She was just 15 when she first sang in a Hollywood film, and within a year was co-starring in two Jungle Jim movies, but in spite of her early start Betty Jane Rhodes had plenty of ups and downs over the course of her career. She managed to find spots in a number of films through the years and also introduced a classic wartime song on screen, but other singers had more success with it. She also had several highly-charted records, among them her biggest seller, “Buttons and Bows” — but even that was overshadowed by the better-known Dinah Shore version. She just never quite broke through to the next level.
A native of Rockford, Illinois, Rhodes came up via the radio route, making singing appearances from age eight and continuing on into her teens. By the mid-1930s she was embarking on her movie career and got off to a pretty good start. Sometimes billed as Betty Rhodes or Jane Rhodes, she also continued to work on radio as a featured singer and even had her own show for a while.
The early 1940s saw her best period of movie success, with featured parts in several Westerns and her notable performance in 1942’s Sweater Girl, which included her introduction of “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You,” a song that would become World War II classic. Unfortunately for her, Helen Forrest‘s recording with Harry James‘ band would become a #1 hit and is now remembered as the definitive version, but Rhodes continued to enjoy memorable parts in movies for the next few years.
During the post-war years and on into the 1950s, she found herself enjoying her biggest success as a recording star, although she also went through some lulls. Her successes included good-selling records on songs like “Rumors Are Flying,” “Tonight Be Tender to Me,” and her biggest, “Buttons and Bows.” Although her recording career wound down after that, her 1945 marriage to a TV network executive probably helped pave the way for her to further her career in that medium, and she was also a popular attraction in nightclubs before finally retiring for good. She was 90 when she died in 2011.
Betty Jane Rhodes – “Buttons and Bows” (You can also access music in left column.)
Welcome to the first edition of a new Special Feature known as Saluting Silly Songs. And I know what you’re thinking — why in the world is this goofus adding another Special Feature to the GMC? Doesn’t he have more than enough of them already?
Truthfully, I sort of surprised myself too, but it actually makes a lot of sense. For one thing, the Diamonds in the Rough feature has reached the point where I probably won’t be adding to it. That leaves an opening to fill, and silly songs make everybody smile so what could be better? In fact, they’ve already been the subject of some very popular previous posts on the GMC, so I’ve also corralled those and added them to the new Saluting Silly Songs link in the left column.
Today’s featured song is sometimes given the extended title “The Hut-Sut-Song (a Swedish Serenade)” and that gives a clue to its supposed origin. Written by Leo V. Killion, Ted McMichael and Jack Owens, the song first appeared in 1941 and was said to be based on a Swedish folk song about a boy who skipped school and met a girl by a stream. That’s probably an oversimplification, but it’s not a particularly complicated song. Still, the lyrics were certainly unusual and sounded exotic to listeners, and it soon became a quirky hit.
‘Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla, brawla sooit. . .’
The first and most popular recording was by Horace Heidt and his orchestra, but it was soon being recorded by everybody from Mel Tormé to Spike Jones, the master of silly songs. It was also performed in a short comedy film by the King’s Men (video below), a quartet that included Ken Darby, who would have a long career as a singer, composer and conductor.
As is often the case with silly songs, it has continued to pop up through the years in various places, including the soundtracks of movies about the era. It has even appeared on the Muppets TV show, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.
Mel Tormé – “The Hut-Sut Song” (You can also access music in left column.)
You might be surprised to learn that biggest-selling record to ever come of out of Sun Studio in Memphis was not recorded by Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash or any of their famous contemporaries. It was instead 1965’s “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. You might also find it a little strange that the group’s smash record just made it to #2 on the charts, but was named Billboard’s Number One Record of the Year. Maybe they realized that it was on its way to becoming a bar-band classic.
Domingo ‘Sam’ Samudio was a Dallas-born musician who kicked around for a while in the early 1960s before finally forming a combo with guitarist Ray Stinnet, bassist David Martin, saxophonist Butch Gibson, and drummer Jerry Patterson. Samudio called the group the Pharaohs — a name he’d used before — but this time around he also began billing himself as Sam the Sham, a sarcastic response to criticism of his singing abilities.
The group got a record made on a song called “Haunted House” and it sold well enough, but the guys didn’t really make much of a splash until they recorded a new song Samudio had written, one that combined his cat’s name with a tribute to the Hully Gully dance.The lyrics of “Wooly Bully” were pretty harmless but just nonsensical enough to worry some censors, and it definitely featured a Tex-Mex flavor, beginning with Samudio’s countdown in Spanish. (Which he later said was just him ‘goofing around’.)
The song struck a chord with the record-buying public, and even though it didn’t quite hit the top of the charts it was so popular for so long that it was chosen Song of the Year. It eventually became the most popular piece in every small combo’s songbook and has also appeared on the soundtracks of countless movies. As for Samudio and his guys, they followed up with another big hit on “Li’l Red Riding Hood” and made a number of good records but soon became typecast as a novelty act, much to their frustration. Within a couple of years the group broke up and everybody went their separate ways, although Samudio did reappear from time to time in various venues. Now in his late seventies, he appears to have performed as recently as 2012 but there doesn’t seem to be much happening with him since.
Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs – “Li’l Red Riding Hood” (You can also access music in left column.)