From the Land of Band Box Records

George Holmes’ Ink Spots with Colorado’s Joel Cowan

(NOTE: To date – as of December, 2017 – we have identified the following musicians who apparently performed as part of the Denver based Ink Spots:)

  • George Holmes
  • Joel Cowan
  • Lew Young
  • Jim Watson
  • Herman McCoy
  • Leon “Rags” Ragsdale
  • Lloyd Washington
  • John Pettit

Band Box 1002 LP - Ink Spots FWhen I first spotted this LP about 15 years ago, I was amazed to see such a famous name on Denver’s independent Band Box record label. Since that time I never could find any information relating to this group, until recently. I located the comprehensive Ink Spot Evolution web site, one of the more impressive and through histories I have come across.  I learned that the very first Ink Spot group was headed up by Jerry Daniels.  He was joined by Deek Watson, Hoppy Jones and Charles Fuqua and the year was about 1932. This lineup stayed together until about 1936. The photo above is from the Ink Spot Evolution – George Holmes’ Ink Spots group lineup number 5.

After that – the history is tangled and amazing. Over time there were over 300 members of some variation of The Ink Spots. One of the more famous members, Bill Kenny replaced Jerry Daniels from the original group. The Ink Spots were signed by Decca records and recorded many sides – and with the advent of the national record charts in 1940 – scored their first big hit with “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” b/w “What Can I Do”. This record rose to number 4 on the charts. The lineup above with Kenny remained in tact for the most part during their early charting days.

Enter George Holmes

Many accuse the various groups of Ink Spots as being “impostors”. But in reality – many had some links to other Ink Spot groups and many were fine performers. In all – there were about 190 groups called “The Ink Spots.” Just visit the Evolution web site and plan to spend some time there.

For the George Holmes “Band Box” lineup – we turn to Blog author and Ink Spot expert Casey Austin who states that the lineup was Denver’s own Joel Cowan, Louis “Lew” Young, George Holmes, Jim Watson and “Rags” Ragsdale.  This corresponds to the signatures on a copy of their LP reported by a site visitor as “George Holmes, Jim Wat?, Lew Young, ‘Rags’ Ragsdale, and J? Cowan”. (Shown below left-to-right are Joel Cowan, Louis “Lew” Young & Jim Watson. Bottom L to R: Herman McCoy and George Holmes)

Band Box Ink Spot Line-Up

Likely Band Box Ink Spot Line-Up


L-R: John Dix, Charlie Owens, George Holmes and Denver’s Joel Cowan

The Ink Spot “likeness” on the Band Box LP cover very nearly is a replication of a promotional photo of the same line-up – an image which I am attempting to purchase for display.

Joel Cowan

Cowan and Watson released an LP on the Band Box subsidiary label “Spicy” which is listed and illustrated on this site.  Two versions of that LP were put out.  Joel Cowan appeared locally back in the 1960’s as a “bawdy” duo at Denver’s “Tropics” night club.  This would probably parallel the arrival of the Ink Spot lineup that entered into the Band Box studio in about 1961 or 1962.

A local musician from a progressive Denver rock group – “Umbra”, Steve Faulkner,  was a good friend and co-worker with Cowan at Simmons Music store in Denver during the 1970’s.  And Faulkner does recall Cowan telling him about performing with a lineup of Ink Spots here in Denver.

Cowan attended college in the 1940’s in Columbia, South Carolina meeting up with Wilbert Allen “Al” Russell and the two began playing together in a band.  They would reunite more than once – and played together in the mid 1940’s appearing in Los Angeles in the 1950’s and play out west as The Al “Stomps” Russell Trio.

George’s Holmes’ connection with the past included performing with original members Deek Watson and Charlie Fuqua. George passed away in the 1990’s but the group carried on approaching the 21st Century.  The photo on the left depicts a slightly later line-up than the one most likely to have recorded on Band Box.

The lead singer for the Orioles – Sonny Til, (“Crying in the Chapel”, “It’s Too Soon to Know”, and “Tell Me So”) was a member for a time with the George Holmes’ Ink Spots as well – in the mid 1960’s and later again in 1976. Sonny was not a member of the group when they released their Band Box LP.  How they came to land on the Band Box label is unknown. They released no Band Box singles.  The session is quite  a mystery for there are no revealing liner notes on this LP – but a fun mystery just the same!

Band Box family member Terri Hale (granddaughter of founder Vicky Morosan) vaguely did recall hearing about the Ink Spots when they were in Denver, as did Saints guitarist Dave Barhite.  He remembers seeing the group in the Denver area most likely at a night club around the time they release their Band Box LP.

