Steve Gibson sang, played various combo string instruments, and was a main force behind the Five Red Caps, a top R&B combo for decades. There were variations on this group's name, extrapolations on the number of red caps or the theme of the cap itself, such as "topper." As the group and its sound became more and more influential, there were also inevitable splinterings, breakups, spawn-ups and reunions — meaning that what Gibson was involved in was, like all the lucky bands, both a way of life and a franchise. This Steve Gibson should not be confused with the somewhat younger axeman of the same name who plays on at least 1000 albums.
The man under discussion here might want to doff a red cap in humble respect to such a tower of a discography. Nonetheless, the Steve Gibson who started out in a Lynchburg, VA, band called the Four Dots was hardly a slouch in the recording studio. His earliest side may well be the nasty "Come John Come" cut with the Basin Street Boys for the Racy label in 1935. Forty-five years later, Gibson sang baritone with a reunion of the Ink Spots. Gibson was also well-known as a guitarist, though. One of his main rivals of the time was Oscar Moore, later to enjoy great fame and spread much stylistic influence as a member of the Nat King Cole Trio. Gibson was also adept in the same style, an intelligent amalgamation of harmonic knowledge that was something of a requirement for the music of the era. Both guitarists had superb taste melodically, rhythmically swinging with R&B and rock & roll nearing pop-up in the toaster.
Gibson shifted in and out of various bands well into the '40s. It was the Four Toppers who decided to change their name to the Five Red Caps in 1943. Producer Joe Davis recorded the band as much as was possible under the restrictions of the second World War recording ban, even getting hit with violations for some of the sessions. In 1944, Gibson and the then-five other bandmembers jumped to the Savoy label. This enterprising outfit managed to release more sides by the group then it actually ever recorded simply by distributing the tunes under more than one title. Gibson's moment of song title immortality is involved in the process, as one of these recordings came out first as "Nat's Boogie Woogie," and then was released as "Steve's Boogie Woogie."
Confusion abounds or at least is always an option when it comes to R&B groups that
sought eternal life in the music industry. Davis remained a part of the group's influences in the second half of the '40s, on its good side as a record producer but also taking the band to task in at least one lawsuit. Releases under other names such as Steve Gibson and the Toppers, the Red Caps Trio, Steve Gibson & the Red Caps and Bon Bon and the Red Caps Trio were at least partially motivated by contract entanglements. In 1950 the group moved to RCA, then ABC, staying hip to the trends or at least trying hard from the ring of titles such as "Rock and Roll Stomp" and "Gaucho Serenade."
The sound of the group evolved with the addition of vocalist Damita Jo. She married Gibson in 1954 and divorced him in 1958 but was committed to stay on with the group for performances through 1960. That was the year before the then-unnumbered members of Red Caps split into two groups because of tax problems. The Modern Red Caps was how a 1962 reunion of any and all interested parties was titled. A try at a twist record that year was the last side by any variation of this ensemble involving Gibson, this time out it was Steve Gibson & the Red Caps. The group continued performing, however, in the mid-'60s featuring a then unknown Tammi Terrell as the female vocalist. A few years later Gibson retired for good. No discussion of his life is complete without mentioning that he appears in Son of Ingagi, from 1940, the first all-black horror film. ~ Eugene Chadbourne