2007   JULY 3   #184

Thurl Ravenscroft Festival

01. Thurl Ravenscroft and Roberta Lee - Wing Ding Ding (1:57)
02. Thurl Ravenscroft and Roberta Lee - You Wanna Talk About Texas (1:51)
03. The Sky Boys - Mad Baby Mad (2:46)
04. The Sky Boys - Never Doubt My Love (2:40)
05. Big John and the Buzzards - Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash (2:16)
06. Big John and the Buzzards - Oop Shoop (2:12)
07. Big John and the Buzzards - Mean Woman (2:47)
08. Big John and the Buzzards - Hey, Little Girl (2:49)
09. Thurl Ravenscroft - Oh, You Sweet One (2:15)
10. Thurl Ravenscroft - I Ain't Afraid (2:14)
11. The Elliott Brothers (Lloyd and Bill) and their Orch., Vocal by Thurl Ravenscroft - In the Mood (2:56)
12. Thurl Ravenscroft - Let Love Come (1:20)
13. Thurl Ravenscroft - Big Paul Bunyan, Parts One and Two (4:59)
14. Thurl Ravenscroft - Green (2:13)
15. Thurl Ravenscroft - Asleep in the Deep (1:40)
16. Thurl Ravenscroft - Pompilio Papa (2:04)
17. Thurl Ravenscroft - Cool, Cool Bottle (2:00)
18. Thurl Ravenscroft - The Legend of Diamond Bar (1:03)
19. Thurl Ravenscroft - Tony the Tiger Singing Ad (0:20)
20. Thurl Ravenscroft - Z Frank Chevrolet Ad (0:59)
21. Thurl Ravenscroft - This Ole House (Hamblen) (2:56)
22. Rosemary Clooney, with Bass Vocal by Thurl Ravenscroft - Where Will the Dimple Be (2:22)
23. The DeCastro Sisters with Thurl Ravenscroft - Boom Boom Boomarang (2:16)
24. Georgia Gibbs - The Hula Hoop Song (2:15) - recorded off the radio/poor sound quality
25. Roberta Lynn with Thurl Ravenscroft and the Mellomen - Fee Fi Fiddlee Aye O (2:12)
26. The Andrews Sisters - Mr. Bass Man (2:28)
27. The Thurl Ravenscroft Singers - If I Didn't Care (2:42)
28. Thurl Ravenscroft and Betty Blake - Are You Mine (2:28)
29. Thurl Ravenscroft and Betty Blake - Out of Line (2:39)
30. Thurl Ravenscroft - Joy to the World (2:01)
31. Thurl Ravenscroft - God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (2:01)
32. Thurl Ravenscroft with Marie Vernon and the Mellomen - Jingle Polka (2:17)
33. Thurl Ravenscroft with Marie Vernon and the Mellomen - Five Little Angels (2:31)
34. The Pixies with Thurl Ravenscroft as Santa Claus - Santa's Too Fat For the Hula Hoop (2:11)
35. The Pixies with Thurl Ravenscroft - Kitty Cats On Parade (1:52)
36. A. C. Ducey - Beer, Beer Bottla Beer (2:08)

By my late teens, I had begun to develop the music collecting habit that would shape the rest of my life to this point. I'm sure it will be a familiar tale to many readers here that, in some cases, this meant a drive to collect every last item ever released by a certain artist or within some certain genre.

For certain obsessions, this was a quite understandable pursuit (i.e., The Beatles, Pete Seeger). while others were more idiosyncratic (Patience and Prudence, HIT records 45's), or perhaps just unexplainable (Frank Crumit 78's, "Halmark" label song-poems). But perhaps my biggest ongoing search has been for the recordings made by Thurl Ravenscroft.

As I wrote in the original 365 days project, I first heard Thurl nearly 30 years ago, and became at least mildly obsessed with finding his records, and gradually more and more impressed over the years by the variety found in his body of work. Of course, he is known as the voice of Tony the Tiger, and for singing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch", and some can even tell when they are hearing his voice at a Disney park. But he is so much more...

