Hotter Than A Pistol : Spike Jones©2008JCMarion


Lindley Armstrong Jones was born in December of 1911 in Long Beach, California. He got his nickname because of his slender appearance and his father’s occupation as a railroad man. Through his teenage years he developed his musical talents and became a percussionist and studio musician. He organized a band of Long Beach teenagers and called themselves Spike & His Five Tacks. Interestingly enough he was a member of John Scott Trotter's orchestra and played on Bing Crosby’s historic recording of “White Christmas”. He soon went ahead and added a number of sound effects implements to his drumming which allowed him further employment as a sound effects producer. By the early nineteen forties, he had been in a few small novelty bands for the CinemaTone company such as The Penny-Funnies. But – young Spike had other ideas. He put together a larger band that included members of Del Porters group, The Feather Merchants. They would play songs in a style different from that intended and play for laughs. He named his new band the City Slickers. They soon received a recording contract with RCA’s subsidiary label Bluebird Records, after being heard at an early job.

One of the first recordings by the band was "Behind Those Swinging Doors" and "Red Wing" with Del Porter on vocals on # 11282. This was followed by “Clink Clink Another Drink” on Bluebird # 11466 which actually had a brief turn in the top twenty five best sellers in the country. The vocal featured the many voiced master Mel Blanc, and Del Porter. "Pass The Biscuits Mirandy" and "Little Bo Peep" on # 11530, and “Siam” and the old novelty tune “Come Josephine In My Flying Machine” on # 11560 followed with less success. In September of 1942 Carl Grayson and Willie Spicer did the novelty vocals on “Der Fuehrer’s Face” a musical version of Charlie Chaplin’s spoof of the Nazi leader. Bluebird Records may have had misgivings about the release, but the country was in the right mood for just such a tune. It was a huge national hit that cemented the name and music of Spike Jones from that time forward. It’s razzberry featured song lasted for more than four months on the best seller charts and got as high as the number three position on the hit parade. They began a number of radio appearances with a program called "Point Sublime", and then went on to the Bob Burns Show.

During the summer of 1943 Spike Jones & The City Slickers hit again with their version of the pop oldie "Shiek Of Araby" coupled with "Oh By Jingo" . Both sides were top twenty sellers and the band was now in heavy demand on network radio, and Hollywood was also calling. "Thank Your Lucky Stars" was a star studded variety show filmed for the wartime morale building outlook. Luminaries such as Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, John Garfield, Olivia deHavilland, and Errol Flynn were featured. In late 1944 they lent their musical anarchy toward a romantic ballad that was featured in the motion picture "Murder At The Vanities". The song "Cocktails For Two" featured a crooning balladeer style of singing by Carl Grayson that turned into complete chaos in the second half. It became another national sensation topping out at number four on the best seller charts. The flip side of the record (released on the parent company Victor Records # 1628) was "Leave The Dishes In The Sink Ma" (co-written by Milton Berle) with vocal by Del Porter that was attractive enough to get to number fourteen nationally. During 1944 Spike and the boys appeared in the film "Meet The People" with Lucille Ball and Dick Powell. In the spring of 1945 Jones kept up the mayhem. "Chloe" with Red Ingle on vocal (who would have a novelty hit of his own on "Cigareets And Whiskey And Wild Wild Women") was a top five hit on Victor #1654 (the interestingly titled "Serenade To A Jerk" was on the flip with vocal by Myrtle Horwin). Next came "Holiday For Strings" / "Drip Drip Drip" on # 1733, "You Always Hurt The One You Love" and "Blue Danube" on # 1762, and "Hawaiian War Chant" / "Glow Worm"on # 1893, both top ten sellers. Following was "I Dream Of Brownie In The Light Blue Jeans" / "Jones Polka" on # 1894.

