Dance Bands ©1999JCMarion
In December of 1946, the era of the big bands comes to a close as eight of the most popular units are discontinued. Many reasons are given for this event, but of course the reasons are economics. The cost of going out for entertainment is now too expensive for the majority of those looking ahead toward peacetime family life, and the combination of taxes, overhead, and transportation are making it a difficult proposition to front a big band unit. Smaller and smaller units and solo vocalists are the order of the day and the musical tastes of the post war generation is also about to change in a big way. However - all is not lost as most of the major labels each push a recording unit as a throwback to the big band days of the late thirties and the wartime forties. If the people can not come to see and listen to the bands in person, then the record companies will bring the sounds of the bands to the people in the form of phonograph recordings in the new 45 and 33 record formats. This plan enjoyed some limited success and was a reference point in the golden decade of American pop music.
RCA Victor went into this mind set in a big way and pushed Tex Beneke, Ralph Flanagan, Buddy Morrow, and to a lesser extent Richard Maltby, Columbia followed RCA's lead and had Harry James, Tony Pastor, Les Brown, and Les & Larry Elgart, and Capitol concentrated on Ray Anthony, and Mercury's featured band was led by Ralph Marterie. Decca and MGM promoted bands not specifically as dance units but were more for listening as was the case with Russ Morgan (Decca) and sing-a-long style such as Art Mooney (MGM). These units will be the subject of a future story as will the big recording orchestras such as that of Percy Faith, Hugo Winterhalter, Henri Rene, and others. But for now - the Post War Dance Bands.
The RCA Victor Records Post War Dance Bands
RCA Victor had a ready made 'name' for the post war dance band push. He was Gordon "Tex" Beneke, a star and mainstay of America's most loved dance band, that of Glenn Miller. With the leader's untimely death during the war, Beneke was the logical choice to take over the reins of a post war unit bearing the Miller name which he did with the approval of the Miller estate. Beneke was a stylish tenor sax player and engaging vocalist, who did a lot of the up tempo numbers and served as a good balance with ballad singer Ray Eberle and female singer Marion Hutton. These three vocalists were a main reason for the bands unparalleled popularity which RCA hoped to rekindle. Tex Beneke & The Glenn Miller Orchestra charted thirteen records during the two years of 1946 and 1947. The first of these was a cover of a medium tempo jump tune popularized by Lionel Hampton called "Hey Ba-Ba-Re-Bop", and it did well getting into the top five best sellers in May of 1946. The next few releases barely charted - "Whiffenpoof Song", "It Couldn't Be Love", "I Know" and "Cynthia's In Love" with vocal by Artie Malvin, Lillian Lane & The Crew Chiefs. In late summer of that year the Beneke aggregation hit paydirt as Tex vocalized on a tune from the movie "Sweetheart Of Sigma Chi" originally recorded by Phil Brito. The song was "Give Me Five Minutes More", which also proved to be a big hit for Frank Sinatra. The Beneke version was on the charts for five months and got as high as number four. The Crew Chiefs did the vocals on the next few records that made the charts, but all had brief stays there - "The Woodchuck Song". "Passe'", "A Gal In Calico", and "But I Do". This ended the vocal contributions for Artie Malvin & The Crew Chiefs with the Beneke band. In late February of 1947, Gary Stevens & The Mello Larks did the vocal on a song by Al Jolson from the hit '47 movie "The Jolson Story". The tune was called "The Anniversary Song" and despite the Jolson version, climbed to the number three position in the nation. Two more records with Stevens and The Mello Larks charted (both sides of an RCA release) - "My Heart Is A Hobo" and "As Long As I'm Dreaming".
In 1948 as a result of a difference of opinion with the estate of Glenn Miller, the band was now known as Tex Beneke & His Orchestra. "Moonlight Whispers" did little, but the next outing for RCA was one of the big hits of 1948. Beneke went back to memories of Glenn Miller and recorded his version of the Miller arrangement of "St. Louis Blues March" made famous by the Army Air Force band in 1943. The record was a big seller on the hit list for more than four months and reached number five in the country. An instrumental called "Meadowlands charted briefly later in the year, and the Beneke band had one more charted recording in late 1949 - "I Can Dream, Can't I?" with Glenn Douglas on vocal. Despite a huge hit version of the tune by The Andrews Sisters, the Beneke version did quite well having a run of three months on the best sellers list. There was one further release for RCA - "Sunshine Cake" and "Dream A Little Longer", before Beneke moved to MGM Records with little success. He did continue to make personal appearances, concerts, and television spots for the next twenty five years.
