Sam Donohue: "I Never Knew" ©2004JCMarion


Sam Donohue was a composer, arranger, sax player, and a band leader from the late thirties until his death in 1974. He had a good number of best selling records during the post war years, but despite all these accomplishments and his longevity, Donohue is not a well remembered name from the days of the Interlude Era. One shortcoming to his reputation as a hitmaker is the common mistaken identity switch with Al Donohue (no relation) who was also a band leader but had his greatest fame earlier from the mid thirties to the early nineteen forties.

Sam Donohue was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1918. He was barely out of his teens when he toured the Midwest as a band leader of a group of young musicians and began to get some publicity in the area. In 1938 Gene Krupa left Benny Goodman to start his own bands and soon the young Sam Donohue was a member of the drummer's new orchestra. On December 1 of that year Donohue made his first appearance on record with the band on tenor sax on the tunes "Jeepers Creepers" and "Wait Until My Heart Finds Out" both featuring vocals by Irene Day. Beginning in late February of 1939, Donohue began to be featured on the alto sax with the Krupa band. His last recording with Krupa came on July 12 of 1940 on the tune "The Sergeant Was Shy". Donohue was replaced by Walter Bates and then moved on to short stints with Harry James and then Benny Goodman. He did some appearances as part of the Benny Goodman Sextet (with Cootie Williams) but soon was replaced by Georgie Auld.

In late August of 1941, he reorganized his former band and actually briefly made the best sellers list with a tune featuring former Gene Krupa vocalist Irene Day. The song was "Do You Care ?" and was released on Bluebird #11198 and got into the top twenty for one week in September of that year. His band featured songs written by Donohue including "Sax-A-Boogie", "Six Mile Stretch" and "It Counts A Lot". Sam Donohue then went into military service and soon had the opportunity to continue in uniform as he was given the leadership of the Artie Shaw Navy Band upon Shaw's discharge from the military. This band made some great sides that were captured on V-discs such as their versions of "Moten Swing", "I've Found A New Baby" and "Dinah".

After his discharge and the end of the war, Sam Donohue got back in the swing of things with a tight swinging band that soon had a recording contract with the recently formed Capitol record label. In July of 1946, the Donohue band had its first chart hit with a reworking of the Navy band's arrangement of "Dinah" featuring the tenor sax of the leader. The record on Capitol #260 was a top ten seller and remained on the charts for almost two months. This was followed by "Just The Other Day" with a vocal by Mynell Allen on #275. Capitol #293 featured vocalist Bill Lockwood on the song "Put That Kiss Back Where You Found It". The last chart hit by the band in 1946 was a movie tune called "A Rainy Night In Rio" from the film "The Time. The Place, and The Girl" on #325. Four top ten sellers for Sam Donohue in the year 1946, was followed by an even more successful 1947.

The old standard "My Melancholy Baby" was recorded for Capitol #357, and the instrumental arrangement got as high as the number five position in the country. In May of 1947, the Sam Donohue band hit their mark with a truly monster hit record. The song was "I Never Knew" and the vocal was by Bill Lockwood & The Blue Hues for Capitol #405. It was the biggest record of Donohue's career and one of the biggest selling records of the year. Only "Mam'selle" by Sinatra and Art Lund kept "I Never Knew" out of the number one spot. It held on in the best sellers list for an incredible six months and made the Donohue band an in demand attraction throughout the country. A two sided top ten hit closed out the year 1947 for the band - "Red Wing" and "The Whistler" recorded on Capitol #472 featuring the vocals of Shirley Lloyd.

The Sam Donohue band never again reached the heights that they had achieved in 1946 and 1947, but they continued to put out good swinging tunes that proved popular for dancing or listening. 1948 began with "Tacos, Enchiladas, and Beans" featuring Shirley Lloyd on vocal for Capitol #493. The flip side was the swinging modernistic "Robbin"s Nest". Both tunes sold well enough to get into the top twenty. Later in the year on Capitol #1508, the band reprised the early Donohue tune "Sax-A-Boogie", a top twenty five seller. Donohue closed out the year with "I'll Get Along Somehow" with a vocal by Bill Lockwood on #15081, and "September In The Rain" from the film "Melody For Two" featuring vocals by Bob Durant, Tak Takvorian, and Ralph Osborne. All of these releases sold well enough to make the top twenty five best sellers nationwide. "Out In The Cold Again" on #15340 briefly charted in 1949. By then the Sam Donohue band's time as a hit making recording outfit was over, but the crew remained a good attraction. He saw military service again in 1951 during the Korean War.

After his discharge he joined the band of Tommy Dorsey for two years, then formed another band under his name but this group lasted only a short time. The Billy May orchestra was taken over by trumpet star Ray Anthony who soon hired Donohue to be the leader and arranger for the band. This connection lasted for more than four years, and by 1959 tried his hand again as leader of his own group. This effort failed and he then joined Stan Kenton for a year. In 1961 Donohue took over the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, which kept the Dorsey name and style in the public eye. The band featured The Pied Pipers, Helen Forrest, and for a time, Frank Sinatra Jr. This band morphed into a small unit that backed Sinatra Jr. on tour and in Las Vegas. In 1969, Donohue had a short reign as the musical director of the New York Playboy Club. He spent the last few years of his life leading a small combo in Reno, Nevada, where he passed away in 1974, at the relatively young age of 56.

Albums that may still be in print by Sam Donohue are "Young Moderns In Love" and a self titled LP both for Capitol. Also on Capitol is the Stan Kenton "Adventures In Jazz" featuring Donohue. Rarer still is an interesting LP recorded live in New York's Americana Hotel with Sam leading the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra for RCA Victor.

The name and the music may recede in all of our memories of another time, but as they say the music lingers on. Sam Donohue remains a part of that time in history I like to call the Interlude Era.

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