And we learn below from Cowan’s daughter, Judy, that George Holmes were related either by blood or as in-laws with Holmes being an uncle to Judy.

From Interview with Denver drummer Steve Faulkner from 1960’s band Umbra:

Steve’s journeys through the local music scene put him in touch with Joel Cowan a local jazz musician who worked with the likes of Nat King Cole, The Ink Spots and Patti Page. Cowan would join up with Chicago musician on Denver’s Band Box group releasing a LP on the Spicy Label titled “Party Time” (shown below). Cowan and Faulkner would become good friends and worked together for a time Simmon’s Music on Broadway in downtown Denver.

Comment on March 15th, 2016: From PMJ:

“I lived in Denver as a young man (1964-65) and took bass guitar lessons at a music store on South Broadway. Mr Cowan was my teacher. Saturday mornings, 9am! I knew NOTHING except I really wanted to learn the bass. He was very mellow, extremely patient. Told me he had played with the Ink Spots, which meant nothing to me at the time I am embarrassed to admit. He would show me a run on the bass, then pick up his guitar and play along. I was mesmerized. And each week he gently taught me a few more things. He made a huge impression that has stayed with me to this day. That I remember his name, can hear his voice and see his face 50 years later speaks volumes about him. A family tragedy meant I left Denver rather hurriedly and I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

Finding this site and info about him all these years later is both amazing and strangely comforting. Thank you.”

Comments in October, 2016  from Ink Spot Historian Austin Casey:

“I’m always doing research so I’m sure there’s a lot more I’ll learn about George Holmes, but I thought you’d be interested to know that he was born in Denver. That probably explains the Band Box LP. Just thought you’d like to know. I’ll let you know if I find out more info relevant to your webpage.”

Comment from Joel Cowan’s Daughter Judy Cowan Thomas – April, 2017:

“I am George Holmes Niece and Joel Cowan Daughter yes I have many memories of them practicing in our Living room I still have material and instruments of my fathers Uncle George was not born in Denver but was born in .Colorado so Talented was my family I have pictures of my father with Nat King Cole I loved them deeply….”

Comment from Joel Cowan’s Son -April, 2017:

“That was my dad and everybody calls me Joel Jr.  I’m a saxophone player my daddy got me started on guitar when I was about four years old but I switched to the Reed instruments.

He got me a clarinet when I was six and I moved going to the Reed instruments after that. My favorite is the baritone sax which I still play to this day.

When you talk about the Tropics, my dad on that club when I was little he used to take me to five points where he played which is responsible for me getting into the Navy Band.

I played my first gig with him at Fitzsimons Officer’s Club.  I played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on my clarinet.  When the spotlights hit me I knew what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  One more thing, he was one of the first black musicians to play in Japan.

I miss my dad very much to this day.

PS: I forgot one last thing for you good people my dad also played with Nat King Cole when he had a trio.”

Follow Austin Casey Here

November 2017 – Information from Charlie Burrell Biography: (Denver Musician)


“We moved into this place (in East Denver) called The Band Box Lounge.  I took my trio in there with a songstress named Helen Stuart.  The trio comprised of a piano player named “Rags” Leon Ragsdale, a good piano player and a swinger.  And he was a little alky.  that was alright – I kept him in line, I nurtured him.  I picked him up and delivered him home from the job for a couple of years.”

And then he goes on to say that he (Burrell) worked with Rags at another lounge in downtown Denver called the Piano Lounge which was owned by the Finer Arts label owner Morey Bernstein – another Denver character who is very hard to locate information on.  They were rounded out in that trio with a drummer who also “tapped danced” named Curly Russell.

Burrell: “We moved into this place (in East Denver) called The Band Box Lounge.  I took my trio in there with a songstress named Helen Stuart.  The trio comprised of a piano player named ‘Rags’ Leon Ragsdale, a good piano player and a swinger.  And he was a little alky.  that was alright – I kept him in line, I nurtured him.  I picked him up and delivered him home from the job for a couple of years.”

In another chapter he talks about musicians all hanging out at the home of Jeanette Cowan (2017 Park Place) which was a “haven for jazz musicians” – Her younger brother was none other than Joel Cowan.
Burrell:  “He (Joel) and my (Burrell)) cousin Herman McCoy were both with a spur group of “The Ink Spots”.  They went to Japan and the Fiji Islands and so forth.  They had quite a successful little tour there for two or three years, you know”.
The Park Place address was referred to by the musicians as “The House of Joy”.

