Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bing Crosby on Radio, Pt. 2

Reprinted in the January, 2008, Old Radio Times.

Bing Crosby – The Radio Directories
(out of print)
compiled by Lionel Pairpoint

There was no intention that the Old Gold series, featuring Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, should form a part of these Directories which originally were to show as much as is known of the sponsored radio series in which Bing Crosby had appeared as a solo performer. Then, out of the blue and into my lap fell an enormous amount of detail, via Wig Wiggins, from Mr. E. Scott Whalen of Columbus, whose conscientious research into various Ohio newspapers of that time has revealed comprehensive, pre-broadcast particulars of a great many of the Old Gold programmes.

It is worth mentioning that when I was struggling with researching any of Bing's radio series dated prior to 1944, I would have given my eye teeth for such detailed listings. I also harboured the impossible dream that someone might have actually listened to the programmes and compiled a radio log of what they had heard. Improbability became reality when it was pointed out to me that such a log for the Old Gold series had, indeed, been created, portions of which had already been published in the book "Bix - Man And Legend" by Richard M. Sudhalter & Philip R. Evans with William Dean-Myatt. The "someone" who hovered over his wireless in 1929 jotting notes was Warren W. Scholl (journalist, Whiteman historian, and the earliest recognised expert on the Whiteman orchestra) and a letter from Philip Evans to Malcolm Macfarlane provided further fragments regarding Crosby's participation in the early programmes of the series. There was now a plethora of information, any portion of which I was reluctant to discard indiscriminately.

I do not consider myself qualified to criticise or decry any of these sources, although I have become only too familiar with the misinformation contained in newspapers which describe Bing variously as a baritone, tenor and contralto or twist song titles out of recognition – “I’d Do Anything For You" becoming the exact opposite “I’d Do Nothing For You" and "I Wanna Be Loved By You" in defiance of any sort of syntax or meaning, being shown as "I Want To Be A Lover By You". Similarly, "Revolutionary Rag" will provide a frustrating search through the reference books unless one is aware that Irving Berlin had chosen to prefix the title of his tune with "That" and we can only conjecture that many of these errors will be accounted for by misread notes or wrongly transcribed telephone messages.

Questions still crowd my mind. Scholl was human and there are bound to have been considerable difficulties involved in accurately cataloguing the make-up of these radio shows, particularly seventy years ago without the benefit of any recording equipment when a missed title would be gone forever, but he is scrupulous enough to admit when titles have been missed (on one occasion as many as ten). Whether this was due to poor radio reception or the sheer volume of the data he was attempting to scribble down between numbers is not known.

To a mere tyro like myself his knowledge of the musicians and their work is quite awesome, enabling him to state quite unequivocally, "as recorded on Victor . . . or Columbia . . ." Or to be able to say on August 27th "(as on March 5 but Bix with derby mute)". And again, to report with incredible detail, "Ponce Sisters vocal, with Crosby release. Malneck takes verse on violin; next chorus eight bars of Rank, and Trumbauer in release of last chorus". In addition, his comments are devastatingly forthright, describing consecutive arrangements as "miserable", again "miserable" and "even worse" but was he just as fallible as the Press, almost as fallible, or not quite as fallible? I am inclined to toward the last option. There are, inevitably, minor errors in song titles but if hearing is believing this should be the work of greater authenticity.

It is unfortunate that less than half of the total of 66 programmes are covered as, obviously, the book concerns itself with only the shows featuring Bix Beiderbecke and author Philip R. Evans further explains ". . . When I started to research my Frank Trumbauer book, I contacted Warren and asked if I might have the balance of the programmes for my Tram book. He told me that he had tossed them out, not feeling they were of interest to anyone. I about cried". I will join Philip in his tears because Warren Scholl is now deceased and so that any questions that I had for him will remain unanswered.

On occasions these independent sources are in virtual agreement (see Programme No. 14) and on others they differ wildly (see Programme No. 21). In some cases Whiteman appears to have abandoned most of the programme as printed for something entirely different. This raises another question. Even in those early days, listeners were quick to take up their pens or telephone the studio with their complaints and surely tuning in to hear a favourite piece as scheduled only to find that it had not been included in the broadcast would be a major source of irritation. Might this have been the reason that later in the series explicit pre-broadcast details of the programmes became rarer in the newspaper columns, remembering that it was not until mid 1938 that most of the nation's press united in their embargo on all radio "chatter".

In view of Scholl's "missed titles" coupled with the fact that I feel unable to abandon any of the items uncovered by E. Scott Whalen's prodigious researches, I am including every scrap of information that has been made available to me in the hope that it will not further confuse. I have adopted the following method of identification: Titles which are not included in any newspaper listings are marked (a). Song titles from the separate sources which coincide are marked (b). This should leave anything that is unmarked as being taken solely from the newspaper listings but please note that this refers to titles only. Sometimes there is confliction as to who may have performed a particular vocal and these alternatives are shown (See Programme No. 29). In some cases the only data that survives is a list of songs, frustratingly without the performers. In addition, there is the possibility that Bing Crosby/The Rhythm Boys may not have appeared in every programme and although research continues, the numbers that featured their talents may forever remain a matter of speculation. Nevertheless, I am confident that anything set down here represents a greater detail of the content of the complete Paul Whiteman-Old Gold Shows than has yet been published.

There is another important point to make. One of the slightly irritating journalistic foibles that has been noted is a propensity to refer to, "Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys". To those who know the score, this might seem to be as fatuous as saying, "Groucho and the Marx Brothers" but in fairness it should be said that in 1929 the make-up of the seminal trio may not have been so well known. In fact, the only reason for bringing this to your notice is because there are also allusions to "Bing Crosby and the Old Gold Trio" and I found myself with a deal of extra work when Philip Evans pointed out that Frank Trumbauer's personal diary of the time stated that Bing Crosby was a member of the "Old Gold Trio". Once again, who am I to refute the words of a musician who was there? In consequence, as in the case of the Rhythm Boys I have been obliged to shew all titles which featured the Old Gold Trio as Crosby items. We have only to discover that he was also part of the Cheerleaders Quartet to consider re-titling the series, The Bing Crosby Show!


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