Ralph Bass (1 May 1911 – 5 March 1997), born Ralph Basso, Jr., was an American rhythm and blues (R&B) record producer and talent scout for several independent labels. He was a pioneer in bringing black music into the American mainstream. During his long career he worked for such labels as Black & White Records, Savoy Records, King Records, Federal Records and Chess Records, recording some of the greatest performers in black music, including Etta James, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Earl Bostic and groups such as The Platters and The Dominoes. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 as a non-performer.
Bass was born in The Bronx, New York, of an Italian-American-Catholic father, and a German-American-Jewish mother, As a young man, he visited the South and personally experienced the emotional power of black music in dance clubs. When he began his career as a record producer, segregation was in full effect and black performers were marginalized and relegated to one-night stands performing only to all-black audiences in a network of theatres and nightclubs known the Chitlin' Circuit. Bass decided to focus his career on bringing black music and black performers into the entertainment mainstream.
In the 1940s at Black and White Records Bass got his start as an A&R man. He produced and recorded, among others, Lena Horne, Roosevelt Sykes, Jack McVea (suggesting he record the huge hit "Open the Door, Richard") and T-Bone Walker, including T-Bone's landmark "Call It Stormy Monday". From there he went on to help build two of the most successful independent labels, Savoy Records of New Jersey and King Records of Cincinnati, Ohio. During this period, Bass toured the South with various blues bands, noted the large size of the audiences still predominantly black with but with an increasing numbers of whites. He sensed that the audience was changing.
At Savoy Records from 1948 to 1951, he recorded Brownie McGhee and Johnny Otis. At Federal Records, a subsidiary of King run by Bass, he turned out a series of R&B hits, including such classics as The Dominoes' "Sixty Minute Man", "Have Mercy Baby" and Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie". When Syd Nathan at King Records at first refused to sign James Brown to record "Please, Please, Please" because he thought the demo was a piece of trash (later changing his mind) Bass signed Brown to Federal and produced "Please, Please, Please", the first Federal single, which was a regional hit and eventually sold a million copies. He produced the original version of the R&B standard "Kansas City" recorded by Little Willie Littlefield.
In 1959, the Chess brothers hired Bass away from King Records in Cincinnati to serve as A&R Director at Chess Records. He was there until 1976, working with blues, gospel, R&B, and rock and roll artists, including Clara Ward, the Soul Stirrers, Etta James, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson. He would compose the music for Pigmeat Markham's hit novelty single Here Comes the Judge Later, for MCA Records he produced John Lee Hooker.
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