We take the birthday of Orville “Hoppy” Jones (1905-1944) as an opportunity to acknowledge The Ink Spots.
I think of The Ink Spots as a rare pre-rock Beatlesque scale phenomenon. They were so enormously popular: 18 #1 hits, with close to 50 singles landing in the top #25. They appealed to both black and white, young and old. When I was a kid in the ’70s, most houses still had Ink Spots records in their collections, and I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who knows them who doesn’t love them. I adored them even when I was a kid. And I found this record in my wife’s parents’ house:
Their peak was from around 1938, when lead singer Bill Kenny joined, to around 1944, when Jones died, although they had success before and after that period. Their sound is instantly recognizable. Many of the songs, oddly for a black group, have a western/cowboy feel (several of the members played guitar). Kenny sings in a high, womanly tenor, almost a falsetto, backed by the others (Deek Watson and Charlie Fuqua), with bass singer (and bass player) Jones melodramatically speak-singing the key verse at a crucial point in the record. I find their sound eerie somehow — puts a chill down my spine. “If I Didn’t Care” (1939) started their run of major hits, many of which you probably know without knowing you know them. “My Prayer” (1939) was later covered by The Platters. “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow, and Me” (1940) was used recently on Better Call Saul. I first heard “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” (1941) on a tv commercial in the ’80s.
After Hoppy died in 1944, he was replaced by Herb Kenny, Bill’s brother. In 1952, the group split into several different competing groups all named The Ink Spots, each led by a different former member of the original group (which was possible because Fuqua and Watson had been founding members prior to Kenny’s joining.). None of these were as popular as the original quartet. As the ’50s wore on, new doo wop groups, like The Platters and The Drifters rose to the top — all of them apples off The Ink Spots’ tree.