As Seen On The Bo Discography
"Spreading Love" (Edwin J. Bocage)
Tommy Ridgely [sic], Ridge-Way, c. 1968
(Tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)
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 the Ridge-Way label with Tommy Ridgley as the featured artist. 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 late 1980’s, containing a bunch of obscure Tommy Ridgley releases from the 1950’s to 1984. I think there may have been an even more limited LP release prior to the cassette; and I was told by the the Louisiana Music Factory staff 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” (which was released on a Sound of New Orleans 45, but seems to be taken from the master tape), are from old singles - some a little worse for wear - probably from the singer's own collection. A few years back, I burned the cassette tracks to CD, and then ripped an mp3 of this song for reference. I since found a copy of the single [the HOTG radio stream has been updated], as shown above, and several of the other 45s on that collection.
Martin suggests that this dates from around 1970, when Bo released another version of "Spreading Love" on a Ram 45 by one Percy Stone along with the Explosions, the female vocal group Bo also worked with on several of their own highly prized 45s. I have not heard the Ram 45; but I just have a gut feeling that Ridgley's may pre-date it by a couple of years. In fact, by the sound of it, I might even say it goes back to
around the Seven B era (1966-67).
I guess the most unusual thing about “Spreading Love” is how normal it sounds - just a good, well-sung, straight ahead swinging soul song with a nice, uplifting, make-love-not-war message. Only the flute that riffs through the song is a bit out of the ordinary. Really, if I hadn’t read Martin’s piece and gotten the record, I might never have guessed Bo had anything to do with this one. The lack of funk or experimentation here is what makes me think that it was done earlier that '70.
Reinforcing that is the B-side, "Live", a straight-ahead Bo-penned ballad with a seize-the-day message. This must be one of Bo's older tunes, as it was published by White Cliffs, Cosimo Matassa's company; and Bo had been using his own company, Eboville, since 1964. Anyway, Ridgley, a truly fine balladeer, delivered the song with style and grace. As good as these performances were, I think Bo probably released the limited run single on his own, hoping to get enough local radio attention to attract a national label to pick it up. But it didn't work out that way; and the sides remain generally unknown to this day.
Tommy Ridgley 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. Ridgley 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 Ridgley 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 Ridgley 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. Ridgley’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 1950s 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 his live shows in the later 1990s, Tommy's 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 it has led me to some great 45s over the years. I'll try to bring you some more of them along the way.