Category Archives: Music

Marlene Dietrich and the 2nd World War

In December 1941, the United States entered World War II, and Marlene became one of the first celebrities to help sell war bonds. She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before some 250,000 troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone) and was reported to have sold more war bonds than any other star.  During two extended tours for the non-profit United Service Organizations Marlene – along with others such as comedians and musicians – provided live entertainment.

In 1943 Marlene assumed the honorary rank of Colonel in the American Army and began to make radio broadcasts – and then to make personal appearances on behalf of the American war effort.

In 1944 and 1945, Marlene performed for Allied troops in North Africa, Italy, France and the UK.  She also went into Germany – her place of birth – with Generals James Gavin and George Patton.  When asked why she had done this, in spite of the obvious danger of being within a few kilometres of German lines, she replied, aus Anstand“out of decency”.   Wilder later remarked that she was at the front lines more than Eisenhower!

Her revue, with Danny Thomas as her opening act for the first tour, included songs from her films, performances on her musical saw – a skill she had originally acquired for stage appearances in Berlin in the 1920s – and a “mind reading” act that her friend Orson Welles had taught her for his Mercury Wonder Show.  Marlene would inform the audience that she could read minds and ask them to concentrate on whatever came into their minds. Then she would walk over to a soldier and earnestly tell him, “Oh, think of something else. I can’t possibly talk about that!”

American church papers reportedly published stories complaining about this part of her act.  Right or not – in 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the Office of Strategies Services (OSS) initiated the Musak project – a musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Marlene was the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use.  A number of songs were made in German for the project and included “Lili Marleen”, a favourite of soldiers on both sides of the conflict.  Major General William J Donavan, the head of the OSS, wrote to Marlene, “I am personally deeply grateful for your generosity in making these recordings for use.”



María Elena Santiago & Buddy Holly – music & sadness

Buddy’s wife was born María Elena Santiago in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her mother died when Maria was 12 years old and, in 1953, her father had sent her to live with her aunt in New York City where she worked as a receptionist for a music publisher – ‘Peermusic’.  As a receptionist Maria Elena probably first met Buddy in August 1957 when, as rising stars, he and the Crickets first visited Peer Southern Music in the Brill Building on Broadway to meet their publishing manager Murray Deutch – Maria’s boss.

It was a day or so before Thursday 19th June 1958 – the day when Buddy recorded ‘Early in the Morning’ in New York’s Pythian Temple – that Buddy had asked Maria out. She had never been out on a date and told Holly he would have to ask her aunt for permission. Buddy promptly got her aunt’s permission and five hours into their first date, Buddy handed a rose to Maria and asked her to marry him!  On August 15, 1958, less than two months later, they were married in Buddy’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas.

They settled down there until Buddy broke up with his band, ‘The Crickets’, and moved to New York. It was in October 1958 that Santiago-Holly went on tour with her husband and took on promotional duties. Buddy also formed the Maria Music publishing company with which “Stay Close To Me” was filed.  Buddy produced Lou Giordano’s version of the song which was issued on Brunswick records on Tuesday 27th January, 1959.

Buddy and Santiago had been married for just six months at the time of the crash.  Maria Santiago-Holly learned of Buddy’s death from the reports on television. She was a widow and did not attend the funeral – nor has she ever visited the grave site. She told the Avalanche-Journal: “In a way, I blame myself. I was not feeling well when he left. I was two weeks pregnant, and I wanted Buddy to stay with me, but he had scheduled that tour. It was the only time I wasn’t with him. And I blame myself because I know that, if only I had gone along, Buddy never would have gotten into that airplane.”

Maria Santiago-Holly suffered a miscarriage shortly after due, we are told, to “psychological trauma”

Buddy Holly’s funeral was held on Friday 7th February 1959, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock. The service was officiated by Ben D. Johnson, who had presided at the Holly’s wedding just months earlier. The pall-bearers were Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan, Bob Montgomery, Sonny Curtis, and Phil Everly. Waylon Jennings was unable to attend, because of his commitment to the still-touring Winter Dance Party.

Buddy’s body was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery, in the eastern part of the city, with his headstone carrying the correct spelling of his surname – Holley – and a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.

Buddy had gone – but his work would live on – and on – and on!

