Sloopy & The Ravens
Like The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones, Columbus, Ohio's The Ravens have recently celebrated 50 years as a performing rock and roll band.  Perhaps best known for their single 'Imagine You & Me' b/w 'Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?' (on The Bowery label), the group had been long established (and in fact had an earlier record) prior to the recording.  Between 1961 through 2012, The Ravens have truly done it all.  Alto and tenor saxist Jeff Shaw fills in the details...

The Ravens: Steve Stover, Jimmy Davis, Jeff "Sloopy" Shaw, Jim Grubb, Ned Timmons and Gary Hughes

An Interview With Jeff Shaw

60sgaragebands.com (60s): Where and when were The Ravens formed? 
Jeff Shaw (JS): The Ravens were formed in August, 1961 in Columbus, Ohio. I was 14 years old and had moved to the area from Cleveland a few months prior.  I met 16 year-old drummer, Jimmy Davis, who in turn introduced me to his buddy, 16-year-old guitarist Gary Hughes, who owned a Silvertone guitar and amp. They were going to jam in Jim's basement and asked me if I played an instrument. I said yes (sort of…) as I had an alto sax in the attic that I had played in fifth grade.  We started jamming and the next time we got together, they had invited keyboardist Gary Bonnette, 16, who played upright piano when one was available.
 
In September, 1961, our band had been asked to play at an open house being held by a friend of the drummer's sister.  We pulled up to the house, situated high on a hill, and started unloading. The drummer and keyboardist started bickering over something and when I came up I found it was a dispute over the band's name. Jim had put a banner on the front of his bass drum that read: "Buzzards." Gary Bonnette thought we should use the moniker "Bonnevilles" like the Pontiac model that was remarkably similar to his last name.  Because we needed to get set up and moving, I suggested an alternative for the sake of compromise, "The Ravens."  They both seemed okay with that name and Gary the guitarist said it was fine and by the time we got to the top of the hill, The Ravens came to be.
 
The Ravens consisted of Jimmy Davis, 16, drums; Gary Hughes, 16, guitar; Jeff Shaw, 14, alto and tenor sax; and Gary Bonnette, 16, piano.  Our initial outing in late September led to our first paid booking for a teen dance at Northwest Christian Church.  However, when finalizing arrangements for that performance, we found that the church did not have a piano in their social hall and there were no plans to provide one.  Thus, we brought a fifth member into the fold for this and subsequent gigs:  Rhythm guitarist Jim Grubb, also age 16 at the time.

Original Ravens, 1961, from left, Jim Grubb, Jeff Shaw, Jim Davis, Gary Bonnette and Gary Hughes.
In spring of 1962, Jim Grubb left the group and was replaced by bass guitarist Craig Cottingham, 17, who remained with the band for a year before he left for college. 

The Ravens at Veterans Memorial Auditorium, 1962.
60s: The group has also been refererred to as Sloopy & The Ravens...
JS: The band started playing the R&B song 'My Girl Sloopy' by The Vibrations in 1964 at the insistence of friend and later television network newsman Mike Sullivan, who loved to dance and frequently attended our early performances. 'My Girl Sloopy' had kind of a cult following by those who listened to R&B and who liked to dance. When starting college at Ohio State University in January, 1965, I was asked by the social chairman of a fraternity if my band played 'My Girl Sloopy.' I said that we did and he was elated as he was part of that cult following for this R&B tune. After that, he and his Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers started calling me Sloopy and because The Ravens typically played for fraternity parties and campus-wide events two to three nights a week, the Sloopy moniker caught on throughout campus and has remained ever since.
 
Not long ago, when standing at a downtown intersection waiting for the light to change, I heard someone calling out repeatedly "Sloopy….Sloop." It was former Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka, who used to sit in on drums when The Ravens played for his OSU fraternity many years before. The use of Sloopy in the band name has come about in more recent years as I went to create a Facebook page and found that the tag "Ravens" was not available but was being used by a band located in the country of Panama. So I added the Sloopy tag to the name and Facebook approved it and it has been used as needed since that time.
 
