Friday, June 28, 2013

NEW BING CROSBY CDS - FALL OF 2013

This is great news...


This fall The Bing Crosby Archive will release two new CDs through Universal Music Enterprises. Bing Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook is a new CD compilation celebrating Bing Crosby’s recordings of songs composed by his friend and frequent collaborator, Johnny Mercer. The recordings span more than two decades – starting with a rare 1934 radio performance of “P.S. I Love You.” Other highlights include “Lazy Bones,” a duet with Louis Armstrong, and several of Bing’s Decca hits like “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” which features the Andrews Sisters, and “Mr. Meadowlark,” a duet with Mercer. Also included among the 22 selections are 10 previously unissued recordings, including “That Old Black Magic,” “Jeepers Creepers,” “Glow Worm,” and “Autumn Leaves.”

The CD release of Le Bing: Song Hits of Paris – 60th Anniversary Deluxe Edition will be the first-ever reissue of Bing Crosby’s first LP. The original 1953 release, recorded in Paris with Bing singing in French, was an eight song, 10″ album and one of the first concept albums ever made. Bing’s French language recordings include “La Vie En Rose” and “Madamoiselle de Paris.” The anniversary edition expands Le Bing to 24 tracks – 15 never before released ­– including rare studio outtakes, and several English language bonus tracks including a pair of Cole Porter favorites, “I Love Paris” and “Allez Vous En (Go Away.)”

More news as it happens...

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BING'S HUGE IMPACT ON RADIO

Although movies were seen by almost everybody in the country in the early 1900s, the equipment used to produce and see them made it a limited medium. Radio waves, on the other hand, were easier to control as all you needed was a receiver (radio) that was small, easy to carry and inexpensive to operate. Millions of moviegoers enjoyed a weekly trip to the movie house, but millions more heard the radio broadcasts day and night at home, in the car and at work every day.

Movies during the ’10s and ’30s that people paid to see at the movie houses were simple, rapidly made sometimes in only a couple of hours, lacking in quality sound and presentation. The quality of the film was so bad that many were made to be destroyed after using it in only a few runs. Color film did not exist, but this new industry was learning fast how to perfect and how to present stories that had some meaning. Both sound and color, however, was on the horizon.

But the radio was more personable and the people liked the variety presented for their enjoyment. One big problem that plagued the producers was the presentation of programs on the East Coast and the West Coast. The western listeners could not hear the programs at the same time as the eastern listeners due to differences in time. All of the major stations, ABC, CBS, NBC, etc. were on the East Coast so to present the same program on the West Coast, it had to be rebroadcast to be presented for the western time slot.

When a show is done live, too many mistakes can occur. People sneeze, talk out of turn, forget lines, are sometimes inattentive and don’t come in at the right time. Many things can happen that the sponsors of shows don’t want to happen. Bing Crosby, the most popular singer in the 1920s, had a different type of voice that the traditional singers at that time had. Al Jolson, another top singer had to “belt” his songs out to audiences loud enough for people 50 to 75 feet away could hear him as he had no microphone. Bing Crosby became popular enough that he began demanding his sponsors begin pre-broadcasting his 30-minute show. They refused so Crosby quit. Crosby had heard recordings from German equipment and, after exploring what turned out to be a “game changer” for the radio industry, bought two recorders and tape that he believed was superior to any recorder available at the time.

In 1947, he invested $50,000 in Ampex Company and they built America’s first commercial reel-to-reel tape recorder. Crosby left NBC and began performing for ABC and became the first performer to pre-record his radio shows and master his commercial recordings on magnet tape. This opened the door for the Crosby Research Company to patent many inventions pertaining to radio that we use today, such as the Laugh Track. His friend, musician Les Paul, was given a record and this was all he needed to perfect a multi-layer soundtrack so he could record his fabulous music that made him one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

In 1936, Crosby hosted the popular Kraft Music Hall, a weekly program that ran for 10 years. “Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)” became his theme song and signature tune.


Ten of top 50 songs for 1931 featured Crosby. In 1942, he recorded his biggest hit song, White Christmas.

