Ray Charles Headlining Dr. Jive’s (Last?) R&B Revue At The Apollo (1958)
From 1952 to 1958 Dr. Jive presented the radio shows to hear all the New York neighborhood vocal groups and all the new doo-wop and R&B records, on WWRL. In his afternoon and nighttime programs Dr. Jive (real name Tommy Smalls) also played blues artists, and he nurtured a regular Latin beat segment. For a while he was on live from Harlem’s Club Shalimar, then moved to the Club Bohemia in Greenwich Village.
In early 1955 Dr. Jive started presenting R & B revues in person, first in Harlem with shows at the Rockland Palace and the Apollo Theater. On 20 November of that year Smalls made history when he mc’ed a live mini revue on Ed Sullivan’s Toast Of The Town TV show (don’t miss the fantastic clip below!).
That same year Smalls bought the famous Smalls Paradise in Harlem, planning to feature live broadcasts from the club. “For the next two years Doctor Jive would become a radio fixture in the afternoons and with his program transcend the real or perceived boundaries of race, class, national origin, and economic status […]”, this source remembers,
“From the opening theme by Dean Barlowe (‘Listen to Dr. Jive’) to Tommy Edwards closing of So Long, Farewell, Goodbye, this was two and a half hours of radio heaven. The radio station was a little AM located in Woodside, Queens all the way at the top of the dial past the 1600 mark. […] They talk about the revolutionary idea of cross cultural identity today with suburban kids listening to rap music? How about 45 years ago, White suburban kids listening to Dr. Jive with constant commercials for hair straighteners, bleaching creams, the Amsterdam News, etc. We knew what was going on! […] Tommy Smalls gave a shot to all the little record labels in the metropolitan area and really developed the feel of a ‘New York sound’.
The Doctor Jive show was also a place for the listener to get involved via the dedication and request route [by involving] the fanclubs dedicated to a particular group, and they were constantly featured to champion the fame of their guys. The better remembered ones were the Cleftone Sweethearts, Channel Jivealeers, Paragon Angels, and my all time favorite, the non aligned Jovial Delinquents. […]”
Dr. Jive’s game and fame ended in 1958 after the infamous payola investigation by the NY District Attorney’s office, where both Alan Freed and Smalls were arrested and accused of taking bribes to play records on their radio shows, and peddling their influence.
|It’s not clear when this photo was taken, and if in
this case Ray was also part of Dr. Jive’s revue, or just co-billed.
From 30 May to 5 June 1958 “Yes Indeed” Ray Charles and his band headlined Dr. Jive’s Rhythm ‘n’ Blues Revue at the Apollo. It may well have been the last program of these series. Ray shared the bill with The Heartbeats, The Drifters, The Cadillacs, The Crowns, Tiny Topsy, Ann Cole, Solomon Burke, and The “3” Cookies.* (The single Yes Indeed had been released in April, the album with that title was issued in October; neither made it to a chart position).
There is of course a possibility that Ray appeared in Dr. Jive’s radio show during this week, or even that parts of his concerts were broadcast – but I haven’t found any proof of that.
* At the time the Ray Charles Group was touring with Harold Betters and his Quartet, who also may have been on stage at the Apollo. Read this.
The clip below is a treat. You’ll see Bo Diddley, Laverne Baker, The Five Keys and – above all – an incredible performance by Willis ‘Gatortail’ Jackson & His Band.
Sullivan scored one of the first major clusterf**ks in television history by calling Smalls’ show a.o. a Rhythm & Color revue.