From the Land of Band Box Records

Mr. Whiteman…& All that Jazz

August 19, 2019

(Note: Paul Whiteman was born Paul Samuel Whiteman on March 28th, 1890 in Denver, Colorado. Whiteman attended East High School as well as other Denver high schools (some say as many as five) including Denver West High School,due to his rambunctious ways and frequent suspensions.  His first instrument as a boy was the violin.  At the early age of 16 Whiteman was a short-term member of the Denver Symphony.  He left Denver in the spring of 1914 where he joined Max Bendix’s Exposition Orchestra playing both violin and viola.  He would next join the San Francisco Symphony and also played with the Minetti String Quartet.  During World War I Whiteman  conducted the U.S. Navy band, the Mare Island Naval Training Camp Symphony Orchestra.  After the war he formed his own “Paul Whiteman Orchestra”.  By 1922 Whiteman’s popularity soared and he was earning a staggering sum of around one million dollars a year!)

The Versatile Paul Whiteman

In the spring of 1929 Paul Whiteman was interviewed by Radio Digest Magazine.  Reflecting on a burgeoning musical form – jazz – he stated, “Jazz is what we are as we go about day to day; it is our life expressed in musical terms.”

He further related that jazz in many ways was a way of bringing the music of “the masters” (think the classical composers) to the masses.  Whiteman has been challenged through the years by critics as not being a purveyor of ‘genuine’ jazz.

But defenders point out that Whiteman was genuinely interested in and an early practitioner of the form – and that while performing in an era of stringent racial segregation in music (as in all areas of life in America) he often worked with black musicians.

He offered, “When it is all over I want to know more about what the American public likes than anyone else has ever known before.”  Whiteman believed strongly about interpreting the classics into a rhythmic jazz form.

He summarized, “I do believe the radio public is willing to receive jazz with an unprejudiced mind.”  By the 1920’s, America’s media was calling Whiteman “The King of Jazz”.

From Classical to Jazz

Whiteman’s musical background was firmly classical music and his initial exposure was – as stated above – with symphony orchestras.  So how did he evolve into the world of jazz?  In a November, 1929 article – again appearing in Radio Digest magazine,

Seems that Paul – while in San Francisco – had fallen into a period of depression that he just couldn’t shake.  An acquaintance of his steered him into a Barbary Coast jazz venue (which was alluded to as a “hell hole”).  Paul relates what happened next:  “”Here it was that jazz and I met for the very first time, and I, at least, have since never been the same!”

Whiteman’s jazz men 1929 on the CBS Old Gold Hour radio program

He continued “Jazz bowled me over the moment I heard its screeching notes which seemed to strike at me from out of the not too pleasantly aromatic haze of a beer dive back room where men and women seemed to be contorting themselves in a queer gyration that stressed the mad house blare beat of the music.”   

“….I wanted to shout, with the ecstasy of the spiritual release from all oppression that I felt, and so I did it.  No one heard me.  They were all doing the very same thing because they felt the very same way!  Hurrah for JAZZ!”

Whiteman was on his way to a new way of life.  And soon he would be freed from the fiscal restrictions of being a symphony performer.

Whiteman acknowledges the many critics that he faced and would continue to face summing up “To my caustic critics, the the preachers, the pedagogues, to all others I have since, and more than once, pointed out that for me jazz was nothing short of a moral agent.  Yes, of course they laughed at the idea, but that was their mistake…”

By 1931, Whiteman was being referred to as “The King of Jazz” and was appearing on a weekly NBC radio program which was extremely popular with his fans.

The Rhapsody of Whiteman

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In 1924 – the always versatile and diverse Paul Whiteman commissioned composer George Gershwin.  A true American standard, Rhapsody made its debut on February 12th, 1924 with a presentation by Whiteman and orchestra performing in New York City at Aeolian Hall – constructed in 1912 the by Aeolian Piano Company.  Gershwin participated in the concert playing piano.  The number would establish George Gershwin and set the stage for a marvelous composing career.

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George and Paul (no Ringo or John)

The song didn’t lend itself to recording on the 78 rpm format due to it’s length which approached 18 minutes.  A 1945 version by Oscar Levant managed to chart on the Cash Box charts reaching number 23.  A jazz-rock version was released in 1973 by Eumir Deodato reaching number 41 on the Billboard charts.  The piece was originally referred to as a “jazz concerto” before becoming “Rhapsody in Blue”.  Analysis of the composition is complex and far-ranging but there was no doubt that jazz was the impetus for the number.