Crosby was not only a top singer but he starred in more than 70 movies and he won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role of Father Chuck O’Malley in the 1944 motion picture Going My Way. More awards were forthcoming in his role in the Bells of St. Mary the next year.

Crosby was married twice. His first wife, singer Dixie Lee, died from ovarian cancer in 1952. Their four sons, Gary, twins Dennis and Phillip, and Lindsey. Bing’s second wife, actress Kathryn Grant, increased the family by having three children.

In 1937, Crosby bought his first race horse and, in 1937, he became a founding partner in the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and a member of its Board of Directors. He and Lindsey Howard (son of Charles Howard, owner of Seabiscuit) formed Binglin Stable to race and raise thoroughbred horses. The Binglin Stables partnership came to an end in 1953. In 1965, Crosby purchased the 40-room Hillsborough estate from Lindsey Howard and his second family, with Kathryn Grant, moved to the Bay Area.

Crosby was a caddy at the age of 12 and became passionate about golfing in 1930 while producing a film. He became a two handicap player and competed in both British and American Amateur championships. In 1937, he hosted the first National Pro-Am Golf Championship at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. It became known as the “Crosby Clambake” and was moved to Pebble Beach, Carmel, Calif., in 1947.

While golfing in Spain on Oct. 14, 1977, Bing Crosby died of a massive heart attack on the greens after playing 18 holes of golf...


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Monday, June 24, 2013

GUEST REVIEWER: PENNIES FROM HEAVEN

For the guest review this month we have Jeremy Arnold from Turner Classic Movies to profile a great Bing film from the 1930s...

After shooting Rhythm on the Range (1936), Bing Crosby exercised an option in his Paramount contract that allowed him to make an independent film away from his home studio. He teamed up with former Paramount producer Emanuel Cohen, and before even picking a script, title or score, they reached a distribution agreement with Columbia's Harry Cohn. Each of the three parties would own a third of the project. Now they settled on a property - a 1913 novel by Katherine Leslie Moore called The Peacock's Feather, which they hired Jo Swerling to adapt into the script Pennies from Heaven (1936). (Swerling would later write Leave Her to Heaven, 1945, and It's a Wonderful Life, 1946.)

By the mid-1930s, few Hollywood musicals were acknowledging the Great Depression on screen, preferring stories and settings of the rich and glamorous. Pennies from Heaven was an exception. While it certainly feels like a typically breezy vehicle for Crosby, with his easygoing character wandering into a trifle of a story, there are glimpses of the tough times at hand. In jail as the story begins, Crosby is asked by a condemned prisoner to look after his little girl when Crosby gets out, and to move her and her grandfather into an old family estate. The place is spooky and the family needs money, so naturally Crosby turns the property into a restaurant/nightclub called the Haunted House Cafe - conveniently providing a fine excuse for musical numbers.


Pennies from Heaven is not full of out-and-out song classics, but its score by Johnny Burke and Arthur Johnston is enjoyable and features "One, Two, Button Your Shoe," "So Do I," "Let's Call a Heart a Heart," "Now I've Got Some Dreaming To Do," and of course the title song, which was nominated for an Oscar® but lost to Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields's "The Way You Look Tonight," from Swing Time. (What an embarrassment of riches the Best Song category was in those days.)

Johnny Burke's collaboration with Crosby was the beginning of an important artistic partnership. As Crosby later wrote, "one of the best things that's happened to me is a one hundred and forty-five pound Irish leprechaun named Johnny Burke." While Burke had had a bit of success in the music industry and had done some minor work-for-hire at Twentieth Century Fox, he was essentially new to the movies. Crosby liked him immediately and decided to give him a chance on Pennies from Heaven. They would become good friends, and for seventeen years Burke was Crosby's personal songwriter, penning such classics as "Moonlight Becomes You," "I've Got a Pocketful of Dreams," "What's New?," and "Swinging on a Star." The song "Pennies from Heaven" was shot live with a full orchestra on the soundstage, instead of pre-recorded as was the norm. The track became so popular that it set new highs in national record sales, and it was covered by many other artists in the years following.


