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This Week's Classics & Curios Show:
"Echoes of Songs and Laughter"
A TRIBUE TO FRANKIE LAINE IN 6 PARTS (REPRISE)
The idea for a Frankie Laine Tribute show was actually conceived back in the year 2004 when I read Frankie's autobiography "That Lucky Old Son." I soon began collecting interview and radio clips and recordings, and finally started production. Any tribute could and perhaps even should play all of Frankie's 21 gold records and a huge stack of his wonderful recordings which would, however, extend the show to many hours. With limited time, my tribute's main goal was to let Frankie talk briefly about his career and as far as possible to focus on recordings that reflect some of his remarks within the framework of his remarkable diversity and his passionate "Desire" to bring joy to our ears, hearts, and souls.
The tribute premier broadcast took the form of a series of 6 shows in 2006 on YesterdayUSA, thanks to Bill Bragg and Walden Hughes. This 2013 broadcast on Jerry Haendiges' network is the premier for all 6 tribute segments to be broadcast together. So special thanks go to Jerry Haendiges Productions for making this possible, originally in conjunction with Team Frankie Laine's gala celebration of Frankie's 100th birth date at the Kona Kai Resort on Shelter Island, San Diego on March 24, 2013. My deep appreciation also extends to Team Frankie Laine, but most of all my ongoing appreciation to Frankie Laine for his music, for his interviews, for his kindness, and most of all for calling me his friend.
TRIBUTE PART 1: THE EARLY YEARS
This first portion of the Frankie Laine Tribute focuses on the early years of Frankie's career. Frankie talks about his first "real recording," "Melancholy Madeline," with Oscar Moore and his Three Blazers, which sold 100,000 copies because, as Frankie explains, many people thought the singer was really Nat King Cole using "a phony name."
Then came "I May Be Wrong" which, as Frankie says, "started everything." Band leader Milton DeLugg, who recorded the song with Frankie, tells us in an interview about the "magic" and "fire" that Frankie had in his voice and which immediately came across in that recording and continued throughout his career. Frankie points out that "I May Be Wrong" was actually on the "B" side of the record. The "A" side featured one of the regular characters on Jack Benny's program played by Artie Auerbach, namely, Mr. Kitzel. Frankie shares in detail in his autobiography about Mr. Kitzel's nervousness during the recording session, how Frankie played a part in the background for Artie, and how Mr. Kitzel's problem affected the time left for Frankie to record "I May Be Wrong."
In 1947 came "That's My Desire," the first of his 21 gold records. In Frankie's autobiography "That Lucky Old Son" Frankie tells exactly what he told the audience at Billy Berg's night club in Los Angeles before he performed the song for the very first time, even before he even recorded it. You'll hear me tell what Billy Berg's audience heard that night.
Bing Crosby, who early on influenced Frankie and many others, often unselfishly invited contemporary crooners to share the airways with him on his "Bing Crosby Show," and so he did with Frankie in 1947, when Frankie sang "Desire" for all America to hear. Frankie was very nervous, but Bing gives him a great introduction, and they exchange a few words. On this clip from that "Crosby Show," we'll also hear Bing's "The Old Chaperone," along with a few words from Bing about the patriotic Freedom Train touring the country from 1947 to 1949 with the Declaration of Independence and precious historical documents.
One of Frankie's good friends was Herb Jeffries. Herb was the first black cowboy in a Hollywood film, appearing in 1939 as "The Bronze Buckaroo" and later became lead vocalist with Duke Ellington from 1940 to 1942. While Herb's biggest hit recording was "Flamingo," selling over 50 million copies in 1940, one of my favorites, and I think also of Frankie's, has been "As Time Goes By." So in honor of Frankie's memory and in honor of Herb, still going strong at the age of 100, we'll enjoy Herb's excellent recording of that great song about the passage of time and "the fundamental things."
