Thursday, 3 August 2017

Flamingos # 13: On My Merry Way



On My Merry Way was also recorded at the Flamingos' first session for Parrot. Robert Pruter describes it as  "a routine jump written by the ubiquitous Chicago nightclub entertainer Walter Spriggs." There is certainly no crossover potential here: it is as far removed, in subject matter and feel, from Dream of a Lifetime as you could get. After a token attempt at reasoned argument -
I want you by my side
Hey-ey, can't we compromise?
- the song lurches into another area entirely. Imagine Pat Boone trying to wrap his tonsils around lines such as these:

Ye-es, she hoodooed me
Sai-aid I'll never be free
I called a root man, too
Who knew just what to do
There's just one thing to say
I'm free, Baby, and I'm on my way ...
Marv Goldberg identifies this as a Sollie McElroy lead; he's probably right but I'm not absolutely sure, as it's a bluesy number of the sort normally handled by Johnny Carter and Jake Carey, and the latter is definitely prominent here. If the main lead is indeed McElroy then it shows he could also handle this more earthy kind of number pretty well when he got the chance.



According to the Discogs website:
Walter Spriggs (aka Wally Wilson, aka Ray Scott) was a doo wop / soul singer and songwriter. Where he got his musical instruction is not known, but he sang and played piano, guitar, bongos, and drums. Spriggs recorded several records for Apollo, Blue Lake & Atco from 1953-1957. He had been with the The 5 Echoes from Chicago and recorded "Lonely Mood" b/w "Baby Come Back to Me,"on Sabre 102 in September of 1953. Walter Spriggs sang lead on both songs. In 1955, Walter Spriggs join the The Kansas City Tomcats, a group comprised of several musicans with ties to Kansas City. In October of 1955 the group auditions for Jubilee Records and recorded two singles. In 1959 he adopted the "Ray Scott" moniker and waxed several more singles for Antler, Tri-Ess, Ray-Dee and Decca up until 1967.
Here is the very bluesy Lonely Mood, written as well as sung by Spriggs as guest lead, regarded as a member "for that session only."



Spriggs seems to have been more of a mentor to the group, which included Tommy Hunt, later to join the Flamingos, and that same non-Channel Earl Lewis who had been chucked out of the group in 1952. In Robert Pruter's indispensable Doowop: The Chicago Scene Lewis tells the story of how Spriggs helped give them a leg up:
We ran into Walter Spriggs. He had heard about the Echoes. So he had come down to Thirty-ninth Street, where we hung out, and we would be like sitting around the street corner singing all the time. So he came by and said how would you guys like to go out on the road. "What we are going to do first is work a club for a time," said Spriggs, "so I can groom you guys like I want." There's a place up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, called the Right Spot owned by two Italian guys. Spriggs took us up there one weekend, and when we did this job there that night they had a nice crowd, which was the way Spriggs figured it. We did a good show for them that night and the crowd liked us. These two Italian guys told us to stay, and we stayed there 'bout a year.
We did Orioles songs, Dominoes songs, everything. Then we started getting our material together. Walter Spriggs was knocking it around, writing songs. He wrote a couple, which was "Lonely Mood" and "Baby Come Back to Me." So when Ewart Abner (we called him Little Abner) of Chance Records came out there, by that time we were swinging. We had the house packed every weekend. Abner asked us to record and that's how we started recording records.
You can read the whole story of the Five Echoes in Mr Pruter's book. Tommy Hunt was drafted shortly after Lonely Mood was recorded, but his replacement was none other than Johnny Taylor, later of Soul Stirrers and disco fame. Incidentally, Tommy Hunt is still around, living in England; only a few days ago in Covent Garden I saw a poster announcing that he had a gig at the 100 Club this autumn in which Spanish doo wop group the Velvet Candles will apparently double as "the authenticity laden [sic] New Flamingos."

A fuller account of Walter Spriggs' career on the Parrot and Blue Lake website reveals that he later became a comedian. Referring to a 1963 article in the LA Sentinel the site says:
According to the [Paul] McGee piece, Scott had arrived in LA from New York City for a three-week comedy gig at the Club Hideaway, where he had been held over. He had begun billing himself as "The Great Scott." Spriggs/Scott had been doing comedy since 1959, and was said to know George Kirby and Redd Foxx, both of whom he would have had multiple opportunities to meet and observe in Chicago. His most recent recordings were mentioned, including "Silk, Satin & Lace." The article further credited him with playing bongos on a Roy Hamilton song and with other recording work with Billy Williams and Johnny Ray, as well as "a tour of 27 countries of Europe." Of course, had Scott landed his own TV show or been in a movie, we would have heard more from other sources.
In 1970, Checker released a single by Ray Scott. Since one side, "The Prayer," is a Redd Foxx bit, it points to "our" Ray Scott. The last sighting we have is from New York once again, in 1974. Ray Scott was running a music publisher called Spriggs Productions, Inc. (BMI) out of his apartment at 400 Central Park West.
Walter Spriggs was a performer of multiple talents who never got the big break he was expecting. We're pretty sure that his musical activities are still not fully documented.

You can listen to The Prayer, an attack on segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace, on the Stepfather of Soul website and find a more detailed account of the song, complete with lyrics, on the Zerode website (links below). After Scott, in preacher mode, has prayed for ever more extravagant and cartoonlike disasters to visit "the governor", the payoff is:
And when he wake up tomorrow morning,
Oh Lord,
Let him have nappy hair and be black like me.
I may investigate Walter Spriggs' work further in a later post. He also wrote I Found a New Baby, which the Flamingos recorded at their second Parrot session, though it was not released until 1976. Too long-delayed to constitute a break, perhaps, although it may have been some consolation, if he was still around, to know that the song was a highlight of the live act of the young New Jersey acapella group 14 Karat Soul in the early eighties.



Other posts in this series here.

Sources:
Doowop: the Chicago Scene by Robert Pruter
Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks page on the Flamingos
The Parrot and Blue Lake Labels (website) - Robert Pruter, Armin Buttner and Robert L Campbell
Zerode (website) - Song of the Day: Ray Scott, The Prayer
Stepfather of Soul (website) - Red, Ray and Andre's Prayer

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