Another musical highlight is "Skeleton in the Closet," performed by Louis Armstrong in the Haunted House Cafe with Lionel Hampton on the drums. Armstrong had had an enormous influence on Crosby's singing style ("He is the beginning and the end of music in America," said Crosby) and now that Crosby had some clout, he wanted to give back a little by featuring Armstrong in the movie. According to Crosby biographer Gary Giddins, Harry Cohn balked at this request, "seeing no reason to entail the expense of flying him in and having no desire to negotiate with Armstrong's crude, mob-linked but devoted manager, Joe Glaser. Bing refused to discuss the matter. [Armstrong] was about to make his Hollywood debut."

Not only did Armstrong make his studio feature debut (an earlier independent feature is lost) he shared billing with the three primary stars of the picture - something that had never before been done for a black performer in a mainstream movie. Again, this was Crosby's doing. The prominent billing along with Armstrong's charming performance (he has some comic dialogue scenes, too) did wonders for Armstrong's career. He swiftly became a regular presence in the movies, often playing himself, and for this he was appreciative of Crosby for the rest of his life. As Armstrong said thirty years later, "Here's paying tribute to one of the finest guys in this musical and wonderful world. With a heart as big. Carry on Papa Bing, Ol' Boy!!"

JEREMY'S RATING: NOT GIVEN
MY RATING: 10 OUT OF 10 STARS


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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

BING, SINATRA, AND THE PRESIDENT

In 1962 President Kennedy planned a weekend trip to Palm Springs, California, where he would stay at the residence of Frank Sinatra from March 24-26. As the weekend approached, Bobby Kennedy, the President's brother and attorney general, became concerned about Sinatra's extensive links to organized crime. He persuaded the President to cancel his stay with Sinatra, and Peter Lawford was given the assignment of informing Sinatra.


Lawford  was both a member of Sinatra's Rat Pack and a Kennedy relative by marriage. When Bobby asked Lawford to inform Sinatra of the President's change in plans, Peter pleaded with Bobby to reconsider. The attorney general was adamant, however, that the President could not stay at the house of a man who also played host to hoodlums.

Lawford told Sinatra biographer Kitty Kelley: "It fell to me to break the news to Frank, and I was frankly scared. When I rang the President I said that Frank expected him to stay at the Sinatra compound, and anything less than his presence there was going to be tough to explain. It had been kind of a running joke with all of us in the family that Frank was building up his Palm Springs house for just such a trip by the President, adding cottages for Jack and the Secret Service, putting in 25 extra phone lines, installing enough cable to accommodate teletype facilities, plus a switchboard and building a heliport. He even erected a flagpole for the Presidential flag after he saw the one flying over the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport. No one asked Frank to do any of this, but he really expected his place to be the President's Western White House."

"When Jack called me, he said that as President he just couldn't stay at Frank's and sleep in the same bed that [Sam] Giancana or any other hood had slept in. 'You can handle it, Petah,' he said to me."

Lawford continued, "I made a few calls but in the end it was Chris Dumphy, a big Republican from Florida, who arranged everything at Bing Crosby's house for him. The Secret Service stayed next door at Jimmy Van Heusen's, and Frank didn't speak to him for weeks over that one, but I was the one who really took the brunt of it. He felt that I was responsible for setting Jack up to stay at Bing's -- Bing Crosby, of all people -- the other singer and a Republican to boot. Well, Frank never forgave me. He cut me off like that -- just like that."

Frank could not believe what Lawford told him: that the President was coming to Palm Springs but would stay at Bing Crosby's Rancho Mirage residence near Palm Springs because Bobby didn't want him to stay with Frank. Frank called the attorney general in Washington. Bob explained it was impossible for the President to stay at his house because of the disreputable people who had been his houseguests.

"Frank was livid," said Peter. "He called Bobby every name in the book, and then rang me up and reamed me out again. He was quite unreasonable, irrational, really. George Jacobs told me later that when he got off the phone, he went outside with a sledgehammer and started chopping up the concrete landing pad of his heliport. He was in a frenzy."


