Russ Morgan : 1949 - Magic In The Air ©1999JCMarion


Russ Morgan was from the Pennsylvania coal country around Scranton, and at one time worked in the mines, but as music was his first love soon abandoned the coal miner's life for the trombone and musical rewards. He was a member of the noted territory band, The Scranton Sirens (along with the Dorsey Brothers) in the early twenties and soon came to New York. After a stay with the Freddy Martin Orchestra as lead trombonist, Morgan formed his own dance band and which was soon a fixture at New York's Biltmore Hotel. He and his band were often on radio throughout the forties and his song writing was another developing talent. His best known tunes were "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You" and "So Tired". But - the story of Russ Morgan had its high point after the day of the big bands was history. He somehow overcame the odds and reached heights of popularity he himself would have never thought possible, and became one of the big pop music stories of the Interlude Era in that year of 1949.

Up until 1948, Russ Morgan had been no stranger to the record industry's best seller charts. He had placed thirty seven recordings on the list, of which a total of twenty two were in the top ten. Two records reached the top spot in America, "The Merry Go Round Broke Down" with Jimmy Lewis on vocal in 1937 (this song is known world wide as the theme song for Warner Brothers cartoon features), and 1938's "I've Got A Pocketful Of Dreams". Both sides of Larry Clinton covers got as high as number two in 1937 - "The Dipsy Doodle" and "I Double Dare You" with Bernice Parks on vocal. Even as good a track record as this would have prepared Russ Morgan for 1949 however.

In 1948, another labor dispute was beginning in the recording industry. American Federation of Musicians union head James Petrillo called for a ban on recordings for the middle of that year. A similar strike against the recording companies called in 1942 had resulted in negative effects for both sides. In anticipation of the recording ban, many record companies scheduled marathon sessions in order to backlog sides to endure the strike and in this way would be better prepared to weather the walkout. Just before the ban took effect, Russ Morgan recorded his own composition "So Tired", and it was released by Decca Records just as Morgan's previous top ten hit "I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover" a cover of Art Mooney's record which featured a then unknown vocal group from Massachusetts named The Ames Brothers. Decca #24521 of Russ Morgan on vocal of "So Tired" was an immediate hit and it started its climb up the best sellers charts in early 1949.

This was the exact time in American pop music history when a wave of nostalgia was sweeping record buyers. There were many reasons forwarded trying to explain this phenomenon - the cold war, the 'hot' war about to engulf us in Korea, or an outgrowth of just trying to return to 'normalcy' after the trauma of four years of world war. Whatever the reason, that was the trend and Russ Morgan and his orchestra rode the wave for all it was worth. Decca #24568 was released in February of 1949, and the 'A' side certainly followed the nostalgia for early 20th century America. It was a tune called "Cruising Down The River" featuring The Skylarks on vocal, and it was a logical follower of "Four Leaf Clover" in the minds of record buyers. With "So Tired" still on the top of the charts, the new Decca release went quickly up the ladder of sales and airplay becoming America's favorite tune. In fact it was such a popular song that Blue Barron's cover version for MGM alternated with Morgan for the number one spot in the country, an unheard of accomplishment.

While "Cruising" followed "So Tired" to the top of the best sellers charts, the flip side, a rendition of a tune called "Sunflower" was also getting a lot of sales for the band. This song, also featuring the vocal talents of The Skylarks got as high as number five in the country. It had an interesting afterlife however as it became the official song for the state of Kansas, and many years later was the subject of a lawsuit in which the courts upheld that the song "Hello Dolly" took the melody from this song written by Mack David. The next Decca release was the tune "Forever And Ever" and the flip side was a German song called "You You You Are The One" with The Skylarks featured on vocal on both songs. The 'A' side followed the previous release right up to the top of the charts and Morgan had his second successive number one record. An interesting sidelight is the fact that the flip side "You" was the object of a cover record by Morgan's previous vocal group The Ames Brothers !

The tally sheet for Russ Morgan in the first half of 1949 shows that he and his orchestra dominated the pop charts like no other band before. The fact that this was accomplished after the end of the big band era makes it all the more remarkable. "So Tired" went to number three in the country and remained on the charts for more than six months. "Cruising Down The River" sold more than one million copies, hit the number one position, and had a stay of five and a half months. Its flip side "Sunflower" reached as high as number five and stayed for almost four months on the best seller charts. "Forever And Ever" also reached the number one spot, sold nearly a million, and had a stay of six and a half months on the best sellers list. "You You You Are The One" got into the top twenty and charted for six weeks. And the year was only half over. Morgan and his band would not reach those heights again, but the rest of the year found him retaining a great measure of popularity.

"The Barroom Polka" recorded on Decca #24608 was a moderate hit getting to the top twenty. "That's My Weakness Now" also got airplay and sales that pushed it to number seventeen and close to two months on the charts. A former hit for the Glen Miller band "The Johnson Rag" had a rebirth of popularity in 1949 and Russ Morgan's version with vocal by The Morganaires on Decca #24819, was a solid top ten record getting as high as number seven and having a chart life of almost three months. The seasonal "Blue Christmas" closed out a most fabulous year for Morgan as it quickly reached the top fifteen. Morgan went on to chart nine more times after 1949, the two biggest being covers - "Sentimental Me" covering those Ames Brothers with a four month charter and a number seven hit in 1950, and a year later with Les Paul & Mary Ford's "Mockingbird Hill"

Russ Morgan continued the 'Music in the Morgan Manner' on TV and nightclubs throughout the fifties, and the sixties saw him as a mainstay in Las Vegas. He passed away in 1969 at 65 years old. He had always led a competent if not overly exciting band, one that was always pleasing to the listener. But during that one magic year, this former coal miner, Scranton Siren, and sweet band trombonist, found himself quite surprisingly, the King of Pop.

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