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 referring to 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.)
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.)