NBC’s Synchronization Experiment

In 1932 the Whiteman Orchestra participated in an NBC bold first time radio experiment in which musicians performing over 1,000 miles apart were synchronized – the result being vocalist Bebe Daniels singing in Hollywood backed by the Whiteman Orchestra who were in Illinois.  Radio Doings Magazine stated, “Without missing a single note or losing the rhythm, Miss Daniels sang to Whiteman’s music as perfectly as if they had been in the same room.”

Synchronized: Daniels West – Whiteman Midwest

Whiteman Hard at Work 1932

The Daily Grind

Paul gave an interview in late 1933 with Radio Stars Magazine explaining how tedious his daily routine was – a routine which included constant touring, often performing three times daily, delivering a weekly radio broadcast, making special guest appearances – with much more crammed in – and all on about 5 hours of sleep per night.  He recognized radio as a means of promoting and enlarging his audiences at live performances.

Margaret Livingston

In the summer of 1931, Paul Whiteman tied the knot with the attractive motion picture actress – with the ceremony back in Paul’s home town of Denver.  Margaret was interviewed by Radio Stars Magazine.  She related how a condition of Paul’s marriage proposal was an edict for the 300 pound-plus Whiteman to trim down.  And trim down he did – losing more than 100 pounds!  The article also relates how – before departing for the West Coast – Whiteman held down a job in Denver as a taxi driver.

It was revealed that in 1932 Whiteman earned over $150,000 from broadcasting and an additional $250,000 to $300,000 from his appearances and recordings.  The couple were unable to have children of their own and so they adopted four.

Into the Halls

Paul Whiteman ranks right near the top as a successful recording artist ranking in the “Top Ten” artists of all-time.  That listing also includes Coloradoan’s Glenn Miller and Billy Murray.

Whiteman is an inductee into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.  He has also been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, The Big Band Hall of Fame and the Jazz Hall of Fame.  He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – one for Radio and one for Recording.

What’s on the Air Magazine – 1931

Radio Land Magazine – August, 1934

Radio Stars Magazine – March, 1936

Billboard Magazine – January, 1938

Radio Guide Magazine – September, 1940

Tune In Magazine – September, 1944

Radio Album Magazine – 1948

The Paul Whiteman Family

Many musicians of note passed through the Whiteman band/orchestra over the years.  He had an excellent eye and ear for talent and was constantly on the lookout for new promising musicians.

(Row 1: Billie Holiday; Al Caiola; Bix Beiderbecke; The Brox Sisters – Row 2: Vic Berton; Tommy Dorsey; Roy Barby; Red Norvo; Bing Crosby – Row 3: Red Nichols; Red McKenzi; The Pickens Sisters; Paul Robeson; Billy Murray – Row 4: The Original Rhythm Boys; The Modernaires; Mildre Bailey; Jimmy Dorsey; Billy Butterfield – Row 5: Jack Teagarden; Hoagy Carmichael; Henry Busse; Helen Clark; Bunny Berrigan – Row 6: George Gershwin; Elsie Baker; Eddie Lang; Carl Kress)

Recording Success

Paul Whiteman enjoyed 209 charting records from 1920 through 1940 – with 30 records obtaining the number 1 position.  He recorded primarily on Victor Records but also Columbia and Decca – as well for a short time on Capitol Records.

Visit the Paul Whiteman 78 RPM Discography here (or click on the image below

Paul Whiteman in the Movies

King of Jazz – 1930

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Thanks A Million -1935

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Strike Up The Band – 1940

Atlantic City – 1944

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Rhapsody in Blue – 1945

The Fabulous Dorseys – 1947

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Roadrunners – The “Fabulous” That is….

August 10, 2019

Coffee & More Memories with Sunderland…..

John Sunderland

Had a nice reunion with former Denver rocker, Denver Post Staff Photographer and soon-to-be Colorado Press Club Hall of Fame Inductee John Sunderland.

We met out on East Colfax appropriately enough – at Starbucks which John pointed out had started off back in the day as a “Red Barn” fast food establishment – We were also noot far from where John spent many of his growing up years as well close to a venue where his 1960’s group “The Roadrunners” appeared often – Le Bistro A-Go-Go located at 3100 East Colfax (today is “Annies”).  That venue went through several name changes including “The Bandbox” and “The Mad Russian”.

