Vocal Jazz/Blues

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The Ink Spots

Listening to The Ink Spots today, the first impression is familiarity. Until you realize it’s that kind of déjà vu all over again feeling. Nostalgia for an era engraved in a collective consciousness that no one really remembers and probably didn’t exist the way it’s presented to us over and over again. We’ve heard these songs in the soundtracks of Scorsese movies, where they seem to make sense, but also in Blade Runner and “Better Call Saul” where they evoke the timelessness of a very distinct era. And this is where the confusion sets in.

Ink Spots Vertical
Ink Spots Billboard

Try to identify the group’s sound. Vocal jazz is the easiest but least satisfying way to do so, given the ‘Top & Bottom’ style between Bill Kenny’s tenor and Hoppy Jones’ bass on the most well-known tracks. The collaborations with Ella Fitzgerald certainly fulfill this obligation. There’s even the occasional scatting, as in their version of the Gershwins’ “Slap That Bass”. Jones’ bass vocalizations infuses a jazz sensibility into the spoken word, though that seems limiting in terms of the soulful poetic elements his bridges add to songs. Yet the harmonies point to another direction, doo wop, early rock and roll. Certainly, the guitars are steeped in the blues. The intro riff, the variation on a theme that opens so many of the band’s songs, teeters on the edge of rockabilly.

Yet their sound remains uniquely American, a synthesis of black musical styles that emerged in the first half of the 20th century. Before Elvis ruined it for everyone, that is. Yet the striking thing about their harmonic gumbo is how they managed to take all these discrete elements and record so many songs that sound the same. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of the more philosophical question that has dogged a band that had so much turnover in its membership, not to mention unofficial members like the legendary Ms. Fitzgerald. Kenny and Jones certainly popularized the Ink Spots’ signature style, even shattering the racial barriers in their audience. Yet Jones died young, and the band played on; Kenny wasn’t even the original lead tenor.

Whoever the authentic Ink Spots may have been…

Inks Spots 1944 Billboard Lofi



….in an era of displaced nostalgia and hostility to labels…

…it’s past time to revisit their music.

Image Credits

The Ink Spots, 1944 Billboard Ad. Author unknown.

Malt Shop Records [Background] by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

The Ink Spots, 1945 Billboard Promo. Author unknown.

The Ink Spots, 1945 Billboard Promo. Author unknown.

Jukebox [Background] by blitzmaerker from Pixabay

The Fab 40’s by Annalise Batista from Pixabay

The Ink Spots, 1944 Billboard Ad. Author unknown.


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