There is a side story on the song 'Hang On Sloopy', recorded by The McCoys. As The Ravens started playing on the college circuit, locally and regionally, we continued to play 'My Girl Sloopy.' When playing at an outdoor fraternity party at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, we heard another band doing the same tune at another frat house party behind ours. We walked over during our break to listen to the band Rick & The Raiders from a town near Dayton. We exchanged pleasantries and a couple of their guys came over to listen to us when they were on break. Twelve months later Rick & The Raiders became The McCoys (to avoid confusion with Paul Revere and The Raiders), changed the title of 'My Girl Sloopy' and released the hit song 'Hang on Sloopy.' There had once been talk of recording 'My Girl Sloopy' but we obviously did not move quickly enough. However, the number remains a much-requested signature song for the band featuring a novelty sax solo as I play two saxes at once. The alto and tenor horns harmonize in the key of E.
 
60s: How would you best describe the band's sound? What groups influenced you?
JS: When we began performing in 1961, there were many rock instrumentals being released: 'Tequila' by The Champs, 'Rebel Rouser' by Duane Eddy, 'Rumble' by Link Wray and 'Walk Don't Run' by The Ventures. During the first six months of our existence, we played only instrumentals with sax leads much like then popular instrumental groups Johnny & The Hurricanes ('Crossfire') or The Royal Tones ('Flamingo Express'). So initially, our guitarists and drummer were most influenced by The Ventures, who had a very successful instrumental run for many years. Gary Hughes was also influenced by jazz guitarist Howard Roberts and there was always a bit of jazz and rhythm and blues in our sound. Our first vocal number was 'Hey Bo Diddley' on which I sang lead and the very rhythmic strumming by guitarist Bo Diddley also influenced our guys. Later, at a big CYO teen dance in North Columbus, we were performing along with The Countdowns, like us one of only four teen-aged bands in the city at that time. Back stage, their guitarist shared with Gary Hughes the Chuck Berry technique for "bending" strings during a guitar solo. We then starting playing the vocal cover 'Johnny B. Goode' and added other Chuck Berry songs to our repertoire.

Ravens, 1962, from left: Jeff Shaw, sax; Craig Cottingham on bass, Jim Davis, drums and Gary Hughes, guitar.
60s: Where did The Ravens typically play?
JS: After our first paid gig for a church teen group, we found ourselves playing for church-sponsored teen dances all over the city.  As our popularity (or notoriety) increased, we started accompanying local radio disc jockeys on their teen sock hops at different high schools and we would be introduced as "featured artists" and typically play for 15 minutes while the deejay took a break each hour, netting us three opportunities to perform per sock hop. In 1962, a local entertainer-promoter Phil Gary contacted us to participate in the first battle of the bands I was ever aware of. The venue was Veterans' Memorial Auditorium in downtown Columbus and many of the groups at that time were a capella "street-corner" singers who did not play instruments. The auditorium was packed with screaming teenagers and we finished in first place, tied with an a capella group called The Emeralds.  With the win, we were promised a recording contract with Olimpic Records, owned by several partners including Phil Gary of Phil & The Catalinas. 

Olimpic Records recording artists Phil & The Catatlinas and The Ravens perform in Lancaster, Ohio in 1963 with Sloopy wailing on sax.
The Ravens then started doing personal appearances with Phil & The Catalinas throughout the region. Even though we were, in essence, a backing band, we were asked to participate at post-performance autograph tables, with teens waiting in line for the autograph of a 15 year-old sax player they didn't know from Adam.  In 1962, we began playing twist and dance music at a well-known club and restaurant, Club Gloria, as adults were now embracing this teen dance phenomenon known as "The Twist."
 
