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Crescent City R'n'B FavouriteCopyright © 1999The Scotsman, 1999
Ridgley, TommyTommy Ridgley epitomized the New Orleans rhythm and blues sound. The singer never had a genuine national hit, but he was a fixture in the city's clubs, and featured annually in the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival from 1972.
He was born Thomas Herman Ridgley, and began his career in earnest when he won a talent contest in 1949, and as a consequence was hired by bandleader Dave Bartholomew. The former trumpeter was the principal moving force in the rhythm and blues scene in New Orleans, notably through his production work for Fats Domino, and the association provided a launching pad for Ridgley's reputation in the city.
The singer began a prolific recording career with his first sides for Imperial Records in 1949, and had an early regional hit with the autobiographical "Shrewesbury Blues". He recorded regularly throughout the 1950s, principally for the Imperial, Decca (his "Tra-La-La" was later covered by both Big Joe Turner and Pat Boone), Atlantic, Ric and Herald labels.
He racked up a succession of regional hits for all these labels which established him as a firm local favourite, but without ever quite breaking through to wider fame. Ironically, the record which came closest to doing so, "Jam Up", which he recorded for Atlantic in 1955, scarcely featured him at all, other than in shouting the title at the beginning of what was essentially an instrumental cut, but sold well under his name.
His relaxed strolling tempos led Atlantic to dub him "The New King of the Stroll". Ridgley remained a local favourite even when recording opportunities fell away in the 1980s, but he returned to the studio in 1995 for the Rounder Records subsidiary Black Top, and won much critical acclaim for the resulting album, Since The Blues Began . A second album, How Long , was issued this year.
Tommy Ridgley died from lung cancer.