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SAVOY 738; MARCH 1950



One of the more interesting evolutions within the larger rock sphere to trace from one record, one artist and even one era to the next is found in the vocal group scene which began with The Ravens and continued strong for years and years after that, each new generation borrowing from, but tweaking, the initial floor-plans they’d laid down back in 1947.

Of all of the descendants of that group few were quite as blatant in their imitative intent than The Robins yet surprisingly for an act that was literally put together to take advantage of the popularity of the originators it’s rather amazing to see how many new facets they quickly added to that archetype.

Though this record came and went without making many commercial waves at the time the influence it had on future sounds can hardly be understated.


The Way You Treated Me Was A Sin
Here’s where we need to insert the obligatory nod to granddaddies of the rock vocal group template, The Ink Spots, whose work over the previous dozen years or so laid the groundwork for virtually everything that follows, including many of the so-called “innovations” The Robins brought to the forefront in today’s record, showing that they didn’t actually invent anything new here, but merely adapted something that already existed and by virtue of the new setting they were a part of made it seem altogether original.

The Ink Spots, as we’ve said many times before, were a black vocal group that dominated the 1940’s commercially, scoring three #1 pop singles to go with even more that topped the black charts. That crossover appeal was astounding for an era in which rigid segregation still held in all walks of life, but in order to do this consistently it meant they also had to tailor their sound to “not offend” the ofays in the audience, which is why their music, as good as it was, remains firmly in the pop realm for the most part.

But that stab at mainstream success also meant they’d have to acknowledge their race in a way that allowed ignorant white listeners to have their prejudices confirmed in a way. To do this The Ink Spots had their bass singer Hoppy Jones recite lyrics in a spoken bridge that clearly was designed to play up the group’s blackness to contrast with their more white-bread singing style as a whole. That he was forced to do isn’t surprising of course, but that he did so in a way that was still appealing, even to black audiences, is quite a trick.

Because this was SO effective however The Ink Spots found they couldn’t discard this gimmick even after it grew tiresome and repetitive and as a result their success with it in white America only reinforced the caricature of the deep voiced African-American male who imparted something meant to be profound in a slow drawling manner.

When The Ravens came along a few years later they turned this on its head in many ways with Jimmy Ricks both playing into that image and mocking it in one fell swoop and so by the time The Robins cut There Ain’t No Use Beggin’ in early 1950 the dueling approaches of The Ink Spots and Ravens were bound to be shaken up once more.


I Knew That One Day You’d Come Back
Though you can clearly see the aforementioned antecedents in how Bobby Nunn is used here – speaking his parts in a nod to The Ink Spots, yet doing so with a lot of lecherous undertones as Ricky had done with The Ravens – what you’ll really notice if you’ve peaked ahead in rock’s story, is how the manner in which The Robins construct this will continue to pop up over the years in such songs as The Drifters’ Someday You’ll Want Me To Want You and The Gladiolas, and subsequently The Diamonds, who were a white group, on Little Darlin’, one of 1957’s biggest hits.

In those songs, and countless other doo wop classics, the bass voice gets the semi-spoken interlude while another higher voice takes the lead for the main thrust of the song. Call it an Ink Spots prototype with a Ravens attitude adjustment basically. But it was The Robins who really codified the idea with There Ain’t No Use Beggin’, and in the process of confining their usual lead Nunn to the breaks, that gives Billy Richard a rare chance to deliver a lead vocal, something he does quite well for the most part.

Obviously the structure of the song is what we’re most focused on so let’s start there as the record kicks off with Johnny Otis’s vibes before Nunn comes in with a spoken introduction to set the story up, telling us his wife walked out on him but after apparently finding no suitable replacement around town she’s now coming back to him and he can’t help but be a little skeptical of her motives.

That brief scene launches into Billy Richard’s tenor singing in a breathy, halting manner that is very alluring, pulling you in emotionally from the start as he expands on the theme of not accepting her conditional apologies, but instead holding it over her as a way to massage his own bruised ego.

I’ve Made My Mind Up
Billy Richard was one of the founders of the group along with his brother Roy, the group’s baritone, who formed The A-Sharp Trio with Ty Terrell back in school in Oakland before they traveled south to L.A. where they auditioned for Johnny Otis and were paired with Bobby Nunn in a blatant effort to imitate The Ravens.