Flanagan was a teenaged piano player around his home town of Loraine Ohio who soon joined the band of Sammy Kaye in 1940. His musical activities were put on hold during wartime military service, but by the late 1940s was a talented and in -demand musical arranger. He worked with Gene Krupa, Charlie Barnet, Tony Pastor, and other bands s well as singers Perry Como, Mindy Carson, and Tony Martin. By 1949 he embraced the idea of organizing his own orchestra and soon staffed his band with a group of young untested musicians. RCA heard the band on a few records on the independent Rainbow label, and to them it seemed a perfect fit. Tex Beneke's days at the label were at an end and the Flanagan's band had that Miller reed sound that would be a continuation of maintaining the musical legacy that they had exploited. They even took this one step further by reinstituting the Bluebird label which Miller had recorded for. Bluebird #0001 was the first for the band and it did well introducing vocalist Harry Prime on "You're Breaking My Heart", a cover of Vic Damone's number one seller. The Flanagan version sold well and the follow up "Don't Cry Joe" made it into the top ten. "My Hero" and a cover of Bing Crosby's "Dear Hearts And Gentle People" charted briefly, and by early 1950 RCA ended the 'new' Bluebird label and recorded the Flanagan band on the RCA Victor label. The first release for the parent label, Harry Prime's cover of the Ames Brothers "Rag Mop" got to the number three position on the charts. Two instrumentals proved to be moderate sellers- "Joshua" and Sousa's "Stars And Stripes Forever". Two Harry Prime covers followed - "Tzena Tzena Tzena" (Weavers) and "Mona Lisa" (Nat Cole), and the tune "The Red We Want Is The Red We've Got (In The Old Red, White, And Blue)" a relic of the 1950 cold war/Korea times.
The Ralph Flanagan version of "Harbor Lights" proved to be a big hit despite the well known Sammy Kaye hit, staying hot for four months. Not faring as well were instrumentals "Blues" and "La Vie En Rose". Covers of hits continued as "Oh Babe" (from Louis Prima) featured the vocal of Steve Benoric, and The Singing Winds vocalized on the country hit "Slow Poke" which was a decent seller for the band getting into the national top ten pop charts. Flanagan used the name of the group as the title of the band's theme song which was recorded soon after. The cover of Percy Faith's "Delicado" charted and the Harry Prime vocal on "I Should Care" propelled the record as high as number four during its three month stay on the best seller list. Flanagan started out the year 1953 with an instrumental record of his own composition called "Hot Toddy" which turned out to be the band's biggest hit record. It remained on the charts for more than four months with a lengthy stay in the top ten. A Prime vocal on another original song called "A-L-B-U-Q-U-E-R-Q-U-E", which was followed by two more vocals - "Rub-A-Dub-Dub" and in mid 1954 - "Angela Mia". By now the changing patterns of popular music had made its impact and Flanagan down sized the band and featured himself on piano. He was musically active into the mid 60s. He was primarily responsible for triggering an early 50s Glenn Miller revival, and his band's mark of 22 charted hits and 7 in the top ten in five years, proved that in the Interlude Era, the big bands did live again.
Buddy was born Moe Zudikoff in New Haven, Connecticut. A student at New York's Julliard School of Music in the 1930s, he was a talented trombonist who spent time as a member of various dance bands such as Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, and Bob Crosby. He formed his own band at the tail end of the big band era and it was short lived. He tried again with the dance band revival in the late forties and saw some success with his stylish sound. He recorded for RCA beginning in 1950 and his first records were not successful - "Autumn Leaves", "I'm Moving On", "Rio Rita", and "Silver Moon" among them. In May of 1951 Morrow had his first record on the hit charts - a version of Frankie Laine's "Rose Rose I Love You", and the Morrow version made it into the top ten best sellers list. In 1952 Buddy Morrow recorded his most famous recording (but not the best selling) for RCA. It was a big band rendition of Jimmy Forrest's big R & B tune "Night Train". The tune has been recorded many times, being based on a Duke Ellington section of his tune "Happy Go Lucky Local". Morrow went to the R & B cover plan again on his next release - The Clovers "One Mint Julep" late in 1952. Morrow and his orchestra charted four times in 1953. The first time with "Greyhound" followed by a moderate hit record with "I Don't Know", "Train Train Train" and the song from the movie "From Here To Eternity" called "Reenlistment Blues". In early 1954 Buddy Morrow went to Mercury records for a few releases, only one of which landed on the charts - their version of the pop music hit "Mr. Sandman". When the record business tailed off Morrow played for a time with the band on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show and continued to appear with various music groups including the Big Band Cavalcade on tour in the early seventies.
Born in Chicago, Maltby played trumpet in Midwestern territory bands in the late 30s and in 1940 was an arranger for Chicago radio. After the war he moved to New York and continued to do composing and arranging. Decided to form big band in late 1953 and soon was signed to a recording contract with RCA Victor and assigned to the label's subsidiary outlet label 'X'. "Deep Blue Sea" / "Patrol Polka" was the first release for the label and got lost in the shuffle. "Meadowlark" and "Black Pearls" also were not successful, but the third outing was a charm for the band. Maltby came up with the idea of merging pop standards and the then Mambo craze to catch the ears of the dancers of the time. The venerable W.C. handy's "St. Louis Blues" was the tune with the added on "Mambo", and it was a hit with both listeners and dancers. It had a nice run into early 1955, and the band followed it up with "Stardust" given a like treatment, and it too charted. Another 'X' recording for the band was a Maltby original called "Six Flats Unfurnished" coupled with "Begin The Beguine March". By this time he became musical director for a number of television shows including that of Vaughn Monroe. He toured with the band and smaller groups into the late 60s.
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