LOMBARDO, Guy: Get Out Those Old Records
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& HIS ROYAL CANADIANS
"Get Out Those Old Records" Original Recordings 19411950
"The softest and sweetest jazzmen on any stage this side of Heaven" ... that's the actual phrase used by Ashton Stevens, a Chicago drama critic, in describing Guy Lombardo's Royal Canadians in 1928. Jazzmen? Not by most people's definition today, although the Lombardos did try to play bouncy tunes at first, with little success. Not until they slowed down the tempos and put the emphasis on melody did the band enjoy acclaim, and Stevens' review was altered to the familiar phrase "the sweetest MUSIC this side of Heaven". Guy Lombardo led one of the most successful bands of all time for over fifty years, and despite his promise to "take New Year's with him" when he went, is still inextricably linked with with that holiday.
"It's not true that you have to be a relative to work with us, but it helps," Guy once kidded. In addition to Guy and Carmen were brothers Lebert and Victor, sister Rosemarie and brother-in-law Kenny Gardner, plus assorted nephews in later years. The family band started when Gaetano (Guy), born 19th June, 1902, and Carmen, a year younger, played with piano accompaniment for dances and weddings, beginning in 1914. Guy's violin and Carmen's flute were joined by brothers and friends until by 1921 they were entertaining in their home town of London, Ontario, Canada. By 1924 they had crossed Lake Erie to Cleveland, becoming one of the first bands to play regularly on the radio (for free, of course).
After three years in Cleveland, and some rare jazzy recordings for Gennett, the band moved to Chicago. Guy rarely played his violin by this time, Carmen played alto saxophone, Lebert was on trumpet, and Victor played baritone sax. Chicago's Granada Cafe promised more money, and Guy hoped to repeat the radio success that he had enjoyed in Cleveland. But the Granada's owner was reluctant to put in a radio wire, and in fact seemed to resent customers coming into the club at all. Only when Lombardo threatened to return to Cleveland was the all-important radio link installed, and the Lombardos became an overnight sensation. They were also invited to record for Columbia, who didn't know what to make of this "sweet" dance music, at a time when everything had to be "hot". "Undanceable", said the record executives, until they saw the sellout crowds at the Granada. Even the band's booking agent wanted to dress Guy and his "Canadians" in red tunics, and call them the Royal Northwest Mounted Canadians. "Royal Canadians" was fine with Guy, after the famous Royal Canadian Regiment, and so it would remain.
After two fabulous years in Chicago, the band moved to New York's Roosevelt Grill in 1929, succeeding Ben Bernie, and staying there till it closed thirty-three years later. Then it was on to the Waldorf-Astoria. Until 1935, Lombardo's was the most popular dance band in the land; but even after the coming of Swing, Guy remained a top attraction, with records in the top ten well into the 1950s. Despite derision from hipsters and hep cats, Lombardo's sound and precision were appreciated by the public and musicians alike. Bing Crosby recorded with them in 1933 and again in the fifties; Louis Armstrong often referred to the Lombardos as "my inspirators", and told Leonard Feather in Esquire, "(in 1930) we tried to get our sax section to sound like Lombardo's."
When Guy died, on 5th November, 1977, he'd been giving the public what it wanted for fifty years. He'd also been successful racing speedboats and producing stage shows. Songwritersax playervocalist Carmen Lombardo had retired in 1970 and died on 17th April, 1971. Lebert was still with the band through the 70s and died on 16th June, 1993, and Victor died 22nd January, 1994. Leadership of the band had passed to Guy's nephew Bill. Two years later Teddy Phillips took over the band and tried to change its style, unsuccessfully; Al Pierson returned to the famous formula and led the orchestra through the 1990s, still welcoming the New Year. No New Year's celebration was complete without Guy Lombardo, beginning in 1929. For years the band would close out the old year on CBS and immediately begin the new year on NBC, with "Auld Lang Syne" as the natural link. A traditional tune with lyrics by Robert Burns, the song had been used as a closing theme whenever the Canadians had played dances where there was a large Scottish population. When they took on a sponsored radio series for Robert Burns Panatella Cigars, "Auld Lang Syne" was a natural choice for their theme song.
As early as 1927, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians were selling well on records, although the true "Lombardo sound" didn't begin to solidify until 1930. Their first major recording contract was with Columbia. In 1932 they signed with Brunswick, and followed producer Jack Kapp over to Decca two years later. From 1935 to 1938 they were alongside Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey at Victor, before returning to Decca where they remained well into the 1960s. During the 30s and 40s, the band introduced hundreds of hit songs, and getting a song "plugged" by Lombardo was gold. Naturally the song-pluggers were constantly vying for the brothers' attention, but no matter what the inducements, the songs had to be good ones .... "there's nothing like a bad song to ruin a singer or a band," said Guy.
This collection focuses on the years 1941 to 1950, and spotlights some of the best-sellers from that period. Five tracks were #1 on the charts (The Band Played On, Intermezzo, It's Love-Love-Love, Managua Nicaragua and The Third Man Theme), two more made the #2 position (Bell Bottom Trousers, The Anniversary Song), and most of the others were in the Top 20. Auld Lang Syne is heard in its rare 1947 vocal version, and a couple of uncharted favourites snuck in as well, the much-requested adaptation of Robert W. Service's Dangerous Dan McGrew and the song Cole Porter wrote for the film Adam's Rib, Farewell Amanda.
David Lennick, 2002
Transfers & Production: David Lennick
Digital Noise Reduction: Graham Newton
Photo of Guy Lombardo (b/w original, Michael Ochs Archives)