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FRANK CRUMIT
THE GAY CABALLERO

24 original mono recordings 1925-1935
Compiled by Ray Crick and Peter Dempsey
Transfers by Peter Dempsey. Remastering by Martin Haskell

ASV LIVING ERA CD AJA 5457

 

 

Crotchet



  1. A GAY CABALLERO
  2. ABDUL ABULBUL AMIR
  3. UKELELE LADY
  4. I MARRIED THE BOOTLEGGERíS DAUGHTER
  5. IíM SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD
  6. THANKS FOR THE BUGGY RIDE
  7. MOIUNTAIN GREENERY
  8. GET AWAY, OLD MAN, GET AWAY
  9. PRETTY LITTLE DEAR
  10. HIGH-HIGH-HIGH UP IN THE HILLS
  11. CRAZY WORDS, CRAZY TUNE
  12. FRANKIE AND JOHNNY
  13. ĎS WONDERFUL
  14. THE SONG OF THE PRUNE
  15. GRANNYíS OLD ARMCHAIR
  16. LITTLE BROWN JUG
  17. DONALD THE DUB
  18. DOWN BY THE RAILROAD TRACK
  19. WHAT KIND OF A NOISE ANNOYS AN OYSTER
  20. THREE LITTLE WORDS
  21. WOULD YOU LIKE TO TAKE A WALK?
  22. THEYíRE ALWAYS TOGETHER
  23. THE PIG GOT UP AND SLOWLY WALKED AWAY
  24. THEREíS NO ONE WITH ENDURANCE LIKE THE MAN WHO SELLS INSURANCE

As soon as I saw the picture of Frank Crumit on the cover of this CD I immediately thought that here was a typical old time Vaudeville artiste of the early 1920ís. It might have been his clothes that gave me this idea. I liked his Homburg hat, thick astrakhan collar and the blue dickey bow on stiff winged shirt. His wide, pale blue eyes and well-shaped mouth gave nothing away but I also thought he would be a warm-hearted man. I was right inasmuch as he became a leading figure on stage, radio and numerous recordings, but I was to discover his career had taken a somewhat unusual route. He went from Culver Military Academy in Indiana via the University of Ohio where he was an ace football and baseball player, but he also earned a reputation in the college dramatic and musical societies for his comic ditties. He matriculated in 1910 and embarked on a career in engineering but abandoned this in 1912 when he appeared on Broadway in a revue. He went into Vaudeville as "The One Man Glee Club" and first recorded in 1919 for Columbia, then in 1924 for Victor and Decca. He played ukulele and guitar and sang in a soft, warm voice, mostly novelty numbers. He was clever and credited for writing many songs and adapting others. He became famous in Britain too and was credited with many chart hits here in the 1920s though he never lost touch with Broadway.

The earliest recording here comes from June 1925 and itís "Ukulele Lady". I remember this, of course, but never in the way itís sung by Frank Crumit. With his own ukulele, W. Mcginnes on piano and Carson Robinson on guitar he certainly adds something different. I especially like in the introduction how he strums away on his ukulele before coming in. He was clearly an expert player and sings as though he is telling you why he is playing that particular song. I even felt the urge to stand up and jig along with him. Next is "He Married The Bootleggers Daughter" recorded on the same date. Again Frank is on his ukulele but has Frank Banta at the piano. He sings this in that same, tuneful way while strumming along but never distracts you in any way from hearing the words that always bring an echo of prohibition. Now and then you can hear him mixing up other tunes very cleverly. In the December, with Frank Banta at the piano again, Frank recorded "Iím Sitting On Top Of The World". Once again his style of strumming away as he sings is there and he never seems to vary his voice whatever the song is. In New York that same year, he also recorded another of his comic songs so evocative of the era, "Thanks For The Buggy Ride". Again there are hints of different tunes here and he is so clever at adapting words to any tune that you soon go along with him and enjoy the ride, in this case in a buggy.

After all that I wondered what Frank would make of the lovely "Mountain Greenery", a Rogers and Hart hit from Garrick Gaieties of 1926, which he recorded in the July. Heard after some of the comedy it comes as a surprise to hear him singing a song "straight" and I have to say I do think he is better suited to the novelty and comic numbers. His rather stiff delivery of this particular song shows this very well. In August 1926 he made "Get Away, Old Man, Get Away" and here he is back with more familiar material. This is an absurd "ditty" telling a girl to marry a young man rather than an old man. Quite clever it is too, with the words matching the catchy tune and Frank sings it in that special way he has. I loved it as I did also "Pretty Little Dear" which was made the same month. Here Frank tells us he is marrying the prettiest little girl in town, the butcherís daughter, and the butcher is very rich.

