As I said in a recent post, I’ve changed my thinking about the use of the term ‘one-hit wonder’. I know that it’s always been meant as a put-down and I’m sure it’s perceived as such by the artist, but it doesn’t have to be. After all, they’ve achieved something that countless others haven’t — they’ve had a hit record — and that’s cause for recognition and even celebration.
To take it a little further, just because an artist doesn’t have additional hit records doesn’t mean they weren’t talented, and it also doesn’t mean that their one big song wasn’t a dandy. A good example is the smooth singing group known as the Elegants, whose 1958 recording of “Little Star” has been called a masterpiece.
A New York based group, the Elegants included five guys who had all logged time in other combos before they came together. But when Vito Picone joined up with Arthur Venosa, James Mochella, Carmen Romano, and Frank Tardogono, they soon became a popular draw on Staten Island’s South Beach. It wasn’t long before a recording contract came along, and the group hit it big with a song inspired by a nursery rhyme. Written by Picone and Venosa, “Little Star” turned “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” into a shooting star, and it easily climbed the charts to the top position, earning a gold record for the group.
The Elegants made several good followup records in subsequent years, but none did particularly well on the charts. Still, even though there were some dry periods, the group managed to find amazing longevity in the decades since, with a variety of different combos usually led by Picone. In fact, at last report they are still doing their thing for fans.
The Elegants – “Little Star” (You can also access music in left column.)
For today’s edition of Country Catalyst, the GMC Special Feature that tries to bring new fans into country music, we have a Western Swing classic from the king, Bob Wills. In fact, “Take Me Back to Tulsa” became such a popular hit for Wills and his Texas Playboys in 1941 that his biggest rival, Spade Cooley, later recorded it and even performed it in a musical Western movie.
The song actually started life as just one of the many fiddle tunes Bob had played in the past, but when he teamed up with Tommy Duncan and added lyrics, it ended up being a big hit for the band. But like many songs of the era, the lyrics ended up changing in later years to reflect changing times.
For example, the line that originally read: Darkie picks the cotton, white man gets the money.
Was later changed to: Poor boy picks the cotton, rich man gets the money.
And later still, to: Little man picks the cotton, big man gets the money. (You can hear this version in the rare video below, featuring Bob’s brother Luke doing the vocal — Bob’s up on the stage, doing his usual fiddlin’ and verbal comments.)
There have been other changes through the years, but the most fun alteration was probably when the song picked up a little bit of risque humor in live performances by Asleep At The Wheel, the modern Western Swing masters.
But whatever the era, it’s a lively, fun song that just might make a few new fans for country music.
Asleep At The Wheel – “Take Me Back To Tulsa” (You can also access music in left column.)
Bobby Sherwood’s “Elks Parade” has always been one of my favorites from the big band era and it’s probably the best known song from his bandleader days. But it was just the tip of the iceberg for this multi-talented performer, who could play many different instruments, sing and dance like the vaudeville trouper he once was, compose and arrange music, and even do some acting from time to time.
Although Sherwood was born in Indianapolis, his parents were veteran vaudeville performers who mostly lived on the road and it wasn’t too long before they included young Bobby in the act. At first he played trumpet, but as the years passed he also did his share of singing and dancing, and eventually learned other instruments too — especially the guitar, which he played so well that by the time he reached adulthood he was able to snag a job as Bing Crosby’s accompanist.
It was the early 1930s by then, and even though Sherwood would continue to work with Crosby on both radio and records for many years, he also kept his eyes open for other opportunities. In the years leading up to World War II he stayed busy in the Los Angeles area, appearing in nightclubs, working on various radio shows, and furnishing music for movies. Before long he was even leading bands behind stars like Eddie Cantor and Judy Garland. (Of course, by then he was married to her sister, which might have helped a little.)
During the war years Sherwood formed his own band, and became one of the first to sign with the newly-formed Capitol Records. It wasn’t long before “Elks’ Parade” came along, and the record became a million-seller for Sherwood, who continued to fly high for a while with songs like “Moonlight Becomes You,” a hit for singer Kitty Kallen. Unfortunately, wartime musicians’ union problems held back the band, and things sort of went downhill over the next few years. However, Sherwood soon began finding success in the new medium of TV, appearing on variety and game shows and working with top comedians like Milton Berle. He also found the occasional acting job on TV and in movies, and eventually became a very popular DJ in the Los Angeles area. He was 66 when he died in 1981.
Bobby Sherwood – “Elks’ Parade” (You can also access music in left column.)