When the President arrived at the Crosby home, he called Sinatra to smooth things out and to invite him for a visit to Bing's place. Sinatra declined, saying he had to leave for Los Angeles. After the conversation, the President told Lawford, "He's pretty upset, but I told him not to blame you because you didn't have anything to do with it. It was simply a matter of security. The Secret Service thought Crosby's place afforded better security."

Lawford told Kelley: "That's the excuse we used -- security -- and we blamed it all on the Secret Service. We'd worked it out beforehand, but Frank didn't buy that for a minute, and, with a couple of exceptions, he never spoke to me again. He cut me out of all the movies we were set to make together -- Robin and the 7 Hoods, 4 for Texas -- and turned Dean [Martin] and Sammy [Davis] and Joey [Bishop] against me as well."

Not only did Sinatra cut Lawford from his upcoming Rat Pack movies, he rubbed salt in his wounds by persuading Bing Crosby to play the role of Alan A. Dale intended for Lawford in Robin and the 7 Hoods!

(Adapted from His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra by Kitty Kelley, Bantam, 1986 and Sinatra: The Man and the Myth by Bill Adler, Signet, 1987.)


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Friday, June 14, 2013

BING CROSBY ON BING CROSBY

Here are some great quotes from Bing Crosby through the years. He talks about many things from family to his career. I think it is very fascinating...


HIS OSCAR WIN:
"I'd been nominated, so I knew there was a chance, but I just thought it was a kind of popularity award. I'd done some charitable things, a lot of shows, benefits, I was a golfer and that was that. It was a war year and all the good talent was away and I figured they reckoned "give it to this guy -- he's not a bad fellow." (Thompson, p111)



FIRST WIFE DIXIE LEE:
"She was a very fine woman. I was devoted to her. She was very timid, terribly shy. It was awfully difficult to get her to make any kind of public appearance and that was the reason she never did anything more in show business. She just hated the exposure and the necessity to work with strangers .... When she did get to know anybody she was a marvelous friend and a great deal of fun." (Thompson, p172)


FATHERHOOD:
"My situation as a father is maybe a bit more complicated than that which faces most dads. Raising the sons of a movie star presents special problems. When the children of people prominent in show business go to school or to entertainments or to parties, the solid, well-grounded kids they meet at those places pay them no special attention, but there's always a bunch of bubble-heads who make a fuss over a boy whose father or mother's name is known in the entertainment world. "With all the money your old man's got, you'll never have to work," they tell him. Or, "you mean you've got only one car?" and they ladle out the old goo. If the kid who gets this treatment is a little susceptible -- as some of mine are -- such guff can spoil them. My slant on such buttering up is this: there's an old Italian proverb which says, "Never kiss a baby unless he's asleep...." When I want to be especially flattering to one of my offspring, I say, "Nice goin'" and let it go at that." (Call Me Lucky, 1953, p203)


FRANK SINATRA:
"Frank's hotheaded, he does things that get him into the papers, but if he likes you, you've got a friend whose friendship is fanatically loyal. If he likes you, he'll do anything for you or give you anything he's got; but if he doesn't like you, he can be the most ornery cuss you've ever known. And it doesn't lake him long to find out in which classification he places you. He hates pomposity and he hates anyone in authority who he doesn't think is qualified to have authority. And he'll go to great lengths to make such phonies uncomfortable." Saturday Evening Post, May 11, 1957, p120)



ROCK 'N' ROLL:
"Let's talk about what rock and roll is. It's really a new name for an old musical medium. Years ago they called this kind of music 'race records.' By that they didn't mean Negro music; they just meant blues. Then gradually, the name changed to rhythm and blues; now it's called rock and roll.... The beat's old too. It's a rolling bass repeated over and over under a blues melody. Maybe the beat is accentuated a little more; maybe those who play it put in more variations on their rolling bass. They always have their right hand high up on the piano, playing triplicates as fast as they can. It's got a flavoring of boogie, but it always has that basic rolling-bass pattern. If you try to say the beat in words, it comes out 'shoo-beedoo-bee-doo." (Saturday Evening Post, May 11, 1957, p119)


