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Tommy Ridgley
Title: Spreading Love
Author: Edwin J. Bocage

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Tommy Ridgely

"Spreading Love" (Edwin J. Bocage)
Tommy Ridgley, Ridge-Way, c. 1968

Song's over. So, go spread some love. . .

I took my own advice (something I should do more often) and was looking over Martin Lawrie’s fine, informative work on his Eddie Bo discography at soulgeneration, just clicking at random on the labels to see what popped up that I didn’t know about (quite a bit, really). One of the things that I found was the label scan and notes for a 45 Bo produced and issued on his Ridge-Way label with Tommy Ridgely as the featured artist. Did the artist’s name inspire the label name? Anyway, I was reading along and saw that the songs were “Spreading Love” b/w “Live”; and it dawned on me that I had a copy of “Spreading Love” somewhere.

Then I remembered that it was on a cassette tape (!) comp I got in New Orleans back in the late1980’s, I think, containing a bunch of obscure Tommy Ridgely releases from the late 1950’s to 1984. As far as I know, it was only released on cassette; and I was told by the fellows at the Louisiana Music Factory at the time that Tommy himself put it out (there was precious little information on the tape card). All the transfers except the 1984 track, “Lay It On Me NOLA”, seem to be from old singles (some a little worse for wear), probably from his own collection. A few years back, I burned the cassette tracks to CD; and now have ripped an mp3 of this song for reference. So, if you’re keeping score, that’s five permutations from the original performance to your ears: analog master tape > vinyl > cassette tape > CD > mp3. Fidelity is very sketchy on this one, friends.

I guess the most unusual thing about “Spreading Love” is how normal it is - just a good, well-sung, straight ahead swinging soul song with a nice, uplifting message. Since Eddie Bo produced it, one might expect some elements of funk or something just a little twisted in the instrumentation, or a messed-with mix. He could be both innovative and impish, often at the same time. But, only the flute that riffs through most of the song is a bit out of the ordinary. Really, if I hadn’t read Martin’s piece, I might never have guessed Bo had anything to do with this one.

Tommy Ridgely is another one of those great, under-rated, if not almost forgotten, New Orleans vocalists, bandleaders and songwriters that this blog seeks to spotlight. He got his first big break in the very early 1950’s when Dave Bartholomew hired him as vocalist for his band. Ridgely recorded with them and then as a solo artist for Imperial, Atlantic (including the legendary instrumental “Jam Up”), Decca, King and Herald, among others, in that decade. In 1956, while on Herald, he formed his own band, the Untouchables, which had become the house band at the Dew Drop Inn by 1960. That was the year Ridgely signed on with Joe Ruffino’s Ric Records; and, in a two year span, he made a string of classic singles that were popular only in the New Orleans market. Probably the biggest of these was an Eddie Bo composition, “In The Same Old Way”. During the next few years, he worked with his friend Bo again, doing several other singles on labels such as Cinderella and Johen before they collaborated on “Spreading Love”.

By the way, Tommy Ridgely is also notable for discovering Irma Thomas in the late 1950’s, giving her first singing job with his band, and getting her signed to Ruffino’s other label, Ron Records, where she launched her recording career. Ridgely’s own career was revived in the 1990’s when he released three solo CDs. The best of them was his last, Since The Blues Began, on Black Top in 1995. Also, Colletcables has compiled his Herald Recordings on CD; and Rounder collected his Ric and Johen sides on New Orleans King of the Stroll.

Although he was in his 70’s and in poor health when I had the pleasure to hear Tommy Ridgely’s live shows seven or eight years ago, his voice was still an impressive instrument. He passed away in 1999. I’m so glad he put out that little tape for his fans, since I’ve never found any of the original sides on it.

August 01, 2005- click date for entire article, updates and possible comments

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