Born May 1, 1911, son of Ralph and Lena (Blaus) Bass; raised in the Bronx borough of New York City; played the violin in high school; married, Alice Robbins, 1933; married, Shirley Hall, 1960; children: (by first marriage) Michael, Dennis, and Joanne Patricia. Education: Colgate University, New York University. Addresses: Home--601 East 32nd Street, Apt. 500, Chicago, ILL 60616; Office--2411 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60616.

Record company executive, producer, talent scout, and R&B pioneer Ralph Bass was aptly described by Rolling Stone's David Fricke as one of "the great starmakers of early rock & roll," a "master talent scout," and a "prolific producer"; who left his own indelible stamp on the charts of pop music history. During his long and successful career as a producer and Artist & Repretoire (A&R) man for the Savoy, King/Federal, and Chess record labels, Bass was instrumental in discovering, recording, and nurturing the talents of James Brown, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Etta James, Moms Mabley, Johnny Otis, Little Esther Phillips, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf, Clara Ward, and Muddy Waters. Fricke wrote, "During the Fifties and Sixties, Ralph Bass was one of the most successful producers and talent spotters in the independent record industry." After hearing James Brown's demo tape, which included "Please, Please, Please," Bass quickly signed Brown to King Records in 1956, after driving as fast as possible to Macon, Georgia, through a torrential rainfall in order to arrive before Leonard Chess of Chess Records. In a late 1980s interview with Contemporary Musicians , Bass recalled seeing Brown perform for the first time in a small club in Georgia, crawling on his belly up to women in the audience and moaning, "Please, Please, Please Me." Bass rolled his eyes, and exclaimed as though it had happened the day before, "The women were shrieking with delight! Some looked like they were going to pass out. I knew I had struck gold."

Bass was born on May 1, 1911, to Ralph and Lena (Blaus). He was raised in a liberal Jewish family in the Bronx borough of New York City. He played the violin in high school and later worked as a violinist in various New York society bands. He attended Colgate University and New York University. Bass married Alice Robbins in 1933. They had three children: Michael, Dennis, and Joanne Patricia. He grew interested in jazz and relocated to the west coast, where he took odd jobs to support his family. He worked as a part-time DJ, liquor store owner and operator, and salesman for the Arrowhead and Puritas Water Company before joining Black & White Records as talent scout and producer in the late 1930s. At Black & White, he produced such astoundingly talented musicians such as Dexter Gordon, Lena Horne, and T- Bone Walker. His first major hit was Jack McVea's "Open the Door Richard" in 1947. He later went on to produce the music of Erroll Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, and Charlie Parker while at Black & White. He racked up numerousR&B hits when he joined Savoy Records in 1948 as their west coast A&R man. At Savoy, he produced recordings by Brownie McGee, Jay McNeely, Johnny Otis, Little Esther Phillips, and Mel Walker. Bass produced three of the top ten biggestR&B hits of the 1950s with Johnny Otis, Little Esther, and Mel Walker. After touring the South with the Johnny Otis Revue and producing Johnny Otis' material in 1949, Bass decided he preferred the raw earthiness of the blues to the the jazz of his New York City youth. His tour of the South with Otis also opened his eyes to the racism that many black musicians experienced at the time. As a white man, Bass hadn't fully comprehended the racism until he witnessed it on the tour. The blues, R&B, earthy rock and roll, and gospel were all novel and exciting to Bass. Determined to follow his musical interests, he returned to New York City in 1951 as head of the A&R department at King Records.

While at King Records, Bass oversaw the creation of the King subsidiary, Federal Records. There he recorded "Sixty Minute Man" by Billy Ward and The Dominoes, material by the Five Royales, and the notorious "Work With Me Annie" by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. Bass moved to Chess Records in Chicago in 1960, which was then the nation's seat of the urban Delta-based blues, and worked on hits by Etta James, Ramsey Lewis, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, as well as the pioneering pop- gospel group The Violinaires. As a staff producer at Chess, Bass interacted with and nurtered a vast array of talent, both established and budding. He was especially noted for his unrestrained enthusiasm. When Chess records dissolved in 1976, Bass retired to Miami, Florida, to work at the T.K. Record Company but stayed only two years in Miami before returning to his home in Chicago. Back in Chicago, he worked as an independent record producer, and devoted a lot of time to writing his autobiography--the working title of which was, I Didn't Give A Damn What the Whites Thought.

