Ralph Bass

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Ralph Bass
Birth nameRalph Basso, Jr.
Born(1911-05-01)May 1, 1911
The Bronx, New York City, U.S.
DiedMarch 5, 1997(1997-03-05) (aged 85)
New York City, U.S.
GenresJazz, R&B
Occupation(s)Record producer
A&R scout
Years active1941–1997
LabelsBlack and White

Ralph Bass (1 May 1911 – 5 March 1997), born Ralph Basso, Jr.,[a] was an American rhythm-and-blues record producer and talent scout for several independent labels. He was a pioneer in bringing African-American music into the American mainstream. During his career he worked in key roles for Black & White Records, Savoy Records, King Records, Federal Records, and Chess Records, recording some of the greatest performers in African-American music, including Etta James, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Earl Bostic, and groups such as the Platters and the Dominoes. Bass was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 as a nonperformer.[1]


Bass was born in the Bronx to an Italian-American Catholic father and a German-American Jewish mother. As a young man, he visited the South and experienced the emotional power of African-American music in dance clubs. When he began his career as a record producer, racial segregation kept African-American performers marginalized, with many relegated to one-night stands performing only to all-black audiences in a network of theatres and nightclubs known as the chitlin' circuit. Bass decided to focus his career on bringing African-American music and African-American performers into the entertainment mainstream.[2]

Bass got his start in the 1940s as an A&R man at Black & White Records, where he produced and recorded, among others, Lena Horne, Roosevelt Sykes, Jack McVea (Bass suggested he record "Open the Door, Richard", which became a hit record) and T-Bone Walker (including Walker's landmark "Call It Stormy Monday"). From there he went on to help build two of the most successful independent record labels, Savoy Records, in New Jersey, and King Records, in Cincinnati, Ohio.[3] During this period, Bass toured the South with various blues bands and noted the large size of the audiences, still predominantly black but with an increasing numbers of whites. He sensed that the audience was changing.[4]

At Savoy 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 the Dominoes' "Sixty Minute Man" and "Have Mercy Baby" and Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie". King's founder, Syd Nathan, at first refused to sign James Brown to record "Please, Please, Please", because he thought poorly of the demo; 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.[5][6] Bass also produced the original version of the R&B standard "Kansas City", recorded by Little Willie Littlefield.

... Ralph Bass knew the repertoire; he'd heard more gravel-voiced shouters, high-pitched keeners, hopped-up rockers, churchy belters, burlesque barkers, doo-wop crooners, and sweet, soft moaners—more lovers, leavers, losers, loners, lady-killers, lambasters, lounge lizards, lemme-show-you men, and lawdy-be boys—than any dozen jukeboxes could contain. But he had never heard a voice that possessed the essence of all these styles while moving beyond them toward a sound at once more feral and more self-assured, until he heard "Please, Please, Please".

In 1959, the Chess brothers hired Bass away from King to serve as A&R director for Chess Records.[8] He worked for Chess until 1976, producing recordings by 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 composed the music for Pigmeat Markham's hit novelty single "Here Comes the Judge".[9] Later, for MCA Records, he produced recordings by John Lee Hooker.[10]


In the 2014 film Get On Up, a biography of James Brown produced by Bryan Grazer and Mick Jagger, Bass is portrayed by Josh Hopkins.


First marriage[edit]

Bass married Alice Ethe (née Robbins) in 1932 in Manhattan, New York. They had two sons, Michael Howard Bass[b] (born 1937) and Dennis Lloyd Bass (1941–1996). Ralph and Alice were later divorced.

His surviving son, Michael Bass, and Dennis Bass's two daughters Shauna and Elizabeth Bass currently hold the copyrights for Ralph Bass’ music catalogue.[citation needed]

Second marriage[edit]

Bass married Shirley Hall (1936–1998) on December 14, 1960.[11]

External links[edit]

  • "Ralph Bass," Answers.com (www.answers.com)
  • "Ralph Bass' Junior Jazz", The Classic Jazz Guitar www.classicjazzguitar.com, Mike Kremer (webmaster)
  • "House Resolution 218: Ralph Bass Memorial," and "Summary of HR 218", Illinois House of Representatives, 90th General Assembly (1997–1998)
  • "Toller Cranston's 'The Ice Show'" Internet Broadway Database
  • "Inside Beyonce’s Private World" (reference to Ralph Bass's granddaughter, Shauna Bass), OK!, December 5, 2008
  • "Ralph Bass". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Edit this at Wikidata


"Ralph Bass, First Recording," told by Ralph Bass on YouTube



  1. ^ The birth surname of Ralph Bass's paternal grandfather, who was born in Italy, was DuBasso.
  2. ^ Michael Bass, the first of Bass's sons, is also known as Michael DuBasso.

Inline citations

  1. ^ Watrous, Peter (1991). "Hall of Fame Inducts Its 6th Crop of Legends". New York Times, January 17.
  2. ^ "House Resolution 218: Ralph Bass Memorial". Illinois House of Representatives, 90th General Assembly (1997–1998).
  3. ^ Shaw, Arnold (1978). Honkers and Shouters. New York: Macmillan. pp. 225, 235–247. OCLC 3516614, ISBN 978-0-02-061740-2.
  4. ^ Keil, Charles (1991). Urban Blues. University of Chicago Press. p. 100. OCLC 232252, ISBN 0-226-42960-1.
  5. ^ "James Brown". History of Rock 'n' Roll www.history-of-rock.com, March 1998. Retrieved November 8, 2006.
  6. ^ Hirshey, Gerri (1994). Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music. Da Capo Press. pp. 61–62. OCLC 30318274, ISBN 0-306-80581-2.
  7. ^ Gourevitch, Philip (2002). "Mr. Brown, On the Road with His Bad Self". The New Yorker, July 29.
  8. ^ Callahan, Mike; Edwards, David (2005). The Chess Story. Both Sides Now Publications. www.bsnpubs.com. Updated November 4, 2005. Retrieved November 8, 2006.
  9. ^ "Inductee: Ralph Bass, Non-Performer". Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, 1991. Retrieved November 8, 2006.
  10. ^ Hooker, John Lee (2002). Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues (CD). MCA/Chess. OCLC 49516734. Retrieved November 8, 2006.
  11. ^ Nash, Deby (1999). "The Bahamas Dance Theatre Presents 'Shake' at the Dundas Centre, December 16, 17, 18". What's On (Nassau, Bahamas), November 29.