Here’s something you might not know. Like many actors, western star Clint Walker (who is still around, and in his eighties) occasionally tried his hand at singing. And even though it wasn’t a big part of his career, he did demonstrate a pleasing baritone while vocalizing in various TV and movie appearances, and he also generated at least one solid album.
If ever someone looked the part of a Western star it was Norman Eugene Walker, who was born near St. Louis in the Mississippi River town of Hartford, Illinois. Six feet, six inches tall, with rugged good looks and impossibly wide shoulders, he cut a heroic figure. But he started his working life in a pretty humble way, leaving school at age 16 and working at various blue-collar jobs before joining the Merchant Marines in the latter stages of World War II.
In the post-war years he gradually worked his way West and by the 1950s found a job as a deputy sheriff in Las Vegas, which was then beginning to attract the Hollywood crowd in a big way. It wasn’t long before Walker was getting to know some of the players, and he soon came to the attention of legendary producer Cecil B. DeMille. After getting a start in a couple of small movie parts Walker was in the right spot at the right time to get selected for the title role in a new TV show, Cheyenne.
Debuting in 1955, Cheyenne was one of the earliest TV westerns and was the first full-hour one. It is also still considered one of the best, and during its eight years of life it enabled Clint Walker to become a popular star. He would continue to enjoy a long acting career for many more years, but let’s get back to the musical side of things. Walker burst into song a number of times during his TV shows and movies (you can find them on youtube), so the desire was there. But it appears that his main success in the recording studio occurred when he generated an album of mostly inspirational songs. It’s still available now, and I’m sure it’s a hit with his many fans.
Clint Walker – “Twilight On The Trail”
Those of us who were around at the time might remember that the decade of the 1960s was one that saw a lot of different types of music bouncing around. One of the most popular was folk music, some of it highly political but much of it just light and irresistibly addictive to listeners. That was the case with the music of groups like the Rooftop Singers, a threesome that struck gold in 1962 with “Walk Right In.”
The trio was the brainchild of Erik Darling, who’d already had some success as a member of the Weavers during the years following Pete Seeger’s departure from that seminal folk group. He’d also kept busy as a studio guitarist and back-up singer, and had done some solo work too, all leading up to him recruiting singer/guitarist Bill Svanoe and veteran jazz vocalist Lynne Taylor for a new trio they named the Rooftop Singers.
Darling had “Walk Right In” in mind from the very beginning, although he might not have anticpated how well they’d do with it. The song had been written and recorded in 1929 by Gus Cannon, accompanied by his Jug Stompers. When the newly-formed Rooftop Singers revised the lyrics and added dual 12-string guitars, it caught the attention of the record-buying public and soon rose to the top of the charts. It ended up as the all-time best-seller for prestigious Vanguard Records, and was so popular that the album containing the song was Grammy-nominated. (The royalties and notoriety also helped Cannon, who was still around at the time.)
As for the Rooftop Singers, it can be tough to follow up when your first record is a #1 hit, and even though the trio did have good-selling records on songs like “Tom Cat” and “Cool Water” things inevitably went downhill. Taylor left first and was replaced by Mindy Stuart. She stayed for a while but then departed, and Darling and Svanoe continued working as a duo for a few more years before finally going their separate ways.
Rooftop Singers – “Tom Cat”
Isham Jones kept pretty busy in the 1920s and 1930s as the leader of a popular orchestra, but years later his legacy is more about his songwriting ability. He was the composer of a number of familiar songs, among them “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” “There Is No Greater Love,” and our Anatomy of a Song subject today, “It Had to Be You.”
The year was 1924, and Jones wasted no time making a record of the song with his band, something that several others did in that same year. Among them was the orchestra led by the self-styled King of Jazz, Paul Whiteman, but it seemed to be a popular choice for many bands of the era.
The song also had words added by lyricist Gus Kahn, which opened up things for vocalists too. One of the earliest memorable performances by a singer occurred when Ruth Etting did the honors in the 1936 movie short Melody in May, but the song became a popular choice for the soundtrack of many movies, including some in later years — like Harry Connick, Jr’s version in 1989’s When Harry Met Sally. It also furnished the title for a surprising number of movies and TV shows — although not all of them included the song itself — and even a book or two.
A lot of performers have had successful records with “It Had to Be You” through the years, with a duet by Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest charting the highest — #4 — in 1944. But it has been recorded by just about every singer you can imagine, including Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, and Andy Williams, and maybe one or two that would surprise you — for example, Elvis Costello and John Travolta.
Isham Jones Orchestra – “It Had to Be You”