PRE-INK SPOTS GROUPS - THE FOUR RIFF BROTHERS

 
 
 

MEMBERS:

Ivory "Deek" Watson

Orville "Hoppy" Jones

Miff Campbell

Oliver "Slim" Green

When Leonard Reed left the Three Peanut Boys, Deek Watson was recruited to replace him. At this time Slim Green was also added and the act became the Four Riff Brothers. It is not known when this change took place. What we do know is that the Three Peanut Boys performed on WFBE (Cincinnati) in May of 1931 and the first perfomance of the Four Riff Brothers that we have found is for a "Special Midnite Ramble" on New Year's Eve of 1932 at the Taylor theatre in Indianapolis. [Indianapolis Recorder, 31Dec/32, p.2] Interestingly, Slim Green is billed as a separate singing and dancing act for this show so he did double duty. It seems that Green was instrumental in starting the group, originally to back up his own act. One article suggests he had to force Tom Devine, manager of the Indiana Roof, to add the Four Riff Brothers to his act. They were very well received. [Musical Beat, Roger Jones, Indianapolis Recorder, 1Oct/55]

They also appeared at a "Charity Ball and Bazaar" at the Walker Casino on the 12th and 13th of January/32 under the heading, "Your Favorite Radio Stars" so they presumably were doing radio broadcasts at this time. [Indianapolis Recorder, 7Jan/33]

Nothing else has been found concerning their vaudeville activities. An article in the Pittsburgh Courier dated 1Apr/33 by Eileen Eckstein states, "Although their first opportunity on radio’s "big time" came little more than six weeks ago following a successful audition at WLW, the Riff Brothers are well known to theatre and night club patrons throughout the mid-west. Thus, there must have been many other vaudeville performances.


The Four Riff Brothers - Miff Campbell, Deek Watson, Hoppy Jones and Slim Green. Hoppy is using a tenor guitar as a bass and had a cut-off cane to support it!

We have found listings for over 60 radio shows from 9Feb/33 through 8Sep/33 on WLW(Cincinnati) and there are likely more. In addition, they appeared on other radio shows including The Rhythm Club and Plantation Days. The Rhythm Club was a 1/2 hour show on WLW and one fascinating short note includes the following:

THIS RHYTHM CLUB program of WLW is acclaimed in letter and editorial alike as being the most original and thoroughly entertaining half hour on the air. Thousands of listeners have succumbed to its infestious gaiety and thousands follow the hilarious goings on of Brother Bones Hoppy, the undertaker who has given up his calling to devote himself to the "whimsicalities of Swish;" Elder Rippey, the Riff, and elder Johnson who sometimes builds small fires in the wrap-room.

THE RHYTHM Club was originated at WLW by Frank Williams, the script writer and is directed by Harry Holcombe, who also plays the part of the preacher. It features the famous Riff Brothers, who are becoming the foremost exponents of blistering blues; Slim Green, an elegant Harlem dandy, who does those inconceivable things to ordinary songs and the Charioteers, a quartet who make those spirituals things of real beauty."
[Wave Lengths, Aileen Eckstein, Pittsburgh Courier, 29Apr/33]

We believe The Riff Brothers played a integral part in this show based mainly on three factors. First, we know they were on the show. Second, the names mentioned above fit. Orville "Hoppy" Jones must be Brother Bones Hoppy, Slim Green who started the Riff Brothers is probably Elder Rippey, the Riff and Elder Johnson, with his weird antics is probably Deek Watson. Third, an article in the Indianapolis Recorder of December 9, 1933 mentions "Ivory Deac{sic] Johnson ex of the Rhythm Club..." The article meant Deek Watson but used his Rhythm Club moniker. [pg. 4]

Since Miff Campbell was the fourth member of this group, we can speculate that he also played a role in these adventures - possibly as Brother or Elder Riff, the Miff?!

It is interesting to speculate about what this show was like. Probably quite zany and the names Brother Bones and Elder Johnson could be part of the insults that blacks heaped on church officials at that time.

They appeared in at least one Plantation Days show on WLW on 12Jun/33. [Pittsburg Courier, 17Jun/33]

Sometime, we believe in September, Watson and Green left to do solo acts.

[Indianapolis Recorder, 31Dec/32, p. 2]

Revised 16March/2018