby Smith’s insistent saxophone they step up their intensity a little on this brief flirtation with the genre. (3)