by Peter Cates
Whether in an urban or rural area, very devoted, if not compulsive, record collectors patrol the Goodwills and other such venues looking for that particular record, whether rare or not, that strikes their fancy and often buy just a few more that just happen to have been put out that day. This week, I am doing little summaries of 78s that might tweak some interest, whenever and wherever they might be found:
- John Charles Thomas – Smiling Eyes; Roses of Picardy, Brunswick 10274, recorded 1924.
The genial John Charles Thomas (1895-1961) sang with much gusto and sincerity, whether opera or, as on this disk, favorite songs of the day; his records were consistently enjoyable, this one a really choice example. He appeared a few times on Groucho Marx’s TV show, You Bet Your Life, which can be viewed on YouTube.
- Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers – Blue Shadows on the Trail; Pecos Bill, RCA Victor 20-2780, recorded December 1, 1947.
The Sons of the Pioneers blended nicely with their former King of the Cowboys (1911-1998) colleague in these two songs from Walt Disney’s 1947 animated feature, Melody of Love.
- Eddy Howard – Someone Like You; When the Angelus Is Ringing, Mercury 5254, recorded 5/49.
A few years ago, I was going to tell my brother, who is a blues fan, with such favorites as B.B. King, Albert King and John Lee Hooker, about my favorite white blues singer, when he interrupted me with “Eddy Howard!” And, yes, I was dumb-founded. But this singer/bandleader (1914-1963) had a gift for turning the above pop novelties into delectable vocal miniatures, unlike any other of his generation, but was tragically taken from us at the horribly young age of 49.
- Les Brown – Robin Hood; Sleigh Ride in July, Columbia 36763, recorded 11/18/44.
Whatever Les Brown (1912-2001) may have lacked in imagination or taste, he made up for with solid musical leadership. Robin Hood is a funny swing number with lyrics by Louis Prima while Sleigh Ride in July, a classy Burke/Van Heusen ballad, has some very lovely woodwind/brass sonorities.
- Julia Lee – A Porter’s Love Song; Since I’ve Been With You, Capitol 40008, recorded 8/9/46.
A blues singer/pianist from 1927, when she made her first 78, Julia Lee (1902-1958) recorded 78s for the then trail-blazing Capitol Records from 1944 until her hits dried up in 1949. For the rest of her life, she was popular locally in Kansas City until her death from a heart attack. These two songs are feisty crowd pleasers, while her backup, labelled as her Boy Friends, includes Benny Carter, Nappy LaMarre, Vic Dickensen, Red Norvo, Red Nichols, etc.
- Perry Como – If You Were My Girl; I Cross My Fingers, RCA Victor 20-3846, recorded 1950.
I have already proclaimed Perry Como (1912-2001) as one of my top five or six favorite male singers. I agree with a local church choir director who felt that Como had a set of pipes during his prime that were unsurpassed in her experience for the sweet, sincere beauty of sound, phrasing, projection and charisma, which I amen whole-heartedly. Unfortunately the two songs were clunkers – they went in and out my ears with no effect, emotional or otherwise. And Como’s long term conductor and arranger, Mitchell Ayres, despite his best efforts, could do nothing to breathe any life into them !!
- Chuck Foster – Dardanella; Who Put that Dream in Your Eyes, Mercury 5125, recorded 12/47.
Dance bandleader Chuck Foster (1912-2001) experienced several peak years of popularity when his very well-liked group was constantly in demand, mainly during the World War II years through to the early ‘50s, and it recorded a few sides for Mercury from the mid- to late ‘40s.
Meanwhile, singer Tommy Ryan (1921-2007), who had spent most of the war years as one of Sammy Kaye’s leading vocalists, would join Foster and his ensemble at least for the above two sides. The results were pleasant without being particularly moving.
Ryan pretty much ended his showbiz career in the mid-’50s, during which he began pursuing other careers and hobbies with abundant success. However, he remained the entertainer to his family, friends and some fortunate customers and, according to his son, had a beautiful voice up to his eighties, singing at Bar Mitzvahs and other similar social events.
Foster continued leading dance bands until the early ‘80s but his recording career would end after the release of one LP in 1959 for the Phillips International label.
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