One of the longest careers by a bandleader would have to be the one enjoyed by Jan Garber, who was sometimes billed as ‘The Idol of the Airwaves’ during his early radio days. He was barely an adult when he led his first group and was still directing musicians nearly six decades later, almost up until his death in 1977. Not surprisingly, the kind of music he provided changed through the years, but much of it holds up well even today.
Born in Indianapolis (although sources vary) but raised in Louisville and Philadelphia, Jacob Charles Garber was trained as a violinist, and was good enough to spend time in the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra — after first gaining some experience with his own ensemble. But the young musician eventually turned to the pop music sounds of the era, including early jazz, by forming the Garber-Davis Orchestra with pianist Milton Davis.
Although the music sounds stilted and square to us now, the band built up a following on radio during the 1920s, selling a lot of records with a ‘sweet’ musical style while mixing in the occasional ‘hot’ tune. But by the mid-1930s the public’s tastes in music were changing, and Garber — who had split from Davis years before — changed to a more modern style with a newly constituted band. Although he didn’t completely leave the old standbys behind, he did begin to incorporate more and more of the newer sounds into his songbook and fans responded. By the 1940s he was leading a swing band that approached the level of the top outfits.
In the post-war years the big band era was winding down and many of the musicians were branching off into various directions. Garber was perhaps most comfortable with the softer traditional sounds he’d produced in his earlier years, and he mostly continued to go in that direction in the following decades. Although he had some inactive periods, he stayed pretty busy leading various groups on stage and making the occasional TV appearance, performing an audience-pleasing style of music. When he died, he was in his early eighties. (Again, sources vary.)
Jan Garber Orchestra – “I’ll See You In My Dreams” (You can also access music in left column.)
As I said in the first edition of Earworms, the songs that get stuck in your head are usually not those that were big hits. Or to put it another way, the biggest sellers are already pretty familiar so it seems to me that they’d pop into your head once in a while anyway. But when a lesser-known song seems to show up and run endlessly through your thoughts, that’s an earworm. And I’d go so far as to say that even though I think that it’s possible to have shared earworms, it’s usually just your personal one.
But here’s a new wrinkle. Today I found myself inexplicably trapped in the midst of Pat Boone‘s “Bernardine” and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. I’m pretty sure I haven’t recently heard the song or thought about the movie it came from, and I definitely don’t remember meeting anyone named Bernardine. And yet it appeared — a one of a kind occurrence. Could we call it the immaculate exception?
Not one of Pat Boone’s biggest hits, it had a brief flurry in record stores when the movie of the same name came out in the Summer of 1957, and it then settled into #14 on the charts. It did have the distinction of having both words and music written by the legendary Johnny Mercer, who was more often just a lyricist. As for the movie, it was pretty forgettable — something about some teenagers inventing a fictional girl named Bernardine Mudd. But somehow it all came together to create an earworm for this particular geezer.
Pat Boone – “Bernardine” (You can also access music in left column.)
I couldn’t resist including the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ in the title of this piece, but I should confess a couple of things. First of all, I’m not referring to the TV show, but rather a Western swing band that actually called itself the Beverly Hill Billies (although some sources do spell it ‘Hillbillies’). I should also admit that today’s subject, country music pioneer Zeke Manners, actually spent only a small portion of his long career with the group — but it was an important part.
Although he was born in San Francisco, Leo Ezekiel Mannes grew up in Los Angeles. While still in high school he became proficient on several instruments, and within a few years had embarked on a musical career, one that soon led to a something special. That occurred around 1930 when the young performer — now calling himself Zeke Manners — helped a radio station concoct a story about a group of transplanted hillbillies living near Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, a faux backwoods musical group known as the Beverly Hill Billies was soon making a splash in local clubs and on the radio. The guys did pretty well for a while, even turning out some good-selling records, but within a few years things began to unravel. The group itself would continue to do its thing with various members through the years, but Manners packed his accordion and headed to New York.
As it turned out, he was welcomed with open arms by New Yorkers. The sophisticates enjoyed his corn-pone act, and he also appealed to the large number of rural folks who were flooding the city looking for a new way of life. Even though it was all tongue in cheek — he called himself a Jewish Hillbilly — he became very popular on the radio and sold a lot of records. You might say that even though Nashville was the capitol of country music, Manners was the king of New York’s thriving country music scene.
During World War II Manners served in the Army entertainment division, and in the post-war years worked on both coasts in radio and early TV. He also continued to excel as a songwriter, with successes like ”The Pennsylvania Polka,” a big hit for the Andrews Sisters (which enjoyed a revival years later in the movie Groundhog Day). Always a go-getter, as the years passed Manners did everything from stand-up comedy to running a mail order business. He even made a couple of small appearance in movies, one of them his nephew Albert Brooks’ Lost In America. But his most ironic job might have been the one he got by suing the producers of the popular Beverly Hillbillies TV show. To settle the suit, they made him the musical director of the program, and he soon became a friend and musical collaborator of its star, Buddy Ebsen. He finally wound down in his later years, and was 89 when he died in 2000.
Zeke Manners – “I’m a Tired Cowboy” (You can also access music in left column.)