The Ink Spots

Leading with a simple, plaintive guitar pattern from Charles Fuqua, there’s no mistaking the beginning of an Ink Spots song. Once the pioneering vocal group landed on a successful formula, the quartet stuck to its guns, set the stage for the doo-wop explosion of the ‘40s and ‘50s, and experienced a resurgence in the 21st century. Formed in 1934 in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Ink Spots made their debut (as “the 4 Ink Spots”) at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater, and began recording in early 1935. Early songs were more in the then-popular jump blues style of Big Joe Turner and Louis Jordan, but once Bill Kenny joined the Ink Spots in 1936, he encouraged the group to shift its style to the template that would become its defining sound going forward. In the band’s heyday, their songs followed an incredibly specific structure: they would open with an identical guitar intro, with verses sung in Kenny’s yearning tenor, and contain a somber, spoken bridge from baritone Orville “Hoppy” Jones. The lyrics were uniformly downtrodden, lamenting lost love, being broke, or ruefully reminiscing about brighter days. The new sound was a resounding success, and the band racked up the hits for Decca Records throughout the late ‘30s and all the way through the 1940s, coinciding with the World War II era. The lineup would mutate over time, as members parted ways -- or were drafted into the army, in Fuqua's case -- but the quartet's peak recording days featured the lineup of Fuqua, Kenny, Jones, and Ivory "Deek" Watson. Throughout the ‘40s, the Ink Spots frequently collaborated with jazz icon and fellow Decca artist Ella Fitzgerald, yielding Number 1 hits “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” and “I’m Making Believe,” which set aside the group’s rigidly-observed pattern for a more open, piano-based instrumentation. By the end of the band’s run, its approach had mutated into a more sweeping, string-laden, cinematic sound, still anchored by Kenny’s quavering tenor. The last remaining member from the group’s glory days, Kenny’s departure in 1954 effectively ended the Ink Spots, although myriad groups would tour under the name in the following decades. In the 2000s, interest in the group was rekindled for a new generation as the group's aching sound was deemed the proper music for the post-apocalyptic, retro-futuristic Fallout video game franchise. Game developers used the Ink Spots as the games’ theme songs and featured them on in-game radio stations, and interest in “I Don’t Want to Set the World On Fire,” “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall,” and “Maybe” soared, more than 60 years after their creation. And when Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan needed the right song to launch the spin-off show Better Call Saul, he landed on “Address Unknown,” a cut from 1939, for the series premiere.

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Stations Featuring The Ink Spots

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