Rhode Island’s pioneering R&B Vocal Group of the 1950s
The Rhode Island Rhythm & Blues scene began in the mid-1950s when aspiring teen vocal groups moved off the street corners of Providence and into the rec center at the Doyle Avenue Grammar School on the East Side. The Castaleers evolved when members of various groups including The Parakeets and The Five Tones settled into a permanent lineup: Richard Jones (lead, baritone/tenor), George Smith (baritone), Dell Padgett (bass), Ron Henries (tenor) and Benny Barros (tenor).
George had become friendly with songwriters Myron and Ray Muffs, the owners of Muffet’s Music Store in downtown Providence, one of the few shops in town where he could find R&B records. After hearing the group, the Muffs were knocked out and produced four sides which they placed with Felsted Records, a U.S. division of the mighty British Decca company. Released in 1957, “Come Back” charted in Providence, Philadelphia, Detroit and Montreal, but the group, all of whom had good jobs or were still in school, declined to tour outside of the Northeast until something bigger was on the horizon.
Two more releases also fared well, but the group’s unwillingness to tour nationally led to them being dropped. Henries left and was replaced by singer/songwriter Joe Hill of The 5 Dukes and The Dials. The Muffs produced another session on two of Joe’s songs and placed the master with L.A. label Donna/Del-Fi, home to Ron Holden and Ritchie Valens. Once again, there was action, especially in Los Angeles, but it never reached the top and in 1961, the group called it a day.
Still, the Castaleers are recognized as trailblazers for Rhode Island artists who paved the way for national releases by Freddie Scott, The Del Rios (Tavares) and Dipsy & The Doodles. Their 45s are considered some of the greatest – and most collectible – group records of the pre-Soul R&B era.