Image result for the red barn on east colfax restaurantImage result for the red barn on east colfax restaurant

For an historical narrative of John’s Colorado garage groups visit this Garage Group” page and scroll down to “The Fabulous Roadrunners” listing and then “Denver’s Super Sonics” page (with Bobby Swanson).  John had come to Bobby Swanson’s Sonics after his earlier group disbanded “The Emeralds”.

Notice that this newspaper does prefix the band’s name with “The Fabulous”.  They were then backing a local soul singer – Kenny Jay.  Le Bistro featured a large glass window facing Colfax where the owner would place a live Go-Go Dancer to attract the attention of passing motorists (notice “In the Window”) listed in the ad.  John told me that he still knows the dancer’s name – She is now in her mid 70’s and we both agreed it would be fun to locate her and revisit Denver’s 1960’s Go-Go Scene!

The Denver night club scene was very competitive and a rivalry among bar owners was not always that friendly according to Sunderland.  “We must have been evacuated 10 or more times in the midst of a nightclub appearance due to a phone in bomb scare” Sunderland recalled.  Though nobody was ever identified – John knew the scare call had to come from a competitor.

Another time John remembers two very large tough looking guys entering into the nightclub where the Roadrunners were playing – both taking a seat near the stage – then glaring up at the band or rather threateningly scanning the club.  “Then just like that, one of them stood, grabbed a chair and flung it through the bar”, John exclaimed.  A knockdown drag out fist fight instantly broke out between the ‘messengers” and the night club’s bouncers – clearing the club – a little more proactive than a bomb scare – but effective all the same.

Fireman’s Hall – Surf’s Up in Aurora!

No Surf City in the Mile High City

John related another tale – His group – The Emeralds, were playing at Aurora’s “Fireman’s Hall” a small venue in the east Denver suburb – When they entered the hall and were about to set up they were approached by the manager who casually informed them they would be performing on the same bill as Jan and Dean!  “We just looked at him thinking – Jan and Dean?  We don’t play surf music!”  Before the could regroup – out walk two blond haired – young – surfin’ types.  They were introduced – stepped up to club microphone – and then commenced to lip sync one of their songs.

(Note that the “Fireman’s Dance” was yet another Pogo Poge production)

“It was horrible”, recalls John.  “The speaker broadcasting from the microphone was inferior, crackling and difficult to hear.  Kids in the hall just sort of sat on their hands, looking rather embarrassed.”  They only ones who should have been embarrassed were Jan and Dean and the Fireman’s Hall manager – The two certainly were not Jan and Dean – just two blond haired locals – impostors!

The Mammoth

Another local venue – which had served Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood located just off East Colfax as a roller skating rink, was Mammoth Gardens.  In early 1960, KIMN’s very popular Pogo Poge began presenting a weekly teen dance at the venue – probably in April of 1960 which was billed as the “Pogo Poge Teen Dance”.

John remembered that Mammoth was still functioning as a roller rink during the week and then would be set up on Saturdays for the Teen Dance.  “The kids all had to take off their shoes to protect the skating rink surface”, he remembers.  John said that typically a couple of local acts would play each Saturday and that Swanson’s Sonics were more or less regulars.  John said there was another four-piece local garage group which played several times on the same dates as the Sonics.  “They were really good.  They had a great tight rock and roll sound” he remembers.  “They all wore slick blue jackets.  After the Mammoth, I never ran into them again.

Vincent – Hurricanes

On occasion the Sonics would be on the same bill with a national act – John recalls playing on the same date as Johnny and the Hurricanes one time and another time with Gene Vincent.  The troubled rocker had very recently just made his comeback after being involved in a horrific automobile accident which damaged his ribs, collarbone and further damaged a bad leg which plagued him throughout his brief career.  The accident also claimed the life of rocker Eddie Cochran and severely injured Cochran’s song-writing girl friend Sharon Sheeley.

“I remember going down into the basement of the Mammoth – a rather bleak depressing catacomb-like area where acts changed – and there was Vincent.  He wasn’t accompanied by the Blue Caps at this point.  He just sat there all alone on a little wooden bench with holding his head in his hand, lost in thought.  It was sad.”

Into the Hall

John Sunderland enjoyed a long career with the Denver Post serving as a staff photographer and because area musical events generally took place on weekends and nights he was tapped as the music photographer.  This provided John with many opportunities to see some great talent and to meet many of the stars.  Bob Dylan, Elton John, Fats Domino were among the many he met up with.  The Denver Press Club is located at 1330 Glenarm Place in downtown Denver.  The club opened in the 1860’s and today is protected by the National Historic Register

This coming October, John will be inducted into the Denver Press Club Hall of Fame – a tremendous and well-deserved honor indeed!

