Big Dave - David Cavanaugh©2004JCMarion


Dave Cavanaugh was first known as a session tenor sax player on the West Coast in the mid nineteen forties. He was soon playing his music in a number of different styles. He played for awhile in the combo of Eddie Miller, then to the band of Bobby Sherwood in 1947 which had a long running stay at the Casino Gardens in Hollywood. He played in the combo behind Julia Lee (as one of her "Boyfriends" ) who recorded some early Rhythm & Blues sides for Capitol Records in the late forties. Among the records from that period were "On My Way Out" (# 340), "Young Girl's Blues" (# 379), "Snatch And Grab It" / "I Was Wrong" on Capitol #40028, and "King Sized Papa" / "When You're Smiling" on #40082. Dave also played behind Blue Lou Barker on her sides for Capitol in the late 1940s, and appeared with Benny Carter on Capitol in the late 1940s. He also did some recording with a group headed by Jesse Price with Dodo Mamarosa, Buddy tate, and Paul Quininchette. During those years he also recorded with Joe Alexander and early pop music efforts by Sammy Davis Jr. such as "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile" and "Azure" on #70045, and "Great Big Shovel" / "We're Gonna Roll" recorded under the name "Shorty Muggins". He played tenor sax with Woody Herman's orchestra on "Be Bop The Beguine" and "Can't You See I've Got The Blues". He made some recordings with Ella Mae Morse including "Early In The Morning" / "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" and "Oh You Crazy Moon" on # 2539. A group recording for Capitol in the late forties known as "Ten Cats & A Mouse" featured Peggy Lee on vocals. Under his own name he recorded "Big Dave's Special" / "One Stop" on #2742, and "The Cat From Coos Bay" / "Loosely With Feeling" on # 2794. Cavanaugh also performed with a Dixieland combo during this time, and showed his talents as a competent arranger and conductor.

By the early fifties he became the A & R (Artists and Repertoire-in other words producer) man for Capitol's Eastern operations, and soon was the label's main producer along with Dave Dexter. Showing his versatility, Dave worked with Warner Brothers animation conceiving stories for "Happy Hippety Hopper" and "Snowbound Tweety" for which he also did the music. "Wild West Henry Hawk", "Bugs Bunny & The Pirate" and "Tweety's Good Deed" also featured music by Dave Cavanaugh. He was the conductor of the orchestra on an early Capitol LP album by Frances Faye called "No Reservations". Back in Hollywood, he kept his eye on the growing popularity of R & B and was astute enough to sign the Five Keys to Capitol Records. At this time he tried his own hand at the music with "The Big Goof" and "Rock, Roll, Ball, and Wail" on # 2889. About this time he discovered Dakota Staton at the Club Baby Grand in Harlem and brought her to Capitol Records and her first hit record "My Heart's Delight". He also signed Nancy Wilson (once the vocalist with Rusty Bryant) to the label and began a long association with her as her producer. Cavanaugh performed as leader of the band on the album "Arthur Murray's Rock And Roll Party" (# 640) a real period piece from the 1950s.

By the late 1950s, he concentrated on arranging and producing for the label and soon began work with more adult oriented artists. These included Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Nat Cole. The only big band albums to make a dent on the best seller charts were produced by Cavanaugh and featured the band of Billy May. The album called "Sorta-May" on Capitol #562 was a big seller in early 1955, and even then he kept up his contemporary side with an interesting cover of The Charms "Two Hearts" featuring Frank Sinatra and the backup studio group, The Nuggets. Cavanaugh also brought over one of the great tenor men Plas Johnson to do session work for Capitol. In 1959 singer Kay Starr returned to the Capitol label and Big Dave produced two well conceived albums - "Movin" and "Movin' On Broadway". He produced an interesting date for Capitol featuring Nat Cole with the Count Basie band on the tunes "The Late Late Show" and "I Want A Little Girl" in 1958. By the next year he was working in the studio with Frank Sinatra when the vocalist was at the very top of the song stylist as the interpreter period. Dave Cavanaugh won a Grammy in 1959 for producing the Sinatra album "Come Dance With Me", and he also produced another Sinatra-May collaboration called "Come Swing With Me". Both albums were top ten LP sellers.

By the early 1960s Sinatra had left Capitol and was soon to form his own record label called Reprise Records, and so Cavanaugh turned his arranging and producing talents to others for Capitol. In 1960 the only true live recorded performance by Nat Cole was produced by Dave and is from The Sands Hotel in Las Vegas from January of 1960. The small combo behind Cole was John Collins on guitar, Charlie Harris on bass, and Lee Young (longtime veteran of JATP jam sessions) on drums. Antonio Morelli conducted the orchestra. Another concept album by Kay Starr called "I Cry By Night" followed by recording sessions with Peggy Lee. Two albums resulted - "Pass Me By" and "Big Spender" in the mid sixties. Further showing his musical versatility, Cavanaugh played piano on a set of tunes with guitarists Herb Ellis and Howard Robertson, and New Orleans drummer Earl Palmer, among others, that was released on the album "Hits On Hits" ( #2834). Continuing to mine the musical landscape Big Dave discovered and recorded the duo Sandler & Young and their hit album "Side By Side". Another Nat Cole LP called "The King Swings" was released by Capitol and Dave Cavanaugh had become one of the top record producers in the business. Another album "Gisele and Helen, Helen and Gisele" with Gisele McKenzie and Helen O'Connell featured the orchestra under the direction of Cavanaugh. By the nineteen seventies Cavanaugh had become the president of Capitol Records, where he was associated with that label for his entire musical career. He passed away in 1983.

Big Dave Cavanaugh - tenor sax player, pianist, arranger, conductor, producer, talent scout, A & R man, and company president. Other that Johnny Mercer and Dave Kapp who founded the label in the early forties, Cavanaugh WAS Capitol Records. One of his earlier tunes called "The Beast" showed up on the soundtrack of the David Lynch film "Mulholland Drive" in 2001. That just goes to show that Dave Cavanaugh and his music are everywhere. He leaves a great variety of memorable music that kept America singing and dancing for decades.

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