Preston Jackson and The Rhythm Aces

Although they never recorded at Golden Voice, Preston Jackson and The Rhythm Aces were a major group on the central Illinois music scene from the 1950’s through the 1970’s.

Preston Jackson, a world-renowned sculptor and accomplished jazz guitarist, is probably one of the few musicians who can say he performed with Richard Pryor, a groundbreaking comedian with roots in Peoria, Illinois, close to Golden Voice Studios.rhythm aces copy

His band, Preston Jackson and the Rhythm Aces, was a Decatur, Illinois, based doo-wop / R&B group who played the Mississippi river chitlin’ circuit  from 1957 through the 1970s. 

Just teenagers when they started playing professionally, the Rhythm Aces played in the cleaner-cut genera of Doo-wop. Jackson says the blues was not considered a safe occupation for teenage boys, owing to the sporadicly violent nature of the blues scene at the time. 

Jackson says his guitar style was inspired by T-Bone Walker, Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel and Johnny Smith. Their contemporaries in the local area included Peoria-based blues pianists Jimmie Bell and Jimmy Binkley as well as local rocker Byron “Wild Child” Gipson.  They also played alongside the young Pryor, who performed for tips literally thrown on the floor at Bris Collins’ Collins Corner in Peoria.  But Jackson remembers it was a tough crowd for Prior at the time since no one wanted comedy. “The crowd just wanted to hear music they could bump and grind to,” he says.

   The group’s singer was Joe Merryweather. He would also record for the Decatur based Riot-Chous label.  There were also back up singers, Mary and Stevie Hicks.   

Preston Jackson’s first recordings would come via the Vee Jay label in 1961 (VEE JAY 417 Preston Jackson and the Rhythm Aces Be Mine / Joni).

The group’s strong talent and sharp dressing made them popular, which was augmented by another recording with Blaine Gauss’ Peoria-based Hit Records. Jackson recalls seeing Blane’s large downtown Peoria building with a room with recording equipment.  It was the same recording equipment that inspired Jerry Milam to build Golden Voice Studios in South Pekin, Illinois.  It was also the same place where Milam would take the first promotional photos of Pryor for Blane, who was his manager at the time.  The result of the recordings for Gauss in 1963 was the infectious R&B classic “Three Quarter Stomp Parts 1 & 2.” That record was also a hit and was re-released nationally via Hermitage records in Nashville.  

Preston Jackson - Three-Quarter Stomp

There was another earlier modern harmony group called The Rhythm Aces who had a release in the 1950s on Vee Jay, but the two groups are unrelated.  A California based-group also released a record around 1960 as The Rhythm Aces called “Crazy Jealousy / Boppin’ Sloppin’ Baby” for George Goldner’s Mark-X records. According to Jackson, the other group started using the name, and when they found out, the band offered Preston $400 for it.  The Illinois-based Rhythm Aces chose to stick with the name they had since 1957 and force the other group to change despite the offer.  In fact, when it came to money, the group never had much luck. They never really were paid for any of their releases, Jackson says.

He continues to play guitar to this day and is a professor emeritus of sculpture at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago.

 

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