I'm sure we were seen as a bit of a novelty among the adults, as The Ravens initially alternated sets with Hall of Fame jazz saxophonist Rusty Bryant and his band. As more teens starting accompanying their parents, Club Gloria began having "teen nights" and then initiated ongoing Sunday afternoon "teen dance parties" with The Ravens playing the entire time. Later, promoter Phil Gary capitalized on this concept and started "Hep City Swing Club" at the State Fairgrounds with dances attracting teens from the entire city every Sunday afternoon. The Ravens would perform several sets of music and then instrumentally support touring guest recording artists such as The Dovells ('Bristol Stomp'), Len Barry ('1-2-3'), Major Lance ('Monkey Time'), The Orlons ('Wah-Watusi', 'South Street').  We also frequently played at Valley Dale Ballroom, site of national radio broadcasts of touring big bands in the 1940s. In the 1960s, Valley Dale would attract 700 to 1,000 teens and college students to dance to The Ravens and to see recording artists like The Kingsmen of 'Louie Louie' fame.
 
In fall of 1963, The Ravens became house band for a teen nightclub called The Button, located in the Seneca Hotel in downtown Columbus. Teens throughout the city gathered for this weekly Friday night dance and we continued to perform our music and then back up a guest vocalist or vocal group, often R&B singers who formerly had a record on the charts. Guitarist Gary Hughes had a collapsed lung when we first began playing at The Button and he was temporarily replaced by guitarists Jim Lynch and Bob Hill, who had his own band, The Bishops. Shortly thereafter, Butch Ashman took over on guitar and played with the group until his departure for Colorado University in late summer 1964.  
 
Through this period the band would also serve as opening act for other recording artists coming to Columbus for one night concerts at Veterans Memorial Auditorium or other large venues.  In fall of 1964, guitarists Gary Hughes and Jim Grubb returned to the band and I recruited vocalist Ned Timmons who also began playing bass. Three months later, we added vocalist Steve Stover to the expanding group, now numbering six members.
 
The Ravens began playing increasingly for fraternity parties and campus events at nearby Ohio State University, Otterbein College and Columbus College of Art & Design. Our demographic expanded to colleges throughout the state with regular visits to Denison University, Ohio Wesleyan, Kenyon College, Miami University and Ohio University. A typical weekend while in college might entail driving 170 miles roundtrip to Athens, Ohio for a Friday night fraternity party at Ohio University.  We would then pack up, return to Columbus and then head out the next morning for a 250-mile round-trip to Oxford, Ohio.  There we would play for a Miami University Parents' Weekend event from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Then it was back on the road to Columbus where we would play from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. for a campus-wide dance at Ohio State's Student Center.  We would occasionally take weekend trips of greater distances. In 1966 The Ravens drove nine hours to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York where we performed and met homecoming headliners Eric Burden & The Animals, English rockers with many top 10 hits including 'House of the Rising Sun.'
 
Summers often meant traveling the state or region to perform in night clubs that catered to college-aged patrons. Most enjoyable for us was having an opportunity to play in a resort town on the shores of Lake Erie or returning to Columbus to entertain at the Bowery, where we became the house band in 1966. Because of other summer commitments, Gary Hughes was replaced by guitarist Dave Balser while The Ravens toured in summer 1966.  In the fall, Balser rejoined his band, Hughes returned to The Ravens and keyboardist Jeff Hersey took over for guitarist Jim Grubb.
 
60s: Did The Ravens have a manager? 
JS: We did not use a manager as such and I coordinated most of our bookings, although I got some help during the college years from guitarist Jim Grubb. Promoter Phil Gary was an early influence providing some opportunities to play but he never really represented the band.  Although we probably would have done more with our music had we found an honest and knowledgeable agent, we, like many musicians of that era, had the Vietnam War and the military draft hanging over our heads.  During this era, if one left school for any extended period of time without a deferment, Uncle Sam would quickly come a-calling and you could soon find yourself in Army basic training. So we were content to remain in college, performing at colleges and clubs throughout Ohio then using summer break for  travel to more distant venues.

