Tommy Ridgley

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Tommy Ridgley
Tommy Ridgley at the Dream Palace in New Orleans (1996)
Tommy Ridgley at the Dream Palace in New Orleans (1996)
Background information
Birth nameThomas Herman Ridgley
Born(1925-10-30)October 30, 1925
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
DiedAugust 11, 1999(1999-08-11) (aged 73)
Metairie, Louisiana
GenresBlues, R&B
Occupation(s)Musician, singer, piano player
Instrument(s)Vocals, piano
Years active1949–1999
LabelsImperial, Decca, Herald, Atlantic, Ric, Ronn, River City, Black Top

Thomas Herman Ridgley (October 30, 1925 – August 11, 1999)[1][2] was an American R&B singer, pianist, songwriter and bandleader in New Orleans, Louisiana.[3] In a musical career lasting half a century Ridgley was a stalwart of the New Orleans rhythm and blues scene.[3] Although he never had a national hit, unlike several of his contemporaries, he made numerous, popular recordings that sold mainly in New Orleans and Louisiana beginning in 1949 with a final release in 1995. His voice was variously described as similar to Roy Brown and Bull Moose Jackson[4] and thus able to adapt to a variety of styles: blues, jump blues, rhythm and blues and soul.[1] In the late 1950s, he became bandleader of The Untouchables with whom he held residencies at important night venues often backing visiting artists. His recording career consisted of over forty singles and three albums. Most of his recordings have been anthologised on compilations in vinyl and CDs.[5]


Early life[edit]

Tommy Ridgley was born in the Shrewsbury district of New Orleans, the eldest of seventeen brothers and sisters, of which eight survived[1] He had an impoverished upbringing and was a breadwinner for his family before his teens. His social life and that of his family centred on the local church where Ridgley began singing in harmony groups[1] He served with the United States Navy during the Second World War and during his rest-time learnt to play the piano.[6] At demobilization under the terms of the G.I. Bill, that provided World War II veterans with funds for college education Ridgley studied at the Grunewald School of Music.[7][3] In 1946 he entered a talent contest at the Dew Drop Inn , one of New Orleans premier nightclubs[8] which he won and more significantly gained a profile as an up-coming performer.[9]


Dave Bartholomew Orchestra[edit]

Ridgley started his professional career in the late 40's as a band singer with a New Orleans Dixieland group and after a brief stint with Earl Anderson's band playing at The Starlight Hotel in Gert Town,[note 1][10] he was recruited by trumpeter and band leader Dave Bartholomew.[9] Ridgley, released his debut single, Shrewsbury Blues c/w Early Dawn Boogie in New Orleans in 1949.[note 2] Produced by Bartholomew and released on the new imprint Imperial Records the record established Ridgley within New Orleans as a progenitor of jump blues and blues ballads.[6] A competent songwriter Ridgley wrote both sides of the follow-up I Live My Life c/w Lavinia. In 1952 Lew Chudd, owner of Imperial records selected Ridgley and Bartholomew to cover a song called Looped. It was another New Orleans hit and thereafter a staple of Tommy Ridgley's repertoire.[9] A Dave Bartholomew Orchestra single with Ridgley on lead Tra La La issued on Decca was later covered by Pat Boone. Ridgley's singing style in his early career has been compared to that of Roy Brown[1] whilst his reputation as a major New Orleans artist was enhanced by Dave Bartholomew's band that featured outstanding musicians: drummer Earl Palmer and saxophonists Lee Allen, Herb Hardesty, Red Tyler and Ernest Allen [11][3]

