Started by Larry Ray and Bruce Nichols, two guitarists who had known each other since childhood in Warren, The Ivories took their band name from the slang term for piano keys.

Bruce Nichols & Larry Ray (Photo Courtesy of Bruce Nichols)

The pair attended Warren Woods High School and started to play guitar. Nichols says he gave Ray an old guitar of his while they were in school, restrung for a left-handed player. But, Ray didn’t like the feel of that, so he played it strung for a right-handed player like blues guitarist Albert King.

Beyond their love of song writing and playing guitar, they were both avid record collectors. Beyond The Beatles, Nichols says he was influenced by his father’s interest in jazz and country music. At the same time, Ray found influence in Frank Zappa.

The Ivories started as more of a studio band before they played out. Nichols and Ray had a reel-to-reel machine and would record their songs, create various mixes, and play with limited studio effects. Once the pair had a few songs together, they contacted New Haven’s Sound Incorporated about having them produce a single. Nichols and Ray traded off on bass parts while their drummer at the time also provided piano on the group’s first 45, “Dr. Know” backed with “Workin’ on Me”. Nichols says Sound Incorporated “didn’t hear a hit”, so it was reluctant to release more than 500 copies of the record. Being record collectors since they were kids, Ray talked Sound Incorporated into pressing just 125 copies of their single, which included variant colors.

After The Ivories recorded their first single, the band’s first showcase appearance was with The Ramrods at the Red Carpet on Detroit’s east side. The band eventually signed to Sure Shot Productions which book The Ivories in Bookie’s, the Silver Bird, Nunzio’s and Alvin’s.

Nichols believes he and Ray wrote more that 100 songs together. The Ivories released three 7 inch records, two singles and an EP, between 1976 and 1978. The first was on their own label with the follow ups on Tremor Records. The band was also featured on the local compilation “Deface the 80s” for Tremor Records. But, when they had a problem with the cover art for the follow up compilation in the 1981 called “Mandatory Music”, the band left the label. The track they had recorded for Tremor ended up on “Detroit on a Platter” for Automotive Records. Around the time of the split, the band was working on a full album. But, those sessions were abandoned after The Ivories didn’t like the sound. Nichols blames the problem on trying to self-produce the recording.

The Ivories main era of live shows was between late 1977 and 1982. While Nichols and Ray remained constants, the band often had problems keeping a bass player in the line up. Nichols says he decided to give up playing out in a band after he turned 40, but would continue to produce studio recordings through the early 2000s. Following the end of The Ivories, guitarist Larry Ray went on to play in the band Outrageous Cherry throughout the 1990s until his death at the age of 63 in 2017.

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