Update: From Lisa Wheeler – December, 2017: “I recently obtained a copy of the Band Box album and flipped it over and saw four autographs. I wanted to make sure you had this as it pretty much confirms the lineup. There are four autographs and of course five members. The signatures are: George Holmes. Joel Cowan, Lloyd Washington, and John Pettit
(Note: is not signed by Lee Young, or Rags Ragsdale).

And this from Austin Casey regarding this grouping of Denver Ink Spots – December, 2017:  “Lloyd Washington was a lead tenor from Louisiana that Chas Fuqua hired when he took his group (including George Holmes) to Australia in 1963. Washington sang with a few other groups over the years too. Here’s a photo of Washington with a Holmes group. Not sure of the years… I can do more research when I get home and look for Pettit. I’m familiar with the name for sure. In this photo Holmes is far right and Washington is 2nd from left. “

Ink Spots at the “Fabulous 400 Show Bar in My-O-My Room

Austin Casey provided these items January, 2018 relating to the Denver-related Ink Spots:

This is Denver’s Leon “Rags” Ragsdale playing in Butte Montana way back in 1957

And this is also 1957 in Butte with Leon Ragsdale joining up with fellow Denverite and Band Box Ink Spot Joel Cowan with his “Brown Notes” – Paul Dennis and Jimmy Robinson.

This is also 1957 but this time performing solo in Great Falls, Montana:

Here’s Joel Cowan once again working as part of the Al “Stomp” Russell Trio in an ad for excelsior records – Al Russell top and William “Doc Basso” Joseph on bass fiddle (right)

The Russell Trio in San Diego, California

The Ink Spots – at “The Fabulous 400” Lounge

From Ink Spot Historian Austin Casey:

“That’s a photo of Ray Richardson’s Ink Spots. Clockwise; Andre Frederick, Ray Richardson, Matt “Mack” McKinney and Al Williams. But I’ll note that sometimes clubs would use photos of Ink Spots groups that weren’t appearing at their club. Incidentally, this very photo was used on the cover of a couple albums featuring the music of a couple different spin off – impostor groups.  Richardson doesn’t know how that happened.”


Long Plays

Band Box 1002 – Yesterday and Today

 Band Box 1002 LP - Ink Spots F Band Box 1002 LP - Ink Spots B

Band Box LPL 1002 - Ink Spots SD 1 Band Box LPL 1002 - Ink Spots SD 2

Joel Cowan’s Ebony Five/ Joel Cowan and Dale Smith

Cowan’s Ebony Five included famed Denver drummer Shelley Rhym who fronted his own groups and was very much connected with national musicians such as Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan.  Another member was Charlie Burrell on stand up bass – Burrell is being inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame by virtue of his jazz playing but also as a result of his barrier breaking position as the first “contracted” black musician in the U.S. on a major symphony (in this case both The Denver Symphony and then the San Francisco Symphony.

45 – Jade 100 – Guitar Boogie b/w Cabaret

The Real McCoys

This was George Holmes with Jim Watson and Joel Cowan

45 – Pico 523 – “Gonna Take a Chance” b/w “I Must Forget About You”

Following images come from “YouTube” regarding the possible participation of  a “Rags” Ragsdale on this session.  The “Colorado Club” appears to have been a Mack, Colorado restaurant which is now closed.  Mack, Colorado is located on Colorado’s Western Slope – west of Fruita, Colorado along the I-70 corridor.

“Rags Ragsdale had one of the most distinctive voices ever heard on the Western Slope. He had country, bluegrass, and gospel roots. He was a great entertainer and songwriter. I had the pleasure of knowing Rags for many years, and worked and visited with him often just before he passed. He is a legend around these parts.”

“January 23, 2000, dozens of musicians converged in Mack, Colorado at the Colorado Club for a musicians party. This is a small portion of that jam session with the Hall-Of-Famers: Rags Ragsdale, Jake Smith, Keith Fowler, Kenny Decker, and Ron Church.”


  1. I will consider this a now closed topic. I appreciate you informing and correcting me but I would have to say it was not so “kindly” as you may think. Adios my friend!

  2. Geesh. Austin needs to take a pill. Why does it matter if others call themselves Inkspots? The originals are all dead.

    • Yet another scathing Ink Spot attack……to which I can only reply What does it matter….

    • PS: I thought we said goodbye forever – Don’t be too saddened – Life is too short – Go put an Ink Spot record on your turntable and cheer up.

