Lou Ragland on Apple Music

Lou Ragland

Lou Ragland is a journeyman soul singer, instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, and label head who has been making fine music since the early 1960s, and while a breakthrough hit eluded him, he's earned a loyal following in the United States and Great Britain for his strong, eclectic body of work. Ragland was born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 18, 1942. He inherited a love of music from his parents, and as a youngster he learned to play alto sax, clarinet and tuba. At 13, he first heard Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, and soon became a passionate fan of doo wop and vocal R&B; he also added guitar and organ to his arsenal of musical instruments. In high school, Ragland formed a vocal group called the Monclairs, and he got his first break as a professional when he joined the backing band of vocalist Kim Tolliver, who had a strong following in her hometown of Cleveland. Ragland soon went on to form his own group, and he released his first record as Lou Ragland & the Bandmasters in 1963, "Never Let Me Go" b/w "Party at Lester's." After a short spell as a member of Billy Ward & the Dominos, Ragland struck up a friendship with another up and coming Cleveland soul singer, Edwin Starr, and when Starr's career took off when he signed with Ric Tic Records (who were later bought out by Motown), he helped Ragland land a deal with Bell Records. Bell's Amy subsidiary released Ragland's "I Travel Alone" b/w "Big Wheel" in 1967; the record failed to become a major hit, but it became a favorite of British aficionados of Northern Soul and solidified Ragland's reputation with R&B fans. Back in Cleveland, Ragland began performing under the name Volcanic Eruption, releasing a single on the local Way Out label in 1969, before forming a funk/soul band called Hot Chocolate (not to be confused with the British act of the same name). Hot Chocolate released an album in 1971 on Co Co Cleveland, a label Ragland helped found; he also was one of the bosses of another Cleveland soul label, Saru Records. In 1973, Warner Brothers Records signed Ragland and released a single, "Since You Said You'd Be Mine" b/w "I Didn't Mean to Leave You," but it failed to make a chart impression and Ragland once again took control of his recording career, forming SMH Records and releasing the single "What Should I Do" b/w "Understand Each Other" in 1974. An album titled Understand Each Other arrived on SMH in 1977, and two years later, Ragland formed yet another independent label, Great Lakes Records, but as Cleveland's economy fell into a tailspin at the end of the '70s, Ragland pulled up stakes and relocated to Las Vegas. He continued to perform and record there, forming a new ensemble, the Great Lakes Orchestra, and launching Casino Records with a cassette-only album in 1983. That same year, Edwin Starr staged a tour of the United Kingdom he called "The Ric Tic Revue," featuring Midwest soul artists of the '60s; he invited Ragland to join the bill, and Lou was introduced to his enthusiastic British fan base for the first time. Periodic U.K. tours for Ragland followed, and in 1986 he joined the lineup of the Ink Spots, singing and playing guitar with the legendary vocal group. Ragland also formed a gospel group, the First Light, releasing two albums of spiritual music in 1986. Through the rest of the 1980s and ‘90s, he maintained a busy schedule as a performer and recording artist, and formed a quartet with three other classic-era soul singers called the Las Vegas Tenors. In 2012, the respected reissue label the Numero Group teamed with Ragland to assemble a career-spanning anthology of his work; the result was a three-CD or four-LP box set, I Travel Alone. ~ Mark Deming

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