Wednesday, April 18, 2012

And Now for my Next Number...

Frank Sinatra

My interest in popular music atrophied after the late 50's and early 60's. Frank Sinatra is no longer played on the radio; except perhaps on some oldies station in New York or L.A. But if you ever get up to the Falls Church, Virginia area and are in need of a Sinatra fix, you're welcome to drop by my grand kids house and listen to their CD boom box. However, it's not Sinatra ALL the time. They'll mix in some Rose Mary Clooney, Mel Torme, Tony Bennet, and Steve Lawrence and Edie Gome tunes spiced with a little Count Basie, Dave Brubeck and things like that.

I'm proud to say that I'm responsible for their taste in popular music. Being brainwashed by your Grand daddy, who has a pretty good ear for  music, is a lot better than the kids growing up thinking that mindless, tuneless, dissonant banging and screaming is good music.

Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme
At Easter dinner a few weeks ago, one of the boys asked me if I had ever met Frank Sinatra. “No, I never met him, but I saw him live in a concert one time.”

“How about Steve Lawrence. Did you ever meet him.”

“No, I'm afraid not. However," I added, "I once replaced him on a national radio music show.”

The rolling of the eyes began. As you know I love telling stories, true stories, but my grand kids don't believe them and they won't listen long enough to hear, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.”

This time neither boy even finished dessert before both announced in unison, “We love you Grandaddy, but we're outta here.”

Here's the rest of the story:

Around 1963 or 64 the US Air Force Band, based at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington decided to expand their very successful “Serenade in Blue” show which was played on over 2200 radio stations in the county at least once a week (The shows were on records that were handed out to the stations by the local Air Force recruiters.)  The radio stations got “brownie” points from the FCC for playing these “public service” programs. All the services had a show like this back then...with names like “Here's to Veterans” "Your Navy Show," "This is the Army," etc.

The Air Force decided to expand their audience even more by producing a new show for FM stations, which were just coming into their own, with a show called “Serenade in Stereo.” They chose Steve Lawrence as the host of the show.. However, because of some sort of contract difficulty, he wasn't allowed to sing on the show, just announce.

After the first album was cut (13 shows) someone high up (no pun intended) in the Air Force said, “Wait a minute. It sounds very strange to have Steve Lawrence hosting the show....and NOT sing. Plus, he never was in the Air Force. He was in the Army!

So the search for his replacement was on, and I was fortunate enough to be chosen. The big brass liked the job that I did, so decided instead of two shows, one in stereo and one in mono (for AM stations), they would produce only one show that could either be aired in stereo or mono and go back to their well established title, SERENADE IN BLUE with me as host.

I did that show for 7 years. Being heard in almost every city and small town in America was an announcer's fondest dream. It was certainly the highlight of my radio career. Not only that, but for years people who had served overseas would tell me about hearing me in Germany, Bangkok, or Vietnam, anywhere Armed Forces Radio was heard.

Lee Shephard 1964
Each show featured at least one outstanding singer of the time such as Jon Hendricks, Carmen McRae, June Christy,  Matt Monroe, Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughn, Lou Rawls, and you name it. And there has never been a better Jazz band than that edition of the Airman of Note. Remember, this was the Vietnam era.  The Air Force picked the cream of the crop of young American musicians just as their predecessor, the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band did in WW2.

What an honor it was to be associated with such rich musical history.

Am I bragging?  Yes.