THE DEATH OF ELVIS:
"Oh, I'm shocked. It's a sad thing to hear. A young man like Presley, just a young fella, so vibrant, so influential all through the years of American popular music and now you tell me he's gone. It's hard to believe. It'll be a great loss." (NBC news interview 16 Aug. 1977)


ANNOYANCES WITH FAME:
"The sycophants that hang about, the press, the photographers, the song publishers and pluggers and the pests of all descriptions that grab me everytime I step outside my front door weary me indescribably. Succinctly, John, I seem to have had it. Maybe a year or so away will make me feel differently, and my interest will revive." (1954 letter to John Scott Trotter)




Sunday, June 9, 2013

BOB THOMPSON: BING ARRANGER DIES


Sometime between ring-a-ding-ding and hunk-a hunk-a burning love, America slipped into something more comfortable and Bob Thompson was there to help.

Thompson was one of the foremost composers and arrangers of what came to be known as "Space Age bachelor pad" music – tunes that allowed hi-fi buffs to turn the lights down low, mix the perfect martini and show off their tweeters and woofers. With cascading strings, upbeat rhythms and – as in his piece "Mmm Nice!" – breathy female singers, Thompson's music set a mood, but was more than mood music.

Thompson, 88, who also wrote and arranged radio and TV commercials, died May 21 in a Los Angeles nursing home, family members said. He had Alzheimer's disease.
In the late 1950s, he signed with RCA Victor to create such albums as "On the Rocks," with a cover featuring a bikini-clad model lolling in a giant cocktail glass. They were designed to appeal to swinging young guys who wanted to test their stereos and, if they were lucky, their testosterone.


Born Aug. 22, 1924 in San Jose, Robert Lamar Thompson grew up in rural Auburn, Calif., a town his parents thought healthier for a boy with asthma. He started learning piano at 10, teaching himself at a fairground on one he found under a tarp.

Thompson studied music for a year at UC Berkeley but later said he learned more at KGO, a San Francisco radio station where he worked his way up from pageboy to arranger for the house orchestra. He tried composing during a brief stint in Paris but, looking for steadier work, he headed back to California and wound up playing at a piano bar in Los Angeles.

He held a variety of odd musical jobs, accompanying Mae West on tour and writing the 1955 "Criswell Predicts," a swinging tribute to the busty vamp's favorite psychic.

Thompson also arranged several albums for Rosemary Clooney and worked with Bing Crosby.


However, perhaps he will be best remembered for what his son, Spenser Thompson, told The Times was "an incredible anomaly" – the few years he spent having hi-fi fun in the Space Age.

"It was really Dad cutting loose," he said. "His teacher used to tell him not to throw everything he had in one song, but that's kind of what Bob did. He had Space Age licks, singers, five kinds of percussion – it was, 'Let's go full throttle!' "

In addition to his son, who lives in San Francisco, Thompson is survived by his wife Paula Thompson of Los Angeles.

In the mid-'90s, the bachelor-pad genre that fizzled out in the 1960s underwent a revival. "The Sound of Speed" was reissued in 2004 and Thompson's pieces started cropping up here and there. One of his songs was featured on a "Sex and the City" episode and his work was discussed on avant-garde websites and Internet radio – outlets unimagined during the Space Age...


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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

BING CROSBY AND BOB HOPE: BROMANCE


Bob Hope & Bing Crosby

Hollywood has seen many two-man acts, but the one that most illustrates the Platonic ideal of the bromance was Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Hope, an English-born actor, first worked with singer Crosby in 1940’s "Road to Singapore," an adventure comedy about two playboys trying to get over their girls in the Far East. This started a partnership that extended through six more movies, but most importantly their private lives as well. When Hope or Crosby appeared solo, they would mention the other, often with a well-placed zinger. Sadly, the eighth "Road to" movie never happened with Crosby’s death in 1977.

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