Saturday, June 12, 2010

Who Were the Ripples & Waves Plus Michael?

For years it was rumored that this Steeltown single credited to The Ripples & Waves Plus Michael was actually the Jackson 5. "Let Me Carry Your Schoolbooks" features the vocals of a young male group with a prepubescent lead singer, and the song itself, like the J5's earlier Steeltown single, "Big Boy," capitalizes on the lead singer's youth by cleverly detailing a childish romance. The song on the flip side, "I Never Had a Girl," has lead vocals of a slightly older singer that many people believed was Jermaine. Not to mention that Steeltown made it pretty clear that one of the group members was named "Michael." It's easy to see how people came to believe this.

And in an age before YouTube and easy access to mp3s, when buying the 45 itself was the only way to hear the song, many collectors shelled out hundreds of dollars for it, since it was known to be one of the rarest Jackson 5 collectibles. I myself could never afford to buy it from a dealer who knew the story. Luckily, I found the copy pictured above in a dusty used record shop in San Antonio, Texas, for $1.00, where I also bought several color vinyl Motown promos for $5.00 a piece.

So prevalent was the rumor that the Ripples & Waves were the Jackson 5 that in 1991 biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli stated in The Magic and the Madness that it was a name the group had used before they called themselves the Jackson Five. He did at least try to get the full story from Steeltown owner Gordon Keith, but Keith wouldn't say one way or the other.

The truth finally came out in 2003, several years after Brunswick issued a cd of the Jackson 5's Steeltown-era recordings called Pre-History: The Lost Steeltown Recordings, after Gordon Keith filed suit against the company for including the two cuts by the Ripples & Waves Plus Michael on the cd. Although he was still vague in his deposition, he did at least say on the record that the Ripples & Waves were a different group all together, and that the Michael referenced on the 45's label was another young singer from Gary named Michael Rogers. It's too bad that it took a lawsuit -- and the chance at a cash settlement -- to get the real truth out.

But, as it turns out, the real truth was already out there, in the form of an early 1970s clipping from the Gary Post-Tribune. Here are the real Ripples & Waves, along with their manager, Gordon Keith.

[Source: Indiana 45s]

The caption under the photo mentions their new song "Let Me Carry Your School Books." What it doesn't mention is a lead singer named Michael. In fact, it looks to me like the little guy in the middle, Ronald Bills, described as their "lead tenor," was this group's Michael, unless his vocals weren't strong enough when it came time to record and they had to bring in another kid to sing the lead.

No matter what you think of Gordon Keith and his claim that he "developed" the Jackson 5, we at least have to give him credit for coming up with the boy band concept long before Maurice Starr developed New Edition and created New Kids on the Block.


  1. I watched Ripples and Waves perform at a fashion show at West Side High school in the early 70's. They had a lot of talent and a broader range of music because of the rotation of lead singers, unlike the J5 who only had Michael and sometimes Jermaine. Because of that, to me, they were the hottest in Gary at the time. Very talented...!

  2. Who is the "R. Lee" named as one of producers on the 45 record above?

  3. Sorry, Anon, I have no idea who R. Lee was. Unless you knew someone who was involved personally in the production of the record, it might be hard to find out, since it's such a common name. But I'll keep my eyes and ears open.

  4. R. Lee...Robert Lee..another talented young song writer and performer from G., I.

  5. Search Indiana 45's...then "Lee, Robert and the Exquisites"....another band recording on the SteelTown label,

  6. I knew Ronald Bills. He passed away in Minneapolis a a year or two ago. He always talked about performing with The Ripples and the Waves.

  7. Samual Holder teaches me today! He was apart of Ripples & Waves. He talks & sings all the time.

    1. Samual who ? See Indiana 45's for a picture of the original members that recorded the songs.