Mid-'60's Tour - Where else do you find The Ravens but in a tree? From top, Jeff "Sloopy" Shaw, Jim Davis, Steve Stover; from left: Jim Grubb, Ned Timmons, Dave Balser.
60s: What were the circumstances leading to the group's opportunity to record?
JS: Our grand prize when winning the Olimpic Records Battle of the Bands in 1962, was a recording contract with that label.  And in fall of 1962, we did record 'Dancing Little Fool Clementine' with Phil & The Catalinas, a trio of vocalists who did not play instruments. Although the record sold well regionally, it was not a national Top 40 hit like their first release 'Bobby Layne.'  In Spring 1963, we were in discussions with Phil Gary and Nick Kurlas of Olimpic about recording a Ravens instrumental. But shortly thereafter, the partners differed on the future direction of their company, split up and the Olimpic label quietly went away. 
 
In 1966, while playing as the house band at a Columbus night club known as The Bowery, the club's management thought we should record a 45 and have it available for purchase at The Bowery. Club General Manager Walter Horton and his partners underwrote the cost of recording and put their Bowery name on the label. They handled all the arrangements and since 'My Girl Sloopy' had already been done as 'Hang On Sloopy' by The McCoys, we recorded an original ballad 'Imagine You & Me' and put the song 'Are You A Boy or Are You a Girl?' on the B-side.  Bass player Ned Timmons sang the lead on the ballad and singer Steve Stover had the lead on 'Are You a Boy?' with one of those gentlemen and myself singing back-up. We initially recorded at Magnetic Studios in Columbus and a small quantity of demo discs were produced.  But we weren't totally satisfied with our sound and Walt Horton took us to a different studio, the name long-since forgotten. We added a back-up vocalist Dick McBride for a fuller sound and recorded early on a Sunday evening. The record was distributed regionally and was getting a fair amount of air time on Columbus and Ohio stations.  I had been told by a friend that it was getting air play in Chicago as well.  As more wide-scale distribution was being planned, the partners in The Bowery Club and Bowery Records had a falling out, the club closed shortly thereafter and it is my impression that the record was never distributed to most of the country. However, the Bowery Records B-side 'Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?' by The Ravens showed up on a 1991 compilation disc series of garage band recordings called The Sounds of Summer: The Pebbles Series (Volume 3) produced by Bomp Records of Burbank, California.   
 
60s: Who was the band's primary songwriter?
JS: Guitarist Gary Hughes, drummer Jim Davis and I actively participated in the instrumental portion of the Phil & The Catalinas record 'Dancing Little Fool Clementine,' developing the opening and providing the guitar and sax solos for this 1962 recording. Gary Hughes and I put together a couple original instrumentals that were popular locally. The first was called 'Nevermore' which became an early theme song with a sax lead. 
 
I often wish this song had been recorded and distributed commercially as its driving guitar intro and catchy melody line may have achieved the popularity of other instrumentals of the era such as 'Wipe Out' by The Surfaris or 'Pipeline' by The Chantays.  We also put another instrumental together called 'Greyhound Mash' that was influenced by the novelty song 'Monster Mash.'
 
The original ballad 'Imagine You and Me' was developed  by Tom Hughes, the younger brother of guitarist Gary Hughes. Tom had initially written two verses of lyrics and scored the music. After Gary played some of it at a band rehearsal, Jim Grubb and I added a chorus with Jim coming up with chords and  I penned the lyrics. Tom later played bass guitar with The Ravens for a 7-year period from the late '80s into the early '90s. In the mid-to late '60s, a consortium of band members including singer Steve Stover, bass guitarist Ned Timmons, guitarist Gary Hughes  and myself put together an original vocal number 'Quote the Raven Never More.'  It was very rhythmic with novel lyrics that we continue to sing today. The song serves as a vehicle to introduce the individual musicians in the band and to use as a break or closing song.  However, the song was never recorded commercially.
 
