MITCHELL, Guy: The Roving Kind
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GUY MITCHELL The Roving Kind
Original Recordings 1950-1953
A top-ranking entertainer on both sides of theAtlantic, Guy Mitchell the personable face of1950s pop secured a place in the annals ofrock-n-roll with his multi-million-selling 1956'Singin'The Blues'. His career, however,wasmore varied and multifaceted than even hismost ardent fans may realise. Born AlbertCernick, to immigrant Yugoslav parents inDetroit, Michigan, on 22 February 1927, as achild he showed flair for the stage and byeleven was already earmarked by WarnerBrothers as a possible successor to MickeyRooney. More drawn to vocalising, however, byhis teens he was heard regularly on LosAngeles' KFKB radio and even after leavingschool, when he took up employment with afirm of saddlers, he continued to singprofessionally in his spare time. During 1945-1946 he served in the US Navy and afterdemobilisation auditioned successfully in 1947for the Carmen Cavallaro Orchestra, that sameyear making his first recordings, as Al Cernick,for Decca in Los Angeles.
Owing to temporary illness, Guy was forcedto curtail his activities with Cavallaro, but later,after moving to New York, he made furtherrecords, for the King record label under thepseudonym of Al Grant. In New York, heworked as a song-plugger for variousorganisations and in 1948 won first prize onArthur Godfrey's popular radio talent show. Ademo he made was heard by Columbia'smusical director and A & R man Mitch Miller(born Mitchell William Miller, 1911), whosigned Guy to a prestigious first contract withthe label in 1950 and recommended Guy usethe full version of his own surname forprofessional purposes. Guy, who was to remainwith Columbia for the greater part of hisrecording career,went on to cut 22 US TopForty hits, including six Golden Discs, withoverall sales by the end of the 1950s alonealready in excess of 44 million.
Although Guy's first few recorded sidesfailed to make their mark, Miller continued toback him and found him a more congenialrecording niche, commercialised country,which included numerous contributions byBob Merrill (alias Henry Lavan, born 1921).
Among the earliest of Miller's suggestions weretwo items that Frank Sinatra had rejectedwhich, fortuitously for Guy,were issued backto-back on the same disc, thus constituting avirtual double million-seller. The first, thenovelty My Heart Cries For You, anadaptation by Percy Faith (credited by thepseudonym of 'Peter Mars') of an 18th centuryFrench folk-tune entitled \Chanson de MarieAntoinette",was coupled with The RovingKind (an arrangement made from the tune ofthe Old English sea shanty "The Pirate Ship", atrend in folk borrowings he would continuewith Wimmin', based on the shanty "A-Rovin'').
My Heart Cries For You and The RovingKind made, respectively, US No.2 and US No.4,in December 1950.
Pre-1954, Guy's US Top Thirty hit list wascrowned by two more million-sellers:MyTruly, Truly Fair (No.2 in June 1951) andPittsburgh, Pennsylvania (No.4 in March1952). Significant among the lesser sellerswere: in 1951, Sparrow In The Tree Top (atNo.8), Belle, Belle, My Liberty Belle (atNo.9),You're Just In Love (Guy duettingwith Rosemary Clooney, at No.24) and a coverversionof the Hank Williams country classic ICan't Help It (at No.28); in 1952, Feet Up(Pat Him On The Popo) (at No.14) and TheDay Of Jubilo (a No.26 Terry Gilkyson re-hashof a folksy number earlier popularised by FrankCrumit) and, in 1953, the ever-popular GuyMitchell 'standard' She Wears Red Feathers(at No.19).
By the early 1950s Guy had set his sightson screen stardom. His vocal contributionswere perceived as a plus by Paramount, but heachieved only moderate success with leadingroles in two films. The first, Those RedheadsFrom Seattle (1953 - with Rhonda Fleming,Gene Barry,Agnes Moorehead and fellow popstarTeresa Brewer, set in Alaska during the GoldRush) was soon followed by a second, RedGarters (1954 - a creditable if predictablystylized Western musical spoof by anystandards, co-starring Rosemary Clooney, CassDaley, Gene Barry, Jack Carson, Pat Crowley andReginald Owen, this proved a more successfulventure, insofar as its art direction, by HalPereira and Roland Atkinson,was nominated foran Oscar).
By mid-decade, however, Guy's career as apersonality vocalist had taken off sufficiently tomake further forays into a medium that did notreally suit him superfluous. He could alreadyboast his own regular show on US TV andmade frequent special appearances in GreatBritain, where he enjoyed an even greaterfollowing than in his own country (therecipient of five British No.1 awards, he had analmost open invitation to tour whenever heliked). Having first appeared in England at theLondon Palladium in 1952 (his two-week selloutrun creating a still unbroken box-officerecord at that theatre) he returned there,memorably, two years later for a RoyalCommand Performance and was subsequentlyco-star (with Gracie Fields) in the first televisedSunday Night At The London Palladium, in1955. In 1956 Guy scored his biggest hit - andfirst No.1 - with "Singin'The Blues" (one of thekey songs of the 1950s era, this was actually acover of a Marty Robbins country hit).
During the 1960s Guy Mitchell made hisname as a straight actor, refocusing his careertowards theatre and TV (his work in thatsphere included the Western series WhisperingSmith, co-starring Audie Murphy, for NBC). Healso appeared in one more movie, The WildWesterners (1962, with James Philbrook, NancyKovack and Duane Eddy, this was another'Yankees get their gold' special) and continuedto sing and (from 1962 onwards) to makerecordings, including singles for Joy andReprise and the country albums TravellingShoes and Singin' Up A Storm, for StardayRecords. Sales both of Guy Mitchell re-releasesand new recordings on his own GMI labelcontinued to keep his name alive, althoughduring the 1970s his stage activities declinedafter he took up ranching. In 1979 he made asuccessful tour of Australia and played the USnightclub circuit until 1981, when his profilewas boosted by his guest appearance in a USTV tribute to Mitch Miller.
In 1984, Guy made a comeback tour ofGreat Britain, which included a standingovation from a capacity audience at theLondon Barbican, and subsequently hereturned annually for further British tours untilthe mid-1990s. He also made regular foreigntours, most notably to Australia. In 1990, forthe BBC in Scotland, Guy filmed the six-partJohn Byrne drama series Your Cheatin' Heart,and during breaks in the production madevarious UK country festival appearancesincluding, on New Year's Eve, a 'live' ITV showfrom the London Palladium. In 1991, followingradio and TV appearances in Australia, he madea further tour, during the course of which hewas severely injured in a horse-riding accident.
Fortunately, he made a full recovery and inlater years made many appearances for charity,which teamed him, at select internationalvenues, with colleagues as varied as PlacidoDomingo, Kathryn Grayson, Buddy Greco, BobHope, Howard Keel,Mickey Rooney and KayStarr. Guy Mitchell died in hospital in LasVegas, Nevada, on 1 July 1999, aged 72 years.Peter Dempsey, 2004