Nearly every one of those people and genres which I collect fanatically has let me down from time to time, musically speaking, except perhaps for The Beatles, Pete Seeger.... and Thurl Ravenscroft. I have yet to be disappointed upon hearing a new purchase of one of his obscurities.

We'll start with the recordings which were featured in the original 365 days project, two duets featuring Thurl with Roberta Lee. These are among my favorite of Thurl's recordings, genuinely fun songs which show off his range as well as his mastery of playful material.

Following this is a large group of tracks in which Thurl is either a solo performer or the featured singer with a backing group.

"Mad Baby Mad" and "Never Doubt My Love" are credited to "Thurl Ravenscroft and the Sky Boys". I suspect that "The Sky Boys" are really the other three members of The Mellomen, the group Thurl belonged to for at least 20 years, and with whom he made countless recordings for Disney, for advertisements, for Jack Benny, and, for at least one record ("One Broken Heart for Sale"), with Elvis. For these two tracks, however, Thurl gets the top billing.

I have recently been very excited to have tracked down a copy of a record by "Big John and the Buzzards". The first release by this group, "Oop Shoop" and "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash" were released on an OKeh label boxed set some years ago. Even those who compiled the booklet for this now out-of-print set didn't know the identity of this obscure rhythm and blues combo, and assumed them to have been a black group. In reality, this again is the Mellomen, with Thurl on lead. In this case, the group name may have been given them by a none-too-pleased Mitch Miller. Even knowing all that, I'd never even heard of the follow-up release until I came across it on eBay last month. "Mean Woman" and "Hey Little Girl" are the latest additions to my Thurl collection. These six recordings (those with "The Sky Boys" and with "The Buzzards") are unlike any other Thurl recordings I have heard, in their R & B wildness, particularly Thurl's at time nearly unhinged performances.

A more typical side of Thurl is heard in the mid-1950's release "Oh, You Sweet One" b/w "I Ain't Afraid". I've always found this record – and the others which seem to have been attempts to poise a man with such an unusual voice as a romantic balladeer or standard pop singer – sort of bizarre from a promotional point of view (can you imagine the conversation between the label rep and the DJ or radio exec for this record?). On the other hand, these are great records, which I never get tired of hearing, particularly the A-side, which is based on a German folk song. This was the very first Thurl solo record I came across, some 25 years ago, and it set me on the road as a collector of the unusual, the wonderful and the obscure. The Mellomen are again featured, despite Thurl's solo billing on this record.

The next five songs feature Thurl singing solo in a variety of settings. First he fronts the Elliot Brothers band on a 78 from 1953, singing the rarely heard lyrics to the Glenn Miller standard "In the Mood". The last couple of seconds are worth the price of admission. Then there is a brief rendition, from the same year, of "Let Love Come". This comes from a 10" album of songs from the musical "The Desert Song". A two part song about Paul Bunyon comes next, a single release which was apparently somehow tied into the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle. Although I'm largely skipping over Thurl's huge amount of work for children, I have included two samples. First is an obscure cover of the Sesame Street song "Green", from an equally obscure tribute to that show released by Disney barely a year into Sesame Street's long run. I've always loved Thurl's introduction here: "Hi… I'm a Frog…" After that is a rendition of "Asleep in the Deep", from a water-themed album, which I've included because it features the lowest note I've ever heard anyone sing solo, rivaling the bass notes on some of the better Don Cossack Choir albums.

Following this is a brief trip through Thurl's extensive advertising career. I recently purchased an extremely obscure 45 released by an Italian restaurant. I love both sides of this record, starting with the restaurant promotion on the A-side, "Pompilio Papa", which certainly will draw me in for a meal, if I'm ever in the Newport, Kentucky area, where this restaurant still exists. The B-side, "Cool, Cool Bottle", is the sort of record that makes this lifelong teetotaler think about having a drink for once. Then we have a proto-rap performance in an ad from 1963 promoting what is said to be one of the first planned communities in the country, Los Angeles County's "Diamond Bar". No Thurl collection would be complete without a taste of Tony the Tiger, and that's up next, a bit of a singing ad from the mid 1960's. Then there's a local Chicago area car dealership ad, from the golden age of creative advertising. This ad, for "Z" Frank's used car delearship, ran for at least two decades, and this copy of it was recorded off the air in the 1960's, complete with a DJ comment a second or so into the ad.

