I was recently introduced to the vocal quartet The Ink Spots by a Chicago native whose father, as he told the story, had in turn been introduced to black music [sic] during his time living in the integrated barracks of the US Army during the Korean War. The Ink Spots were part of an early wave of popular vocal groups led by black men in the late 1930s, and in the group’s tight harmonies can be heard the components of the later doo-wop style.
There are several notable things about the group. First, they had a remarkable style change in the early forties. Their early style in the late thirties sounds a lot like the “hot” foxtrots played by dance bands. The guitar work in these uptempo tunes is reminiscent of Eddie Lang, and Django Reinhardt. The later style is more soulful and ballad-like — early doo-wop.
Second, Chicagoan Orville “Hoppy” Jones (b. 1905), apparently the glue that held the group together, played cello.
Here’s an example of their earlier uptempo style featuring Hoppy Jones laying down a sick bassline on pizzicato cello:
Third, it seems that Hoppy Jones may have invented the style apparently known as “high and low” or “talking bass”. I’ve always thought of that style as something that Boyz II Men first did in the early nineties. Guess I was wrong.
Here’s an example of the later Ink Spots sound, featuring Hoppy Jones on talking bass:
Finally, one oddity about The Ink Spots is that almost every song starts with the same four chord guitar turnaround. Kind of weird. Still gotta figure that one out.