In January 1927 in New York he recorded "High-High-High Up In The Hills." Quite a simple song and yet I think Frank makes it into something better than it is, most especially the interaction he brings with his pianist Frank Banta. "Crazy Words, Crazy Tune" came the same month and this is a quick, snappy number which the title describes perfectly. I did find it a little hard to make out all the words but again I liked the combination of piano and ukulele that made up for it. "Frankie and Johnny" was recorded in May that year with Frank on his guitar this time and Andy Sannella on clarinet and Nat Shilkret on piano. I think this again goes some way to proving Frank Crumit is better heard in the lighter songs. Likewise in "íS Wonderful" from "Funny Face" from October that year. He sings in a lovely, lilting manner, accompanied beautifully by Lou Raderman on violin and Jack Shilkret on piano, but the impression is again of a fish out of water. Then in April 1928 he is back in more familiar territory with "The Song of the Prune". If you have never heard this before itís a clever, ridiculous ditty of the prune and how no matter what age it is it always has wrinkles. A well thought out number and still very amusing even after all these years. You can hear every word too, especially when Frank nearly breaks into patter for a few seconds. A real chuckle.

After what appears to be a break, we move forward to December 1929 and "Grannyís Old Armchair" with Leonard Joy and his Orchestra. A lovely old song and still occasionally heard today which Frank sings absolutely straight, making it a real story-song in a way that now seems lost. Itís not every singer who could express themselves as well as this but Frank does it, making it so easy to imagine this old armchair. From January 1930 we have another old favourite, "Little Brown Jug" which Frank sings with The Nat Shilkret Orchestra. I tried to remember all the words of the song, but only a few of them came to my mind and yet it didnít seem to matter as the tune was right and the words sounded right. The next song on the disc comes from February of that year and itís "Donald the Dub". If you have never heard this before, it is one of the most ridiculous and silly songs I have heard in a long time. You will love how Frank half-sings and half-speaks of the golfer Donald and you can even hear all the actions as he plays, or tries to, down to the shouts of other golfers and the swish of his club.

Frank recorded another simple catchy number in April of that year, "Down By The Railroad Track" where he tells of how he and his girl Annabel always went down the railroad track every Wednesday night because they werenít allowed to sit in her parlour. Those were the days! One night her Father catches them and here Frankís voice deepens as he makes himself into Annabelís father. Such a very simple song and yet, as always, Frank has an inimitable way with it and the only performer I can think of that sounds anything like him is our own George Formby who sang songs such as the ones Frank does so well. In November that year he recorded another of his silly songs, "What Kind Of A Noise Annoys an Oyster" which is as good as any of the others. Frank tells us he knows what noise a cat makes when he sees a mouse, and how a dog can make a noise at a cat, but that doesnít tell him about the oyster.

Frank Crumit is said to have written thousands of songs and adapted many others. He enjoyed great popularity in the 1920s and 1930s and appeared in several Broadway shows including "Greenwich Village Follies" and "Tangerine" with his future wife Julia Sanderson. The two were successful on radio in the 1930s also and then in February 1931 they recorded a duet on this disc "Would You Like To Take a Walk". I like this very much as they sing so well together. This is a simple, straight duet, and each contributes their part in their own style. Its about taking a walk whether its raining or feeling cold and listen to the way Frank hums a few bars as they walk. I did wonder if the next song on the CD was meant as a follow up to it. This is "Theyíre Always Together" and again the backing band is Leonard Joy and his orchestra. Frank sings of always being together with his girl like Siamese twins. Now and again you hear someone in the orchestra shouting "Who! Where!" in harmony with Frank who sings in reply most effectively. Like all Frankís own songs itís cleverly written.

It was not until August 1934 that Frank wrote and recorded the title song on this disc "A Gay Caballero". Itís about coming from Rio and of his love for a Senora and then her husband coming in and finding them. Itís a quick and snappy song and although it appears Frank gets the worse of the meeting with the husband itís funny as he tells of her snoring while asleep with this Gay Callallero. In the same month he also recorded another of his songs "Abdul Abulbul Amir". I love this and even though you might never have heard it before its one that Iím sure will appeal along with so many others on this disc.

In October 1934 he recorded the priceless "The Pig Got Up and Slowly Walked Away". Benjamin Hapgood Burt wrote it for Frank and I laughed all through. I think it was a song that only Frank Crumit could have made the best of and I must also add that he sings a drunk perfectly. He really does sound sozzled. You may well not understand the BBCís apparent objection when they prohibited broadcasting of this in January 1935 on account of its "objectionable" lyrics. However, being around at that time myself, Iím afraid I can imagine it. Thank goodness those days are over because this is a classic. Still with Decca in May 1935 Frank wrote and recorded "Thereís No One With Endurance Like The Man Who Sells Insurance" and that is perfect Crumit material too.

I do recommend this CD very warmly. Itís a collectorís item that restores a man who otherwise may well have been forgotten. Itís thanks to the brilliant work of ASV Living Era who again have scored a triumph in transferring the old 78 to CD thus enabling everyone to hear Frank Crumit so clearly again after so long.

Joan Duggan