When singer-guitarist Lou Ragland performs this week at the Beachland Ballroom with Hot Chocolate, the Cleveland soul and funk band that he led in the early '70s (not to be confused with the British group that had a hit with "You Sexy Thing"), it will mark the first time he's played with the group in what he guesses is about 40 years. Ragland — who now lives in Las Vegas where he records and tours with the Ink Spots — was recently anthologized with I Travel Alone, a box set released by the Numero Group, the hip reissue label run by, according to Ragland, "some youngsters from Chicago." Ragland was one of the most prominent soul and R&B players to come out of Cleveland, but he also worked as road manager, producer, and engineer during the time he lived here. But that's not all he did. Ragland has worked many, many jobs over the years. Here are some of them.
"I started off like that. I was 15, 16, and 17 years old. I wanted to play music and had to make money to buy my instruments. I think I painted a fourplex apartment building at Superior and Euclid. I painted the window and trim on the building across from the car dealership. My aunt had a lot of houses over there, and I painted interiors with her. My uncle was an interior decorator. A lot of people in Cleveland Heights at the time needed painting. We always crossed barriers with the folks that would let us cross them."
"On 79th, between Euclid and Chester, was the Overall Laundry Factory. I bought some overalls and I got them embroidered with 'Ragland Enterprises.' I would pick up day laborers. I bought my first car when I was 15, so I would just put these guys to work. We'd go to Van Aken in Shaker Heights. I didn't do anything because I was the supervisor. In those days, you could put six guys in the car and still have space. They would give you a car in those days and not these little boxy things."
O'Jays Road Manager
"From 1968 to 1970, I was their road manager. But first, I was the bass player for three weeks. David Johnson had quit the group just at the time that they had started to do paid gigs. The first couple of gigs I did with them, everything worked out good. But they would play New York and then drive back to Cleveland. It was ridiculous not to do a circuit. I wanted to do a circuit. I reversed all that and told them that they had to get paid $1,000 a night. I didn't want them to send that money back to the manager. I handled money pretty good. Nobody would suspect my little self would be carrying that kind of money around. I got them raises on the spot from $1,000 a night to $1,800 and negotiated a deal from the Apollo Theater."
"I can play it better than anybody around. I wish I could find one now. I wore two of them out. From 1973-75 I was playing one — it's in most of those recordings. I can point it out in the music."
An Ink Spot
"That was an excellent opportunity. I didn't have any idea what the Ink Spots did until I went to a church and heard a lady sing. When she came offstage, I approached her and talked to her, and she told me lived with [Ink Spot's leader] George Holmes as a roommate. She said that he was looking for musicians who could sing and play. I gave her my card, and a year later he called me. I auditioned and I worked for him for 10 years as a sideman. He didn't know I could sing lead. I realized there was no copyright on the name, so I copyrighted the name and created a logo. I owned the logo with him. He passed away, and I put the group back together. I have had my own Ink Spots group ever since."
Lou Ragland and Hot Chocolate, with the Hesitations
8 p.m. Friday, August 24, at the Beachland Ballroom
15711 Waterloo Rd.