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Episode #720 – The Ray-O-Vacs

Air Week: February 19-25, 2024

The Ray-O-Vacs

It’s staggering, the number of R&B groups that have been left out of the history books and off radio station playlists just because they don’t fit into an accepted category of “cool.” The Ray-O-Vacs is one of those groups. Though they made the R&B charts 3 times, that didn’t guarantee them inclusion. They were more “middle-of-the-road” than the gospel-tinged groups that were gaining popularity in the early 1950s and they weren’t a vocal group, so they can’t be classified with the emerging doo wop scene of the day. That’s probably why the Ray-O-Vacs are just a footnote in the history of Rhythm & Blues, but this week Matt The Cat brings them into the spotlight on the “Juke In The Back.” Formed in Newark, New Jersey in the late 1940s, The Ray-O-Vacs did produce a unique and light jive sound with Lester Harris (real name Harry Lester) on vocals and tubs, “Flap” McQueen on bass, Joe Crump on piano and a smooth and ever-present saxophone played by “Chink” Kinney. They had a hit right out of the gate with “I’ll Always Be In Love With You” for the tiny Coleman label in early ’49 and then scored again with a double-sider for Decca in 1950. The hits stopped coming and Lester Harris left the group for a solo deal with RCA Victor in ’52, but his replacement, Herb Milliner continued voicing some solid singles. They hung it up after one more shot in ’55 with vocalist Bill Walker for the small Kaiser label and their reputation was sealed for those in the know, especially in Pittsburgh. Dig out those jukebox nickels and get ready to dig on the sound of the Ray-O-Vacs on this week’s R&B spectacular, better known as the “Juke In The Back.” 

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