As a producer at Black & White, Bass produced Lena Horne's unforgettable "Call It Stormy Monday." However, his career and musical profile was heightened more in 1947 by a ribald, off-color comedy recording titled "Open The Door Richard"--based on an old vaudeville skit--that Bass cut with Jack McVea and his band. Bass admitted the recording was more a fluke than anything, yet in an interview with Contemporary Musicians, Bass recalled it as one of his favorite recordings. As a producer at Federal, Bass released Hank Ballard and the Midnighters" "Work With Me Annie." The single was banned but sold more than a million copies. Bass also produced the original version of the classic R&B standard "Kansas City," originally titled "K.C. Lovin' and recorded by Little Willie Littlefield for Federal Records.

Bass was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 where he was lauded for recording some of the greatest performers in black music. His career and success was fueled by a passion for the blues, R&B, gospel, and jazz, as well as a passion for the people who created the music. His charismatic personality and boundless zeal for life contributed greatly to his ability to work with a wide array of performers, and his tried-and-true "golden ear" for new talent gave the world some of the best AmericanR&B, blues, and jazz in the twentieth century.

by B. Kimberly Taylor

Ralph Bass's Career

Worked as a part-time DJ, liquor store owner and operator,salesman for the Arrowhead and Puritas Water Company in Los Angeles, CA, joined Black & White Records as a talent scout and producer, late 1930s; produced Dexter Gordon, Lena Horne, and T-Bone Walker at Black & White; first hit was Jack McVea's "Open the Door Richard," 1947; produced Erroll Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, and Charlie Parker; joined Savoy Records, 1948 as their west coast A&R man; produced recordings by Brownie McGee, Jay McNeely, Johnny Otis, Little Esther Phillips, and Mel Walker; toured the South with the Johnny Otis Revue; produced Johnny Otis, 1949; returned to New York City, 1951 to head A&R department at King Records; oversaw creation of the King subsidiary, Federal Records; recorded "Sixty Minute Man" by Billy Ward and The Dominoes, "Work With Me Annie" by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters; signed James Brown to Federal Records, 1956; moved to Chess Records in Chicago, 1960 as a staff producer; produced hits by Etta James, Ramsey Lewis, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf , Muddy Waters, and The Violinaires; Chess records dissolved in 1976; Bass worked as an independent record producer after 1976.

Ralph Bass's Awards

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1991.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 6 years ago

sitting here with Joanne(Joey)reading the comments....yes, she was adopted by Ralph Bass and Shirley Hall-Bass at the age of 12 while in the Bahamas. And no, her parents were not Haitian runaways and she was not hidden from anyone. Just to set her story straight.

almost 7 years ago

JoAnn(Joey)Fox parents were not Haitian runaways. She was born in Nassau, Bahamas. She was legally and lovingly adopted by Ralph Bass and Shirley Hall-Bass. If you are angry with Ralph then deal with that, but don't make up things about Joey!!

about 7 years ago

Aditional correcion: Joanne was the dughter of Haitian runaways. Ralph & Shirley hid her from Bahamian authorities in their home in Nassau. Joey was never adopted.

over 8 years ago

I hate to break it to you, but Ralph Bass abandoned his young sons. In my book that makes him a terrible father and an even worse man. So, if Michael feels unable to forgive him, then that is more than understandable. A parent's abandonment is truly unforgiveable. Ralp Bass may have been a brilliant producer, but as a human, he was a failure.

almost 9 years ago

I, too, am part of the Bass Family and agree that the personal history is inaccurate. One being, Joanne is not Alice's daughter but Ralph's adopted daughter with Shirley. Also, his autobiography was never completed. Ralph parented two other children (brother and sister) in the early 1950's (after his divorce from Alice and before his marriage to Shirley) that are never acknowledged. Michael, given you are the one who is the family spokes person providing the history to all those seeking background on Ralph, you should seriously consider correcting the record and find it in your heart to forgive, not just go through the motions. Your father loved you very much and always talked about you in love as well.

almost 9 years ago

As the niece of Ralph Bass, his sister my mother, there are several inaccuracies in the personal part of this article. On the whole, with the exception of his personal life, it is a true and interesting telling of my uncle's life.

over 9 years ago

Follow Ralph Bass to really know the beginnings of Blues and Rhythm, then Rhythm and Blues and then Rock and Roll! Ralph's there every meaningful step of the way!! Love your music Daddy! John Williamson The Superstitions http://www.cdbaby.com/all/jwillia100aolcom