There is a reel-to-reel tape floating around somewhere on the West Coast that contains music from multiple live performances of The Ravens in 1963 and 1964. I lived briefly in Los Angeles in 1964 and gave my Ravens tape to a musician I met named Alban "Snoopy" Pfisterer.  Alban was a classical pianist who wanted to play rock drums.  I would show him some of the percussion techniques used by Ravens drummer Jim Davis and then Alban would rehearse with the tape, playing on a set of drums left in his Hollywood Hills home by a friend. Alban and bassist Ken Forsii (formerly with The Surfaris) and I would jam with various guitarists. But I returned to Columbus to attend Ohio State. Alban went on to play drums with the popular West Coast group Love, who recorded on the Elektra label. Love had several Top 20 records in the mid-'60s including 'My Little Red Book' and '7 & 7 Is.'  But I never got my tape back and lost track of Alban by the late '60s.  I did just happen to turn on the television in 1968 and viewed a program featuring music by Paul Revere & The Raiders and Alban's Love group.  So drummer Jim Davis & The Ravens were apparently instrumental in pianist Alban Pfisterer becoming a rock drummer in the L.A. music scene of the mid- to late '60s.
 
60s: Did The Ravens make any TV appearances? 
JS: In spring 1963, Columbus PBS station WOSU-TV34 aired a 30-minute television special that featured The Ravens and other groups presenting the music of "today's" generation. The program offered an eclectic mix of The Ravens early instrumental rock, several folk music groups and even the ragtime music of pianist Terry Waldo, who is known nationally as one of the top artists in this genre today.  But this was pre-video tape and I don't know if a copy of the program even exists.  We also participated on a local Dance Party program hosted by WCMH-TV's Jerry Rasor, whose program mimicked American Bandstand.  
 
In 1989, when the band was 28 years young, local music historian David Meyers did a 30-minute radio special on The Ravens from the studios of WTVN-AM.  He had me join him live in the studio for an on-air interview interspersed with three songs we did on vinyl and others he accessed from audio tape of the band's live appearances in the area.  

Ravens on the air - Jeff Shaw was in the studios of WTVN-AM Radio in Columbus.
60s: The Ravens are still performing...
JS: The Ravens have continued playing rock favorites for more than 50 years as we beat The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones to this milestone 50th anniversary! I have had the good fortune of playing with the band for this entire period sans several months in summer 1964 and a four-month stretch in 1969 when I was attending Air Force basic training and technical school as a reservist in the Ohio Air National Guard.  Original drummer Jim Davis played with the band for almost 40 years, dropping out from 1966 to 1970 while in the Navy and then playing from 1970 to 2005 when he retired because of health issues. Original guitarist Gary Hughes played from 1961 to 1966 then returned in 1995 and played bass guitar for 10 years. Davis and Hughes are both deceased. Gary Bonnette played keyboards in 1961 only, then returned in 1963 to play bass guitar for a year. His whereabouts are unknown. Guitarist Jim Grubb played with the band from 1961 to 1962, then returned and played in 1965 and 1966. He currently resides in Phoenix.
 
During Davis' four-year commitment to the Navy, drummers Byron Johnson and Nick Cenci handled percussion.  In 1968, keyboardist Gary Spanner joined the group while Jeff Hersey was serving in Korea with the Air Forces reserves. Guitarist Bud Dillahunt replaced Gary Hughes, and as the band was playing a diverse mix of Jimi Hendrix/psychedelic rock along with Motown hits, guitarist-trumpet player Dean Ellenwood was added to the blend.  Later, trumpet player Jerry McAfee joined the band.  With their college years behind them, several band members exited and The Ravens early-'70s edition included guitarist John Workman, keyboardist Graydon Webb and bass player Richie Cunningham with Davis returning from the Navy to play drums and I continued on sax and vocals.
 
