The four-voice vocal group The Inkspots had an attractive formula that worked extremely well during their prime years. Many of their recordings began with a two or four-bar guitar introduction that preceded a falsetto chorus of the melody by Bill Kenny while the other singers harmonized behind him.
Orville “Hoppy” Jones, who sang in a deep voice, followed with a talking chorus of the lyrics that was sometimes delivered slightly tongue-in-cheek and invariably included a reference to his “honey child” before Kenny completed the song. During 1939-46, the Ink Spots had a remarkable string of hits, starting with the title track of their double-CD in the Retrospectives series, “If I Didn’t Care.”
Few probably realize that the Inkspots actually began as a fairly hot vocal quartet that was influenced by the Mills Brothers of the 1930s. They did not imitate instruments to the level of the Mills Brothers but, as they searched for their sound during 1935-38, they recorded a series of jazz-oriented performances. If I Didn’t Care, after the title cut and 1939’s “Just For A Thrill,” contains 11 of those numbers including swinging versions of such songs as “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” “Christopher Columbus,” “Yes, Suh,” “Slap That Bass,” and “That Cat Is High.”
Unfortunately, none of those became hits. In 1939 the Ink Spots (which also included singes Deek Watson and Charlie Fuqua) re-emerged as a group that mostly performed sentimental ballads in their distinctive style. Some of the lyrics that they sang could be a bit sappy but some (particularly “We’ll Meet Again”) were quite touching. The group was still capable of singing more jazz-oriented material (as it showed on “Stop Pretending” and “Java Jive”) and they had success on a few swinging collaborations with Ella Fitzgerald (including “Cow Cow Boogie” and “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall”) but they mostly stuck to the ballad formula during their most commercially successful years.
The Ink Spots suffered a major blow in Oct. 1944 when Hoppy Jones suddenly died from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 39. Despite that loss, he was successfully replaced by Herb Kenny and the group’s success continued throughout the remainder of the 1940s. The group declined in the 1950s due to internal dissension that resulted in some personnel changes; the recordings stopped after 1951 and the Ink Spots broke up in 1954. Since then there have been many other vocal ensembles calling themselves the Ink Spots (a few had an original member or two) but none measured up to the original.
If I Didn’t Care contains 53 selections dating from 1935-51 including six with Ella Fitzgerald, all of the songs mentioned in this article, and such hits as “I’ll Never Smile Again,” “Until The Real Thing Comes Along,” “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire,” “The Gypsy,” and “Who Wouldn’t Love You.” This well-conceived two-CD set is the one Ink Spots album to get.
The Inkspots • If I Didn’t Care
Retrospective RTS 4412
amazon.com or www.retrospective-records.co.uk