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CHESS 1521; OCTOBER 1952



Yes or no? Should we include these guys or kick them to the curb?

In reality the answer is probably the latter. The Clefs are a non-entity in rock ‘n’ roll and by current estimates we have approximately 36,541,783 more rock songs to review before we get to the present and including a few sides by these guys sure aren’t going to get us to the finish line any faster.

So what are they doing here?

Well… if we don’t write about these records, what lunatic is likely to do so in the future?


Way Off In The Hills
Let’s never forget that rock ‘n’ roll has gotten so commercially potent by 1952 that companies like Chess Records, still struggling to get a firm handle on the genre, are so desperate to make greater inroads into the field that they’ll even give these guys a shot.

Maybe that’s unfair. The Clefs, from Washington D.C., were – like many from the region at that time – enamored with The Orioles and tried to follow in their footsteps, so they definitely envisioned themselves as a rock act, albeit maybe one a few years out of date by the time they got their break.

But that fandom should’ve at least given them a good foundation to start with, but when you don’t have stand out talent, and more importantly, nobody competent to steer you in the right direction, that’s not the most reliable formula for success.

Even when they had halfway decent material in Ride On they were beset by problems presumably not of their own doing. What might’ve been a solid uptempo song – certainly not hit potential, but at least good for stirring a little interest – had its commercial chances ruined by an arrangement that saw fit to wrap it with horns out of a 1943 jazz scene.

Chess Records may have released it, but they didn’t record it and so they’re let off the hook. The Clefs themselves sang it, but only one of them played an instrument and it was a guitar, not a horn, so we’ll cut them some slack too. Meanwhile Lillian Claiborne, their manager, only heard of them after getting wind of the demos and then signed them and sent the finished products to Chess, presumably without any creative input of her own, so she can be excused too.

So just WHO was responsible for turning chicken salad back into chicken shit?

Wouldn’t you know, it was a trumpet player!

Nothing For You
Before we go any further let’s put the target squarely on the back of Frank Motley, who was not just A trumpet player, but a DUAL trumpet player… which means he’s twice as likely to offend a rock fan’s sensibilities.

Sure enough the record starts off like Custer’s charge into battle, trumpet blaring at full blast. Let’s hope Motley meets the same end as Georgie did at Little Big Horn… his head on a shish kabob stick roasted over an open flame.

Truthfully anything that follows will be both infinitely better than what we hear to kick it off, but nowhere near good enough to rescue the reputation of Ride On after that outlandish display.

It doesn’t help that lead singer Scotty Manfield, who certainly has a good voice and confident delivery, sounds as if he’s singing this from down the hall. It’s not being done for the echo effect, or if it is it’s failing at it, because his words aren’t coming through clear enough to be easily heard.

You can make them out with some effort and if the lyrics aren’t exactly up to date and relevant for the rock fan of 1952, the overall impression will fit the bill well enough, but the point of singing is to be understood and these guys are too far from the microphone to be effective.

Then again since Motley and his two infernal trumpets were on the studio floor is it any wonder the singers wanted to get as far away from him as possible?

Without the voices front and center, that opens things up further for Frank and his motley crew of holdovers from the big band era who send this record into the trash heap of irrelevancy with each note they blow. Even when the other Clefs are urging things on vocally and a tenor sax wades into the fray and starts blasting away with admirable grit, in the process actually giving us a stretch that is really strong, it quickly is forced to take a back seat to the jerk with the trumpets who barges in and assumes command.

Not surprisingly the shouts of excitement from the group die off immediately, the rest of the musicians stand around rolling their eyes at this asshole and when Mansfield returns and tells us he’s “going in the Army, going to fight in the war” he actually sounds enthusiastic about risking his life in a foreign land just so he can get away from the horns.

I guess nobody told him about reveille.


Going To Fight In The War
Chances are this record, and this group, were not derailed on their way to stardom just because of a single horn… or two of them played by the same slimy cretin.

Then again, stronger sales leads to increased interest and while Phil Chess claimed to have requested a follow-up from Claiborne, he never heard back.

I guarantee however if Ride On had performed better, which it couldn’t help but doing, even marginally, had they murdered Frank Motley and dumped his carcass in the river, then I’ll bet Chess would’ve put in more than one request for additional material and who knows what might’ve happened.

Probably nothing much, but considering they had a slight resemblance to The Four Blazes who were the hottest Chicago based group at the time in a style that was only tangentially related to rock, it’s possible The Clefs could’ve sort of bridged that gap between fan bases.

But no matter which target audience you aimed at, the one way to ensure nobody was receptive to your offerings was to be not just outdated in your arrangement, but ostentatiously so as they are here.

No, it might not have been The Clefs fault, or Chess’s fault, but they were the ones made to suffer all the same from somebody’s ill-advised decision.


(Visit the Artist page of The Clefs for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)