Jean Thomas is well known for her lead vocal as a member of the cult 60s girl group The Rag Dolls but less known is her appearance as a Ronette.
This month sees the re-issue of the Be My Baby: The Very Best of the Ronettes (Phil Spector Records/Legacy 88697 61286-2), CD and it is notable for a few things which Second Disc highlight in their blog note
“Most noteworthy is the CD debut of “I Can Hear Music.” This 1966 recording was produced in New York by its co-writer, Jeff Barry, without aid of Gold Star’s superior sonics or the Wrecking Crew’s virtuosic musicians. Because it has been unavailable for so many years (and only placed at No. 100 on the pop chart), the song is probably better remembered today in The Beach Boys’ 1969 version, produced not by Brian, but by Carl Wilson. Needless to say, it’s a long-overdue return for the original.”
Jean Thomas’s log book for 1966 shows this surprise entry for “8th July for Phillys Records - Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine and I Hear The Music(aka I Can Hear Music) – Background vocals 3 hrs - Ronettes session Philles 133”
We don’t know how Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich came to have to record Veronica in NYC rather than Phil Spector in LA with the Wrecking Crewe and the other Ronettes.
Spectopop’s Jeff Barry story tells us this happened just as his and Ellie Greenwich’s marriage was breaking up along with a number of record labels in NYC….”Before they knew it, all of Red-Bird and Blue Cat's best-selling artists had defected to other labels, and Leiber and Stoller had sold their stock shares. The Red-Bird era was history, and soon, their marriage was over, too.
Divorce papers in hand, their professional split was headed off by Phil Spector, who reunited with them in early 1966 to pen material for his latest signing, Ike & Tina Turner. These writing sessions produced the incredible "River-Deep, Mountain-High" and the irresist ible "I Can Hear Music," which Phil allowed Jeff to produce as a Ronettes single.”
So this is the session and very probably these recordings feature Jean Thomas, Ellie Greenwich and possibly Mikie Harris on backing vocals as the New York version of The Ronettes.
Jean commented on this forthcoming release….”I find it amusing that I might be a Ronette!!! But I do recall that we had great fun doing the session.”
So another group label to add to her roster of 60s Girl Groups she sang with between 1963 and 1966. Her log books and our bio feature the following official group appearances by her on vinyl 45.
Angie and The Chicklettes
The Surfer Girls
Gigi Parker and The Lonelies
The Rag Dolls
The Beach Girls
Teddy and The Pandas
The Loved Ones
Reparata and The Del-Rons
Some of these performances are classic examples of the ‘girl-group’ sound of this period. And I am not sure any other back-up artist can better this.
Jean started work as a background singer and songwriter in 1963 and was immediately signed to Colpix Records where she recorded for some the ‘definitive’ version of ‘Moon River’. Check out her web site to hear her early singles and scroll her log books for the full list of sessions transcribed from 1963 to 1966. 1966 Part 2 will be published soon.
It is a window into the peak of NYC’s recording boom. During the time she got the chance to work with Bob Crewe as his idea of a ‘female’ Four Seasons was nurtured.
Jean says in her forthcoming Bio Part 3…..about being lead singer of the Rag Dolls.
“Being the lead singer meant that at times I would try to be a sort of female Frankie Valli. Bob Crewe would instruct me on how to phrase and sing the lyric to achieve the same effect on some of the tracks. Funnily enough I recall I only met Frankie Valli once and I never met the rest of the group”
And in addition she backed top artists like Connie Francis, Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfield, Andy Kim, Sarah Vaughn, Evie Sands and Neil Diamond.
We will soon complete this Part 3 of her bio with Jean and publish the story on this blog. Check out the first two parts covering 1962 to 1964 at her web site
Below is just one of these performances as a studio based group working on this occasion with F-G-G (aka The Strangeloves -Robert Feldman, Gerald Goldstein, Richard Gottehrer) and The Angels
(Due to You Tube copyright restriction this video may not play in some regions – our apologies if that is the case for you)
As a versatile singer for lead, demo and master back-up she was constantly in demand as were her good friends and often co-singers Ellie Greenwich and Mikie Harris. Now wouldn’t it be good if ACE Records or Rare Rockin’ Records could gather all of these group performances on a CD release? ‘The Rag Dolls and other Great Jean Thomas Girl Group Sounds’ or will she remain a lost voice amongst the ‘girl group’ genre?