BOOK REVIEW - by David Hinckley
From the February 4, 1999 edition of the
New York Daily News
[Reprinted by permission]
In the average history of 20th-century music, the Ink Spots get a
sentence or half a sentence, since they're often paired with the Mills
Brothers, who were also towering figures but didn't sound much like the Ink
Spots at all.
So it is happy news that this being Black History Month the Ink Spots now have a brand-new book all their own, one that cuts through the jungle of mythology that has grown up around them over the years.
The book is "More Than Words Can Say" (Scarecrow Press, $39.50), by Marv Goldberg, one of the country's top vocal-group historians. A New Yorker whose day job is at Citibank, Goldberg has been tracking Ink Spots lore for more than 20 years.
The Ink Spots started in Indianapolis in the late '20s when Jerry Daniels, Deek Watson, Orville (Hoppy) Jones and Charlie Fuqua played in the Patent Leather Boys, the Peanut Boys and the Percolating Puppies, all "coffeepot" bands.
The bands got that name because members blew into coffeepots to get different sounds not unlike the jug bands of the South.
By late 1933, the four had joined together and called themselves the Ink Spots, playing mostly uptempo dance and "jive" music. They got a record deal with Decca and played radio gigs to promote their live shows, but the Depression wasn't a great time for music groups and in 1936 Daniels quit, tired of barely making enough money to live on.
They replaced him with a tenor named Bill Kenny. But by early 1939, they were in the same situation sharing an apartment on Amsterdam Ave., just getting by. Then, on Jan. 12, 1939, they tried a song in a different style: "If I Didn't Care," with Kenny on high tenor and Hoppy Jones as the talking bass. None of the group liked it very much, but the public disagreed, and the Ink Spots suddenly were a musical touchstone. For 20 years they kept turning out songs in that style, selling millions of records and becoming the first black group to fully cross over into the white market.
By the '50s, the group began to splinter, spawning dozens of groups that called themselves the Ink Spots. The Spots' style is imprinted all over vocal-group music, from the Ravens and Orioles to Smokey Robinson and the Chi-Lites.
Goldberg wraps up his part of the story around 1953, having taken time along the way for lovely little side trips into matters like the shellac shortage of World War II and the various headaches caused to the music business by union boss James Petrillo.
And, incidentally, a new MCA double-CD anthology called "The Ink Spots," with 48 songs, makes a good companion to the book.
Return to the Ink Spots Book page