Buddy and ‘Peggy Sue’ leave memories

In my younger days – the 1950’s that is – I was one of those thousands, or maybe millions, of British teenagers who latched on to the US ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ performers. Elvis was my number one with Buddy Holly a close second.  I can remember hearing – and then getting dad to buy – ‘Peggy Sue’ as Christmas got close in 1957. It reached number 6 in the charts – Harry Belafonte was at number 1 from 22nd November until Jerry Lee Lewis took the number one slot on 10th January1958!  Buddy had 3 hits in 1958 – ‘Listen to me’ [2 weeks & peaking at 16]; ‘Rave On’ [14 weeks & peaking at 5] and ‘Early in the Morning’ [4 weeks & peaking at 4]. In January 1959 he had a brief – one week hit – ‘Heartbeat’. While I was enjoying ‘Heartbeat’ – and hoping that Buddy would be over here soon – Buddy was getting on a plane and moving on to another show.

He was in ‘The Winter Dance Party’ tour that had begun in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 23rd January 1959. The amount of travel involved created logistical problems.  The distance between the venues had not been considered and, adding to the problem, the unheated tour buses broke down twice in the freezing weather.  Added to this was Buddy’s drummer, Carl Bunch, had been hospitalized for frostbite to his toes which he had suffered while aboard the bus!  As a result Buddy decided to organise other form of transportation so, before their next appearance – planned for 2nd February in Iowa – Buddy chartered a four-seat Beechcraft from Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City with Jennings, Allsup, and himself.  His idea was to depart after the Clear Lake Surf Ballroom show and fly to their next venue, in Moorhead, Minnesota via Fargo, North Dakota.  This would allow them time to rest and wash their clothes.  It also meant that they could avoid a rigorous bus journey.

It was just before midnight when the Clear Lake show ended just before midnight.  There were some discussions on who was joining Buddy in the flight.  Allsup agreed to flip a coin for the seat with Ritchie Valens – he took out a brand new half-dollar and Ritchie called heads. Heads it was. Richie reportedly said “That’s the first time I’ve ever won anything in my life.”  Allsup later opened a restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas called ‘Heads Up’. Waylon Jennings also voluntarily gave up his seat – this one to J. P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) who had influenza and complained that the tour bus was too cold and uncomfortable for a man of his size.

Roger Peterson, the pilot, took off in inclement weather, although he was not certified to fly by instruments only.  Shortly after 1:00 am on Tuesday 3rd February 1959, Holly, Valens, Richardson, and Peterson were killed instantly when their plane crashed into a cornfield five miles northwest of the Mason City, Iowa airport shortly after take-off. The bodies of the entertainers were all ejected from the plane on impact while Peterson’s body remained entangled in the wreckage.  Buddy Holly had sustained fatal trauma to his head and chest and numerous lacerations and fractures of his arms and legs.

We will be attending the funeral in a few days time.

1920s music and some rather good performers

Paul Samuel Whiteman was an American composer, orchestral director and violinist as well as being the leader of one of the most popular dance bands in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s.  Bing Crosby and Al Rinker had been together in a Jazz band in Spokane, Washington while in college. However, the band was so popular that the two dropped out of college and drove Rinker’s Model T to Los Angeles where Rinker’s sister, Mildred Bailey, who was a Jazz singer, was working. Shortly after their arrival in Los Angeles they landed a gig on the vaudeville circuit, as a vocal act. Some members of Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra caught their act and recommended them to Whiteman. Nothing appears to have happened.

Don Clark was a former member of the Whiteman band and, in 1926, offered the two individuals that were waiting & hoping to join Paul Whiteman the chance to make their first record.

They said ‘YES’ and, on Monday 18th October 1926, accompanied by Don Clark’s Biltmore Hotel Orchestra in Los Angeles, Bing Crosby and Al Rinker recorded “I’ve Got the Girl”.  The song was recorded using an electrical, not acoustic, microphone and “I’ve Got the Girl” was released on a 78rpm disk as Columbia #824-D. On the flip side was Don Clark’s instrumental version of “Idolizing”. Two months later Bing and Al joined the Whiteman Orchestra in Chicago, where, on December 22nd 1926, they cut their first records with Whiteman — “Wistful and Blue” and “Pretty Lips”.

I think it’s safe to say that the ‘rest is history’.

