From 1958 to 1963 the Ric and Ron labels brought the sound of New Orleans rhythm and blues to the world and paved the way for the great Crescent City independents that followed. They were not the city’s first R&B indies, but they forged a template to which their successors adhered and built upon for many years afterwards.
Ric and Ron were founded by Joe Ruffino, who named the labels after his two sons. Ruffino had learned how the R&B business worked through his association with Record Sales, the New Orleans record distribution outlet, and with Johnny Vincent, who based his Ace and Vin labels in Jackson, Mississippi but recorded almost exclusively in New Orleans. For a while Ruffino was Vincent’s eyes and ears, bringing several acts to Ace, including the Supremes and Lenny Capello. However, in 1958 Vincent cut him loose to do his own thing.
Ruffino started Ric that spring with a handful of Ace masters he’d received as a parting gift from Vincent. He hired guitarist/bandleader Edgar Blanchard as his first A&R head and signed Al Johnson as the label’s initial artist. Blanchard soon moved on but his successors, Harold Battiste and the young Malcolm “Mac” Rebennack, carried on his work without missing a step before they in turn went on to greater fame as the 60s progressed.
By mid-’58 Ruffino had added Johnny Adams and Eddie Bo to his roster, followed by Tommy Ridgley in early 1959. Recommendations from Bo and Ridgley introduced Irma Thomas and Martha Carter to the labels, and the signing of the great Professor Longhair in 1959 brought the company a deal of prestige, as well as one of its biggest-selling 45s in the definitive recording of his signature song ‘Go To The Mardi Gras’.
A few missed opportunities came and went along the way – the company probably should have tried harder with Chris Kenner and Irma Thomas, who both started scoring hits as soon as they moved on to their next labels – but the quality Joe Ruffino maintained across his catalogue was due to keeping his roster small and releasing material of only the highest calibre. That there were not more national hits on Ric and Ron is more to do with the amount of great records jockeying for a place on the Hot 100 than any lack of quality.
With this and a forthcoming second volume, Ace salutes the great work of Joe Ruffino and the A&R men, artists, songwriters and musicians whose contributions made Ric and Ron 45s as fresh and invigorating today as they were when first issued. The first volume features material from the first couple of years of Ric and Ron, while the second will concentrate on later releases. The notes for the latter will go into more detail on the timeline of the labels. With this volume we bring you – in the approximate order of their signing to Joe Ruffino’s labels – the artists who helped build Ric and Ron’s position as a major source for New Orleans music in the late 50s and early 60s.
By Tony Rounce