Tommy Ridgley was a big noise in New Orleans in the early 50s when the music coming out of the Crescent City was making the whole world dance. The swinging vocals Tommy put over those driving sax and piano melodies and Big Beat rhythms caught the mood of the time. Many of his contemporaries went on to world fame, but Tommy never had a big national hit record. Nevertheless, he was a big star of the local scene and a welcome fixture at the Jazz and Heritage Festival for many decades.
Born in Shrewsbury LA, just west of New Orleans, in 1925, Thomas Herman Ridgley learned to sing in church. When he was 17 years old, WWII broke out and Tommy joined the Navy, so when he was discharged he began to haunt the New Orleans clubs, learning piano and developing a vocal style that let him croon a ballad and belt out a rocking tune just like Roy Brown
. He played at The Dew Drop Inn and was soon recruited to sing with trumpeter Dave Bartholemew
‘s band. In November 1949, Dave took Tommy to Cosimo Matassa
‘s little J&M studio where he supervised his first session as a producer. The result was ‘Shrewsbury Blues’ which gave Tommy a good sized local hit, so then they went on the road with a young kid called Fats Domino
. They toured the mid-West in two station wagons, with the guys sleeping four to a room, and part of Tommy’s duties was to count the audience to make sure the band got their bonus money!
Tommy’s sixties tune ‘Double Eye Whammy’;
‘Boogie-woogie Mama’ was a regional hit on the Imperial label, but Tommy switched to Decca in late 1950, where his own song ‘Tra-la-la’ was a big pop hit when it was covered by Pat Boone. Then Tommy moved to the Atlantic label, where he developed a strong relationship with Jerry Wexler, as his music moved towards Rock’n’Roll, featuring guitars rather than piano. Some storming sessions were not reflected in sales, but Tommy was a popular live act, especially when he formed his band The Untouchables in 1957. After a period with Herald Records, Tommy signed with his home-town label, Ric and after his regional hit ‘Let’s Talk It Over’, he became known as ‘The King of Stroll’ because of a dance craze sparked by the record. As resident bandleader at New Orleans Auditorium, Tommy backed Little Richard, Little Willie John and Ray Charles among dozens of passing Blues players.
1995 title track sounds pretty funky for a guy in his 70s!
Tommy Ridgley Discography
This 15 track compilation is mainly from the early 60s, with rollicking dance tracks interspersed with some soulful ballads.
NEW ORLEANS KING OF THE STROLL.
When the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was announced in 1972, Tommy was on the bill, and he played the Festival every year for the rest of his life. He settled into his rôle as a favourite son of his native city, starting his own TuDor label, playing frequently in the clubs, and making occasional trips around the South for Festival gigs. During the 90s, Tommy released three great albums, the last being ‘Since The Blues Began’ with Snooks Eaglin
on guitar. It proved to be Tommy’s swan-song, as he became ill with kidney trouble, and after a transplant got him back on his feet, he passed away from lung cancer in 1999.