Chris Tarrant – a man of many rolls

Christopher John Tarrant was born on Thursday 10th October 1946; was educated as a boarder in Choir House at the King’s School, Worcester where he represented the school at hockey and cricket. He briefly became a researcher for the Central Office of Information before becoming a newsreader on ATV Today.  It was in 1974 that things progressed. For 8 years between 1974 & 82 he hosted the ITV children’s television show Tiswas.  Two years later – in 1984 – he joined Capital Radio and was host for 20 years.  He is probably best remembered, though, for his 16 years on the ITV game show ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’

In March 2014 he suffered a stroke at 39,000ft on a work flight from Thailand to London.  Doctors at Charing Cross Hospital, London, told him he’d had a stroke, and did emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from his right leg. Chris recalls: “They were brilliant. I’m always aware that if I hadn’t gone I could be in a wheelchair. What happened makes me want to enjoy my life. I take medication and pills. I keep pretty active.  I’ve got a big rambling estate in Berkshire so I walk around hills as I can’t stand the gym. I think I’m mentally fit, too.”

A personal Snippet from quite a while ago

A while ago a few of us were sitting and chattering about the comedy songs we had heard on the radio and decided that each of us would list our own ‘top five’ and then sort them into order from 5th to number 1.  This was our result:

At number 5 was The Goodies song ‘Funky Gibbon’

At number 4 was Billy Connolly‘s ‘D.I.V.O.R.C.E.’ [one of the group had recently had a divorce and sympathy was shared!]

Number 3 was Andy Stewart‘s ‘Donald Where’s Your Troosers?’

Number 2 was Rolf Harris with ‘Jake the Peg’

At the top – at number 1 was Benny Hill with ‘Ernie, the fastest milkman in the West’

I know that many of our readers are not here in the UK but – if you had to pick a top five for your comedy songs and tunes we’d all like to know what ones you would choose

‘It’s number 1 – it’s Top of the Pops!’ in 1969.

Many in Britain will know this headline coming across the airwaves.

In July 1969 the charts for 5th July showed the Edwin Hawkins Singers ‘Oh Happy Day’ at number 5; ‘Living in the Past’ by Jethrow Tull at 4; ‘The Ballard of John and Yoko’ by the Beatles at 3; ‘In the Ghetto’ by Elvis at 2 and ‘Something in the Air’  by Thunderclap Newman at 1.

12th July has Thunderclap, Elvis and the Beatles in situ but ‘Hello Susie‘ by Amen Corner had shot up from 14 to 4 pushing Jethro Tull to 5.

19th July still has no change at 1 and 2 but last week’s number 9 – the Rolling Stones ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ is now at number 3; the Plastic Ono Band has shot from 21 to 4 with ‘Give Peace a Chance’ causing ‘Hello Susie’ to slip down 1 to 5.

But we are looking at the situation on 26th July 1969 and at Number One – Top of the Pops is/are the Rolling Stones with their …….

‘Honky Tonk Woman’

This will stay at number 1 until 30th August when Zager & Evans’ ‘In the Year 2525’ knocks them down – to number 2!

Jo Douglas and Six-Five Special

An hour or so ago I was reminding ‘us of a certain age’ some music of 13th July.  This piece, though, touches the downside of my music recall.

It was on Wednesday 13th July 1988 that Josephine Douglas died.  Again there will be readers who ask ‘Who’s she?’.  But others of a certain age will remember her as the deviser, producer and co-presenter of ‘Six-Five Special’ on Saturday evening BBC TV. Without the aid of synthesisers, strobe lights, multi-track tapes, mime, colour and all the dressings of modern pop music ‘Jo’, as she was known, planted rock’n’roll firmly in the laps of people like me. With co-presenter Pete Murray she made the BBC very much aware of the fact that teenagers did exist – and could become avid watchers of programmes for them. The BBC may have been aware but it appears not to have listened. Despite its success the ‘Six-Five Special’ only ran from 16th February 1957 to 27th December 1958.  Other popular music programmes took its place but us of a certain era missed Jo on our TV screens and even more on her departure on this day in 1988.

Music of this day in years gone by

Do you like listening to current popular music?  I used to – but now I seem to live in the past.  The music I have in the car proves that.  Let’s take today – 13th July – as an example.

On 13th July 1957 Elvis Presley had just started a seven week stay at number one with ‘All Shook Up’.  It’s on one of the CDs in my car.

On 13th July 1958 the Everly Brothers were in the second week of a seven week stay with double sider ‘All I have to do is Dream/Claudette’.  Yes that’s in the car as well.

However the music of 13th July 1985 is not in the car – but it is in the cupboard.  So what is/was that I hear some of you asking.  Well  it was a dual-venue concert that was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London (attendance 72,000 people) and the John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia USA where around 100,000 people took part.  On this same day, concerts inspired by the initiative happened in other countries including Austria, Australia, Japan, the Soviet Union and West Germany making it one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time.  It was estimated that a global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcasts.  What was this magical event?

It was Live Aid.