BOOK REVIEW - by Andrea Siegel
[This appeared in the Winter/Spring 2001 issue of Oldies Forever]
"More Than Words Can Say: The Ink Spots and Their Music"
By Marv Goldberg
Published by Scarecrow Press (ISBN 0-8108-3568-1)
(It's amazing the things you find out by accident. When we ran the biography of
Marv Goldberg in our last issue, I didn't even know that he'd written a book.
But I do now and it's one that belongs on every bookshelf.)
If you're a fan of Doo-Wop music (sorry, Marv!), you're a fan of the Ink Spots, whether you realize it or not. There's a clear evolution from the Ink Spots of the early 1940s to the "granddaddy" Rhythm & Blues groups of the mid- to late 40s, to the "classic" R&B groups of the early 50s, to the Rock 'n' Roll groups of the mid-50s, to the Doo-Wop groups of the late 50s and early 60s (and even to the soul groups of the mid-60s and today's R&B performers).
Therefore, in order to fully appreciate the music you love, you owe it to yourself to find out about its roots in the Ink Spots. They weren't the first group to sing an R&B ballad (the Charioteers released "Along Tobacco Road" several years before the Ink Spots' "If I Didn't Care"), nor were they necessarily the best, but they were the most successful. What's more, they made that all-important crossover to the Pop charts in the days when those were almost completely white. Only the Mills Brothers, Louis Jordan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, and Fats Waller were consistently on the Pop charts in the 40s. The Mills Brothers (as the only other group) went in a different vocal direction, and, although influential, weren't really the ancestors of "our" music.
With the exception of a slim, disjointed, long-out-of-print Deek Watson "autobiography," there has been precious little written about the Ink Spots. Marv Goldberg has changed all that with his heavily-researched biography. You've all seen ads for Ink Spots groups featuring "original members" and obituaries for "the last of the original Ink Spots." Marv demolishes these, by focusing on the nineteen men who were the true and only "originals" (the members of the Victor and Decca groups from 1935 to 1953). The only known survivor, by the way, is Huey Long, who was with them in 1945 and is now about 96 years old. (Some mention is made of the Charlie Fuqua offshoot group which recorded for King and Verve in the 50s, but the subsequent history of the literally dozens of Ink Spots groups that sprang up in the 50s and 60s is, unfortunately, left to another historian.) Luckily, Marv was able to interview many of the originals back in the 70s (including "the" original, Jerry Daniels, who left the group in 1936, to be replaced by the most famous Spot of all, Bill Kenny). From the "coffee-pot band" of 1920s Indianapolis street corners to the immaculate white tuxes at the Paramount Theater, their whole history is here.
More Than Words Can Say, written in Marv's usual lighthearted style, not only features the biographies of the singers, but presents trade paper reviews for most of their recordings (both pro and con), as well as reviews of the group's live performances. In addition, Marv wanders through important events in Pop music and the recording industry (the ASCAP-BMI Wars, recording bans, the War of the Record Speeds, shellac, and lawsuits), as well as more far-reaching world events that influenced the music. There's also a full discography of all the Ink Spots' singles and LPs on Victor and Decca. Additionally, there are about 100 photos and record ads, fully documenting the long history of the Ink Spots.
Most of the chapters are devoted to a specific year in the career of the Ink Spots. Each begins with a summary of what was going on in the world at the time, as well as the musical hits that the Spots were competing with. Each chapter ends with a list of the songs they recorded that year, the records that were released that year, record reviews, and performance reviews. In between, there's the meat of the book: the ups and downs, the fast and furious personnel changes, the animosities and friendships that lie behind any vocal group.
It really didn't take the Ink Spots long to turn into parodies of themselves, and, unfortunately, this is the way we tend to remember them. But they were in the forefront of American music in the 40s, and it's really impossible to understand the origins of Doo-Wop music without understanding the contributions of the Ink Spots, the single most influential black group of the 40s.
You need to own the book about which Disc Reviews gushed, "This book belongs on the shelf of every R&B enthusiast." Pantagraph said, "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." Blues & Rhythm: "He treats his subject as a journalist should. He tells the story and lets it speak for itself." Here's what our own Kate Karp had to say: "More Than Words Can Say is exactly that - more than the Ink Spots, more than the music. Marv Goldberg, a musicologist without parallel, has written not only a complete biography of the Ink Spots, from the various embryonic stages of the individual members to the demises of both the career and the members themselves, but also a history of the music business - union control, imitator groups, even the incipience of group harmony acappella recordings (read to find out how union control caused that to happen!)." An unsigned review on the Scarecrow site (who knows, Marv might have written it himself!) says, "With record reviews, critiques of in-person performances, contemporary ads and photos, this is an enjoyable package.... Goldberg is a shrewd and artful detective and an astute music analyst."
Now that the holidays are over, why not buy yourself a gift you really want? More Than Words Can Say: The Ink Spots and Their Music by Marv Goldberg (published by Scarecrow Press; ISBN 0-8108-3568-1) is available for under $40. You can purchase it directly from the publisher at (800) 462-6420, or, online, from barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, or borders.com (the easiest way is to just go to Marv's web site - www.uncamarvy.com - and follow the links to any of these). Don't wait for the Easter Bunny to bring you a copy; go get yourself one today!
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