“I have been so fortunate”, John exclaims.  I got to play rock and roll in Denver during a great time in this city, and then I landed my dream job as a photographer.”  Truly a wonderful life.

The Sonics

The Rathskeller with The Fabulous Roadrunners

John told me the white Corvette below belonged to the photographer who took the picture.

L-R: Hernandez – Swanson – Sunderland – Corrigan

L-R: Hernandez – Corrigan – Sunderland – Swanson

L-R: Bobby Swanson, Mike Corrigan. Tony Hernandez and John Sunderland

KIMN Kindred Spirits

August 3, 2019

George O’Donnell – A Tale of the Countdown Kid….

(click to listen)

George O’Donnell – Fellow KIMN Traveler – early 1960’s

I was very thrilled to meet up with former Denver schoolteacher and local musician Bill O’Donnell a few weeks ago – I had corresponded with Bill via my Blog but this was our first meeting.

(See my Post “Tallying Bananas”)

Bill was very kind in lending me a great collection of primarily KIMN and KTLN radio station surveys from 1959 through 1961 (as well as others beyond those years).

The surveys were from the collection of Bill’s younger brother, George O’Donnell – who trailed Bill (and myself) being born in the year 1948.  George was a boy after my own heart and a fellow traveler.

When I arrived back at home I eagerly began sorting through the large box of radio surveys – shuffling – sorting – reading and enjoying each one – all treasures as far as I am concerned.

But as I was digging down into the box I realized that there was much more here than a pile of radio surveys – I was delighted to discover the essence of growing up in Denver in the 1950’s and 1960’s escorted through those decades by radio station KIMN – the “Denver Tiger” – “Nifty 950” – as well as many of the challengers.

Beyond the printed formal surveys was a story of a young boy – age 12 to 14 for the most part – obviously enthralled with the music and much more than that.

George was a collector – a statistician  – a list compiler – an historian – a lover of those times.  So although I can’t be absolutely certain – here is my tale of George O’Donnell – my kindred spirit – and his adventure through a magic time.

Fabulous KIMN – 1959

It appears that George’s adventure began in earnest in the late 1950’s.  He, as did so many others, must have tuned in on Saturdays to KIMN Radio to listen to “950’s Top 50” countdown.  For George, in the beginning, who was around 11 – printed radio station survey sheets had not yet entered the picture.

So picture George with perhaps his small transistor radio tuned in – George sitting alone in his room – with his “Hytone Composition Book” in hand – ballpoint pen at the ready – Let the Countdown Begin.  I wonder if the Hytone was intended for school work assignments or….???  But it was thankfully put to very good use – Homework we will always have with us – but the KIMN Countdown only comes around once a week!  George dressed up the inside cover a bit with some baseball transfer decals as well as a sticker celebrating the Boston Red Sox 1918 world championship – their fourth and last until 2004!

Perhaps he took down his first listings on scratch paper and then transcribed them later in the Hytone – I suspect this must have been the case since his cursive penmanship was very impressive and tidy – for an 11 year.  One of his earliest lists was from a November 25, 1959 KIMN countdown – when “I Wanna Be Loved” by Ricky Nelson held the top spot – That song managed a number 20 peak position on the Billboard Charts.

George’s Hytone – Put to Good Use

Kathy Cool & The Nerd List Maker

I was also a maker of hit record lists starting back in Junior High School when I attended Rishel Jr. High in west Denver.  I have written about my first list previously when I teamed up with classmate Kathy Mercer (a very cool girl).  Together we attempted to list every single rock and roll song which had been released up to that point in time which was 1960.  I came up with a lot of the pop-ish type songs and some solid rock and roll but Kathy was the real rocker!  She knew every Buddy Holley, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry song and more.

Kathy actually didn’t want to work as a team – I was just a bit too dorky for her – so she relieved me of my listing – returning it about three days later – greatly expanded – and much cooler than it ever would have been if I had gone solo.

Sometimes I reflect back and think that my brief ‘partnership’ with Kathy probably spared me from being pounded by the Barnum Gang.