That move undoubtedly turned them into stars but There Ain’t No Use Beggin’ provides plenty of evidence that had that never happened they still might’ve had a decent chance for success with Billy on lead as his phrasing is very idiosyncratic and would’ve provided them with an identifiable marker to build upon.

He’s almost artificially melodramatic in his delivery, yet not to the point where it’s off-putting in any way. His voice is very compelling, giving a theatrical bent to the song that is aided immeasurably by Nunn who pops up again with another spoken refrain that sounds as if he’s almost making fun of Hoppy Jones’s famous delivery, or at least delivering his lines with a wink and a grin as if the listeners were in on the reference yet who knew The Robins were playing it for a joke more than simply a tribute.

Now there are times in the song where Richard can’t quite pull off what he’s being asked to do in the middle eight, his voice simply not being capable of reaching the higher notes as written and so he wisely pulls up short in order to stay in key rather than have his voice crack trying to venture outside his range.

But knowing this was the case, if not when the song was written then certainly after the first run-through, you have to question why they didn’t alter the plans. Terrell was the other tenor and while he never took a lead for the group to confirm his range he might’ve been more suited for that part, although with two voices taking prominent roles already you can understand why Otis might’ve been reluctant to throw a third singer into the foreground.

Richards’ vocal discretion actually spares the record from what might’ve been a fatal flaw – few things are worse than delivering off-key lines – but it also means the song isn’t quite all it could’ve been had he, or someone else, been able to hit the notes as intended. Minor complaints though because for the most part he’s spot on in his performance, adding a much needed variation to The Robins’ sound.


You Might As Well Give Up And Go
Because the group was still recording with Johnny Otis – their last session with him in fact before they split over Johnny absconding with a small cash handout from Savoy intended for the singers – the backing track is all but assured of being equally stellar.

Sure enough this matches the lurching vocal delivery with a stealthy musical attack featuring a series of sharp but subtle licks from Pete Lewis’s guitar atop the almost ghostly piano accompaniment from Devonia Williams and Leard Bell’s light touch on the drums.

Lewis in particular is the epitome of moderation on There Ain’t No Use Beggin’ as his part conveys the suspicion of the lyrics without ever raising in volume to throw the song out of balance. His more dynamic and frequently harsh sounding guitar attacks on other material tends to overshadow how sensitive he could be when called upon to pull back on the fireworks.

The whole accompaniment seems suggested more than definitively stated and once again shows why Otis’s sticky fingers wound up costing him a hell of a lot more than the fifty bucks he made off with, because the combination of his writing and arranging skills, the tight band at his disposal and The Robins’s vocal diversity was an unbeatable combination.

With the growing prominence of vocal groups as a whole in rock as the Fifties got underway it’s not hard to envision their combined forces leading the charge in that realm over the coming years had they managed to remain together, and this song – so unlike the rest of their output to date – is proof of how naturally their talents were able to mesh and give us something that fits perfectly within rock’s established territory, yet at the same time expands the boundaries of that territory in uniquely appealing ways.


We’ll Never Meet Again
Maybe by the way we seemed to be wrapping up this review you’d think The Robins disappeared from the scene altogether after this, but that was hardly the case. In fact Savoy had enough material in the vaults to issue further singles on them in the coming months, but while this might not have been the last of their partnership, nor the most commercially successful, it may well have been the most insightful as to what each faction brought to the table that made them stand out.

There Ain’t No Use Beggin’ is hardly the song that even the most ardent supporter of The Robins’ long career would point to as their defining record – largely because it was atypical to their established sound that featured Nunn as the centerpiece – but in terms of influence it’d be hard to find something that had as great a reach as this one.

Though it clearly borrows its concept from the past, thereby keeping The Ink Spots’ influence on the rock vocal group subgenre from becoming too marginalized, The Robins crucial updating of that concept with the addition of the sly take-no-shit attitude that defined the modern era of music and of black life in general, is undeniably important when tracing how rock came to define a different era and different mindset than what had come before it.

Too often The Robins story gets viewed merely as a sidebar to the stories of bigger names they worked with or were connected to in some capacity, be it Johnny Otis and Little Esther, or Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and The Coasters still to come, but what we’ve seen so far with them is while they may have excelled when paired with greater talent, The Robins themselves were not just sitting idly by… their contributions were every bit as vital as the figures who would soon overshadow them.


(Visit the Artist pages of both and The Robins and Johnny Otis for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)