Vocal Silk : Johnny Desmond ©2002JCMarion


Johnny Desmond was born Giovanni Desimone in Detroit, Michigan on November 14, 1919 (thanks to Susan Liddell for the correction). From an early age he had decided that a life in music was what he wanted for himself. He went to Northeastern High School and then attended the Detroit Conservatory of Music and studied vocal technique and worked on developing his own style and sound. He appeared on local radio on a show called "Uncle Nick's Place" and did juvenile parts on radio for station WXYZ, and made the rounds of local night spots presenting his vocals and showmanship. He organized a vocal quartet which he named The Downbeats and they appeared on local radio for station WWJ. They showed enough promise that they joined the band of Bob Crosby in 1940. The quartet consisted of Johnny, Ruth Keddington (soon Mrs. Desmond), Tony Paris, and Eddie Levine. The quartet was soon renamed as The Bob-O-Links (to keep with the Bob Crosby - Bobcats theme) and soon had their first visit to the recording studio.

On September 3, 1940 the group recorded "Drummer Boy" on Decca #3451, and backed up Bob Crosby on "You Forgot About Me" on #3417, and Nappy LaMare on "Dry Bones" on #3488. They remained with the Crosby band through June of 1941 backing Bob on vocals and also with Bonnie King on "Chica Chica Boom Chic" on Decca #3623. That summer the quartet disbanded as Desmond wanted to go his own way as a solo performer. He was soon signed as vocalist with the Gene Krupa band replacing Howard Dulany. Desmond first recorded with Krupa on October 3, 1941. The songs were "This Time The Dreams On Me" and a duet with Anita O'Day on "Two In Love" released on Okeh #6447, "Violets For Your Furs" on ##6498, and "I Think Of You" on #6465. Johnny also did vocal honors on "Keep 'Em Flying" (the flip side "Thanks For The Boogie Ride" with Roy Eldridge and Anita O'Day) on #6506, and "All Those Wonderful Years" on Okeh's parent label Columbia #36621.

After his stint with Krupa ended in mid 1942 Desmond joined the military, and by 1943 had become part of the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Orchestra as a featured vocalist and was heard on many broadcasts over the Armed Forces Radio Service during the war years. He was called "the G.I. Sinatra" and also did radio in England with a program called "A Soldier And A Song". At war's end Johnny returned to radio on a show called "Judy 'n Jill 'n Johnny" with Susan Douglas and Susan Thorne and the Casa Loma band for NBC. In early 1946 another radio program on NBC gave Johnny Desmond national exposure. It was called "The Phillip Morris Follies of 1946". Also featured on the show were Margaret Whiting, comedian Herb Shriner, and the orchestra and chorus of Jerry Gray. It was about this time that Johnny began recording for RCA Victor Records. Also in 1946 Desmond was host of another radio program called "The Teentimers Club".

"Don't You Remember Me?" with the Russ Case Orchestra on #1796 was a moderate seller which charted as high as number 21 in the country. "Do You Love Me?" / "In The Moon Mist" on #1810 did not chart but his next side cut with the Page Cavanaugh Trio was called "Guilty" on #2109 ("I'll Close My Eyes" was the other side) and did better getting to the number twelve position on the best sellers. However, it would be a stretch of more than two and a half years before the hit charts would see another Johnny Desmond record among them. Radio spots and in person appearances would have to be the way to keep his career going, and he also gave early television a try with a show called "Face The Music" with Shay Cogan and the Tony Mottola Trio for the CBS TV network. It wasn't until Christmas week of 1949 that Johnny Desmond's name returned to the recording industry's best selling record charts with the song "Don't Cry Joe (Let Her Go)" (with "The Longest Mile" on the flip side) recorded with trumpeter Bobby Hackett on MGM Records #10518. Topping out at number 22 it was followed by another top 25 hit in early 1950 of the French pop song "C'est Si Bon" (with "If You Could Care" on the flip) on #10613. "The Picnic Song" on #10703 and "Just Say I Love Her" #10758 followed and also did well enough to break into the top 25 sellers in the country. Some radio spots were aired featuring Johnny with The Art Van Damme Quintet, with Hugo Winterhalter, and with the Manhattan Nighthawks. In addition "The Johnny Desmond Show" was a weekly program for a time on the Mutual Broadcasting System.

1950 was also the year that provided Johnny with another outlet on radio. This time it was a weekly musical variety show for ABC called "Johnny Desmond Goes To College" and also featured Doris Drew, The Four Vagabonds, The George Barnes Octet, and the orchestra of Rex Maupin. A song from the Broadway musical "Guys And Dolls" called "A Bushel And A Peck" got the Desmond version on MGM #10800 and briefly charted. During the following summer Johnny recorded a cover version of Tony Bennett's big hit of "Because Of You" on #10947 for MGM and it did quite well remaining on the charts for two months and topping the list as high as number 17. "I Want To Be Near You" (#11027) barely charted that fall and proved to be the last effort by Desmond on MGM Records.