George’s KIMN Countdown Chronology

In the summer of 1959 George would take his first stab at putting together his own survey – this one based on Denver radio station KOSI’s playlist.  This was a short-lived endeavor apparently as George, working on a typewriter – only got as far as number 19 of the “Top 40” presented by KOSI.  But it was an impressive beginning – with neatly ruled columns and a well-centered header and the notation “Top 30 Tunes supplied by the Denver Record Association – 221 Consecutive Week”.  This was the first time I had ever heard of the Denver Record Association.

Next, in early 1960, George creates what I believe to be his very own custom survey – This one containing five selections with Larry Hall’s “Sandy” resting at the top spot.  “Sink the Bismark” by Johnny Horton was a choice after my own heart – I was always a sucker for a good patriotic ditty with a marching beat.  Numbers 2 and 3 are a real surprise – Here George presents us with a double sided hit – by Carl Smith – “Ten Thousand Drums” reached number 5 Country early in 1960 – the flip failed to chart – but here George has it at an impressive number 3.

Number 4 – “Lovin’ Tree” is also a flip side – this one on the back side of Larry Hall’s “Sandy”.  The number 5 position is occupied by Carl Dobkins, Jr.’s “Lucky Devil” – I am starting to think that this list might have been a shot a a Country Countdown.

George only released two of these survey sheets – the second following a week after the first – I like this one – because it does include a “Bomb” of the week with “Turkish Bath”  an obscure flop by Felix Slatkin from March of 1960.

Bomb of the Week

In later 1960, October 12th to be exact – George had returned to KIMN with 950 providing the hits and George designing his own survey sheet cover.  Here George provides the Denver Tiger with plenty of slogans and accolades.  Not sure what the artwork depicts – Thinking that may be Jay Mack sitting at the studio turntables with station manager Ken Palmer looking over his shoulder.

In mid 1961, George showed he was a boy after my own heart. Here on a piece of school notebook paper George was frantically working to capture what appears to be a “Top 100” countdown.

Note down in the right hand corner is a commercial “Coke With Its Bright Zing Is the Most Widely Distributed Product In the World” followed by a curious reference to “I smokim Bulia” or some such thing!???

But the keeper here is the backside of the this countdown – George O’Donnell’s math test with a score of 60 percent!  That would put him about 15 percent better than I would have done.  I award George with a 99 percent for flying in the face of his math teacher to document the very important and historic KIMN Top 100!

NOTE:  Comment From Brother Bill:

“Despite the relatively low score on this paper, George went on to become a high school math teacher.”

Who Needs Math Anyway?

George Goes Big Time

That brings us to my favorite discovery when I was pouring through the O’Donnell archives.  Tucked away in the bottom of the box was something that was very familiar to me back in my early record acquiring days:  A little brown paper bag commonly found in record departments or small records stores – just the right size to hold one of God’s most perfect creations – a 45 RPM Record!

Also tucked into the bag was a genuine KIMN survey sheet.  George was never satisfied retrieving a single survey sheet from the local record department.  There were times that he would bring home three – four – maybe even a dozen copies of the KIMN “950’s Hit Parade”.  In fact, in August of 1961 George brought back over 30 copies of the August 27th survey!

The survey shown here is from January 24th, 1962 – located in the little brown bag.  January, 1962 was getting toward the end of George’s radio survey sheet collecting days as he was entering his mid teens.

Now back to that little brown record bag.  We haven’t been able to absolutely pinpoint which store George favored on a weekly basis – He was not old enough to drive yet – He probably had a bike.  His older brother Bill speculates that the record store may have resided in the University Hills shopping center near their home in south Denver.

Down in the bottom of the bag was the clincher for me – a small cash register receipt in the amount of “.86” cents!  Just the right amount for one 45 rock and roll record including tax and appropriately dated January 26th – two days after the publication of the KIMN survey sheet.

Contents: One Very Special 45 RPM Record

86 cents well spent!

Sadly, George O’Donnell passed away in 1985.

I wish I could have met George.  We could have exchanged surveys and talked about the Top 50 – Reminisced about the “Denver Tiger” – purchasing 45’s with our allowances – compiling lists.  I could have told him about Kathy Mercer and the Barnum Gang – He could have told me about his math teacher.

We could think back to a time that would be difficult if not impossible to describe to a youngster today – a time when a young boy in south Denver and another in west Denver were both huddled over their little transistor radio – safe in their bedrooms –  on a Saturday morning both listening to the sounds – the DJ banter – the magic of the times and KIMN!

Two countdown kids – fellow travelers

Rock on George – rock on……

(Click to Listen)