In 1953 Ridgley left Bartholomew's band and signed a contract with Atlantic records. He cut I'm Gonna Cross That River c/w Ooh Lawdy My Baby, a record that featured Ray Charles on piano as a member of Edgar Blanchard's Gondoliers [3] and Jam Up, a sax-led instrumental dance record that narrowly missed the national charts when re-cut in 1961.[1] A regular presence by 1957 on the thriving R&B scene in New Orleans, he was offered a recording contract with Herald Records, by which time Ridgley had formed his own band The Untouchables. Herald released six singles by The Untouchables of which the first release When I Meet My Girl was the most successful.[12] As a marketing ploy Herald used the nickname The New King of The Stroll following the death of the original 'king' Chuck Willis in 1958.[1] By the end of 1950s, Tommy Ridgley and The Untouchables were the resident band at the iconic Dew Drop Inn where they opened for and sometimes backed visiting acts. These included a number of major R&B artists of the late 50's and early 60's: James Brown, Clyde McPhatter, Sam Cooke, Little Willie John and Ivory Joe Hunter .[3] Ridgley also employed a young Irma Thomas as one of his girl singers, later recommending her to Ric Records where she recorded for the subsidiary Ron label.[13]

Joe Ruffino's Ric records[edit]

In 1960, Ridgley also signed with Joe Ruffino's New Orleans Ric Records, and released seven singles, at six monthly intervals.[9] His third release, a recording of Wynona Carr's Should I Ever Love Again c/w Double-Eyed Whammy was a strong seller in spring 1961, the latter covered by Freddy King in 1966[1] His fifth release on Ric In The Same Old Way proved one of the most successful records of his career and he later cut it again on the Shreveport based label Ronn label.[14] Joe Ruffino's death in 1962 left the label in limbo and Ridgley's final two Ric 45s, both of which featured Dr.John on production duties, were released with little in the way of promotion and consequently were not successful. However, Heavenly c/w Honest I Do and I’ve Heard That Story Before, the latter covered by his brother Sammy Ridgley demonstrated that Ridgley could adapt his voice to the new soul music style that was evolving[3]

A one-record deal with the tiny Cinderella label saw No One But You released in the winter of 1963. In February 1964 Cash Box reviewed favourably All My Love Belongs To You c/w I Want Some Money, on the Johen label, a R&B dance record from the pen of Eddie Bo.[4] As the decade progressed Tommy Ridgley continued to gig regularly in New Orleans and Louisiana releasing further one-off soul 45s on small labels: Blue Jay, White Cliffs and Ronn.[15] Ridgley also cut a number of tracks at a studio in Clinton, Mississippi for Bob Robin's International City imprint including My Love is Getting Stronger, a song that became highly popular on the UK Northern Soul scene in the 1970s and 80s.[16]

During the 1970s and 1980s, there were fewer recording opportunities for Ridgley, however, he intermittently continued to record for a plethora of local New Orleans and Louisiana record labels.These included Sometimes You Get It for Allen Toussaint's Sansu label in 1976 and a remake of Ridgley's own I Can't Make It Any Longer on Hep' Me Records, a label owned by Senator Jones.[3] Throughout this period Ridgley continued to perform around New Orleans whilst accepting occasional European dates.The Untouchables maintained their residency at the Dew Drop Inn until it closed in 1972 and Ridgley kept performing at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival every year from 1972 until his death in 1999, a continuous appearance of twenty eight years.[3]

Modern Blues LP[edit]

In 1992 and nearly 50 years into his music career Ridgley released his first album of new recordings.[note 3] Appearing on Modern Blues Recordings and titled She Turns Me On it was a varied mix of Jump blues, New Orleans funk and sweet, soulful ballads. It included re-cuts of a number of Ridgley favourites including, I Want Some Money and Jam Up.[17] The Sound of New Orleans label also released an album How Long? during 1992, although the recordings originated from around the turn of the decade. A final album Since The Blues Began on Black Top Records appeared in 1995. In recognition of his long career in New Orleans he was supported by established musicians that included George Porter Jr., Raymond Weber and guest guitarist Snooks Eaglin all of whom turned out on his last recorded album.[18][note 4]

In January 1999, Ridgley received OffBeat magazine's annual Lifetime Achievement Award[19] Ridgley who suffered from kidney failure in his last few years, died from lung cancer, caused by asbestos inhalation, whilst working as a construction worker, in August 1999.[20][21]

Discography (LPs)[edit]