One of the most venerable institutions on daytime network radio had been the Chicago based daily program called "The Breakfast Club". It began during the Depression and lasted until the very end of network radio in the late 60s, a run of 35 years. Johnny Desmond turned a guest spot on the show into a long running appearance of six years beginning in the late forties. Johnny also was part of the cast for the television version of the "Breakfast Club" which was called "Don McNeil's TV Club" with Fran Allison and the orchestra of Eddie Ballantine. Desmond also had a role in the CBS television program "Danger". Other television credits in the early fifties included "The Alcoa Hour", "U.S. Steel Hour", and "Philco Television Playhouse". By late 1952 Johnny had a new record label, Coral, and returned to the charts with a two sided hit of "Nina Never Knew" and "Stay Where You Are" on Coral #60848. Both records sold with "Nina" breaking into the top 20. In early 1953 the Desmond cover of The Hilltoppers "Trying" (#60823) with the Ray Charles Singers was a top 25 seller. At years end "Woman" on #61069 (the flip side -"The River Seine") became his biggest seller ever, getting as high as number nine in sales. he followed that with a top ten seller of "Heart Of My Heart" with the 3 D's (#61076)

In the spring and summer of 1954 "Pine Tree Pine Over Me" with The McQuire Sisters and Eileen Barton on Coral #61126, and "East Side West Side" with Buddy Greco replacing Don Cornell from the 3 D's lineup (#61176) barely charted. Two songs from the movies did better for him late in the year - "The High And The Mighty" with George Cates Orchestra on #61204 rose to the number 17 slot in the country, and "My Own True Love" with lyrics set to "Tara's Theme" from "Gone With The Wind"recorded with the orchestra of Richard Shore was a top 25 seller. In early 1955 Johnny Desmond had another weekly musical variety show called "Panorama Time" for the Mutual Broadcasting System. As rock music descended over America, Johnny showed surprising strength in 1955. He would provide his two biggest selling records during that time.

In March of 1955 Coral records released #61379 - "Play Me Hearts And Flowers" and it was an instant hit. The record had a three month stay on the charts and got as high as the number six position in America. That summer the followup to "Hearts" was a sure surprise hit. "The Yellow Rose Of Texas" took off for Columbia Records with the Mitch Miller singalong cast. The song and Miller and his gang seemed ingrained in the consciousness of the non-rock record buying public. But - the Johnny Desmond version (#61476) confounded everyone and became the biggest seller ever in the 15 year career of the singer. It narrowly missed getting to the top of the pops, and was on the sales charts for more than four months. How can you figure ? Desmond had one last charted record at the end of 1955 - a cover of Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons" on #61529 which was a top 20 seller. But that is not entirely accurate - Johnny Desmond was on the charts in 1957 - the album charts on an LP named "Marvelous Miller Moods" consisting of 1943-44 recordings of the Glenn Miller Army Air Force band in England with Johnny doing the vocals. An interesting cover of Marty Robbins "A White Sport Coat" on #61835 was unsuccessful.

Johnny Desmond somehow found time to act in a number of motion pictures in the late 50s. In 1957 he appeared in "Calypso Heat Wave" and "Escape From San Quentin". The following year Desmond's credits included "China Doll", "Desert Hell" and "Hawk Of The Caribbean". Johnny Desmond was a regular on the television program "Sally" in 1957, which starred Joan Caulfield, and in the last version of the program "Your Hit Parade" in 1958 with Dorothy Collins and the orchestra of Harry Sosnick. Johnny then tried his talents on the Broadway stage, both in an original role in the show "Say Darling" in 1958 and later as a replacement cast member in "Funny Girl" as Nicky Arnstein to Mimi Hynes role of Fanny Brice. During the sixties Desmond did personal appearances and night club work, summer stock stage shows, trade and industrial shows, and occasional television spots. He also was a song writer, with one of his tunes having the intriguing title of "I Wonder What Little Dogs Dream Of?".

On television Desmond acted in the television program called "Blansky's Beauties" for ABC in 1977, in the role of Emilio and also appeared in an episode of "Lavern and Shirley. Videos that are available showing Johnny Desmond in action include a strange movie from 1966 called "Bubble" (also under the title "The Fantastic Invasion Of Planet Earth") also starring Deborah Walley shot in 3-D and is available complete with 3-D glasses ! Also available is a vintage video of a 1951 program of "Don McNeil's TV Club" with Fran Allison and complete with original Philco commercials. Available CDs are "JD Swings", "So Nice" (a Spanish re-issue), "C'est La Vie"and a double issue "Once About A Time" / "Blue Smoke".

Johnny Desmond passed away in 1985, but what a wonderful legacy in music he has left. Records, radio, television, the stage, and music composition were his fields of dreams and we are all much richer from his having come our way.

(ed. note) for a great site on Johnny Desmond, visit susan@liddell.uk.com

to next page . . . . .

back to title page . . .