The next batch of songs demonstrates Thurl's excellent work as part of a team, including his involvement on several hit records and with several big name acts. In each case, his vocal work is an essential part of the overall success of the recording. Thurl was an irreplaceable part of Rosemary Clooney's 1954 rendition of "This Ole House", one of the biggest and best hits of the pre-rock 1950's, but fewer folks have heard the original version of the song, recorded the same year by the song's composer, Stuart Hamblen, and featuring Thurl in the same role as on the later hit version.

Speaking of Rosemary Clooney, we also have one of her less-successful follow-up's to "This Ole House", most likely recorded at the same session, with the Mellomen, "Where Will the Dimple Be?". This is a personal favorite of mine, with Thurl providing a particularly booming presence at the end of each chorus, and at other places throughout the song. Two hits from the lower reaches of the late ‘50's top 40 charts follow: The DeCastro sisters couldn't have done without Thurl on "Boom Boom Boomerang", and although he's less prominent on Georgia Gibbs' "Hula Hoop Song", it's still nice to hear him there.

Thurl plays a more substantial role, and a very enjoyable one, on Roberta Linn's non-hit "Fee Fi Fiddle Ay O", presumably from the mid-1950's. For those who always lamented that Johnny Cymbal didn't involve Thurl on his 1963 hit "Mr. Bassman", I've included a cover by The Andrews Sisters which corrects this injustice, even if the end result is not as interesting as I'd have hoped.

One of the more unusual projects involving Thurl is the Dot album "12 Great Hits", by The Thurl Ravenscroft Singers. How he managed to become the name above the title for this 1962 one-shot album of an MOR mixed chorus covering (wait for it) twelve Connie Francis hits is a mystery to me, but Thurl's one and only vocal appearance on the album comes in a brief cameo on a version of "If I Didn't Care", originally by the Ink Spots, of course, but also a hit for Ms. Francis in 1959.

This section of "supporting roles" ends with both sides of a rather forgettable single, "Are You Mine" and "Out of Line", from 1955. Paired with a fairly weak duet partner, Betty Blake, Thurl provides one of his few less-than-stellar performances on this pair of songs, which sound essentially like two versions of the same derivative bit of mid-‘50's novelty songwriting.

The Thurl festival concludes with some Christmas records. I believe the versions of "Joy to the World" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" heard here are, along with "Let Love Come" the earliest recordings in this collection, with each apparently dating from at least the early 1950's. These two recordings appeared variously on albums and 45's on the budget "Tops" label. I first read a review of "Jingle Polka" and "Five Little Angels" in a 1954 Billboard magazine, while doing another project about 25 years ago. I had given up on ever actual seeing or hearing a copy of it when I found it in an eBay search a year or so ago. I now have a promo copy, and it's unclear whether the record ever was released for general purchase. Even more obscure, and another one I found last year on eBay, is a single by The Pixies, "Santa's Too Fat for the Hula Hoop". When I saw the words "Thurl Ravenscroft as Santa" in the ad, I thought, "well of course, who better?" Thurl's plaintive "I'm Too Fat" chant at the end of the record is worth the price of admission. The B-Side, "Kitty Cats on Parade", is not a Christmas record, but is collected here for continuity with the A-side.

Finally, I've included a record which features an anonymous singer who, although he is not Thurl, certainly bares a similarity to Thurl's style and panache. Besides, it's a great little novelty 45 which deserves to be heard by a wider audience, and one of my favorite records ever. I give you "Beer Beer Bottla Beer" by A.C. Ducey. Be sure to listen for the clanking beer bottles!

I hope you've enjoyed my tour through some of the more notable Thurl Ravenscroft records in my collection.

- Contributed by: Bob Purse

Images: Thurl, Thurl and Tony, Mean Woman, Pompilio Papa, Boom Boom Boomarang, Fee Fi Fiddlee Aye O, Are You Mine, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, Jingle Polka, Santa's Too Fat For the Hula Hoop, Beer, Beer Bottla Beer


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