The Bing Crosby radio program had Spike and his boys as guests a number of times, and Jones and company appeared on the "Command Performance" show for the armed forces in Europe and Asia. The band also supplied the music and comedy on the wartime program "Furlough Fun". Spike Jones also led the band and did arrangements for Frances Langford on a summer replacement radio program in 1945. Sometimes during these years in all of this activity, Spike used the name Duke Daniels. Members of the City Slickers during these times were George Rock (trumpet and vocals), trombonists Joe Colvin, John Stanley, and King Jackson, Dick Morgan and Freddy Morgan (not related) on banjo, Mickey Katz, Dick Gardner, and Red Ingle on reeds, Country Washburn on tuba, Jack Golly on trumpet, Paul Leu on piano, and Joe Siracusa on drums. Vocals were done by Carl Grayson, Doodles Weaver, Earl Bennett (Sir Frederick Gas), Paul Frees, Paul Judson, Aileen Carlisle. Rock, Katz, and Ingle. "Breakfast In Hollywood" featured the band in this film which also had an early film appearance by Nat "King" Cole. "The Jones Laugh" and "My Pretty Girl" was released on RCA # 2023. Carl Grayson again did the "straight" vocal on "Laura", this time with the chaos going on behind him on #2118, and Spike and the boys next tackled Jack Benny's well known theme song "Love In Bloom" along with "I'm Forever Blowing Bubble Gum" on # 2245. In 1947 CBS radio network gave Spike his own weekly radio show called "Spotlight Review" which featured the band and Dorothy Shay, known as the "Park Avenue Hillbilly". "My Old Flame" featuring a dead on impression of Peter Lorre, and "People Are Funnier Than Anybody" on # 2592 followed. Spike also had a bit part in the motion picture "Ladies Man" in 1947 which starred Eddie Bracken. Another version of "Hotcha Cornia" ("Black Eyes") was included in the film. Also that same year Spike & The City Slickers appeared in the film "Variety Girl", another all star movie that included Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour (of course), Alan Ladd, and Barbra Stanwyck. In the spring of 1948 one of the most famous recordings by Spike and the band was released on RCA Victor # 2861. This was their version of "William Tell Overture" (known as the theme for the Lone Ranger) which featured Doodles Weaver calling a horse race and the adventures of "Beedlebaum" (Weaver's "identity"). It was another nationwide smash for the band. Zeroing in on Tommy Dorsey's theme song "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" coupled with "I Kiss Your Hand Madame" on # 2949, and "Bottoms Up" on # 3054 came and went, but the best was yet to come that fall. Led by the vocal of the incredible George Rock (in his little kid voice) "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" took the country by storm that holiday season. It was a number one million selling record for Jones and RCA Victor on # 3177.

In the spring of 1949 another chart hit for Spike and the band that featured the vocal of George Rock. The song was "Ya Wanna Buy A Bunny?" (on # 3359 with "Knock Knock" ) and it was a top twenty five seller in the country. Later on that summer Doodles Weaver did the race call (this time it was autos) on "Dance Of The Hours" on #3516 and again the Jones touch did wonders with the record remaining a best seller for three months on the hit parade. In the spring of 1950 Spike recorded the politically incorrect "Chinese Mule Train" with vocal by "Fleddy" (Freddy) Morgan which was a top fifteen seller. The flip side featured a skewering of Vaughn Monroe's "Ghost Riders In The Sky" on # 3741. The well known novelty tune "Yes We Have No Bananas" got the Jones treatment on # 3912 The holiday season of 1950 found Spike Jones and his version of "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" on #3934 a number seven seller nationally. "Tennessee Waltz" with Sara Berner and Sir Frederick Gas (Earl Bennett) and "I Haven't Been Home For Three Nights" on # 4011 charted for almost two months. For the rest of the year RCA kept the musical anarchy coming. "Too Young" and "So 'Elp Me" on # 4209, "It Never Rains In Sunny California" with vocal by Larry Cotton and Dick Morgan, and "Deep Purple" with vocal by Paul Frees on # 4546, "Down South" on # 4568, "Stop Your Gambling" / "There's A Blue Sky Way Out Yonder" on # 4669, and "Hotter Than A Pistol" on # 4875. In 1951 Spike Jones hit the small screen for the first time with his own show for NBC which also featured Jan Peerce and the Wayne Martin Trio.