  • 1992 How Long? (Sound of New Orleans)
  • 1992 She Turns Me On (Modern Blues Recordings)
  • 1995 Since The Blues Began (Black Top)

Compilations (selected)[edit]

  • 1977 Through The Years (Sound of New Orleans) (USA)
  • 1986 Tommy Ridgley: The early 50's in New Orleans (Pathé Marconi) (France)
  • 1988 The New Orleans King of the Stroll (Rounder) (USA)
  • 1992 The Herald Recordings (Collectables) (USA)
  • 2005 Tommy Ridgley 1949-1954 (Classics) (France)
  • 2015 In The Same Old Way: The Complete Ric, Ron and Sho-Biz Recordings (shared with Bobby Mitchell) (Ace) (UK)
  • Mardi Gras Jam / Tommy Ridgley & His Orchestra (Blue City) (USA)


  1. ^ The Starlight Hotel and Lounge opened in 1946 managed by Odile Clark Washington (1909 - 2020) and was a major venue for black musicians during the 50's through to the 80s.
  2. ^ The success of Shrewsbury Blues led to Ridgley being billed as the 'Shrewsbury Kid' for a number of releases on Park and Imperial.
  3. ^ In the 1980s there were a number of cassette only recordings of new material on the Du Bat label and The Sound of New Orleans label.
  4. ^ Ridgley's recordings for Herald and Ric have been frequently anthologised as have his releases as a lead singer with the Dave Bartholomew Orchestra


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Tony Rounce, Tommy Ridgley 'In The Same Old Way': The Complete Ric, Ron and Sho-Biz recordings, Ace records UK (2015).
  2. ^ Talevski, Nick (7 April 2010). Rock Obituaries: Knocking On Heaven's Door. Omnibus Press. ISBN 9780857121172. Retrieved June 9, 2022 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jeff Hanusch, The Soul Of New Orleans: A Legacy of Rhythm and Blues, Chapter four on Tommy Ridgley: The New Orleans King Of The Stroll, Swallow publications, Ville Platte, Louisiana, USA (2001). ISBN 0961424583
  4. ^ a b New Orleans Soul 60s: The Watch Label, Mardi Gras Records, sleeve notes (2000)
  5. ^ "Tommy Ridgley discography". Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  6. ^ a b "Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks - TOMMY RIDGLEY". Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  7. ^ "The Tommy Ridgley Biography Page". Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  8. ^ "The rise and fall of New Orleans' legendary Dew Drop Inn". Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  9. ^ a b c d Jeff Hannusch, King Of The Stroll, Discoveries Magazine. (Sept 1994)
  10. ^ Helen Williams. "'Miss Odile,' matriarch of the Starlight Cafe in Gert Town, turns 109". Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  11. ^ Jeff Hannusch, "Obituary: Ernest McLean", Retrieved 28 August 2015
  12. ^ Hammond Scott, Tommy Ridgley: Standing The Test Of Time , Wavelength magazine (July 1981)
  13. ^ Jeff Hannusch (1985). I Hear You Knockin : The Sound of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues. Swallow Publications. ISBN 978-0961424503. I was born in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, February 18, 1941
  14. ^ Juke Blues magazine # 45, obituary , (2000)
  15. ^ John Broven, Rhythm And Blues in New Orleans , Pelican, Gretna, Louisianna revised 2016. ISBN 9781455619511
  16. ^ The Best of International City, Rare New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Muscle Shoals Recordings 1964-1970, Soul-Tay-Shus records, sleeve notes Neil Pelligrin
  17. ^ Modern Blues recordings, Tommy Ridgley: She Turns Me On, sleeve notes by Jeff Hannusch (June 1992)
  18. ^ Tommy Ridgley:Since The Blues Began, Black Top Records (1995) sleeve notes by Hammond Scott
  19. ^ "January 1999 - OffBeat Magazine". 1 January 1970. Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  20. ^ In The Basement magazine # 16 , November 1999 -January 2000, obituary by Greg Burgess, Astrascope, Brighton, UK
  21. ^ Associated Press, Obituaries in the News, August 13, 1999.

External links[edit]