  3. I have an autographed copy of this LP and would like some information. There are five signatures on the back of the album cover: George Holmes, Jim Wat?, Lew Young, “Rags” Ragsdale, and J? Cowan.

    • I will get back to you with some information but I think you just cleared up a mystery – We (other collectors) were never sure if this LP was recorded in Denver or not (at Band Box studio) But we know a version of the Ink Spots did play in Denver Clubs for a time in the 1960’s. You state that one of the signatures is “J. Cowan”. This has to be Joel Cowan who performed and worked for a long time in Denver and also recorded an LP on the Band Box subsidiary label “Spicy” a comedy label. Cowan according to Denver band Umbra member Steve Faulkner stated that Cowan did work with the Ink Spots but didn’t tell me where or when. Faulkner and Cowan both worked at Simmons Music store in Denver back in the 1970’s. Cowan is deceased – Will be back in touch and thanks!

    • PS – and I am betting that “Jim Wat?” is Jim Watson a Chicago artist who teamed up with Joel Cowan here in Denver at the Tropics night club to perform. Very interesting!

    • George Holmes, Jim Walton, Louis (Lew) Young, Rags Ragsdal, Joel Cowan.

      • Which of these, if any, was an original member or close to being same? I get that Cowan was a local Denver fill-in. Just curious, was put on consignment through my online store by a friend who is constantly running into stuff like this.

      • No originals – Read “aftertheinkspots.com site for the full low down on the many, many imposter groups that came and went – I would say George Holmes was the closest to the roots of the originals

  4. George Holmes was hired to tour Australia with Charlie Fuqua’s Ink Spots in 1963 and he stayed with him for about a year or two. That would make him the closest I suppose. Before (and after) that he was singing with impostor Ink Spots groups though. The Ink Spots disbanded in 1954 so any members of groups using the name “Ink Spots” that toured or recorded afterwards are referred to as “impostors” or “spin-offs”. In a 1963 article Deek Watson falsely claims that Holmes joined the group in 1944. He did this to give the illusion that the group he was in (with Fuqua) were the 100% original Ink Spots which they weren’t. You’ve got to be very careful when studying The Ink Spots because I would say there is literally 3 times more inaccurate claims about their history than there are factual claims. And many times even the original members provided false or misleading information. Unfortunately you’ve got to dig pretty deep to get to the facts. This can be quite fun, but if you just want quick and simple answers it can be frustrating.

  5. I see. Yeah, some of the tracks sound fine and some are a little rough. Thanks.

  6. I saw a lineup of George Holmes’ Inkspots in Perth, Australian the 70’s. Yeh, I was young (about 7 or 8). But I can’t find out what year it was. I have an old program/menu (hilarious by the way) signed by George, and a greatest hits album signed by all the members that night( George Holmes, Ann Lawson, John Houston, Floyd Rowe, Prentice Moreland.

    I wonder if you could tell me what year they came to Australia?

  7. I am George Holmes Niece and Joel Cowan Daughter yes I have many memories of them practicing in our Living room I still have material and instruments of my fathers Uncle George was not born in Denver but was born in .Colorado so Talented was my family I have pictures of my father with Nat King Cole I loved them deeply

    • Judy – Thanks for getting in touch. I met a drummer last year – Steve Faulkner who is still performing here in Denver who knew and worked with your father Joel (Steve Faulkner) and has very fond memories of Joel. Do you still live in Colorado? What town was Joel from? Any other memories you would like to share on my site would be more than welcomed!

  8. Pingback: Around, About & Beyond the World of Colorado Music – Part 103 | PopBopRocktilUDrop

  9. My Uncle George Holmes was actually my father Glenn Holmes first cousin but they were raised by their Grandparents and grew up as brothers. They were originally from Pueblo, Colorado. Uncle George wife’s name was Carol. She was also an entertainer before they married; she did the Fire Dance with Lawanda Page who became famous as Aunt Ester of Sanford and Son. Carol and George son’s name was Reggie. They lived several blocks from us in California until Aunt Carol died and they Uncle George moved to Las Vegas, NV where the Inkspots had a long career at the Four Queens Hotel and in Australia.

    He was a great man, very kind spirited and performed music until he died.

    • The Ink Spots used to play at my Mother’s club in Big Spring, Texas – The Park Inn, back in the 50’s. When my mother passed, I received a very nice card and letter from George Holmes. . I barely remember him as I was very young when he played in Big Spring. I so wish I had had the opportunity to meet him again before his death. Becky Parsons, Texas.

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