In December of 1952 George Rock did his little kid voice again on "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and The Mello Men vocalized on "Winter" on # 5067 producing another top five seller on the charts. In early 1953 "I Went To Your Wedding" (a send up of Patti Page's huge hit) featuring Sir Frederic Gas on # 5107 was a top twenty hit. This would be the last chart hit for Spike Jones & The City Slickers. But the music continued. Later on, "The Boys In The Back Room" / "Lulu Had A Baby" on # 5239 and "Dragnet" and "Pal-Yat-Chee" (Pagliaci) was released on RCA # 5472. In the early fifties there had been some personnel changes in the band. Vocalists included Billy Barty (who did a great impression of Liberace), Gil Bernal, Peter James, Mousie Garner, and , of course, Helen Grayco (Mrs. Spike Jones). Phil Gray on trombone and Jad Paul on banjo were also added. In 1954 Spike and the boys appeared in the motion picture "Fireman Save My Child" which was originally a vehicle for Abbot & Costello. Instead Hugh O'Brien and Buddy Hackett did the roles. Spike and his band had an extensive part in the film, and their particular brand of musical "depreciation" is shown to great effect. Jones also found the time and energy to appear on television for NBC with 19 episodes featuring Helen Grayco and the band.

With the popularity of rock 'n roll apparent, Jones did not emphasize recordings from the mid fifties on. "Secret Love" / "I'm In The Mood For Love" on # 5742, and a 45 EP containing the two part version of "The Nutcracker Suite", and another Christmas offering - "Barnyard Christmas" and "Socko The Littlest Snowball" were released by RCA. But the visual medium of television seemed to be the newest vehicle for the madcap musical explorations of the band and so a third TV show, this time for CBS appeared in 1957 in a thirty minute format. Such regulars as the Calypso Kings, Dixie Pixies, Polka Dots, and Rock 'N Rollers were part of the cast attesting to the wide range of musical styles. In 1958 Spike appeared with Frank Sinatra, then moved to ABC for the program Club Oasis. In 1960 the TV special "Swinging Spiketaculars" was presented. In 1960 and 1961 Spike had a summer replacement television show that ran in July, August, and early September for the CBS network. The show featured Helen Grayco as vocalist with the band. Spike Jones even tried his hand at dramatic acting with an appearance in 1964 on the Gene Barry show "Burke's Law" for ABC. Soon after that in May of 1965, Spike Jones passed away from the effects of emphysema. He was only fifty three years old.

Luckily, there are a number of media outlets that have preserved the music and comedy of this singular performer. First of all is a DVD called "Spike Jones : The Legend". The three DVD set includes two Colgate Comedy Hour shows from 1951, two All Star Revue shows, one featuring Liberace and his brother George, a Person To Person interview with Edward R. Murrow, a comedy bit from the Ed Sullivan Show, and other interviews. There is also an audio CD featuring radio broadcasts from 1945.

There are a great number of CDs presenting many of the recordings made by Spike Jones & His City Slickers. As always be aware of duplication on many of these collections. The ones listed here are not a complete number of those recordings available but are a representative selection. "The Best Of" is a short concise collection from RCA with 12 tracks. "Greatest Hits" also from RCA in 1999 has a bit more but excludes "Laura" for some reason. For the holidays-"Let's Sing A Song Of Christmas" is a 20 track CD from Verve in 1998 that features (who else ?) George Rock and Jud Conlon's Chorus. Rhino has "The Musical Depreciation Revue Anthology" from 1994 with 40 tracks from RCA. More for the completist is "Cocktails For Two" from Essential Gold in 2007 with 75 tracks. More specific are "The Essential Collection" from West End in 2006 which features 50 tracks covering the years 1941-47; "Not Your Essential Spike Jones Collection" 2003 from Collectors Choice with 78 tracks from the 1940's including many Universal transcriptions that were never commercially released; and finally "Fonk" from Harlequin in 2003 which features 23 rare tracks from the early forties.

Never before, and most likely never again, will we see a musical act quite like Spike Jones & The City Slickers. The total anarchy in music masked the true talent of all these performers. The memory of the thin guy with the outlandish window pane suits, shooting pistols, the "bird-o-phone, gargling a solo, kazoo choruses, dead on impressions of the famous and infamous, and all the other nuances that made the act singular, should be experienced by those who did not have the opportunity to see them back in the day. You will not soon forget what we all miss.

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