It’s about time we had another edition of our oldest Special Feature, Anatomy of a Song, so here we go. Today’s choice was popular with fans in two different eras although it had a contrasting style in each. It began life in the mid-1940s as a movie love song that was perfect for crooners, but then became a big hit record for a 1960s teen idol when he performed it in a decidedly different way.
The song — “The More I See You”– was written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, and made its debut in the 1945 musical film, Diamond Horseshoe. Smooth baritone Dick Haymes did the honors, presumably serenading his co-star, Betty Grable. His record of the song came out in the same year, as did one by Betty’s husband, bandleader Harry James (with vocal by Buddy Divito) but the song didn’t seem to create a big stir at the time.
By the 1950s it was a different story. Versions by singing stars like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole gave it some momentum, and it soon became a mainstream pop standard. Its surge continued into the 1960s with popular records by Bobby Darin, Doris Day, Johnny Mathis and others, but in 1966 it was given a makeover. Chicano rock star Chris Montez recorded what would be the biggest seller of all time on the song, in a very unique style.
Dick Haymes – “The More I See You”
We haven’t featured a jazz musician for a while and today’s spotlight falls on one of the best, alto saxophonist Sonny Criss. A contemporary of Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker — in fact, he played alongside him in the early years — Criss was an early bloomer musically, but his career reached a sad and abrupt end when he took his own life at just age fifty.
William ‘Sonny’ Criss was a Memphis native who hit the ground running, moving to Los Angeles at age fifteen and working his way into the music business soon after. It was right in the middle of World War II so that might have helped create some openings in bands, but Criss had the talent to make it in any case. He was still in his teens when the war ended and along about then was playing in a band with Parker and other pros, guys who were in the forefront of the bebop movement.
In the late 1940s and on into the 1950s, Criss continued to build momentum by working in outfits led by everybody from Johnny Otis to Stan Kenton, and he eventually spent quite a bit of time in Buddy Rich‘s band. He also occasionally led his own group, and the result of all this activity was that he became one of the most respected jazzmen around, with a high comfort level in bebop, R&B, and modern jazz.
Criss continued to remain active through the 1960s, adding to his impressive recording output while also finding a lot of success in Europe, but by the following decade he was beginning to struggle with ill health. He worked when he could but had to fight the pain of cancer and things went downhill for him. In 1977, less than a month after his fiftieth birthday, he finally picked up a gun and ended his suffering.
Sonny Criss Quartet – “What’s New”
Unlike a lot of other sibling singing groups, the Shepherd Sisters were all real-life sisters. And even though the ladies had only one true hit record — “Alone (Why Must I Be Alone)” in 1957 — they managed to stick around for a number of years, during which they generated several dozen records, made countless TV appearances, and enjoyed a lot of success with their polished nightclub act.
The Shepherd family made its home in Middletown, Ohio, a small city near Cincinnati, and included eight children, most of whom were musically-inclined. In fact, three of the older sisters actually began it all by singing on local radio, but it was middle sisters Martha, Gayle, and Mary Lou who took it to the next level a few years later, although they retained the trio format for a while. (Younger sister Judy would later make it a quartet, but we’ll get to that in a bit.)
In the mid-1950s the new Shepherd Sisters began finding some success performing in the area and soon caught the attention of some experienced pros, who took over promotion for the group. Before long the girls began showing up in places like Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and also became part of various tour groups, including one that spent some time in Europe. The group also recorded its first regional hit record, “Gone With The Wind,” which drew enough attention to lead to a number of TV appearances on programs like American Bandstand. During this period the trio also became a quartet when high-schooler Judy traveled to New York to visit and they invited her to stay.
It was an exciting time for the girls and they wasted no time in cranking up their record output, including the song that would become their signature, “Alone (Why Must I Be Alone).” Although the Shepherd Sisters — or the ‘Sheps’ as they were sometimes called — didn’t have another hit record after that, the group did continue to work for several years, spinning out a number of solid performances in the recording studio. The sisters also continued to perfect their stage act, enjoying a lot of success in clubs and hotels from New York to Vegas, even touring abroad again before eventually retiring to private life.
The Shepherd Sisters – “Gone With The Wind”