When Gene & Eunice appeared at DWS Show #35, Eunice Rust Frost was certainly Eunice, but since Gene Forrest was in poor health, his side of the famous duo was taken by Junior Ryder.
But dueting with Eunice on her old hits like "This Is My Story," "Ko Ko Mo" and "Poco Loco" came easy for Junior Ryder because in the 1950s he had been part of a boy-girl duet called Sugar & Spice, recording for Mercury Records.
Born Morris Riden on October 18, 1937, in Atlanta, Georgia, he moved with his family to Portland, Oregon, when he was eight. He was a popular 14-year-old singer in his new hometown when The Johnny Otis Orchestra came to town in to play at the McElroy Ballroom. Otis's main vocalist, Mel Walker, happened to be in jail on a narcotics charge at the time, so the teenager got the chance to sing two of Walker's songs, "Gee Baby" and "Rockin' Blues" with the band. Otis was so impressed that he later managed to talk the boy's parents into letting him go on the road. "A big mistake," Junior Ryder said many years later.
Since the name Morris Riden didn't have much of a ring to it, Otis called him Junior Ryder. (He has since been confused in one or two discographies with another "Junior" who dueted with Little Esther on a 1949 Johnny Otis Savoy recording called "Get Together Blues.") In late October 1953, when the band returned to its home base in Houston, where Otis was under contract to Don Robey's Duke/Peacock operation, Junior made his first recording with the band, a bluesy ballad called "Sad Story." The piano player on the date was Little Richard, who had just finished his last session for Peacock.
The next year was a busy one. As part of Johnny Otis's stable of performers, which included Big Mama Thornton and Johnny Ace, Junior Ryder toured all around the country. He also returned to the studio in January 1954 to share a recording session with Johnny Ace. Ryder recorded three songs, including one that was never released ("Lost My Baby"); Johnny Ace recorded four songs, including "Anymore" and "Pledging My Love."
When Johnny Ace died in December 1954, Johnny Otis's new female vocalist, Marie Adams recorded a tribute to him called "In Memory." On the flipside, an uncredited Junior Ryder dueted with her on "Boom Diddy Wa Wa." Junior says that in their live shows, he and Marie often worked as a vocal team.
But Junior Ryder soon chafed under Johnny Otis's total control, and thanks to his junior status he was able to break his contract. Almost immediately he was signed in late 1955 to Buck Ram's management company, Personality Productions. Ram matched him up with alto vocalist Blondine Taylor, who had been one of the original members of Shirley Gunter & The Queens. Ram dubbed them Sugar & Spice and got them on Mercury, where he was already enjoying success with The Platters and, to a lesser extent, The Penguins. They landed on Tommy Small's 1956 Easter show at the Apollo Theater with The Moonglows and Bo Diddley, and then toured up and down the East Coast as part of a major rock 'n' roll package.
"People think Blondine was Sugar, but I was Sugar," says Ryder. "Blondine was Spice. Too much spice for me."
Ram's attempt to make them a cute teenage couple got them work but ultimately backfired. When New York jock Alan Freed began a campaign to get rock 'n' roll fans to cool down and not get too raucous at shows, Ram presented him with a theme song, by Sugar & Spice, called "Don't Be a Bunny" (a bunny being a wise guy or a troublemaker). Though the song put them on a tour that stretched from Canada to the South, it undermined the singers' identity. After three singles on Mercury, including one on the company's Wing subsidiary, Sugar & Spice broke up. "Blondine was just too wild, too unpredictable," says Ryder. "And she wanted to get back home [to Los Angeles]. If I had found another girl, we probably could have gone on with Sugar & Spice, but I guess I was getting tired of it too." Blondine Taylor died a few years later, in the late 1960s, leaving behind a son she'd had with Little Willie John.
Junior Ryder spent the 1960s and early '70s with the bands of Chet Harris and Jackie Kelso, working steadily in clubs but never recording again. He first got together with Eunice Frost as Gene & Eunice for a couple of gigs in the 1980s, but when Eunice moved to Las Vegas their brief partnership dissolved...until the Doo-Wop Society put them back together in 2001.
Junior Ryder died on Christmas Day of 2006.
|CLICK TO SEE FULL-SIZE PHOTO|
|Johnny Otis - Marie Adams - Junior Ryder||Junior and Blondine: "Sugar & Spice"|
|Duke 119||Sad Story*/Better Stop**||1953|
|Peacock 1649***||Boom Diddy Wa Wa/(Ryder not on flipside)||1954|
|Duke 139**||Don't Tell Nobody/Every Star I See||1955|
|Mercury 70788+||Hey Joe (Let Me Know)/Indeed I Love You||1956|
|Wing 90081+||Don't Be a Bunny/There Were No Angels||1956|
|Mercury 71034+||Strawberry Shortcake/First Last & Always||1957|
|*As Junior Ryder with The Peacocks & Johnny Otis Orchestra
**As Junior Ryder with Johnny Otis Orchestra
***As Marie Adams with Johnny Otis Orchestra
+As Sugar & Spice
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