In 1977, with a dozen future performances under contract, we lost in succession bass player Steve Cabot, keyboardist Ron Cook and guitarist John Workman who opted to play in other bands or in other musical genres. Left with only drummer Jim Davis, I quickly posted "Wanted:  keyboards, guitar & bass players" signs in four area music stores and talked to a lot of musicians in a successful effort to keep the band going and to meet our contractual obligations. 
 
After a 15-month run with guitarists Mark Copeland, Rob Owen, bass player Don Klayman and keyboardist Mike McConnell, we transitioned to the disco influences and Fleetwood Mac sounds of that era with our first-ever female, Patty Squeo, on keys, Dan Donavan on guitar and Steve Miller on bass.  Elaine Filusch replaced Patty on keys several years later.  About 1986, with Donavan and Miller interested in pursuing the week night pub scene, we separated amicably and brought in former Raven players John Workman on guitar, Ned Timmons on bass and a short time later, Jeff Hersey on keyboards.  In more recent years, Doug Yoder has taken over on bass and Nick Stahl and more recently Joe Armstrong have covered percussion.  Over the years, several musicians from other bands have stepped in to cover our short-term needs including drummers John Sproat and Marc Froebel, guitarist Mike Allen, singer Jimmy Harris, bass and horn player Rodger Wilson and keyboardist Ted Horowitz.
 
We have often said that the long life of The Ravens was perpetuated because our focus was on the music and not the musicians.  We didn't play songs just to our liking but selected a play list that was great for dancing.  And we saw music as a means to an end.  It helped us work our way through college and gave us an outlet and diversion from our respective day jobs.
 
The Ravens band was inducted into the Columbus Nightclub Band Hall of Fame in 2003 before a sell-out crowd at Aladdin Shrine Auditorium in Columbus. Previous inductees included jazz saxophonist Rusty Bryant and jazz and pop vocalist Nancy Wilson, popular in the late '50s and '60s. Columbus City Council recognized the band that same year with a proclamation citing The Ravens contributions to music and the community. The Columbus high school where it all started, Upper Arlington, named The Ravens distinguished alumni of the year in 2004 and will be honoring the band at The Golden Bear Rockfest on November 10, 2012. For that event, former Ravens members will be invited back along with those who have enjoyed the band's music for the past five decades. This reunion and dance party will feature music by the current band and appearances by selected Ravens alumni who will join the current group on stage.
 
Today, as The Ravens celebrate 50 years of continuous rock 'n roll, the band continues to play for community events, car shows, class reunions, club dances, fund-raisers, wedding receptions and corporate outings. In 2006, The Ravens were guest artists in the local theatrical production Rock & Roll Forever and the band has been invited to commemorate its anniversary by playing on a float in the Upper Arlington Independence Day Parade.  
 
It's been quite a ride over the past half-century and in retrospect, a wonderful experience to have been a part of the early days of rock, even before the British Invasion. Then to have remained a part of the changing fabric of this genre for decades to follow is pretty unbelievable. Although only one of my three sons briefly dabbled in music as a drummer in a band he and his friends were going to call The Ravens Eggs, football, basketball and lacrosse eventually took priority and that band never took flight.  However,  I now have six grandchildren playing instruments and I'm optimistic that the aging Ravens may be able to pass the torch to this next generation. If so, we will have then been successful in perpetuating the anthem:  "Rock and Roll Forever!"
 
For additional information, contact Jeff Shaw (614) 581-1080 (jeffshawcreative@gmail.com).
 
Sloopy & The Ravens on Facebook.

The Ravens members during the band's 50th anniversary celebration, 2012, from left: guitarist John Workman, keyboardist Jeff Hersey, singer-sax player Jeff "Sloopy" Shaw, bass guitarist Doug Yoder and drummer Joe Armstrong.
The Ravens On YouTube