Part 1 closes with an interview segment in which Frankie looks back at "how it all got started" back in 1928, and his story will continue in Part 2 of the tribute with more about the people who influenced him on his way to stardom.
TRIBUTE PART 2: INFLUENCES IN FRANKIE'S LIFE AND CAREER
This portion of the tribute highlights some of the influences in Frankie's life and career, including his mother and such performers as Al Jolson, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, band leader Carl Fischer, and even an actor on the old "Dick Van Dyke Show" who sang jazz songs as a child.
Young Frankie was really impressed with Al Jolson's singing style in 1927's "The Jazz Singer," but Bessie Smith provided the direction of his jazz style singing with her 1923 "Downhearted Blues," which Bessie sings on this show segment and which, incidentally, was included among the (controversial) "Songs of The Century" by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001.
Hoagy Carmichael was instrumental in getting Frankie's first night club booking, and we get to hear Hoagy and Satchmo perform "Rockin' Chair" from 1929, as well as Armstrong alone on 1931's "Sleepy Time Down South." Mentioned in Frankie's autobiography is a gal who later in life gained acting fame on the "Dick Van Dyke Show" on TV in the early 1960's. She was known early as "Baby Rosemarie" and even at the age of nine led Frankie to imitate her style on a particular song. Baby Rosemarie sings her 1932 recording "Take a Picture of the Moon."
We'll hear Frankie perform his 1948 "monster" million seller called "Shine" that came a year to the day after "Desire" appeared. Next it's "On the Sunny Side of the Street," from the 1949 movie "Make Believe Ballroom" on an edited portion of radio's "Big Show" from 1950. Frankie also sang that song in the 1951 film of the same name. On the same "Big Show" is a special treat: a portion of Meredith Willson's composition "It's Easter Time," a song perfect to reflect Frankie's faith and the nearness of his March 30 birth date to the holiday of Easter, this year on March 31.
Finally, on Part 2 of the tribute Frankie tells the story behind the recording "Music Maestro, Please," conceived and completed in 6 minutes. On the recording, Frankie talks with the "French waiter" Henry, actually a member of the Carl Fischer band, and Carl and his piano and Frankie perform their "Maestro" magic.
Thus Carl Fischer, Al Jolson, Bessie Smith, Hoagy Carmichael, Satchmo, and even Baby Rosemarie were among many who helped shape Frankie's style and performances that amazingly carried into his 90's.
TRIBUTE PARTS 3 & 4: FRANKIE & LADIES OF SONG & FRANKIE'S COWBOY & COUNTRY TOUCH
The "Tribute to Frankie Laine." show continues to embrace some 6 decades of Frankie's recordings, his amazing diversity, and several songs from his 21 gold records. While the first 2 tribute parts highlighted early influences and his rise to stardom, in Part 3 we'll showcase Frankie's duets with some great ladies of song, including Patti Page, Doris Day, and Jo Stafford. Frankie performs songs like "Sugarbush" with Doris and "I Love You for That" with Patti. We'll hear Frankie and Jo on "Hey, Good Lookin'" and jazz versions of "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" and "High Society." Fun novelties include "If I Were You I'd Love Me" with Patti and "How Lovely Cooks the Meat" with Doris.
Then Frankie's unique energetic rendition of classic country tunes takes center stage in Part 4. Frankie adds his own observations from time to time, and performers like the late Patti Page and actor Clint Walker contribute their comments on Frankie. And Frankie shares the hugely popular theme song from TV's "Rawhide," along with wonderful western recordings such as "Mule Train," "Midnight Gambler, "The 3-10 to Yuma," and "Along the Navajo Trail." In his last decade of performing Frankie recorded the CD "The Nashville Connection," which has 2 of his final recordings that are my favorites. The first is "Contagious," which characterizes all of Frankie's energetic performances and "Father Time," which is a touching tune reflecting courage and never giving up in face of the adversity of passing time and diminishing performance.
Also in Part 4, we get a chance to experience some of Frankie's acting talent when in 1950 Frankie was a guest on "The Bob Hope Show," broadcast from Coronado Island Naval Base near San Diego. Frankie does a fun and funny cowboy sketch with Bob in which they sing an exaggerated but delightful duet of "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie." Frankie "hams it up," and Bob "stops the show" with an imitation of Frankie doing "That's My Desire." Earlier in 1949 Frankie joined Peggy Lee on radio's "The Chesterfield Supper Club." Peggy does "This Can't Be Love," and Frankie sings "September in the Rain."
In addition we'll hear another song from Frankie's friend Herb Jeffries, the screen's "Bronze Buckaroo" and Duke Ellington's great jazz vocalist. This time Herb sings "I'm a Happy Cowboy." That "Happy Cowboy" song title reflects both Herb's and Frankie's outlook on all of life and eternity as well. In fact, though Frankie went "Beyond the Blue Horizon" to the Lord in 2007, right now I can almost hear him saying it's his "Desire" to remind us of C.S. Lewis' words: "There are far better things ahead than anything we left behind." And until we have those "better things," virtually all of his recordings are still available on the Team Frankie Laine website at frankielaine.com.
TRIBUTE PARTS 5 & 6: SONGS OF FAITH & JAZZ
Part 5 of our tribute show features Frankie's recordings that reflect his fervent faith and positive outlook on life. Among special performances, we'll hear a segment from a Bob Hope show on which Frankie sings "I'm Gonna Live Till I Die." A popular favorite is his "This Time You Gave Me a Mountain," written for Frankie by Marty Robbins. We'll also hear a portion of Frankie's "Answer Me, Oh My Lord," along with Nat King Cole's "Answer Me, Oh, My Love," both virtually the same tune, but only Nat's got radio time and was a commercial success.
After Mitch Miller and Frankie collaborated on "High Noon" Mitch brought him "I Believe," which was on "Your Hit Parade" for 23 weeks. Frankie said that to him the song was more of a prayer than a song. Then Frankie sings "Put Your Hand in the Hand (of the Man from Galilee)," and his rendition is joyfully upbeat in the finest tradition of southern gospel tunes. Another gospel great is "Rain, Rain, Rain," with Frank Busseri and the Four Lads. Frankie ends Part 5 with a prayer expressed by the song "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You."
Part 6, devoted to his love of jazz, begins with Frankie telling us who the artists were who especially influenced his jazz singing style, such as Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole. A special treat is Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five performing the 1928 recording of "West End Blues" followed by Frankie's 1947 version. One of Frankie's best jazz recordings is "Stars Fell on Alabama" from the album "Jazz Spectacular" with Buck Clayton, an album often praised by critics as one of the best jazz collections ever.
Frankie had a special friendship and professional association with Nat King Cole. Ironically, as he points out in his autobiography Frankie's first recordings led many to believe he was black, and Nat's led many to think he was white. It seems appropriate to play Frankie's recording of "Black and Blue." And interestingly Frankie had hoped to do a new album called "Black and Blues," but sadly it never happened. He talks about it among the interview comments on the show.
After Frankie performs on a 1948 Spike Jones' "Spotlight Review" program, we'll turn to Frankie's songwriting skill which he demonstrated with such notable composers as Duke Ellington and Hoagy Carmichael. We'll hear Frankie's best composition, written in 1948 with Carl Fischer, the touching hit song "We'll Be Together Again." One of Bob Hope's vocalists talks about it.
Frankie's patriotism, energy, and lifelong love of jazz combine to produce a wonderful version of "Stars and Stripes Forever." That's a fitting song as we approach the end of our 6-part tribute journey with songs that reflect Frankie's very heart and soul, such as "He," "Beyond the Blue Horizon," "Lucky Old Sun," and "Young at Heart." Our tribute celebration appropriately comes to a close with Frankie's "That's All." .