Chattanooga Choo Choo

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Ray Anthony, Billy May (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Jimmy Priddy, Frank D’Annolfo (tb); Hal McIntyre, Wilbur Schwartz, Ernie Caceres, Tex Beneke, Al Klink (reeds); Chummy MacGregor (p); Jack Lathrop (g); Trigger Alpert (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May, Fred Norman (arr).

 

RCA Victor Studios, Hollywood, CA – May 7, 1941, 1:00-5:00 PM

061243-1      Boulder Buff (FN arr)           Bluebird 11163-A

061244-1      The Booglie Wooglie Piggy (TB, PK & M vcl; JG arr) Bluebird 11163-B

061245-1      Chattanooga Choo Choo (TB, PK & M vcl; JG arr) Bluebird 11230-B

061246-1      I Know Why (PK & M vcl; BF & JG arr)      Bluebird 11230-A

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After six weeks taking it easy in Hollywood while making their movie, the Glenn Miller band was released by 20th Century-Fox on May 3rd. Aside from their thrice-weekly Chesterfield radio show, the group had been nearly invisible to the public during that period.

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Wasting no time, they immediately began a three-week engagement at the new Hollywood Palladium, which had replaced the fire-destroyed Palomar Ballroom as Los Angeles’ premier big band venue. Having not made any commercial recordings since February, Glenn set about to rectify that by scheduling three RCA sessions in May.

The first one took place on May 7th, cutting two tunes from their new film and two other radio-friendly BMI numbers, the first an instrumental and the second a pop novelty. We immediately note the livelier acoustics of Victor’s Hollywood studio, which has more resonance and brightness than the sound achieved on the band’s New York sessions.

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A new name appears on BOULDER BUFF – Fred Norman. A top Harlem musician from the early 1930s on, he wrote and arranged for Claude Hopkins, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and many others. The band is loose and relaxed, with welcome solos by seldom-featured Al Klink (two choruses, likely his longest solo on a Miller record) and always–dependable Billy May. The composition, however is a potboiler and not particularly memorable. Glenn thought otherwise and featured it on radio quite often staring in January 1941, months before committing it to wax.

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On the other hand, Glenn (and arranger Jerry Gray) do wonders with a truly dopey novelty tune, THE BOOGLIE WOOGLIE PIGGY. The band and the singers have a fine time, with the rhythm section really clicking. The Mods back Tex’s tenor solo with vocal “doo-wahs,” which was something of an innovation in 1941. Billy May concludes Tex’s chorus with a rip-roaring solo. Composer Roy Jacobs collaborated with a number of black musicians to write such numbers as I’M GONNA MOVE TO THE OUTSKIRTS OF TOWN, I’M IN A LOWDOWN GROOVE and SOUTHERN FRIED.

At this point in time, what more can be said about CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO? The song is inextricably linked to Glenn forever and was the biggest sales hit he ever had. The concept of a Gold Record award was conceived by RCA to honor Miller when the CHOO CHOO reached sales of 1,250,000. That was an almost unheard-of figure in March 1942, when the award was presented. Yet the song was issued as the B-side of Bluebird 11230!   The soundtrack recording from Sun Valley Serenade is longer and groovier, but the record preserves nearly all the best parts of the film arrangement (except Tex’s whistling).

Glenn's Gold Record for CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO.

Glenn’s Gold Record for CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO.

The A-side of Bluebird 11230 is I KNOW WHY (AND SO DO YOU), obviously expected to be the hit tune from the movie. The film version of the Gordon-Warren song is superb, with the record running a distant second, mostly due to Paula Kelly. Film singer Pat Friday’s succulent sound, hyped by the 20th Century-Fox engineers, is unbeatable. Though a superb lead voice with the Modernaires, Paula sounds rather limp and unsure here as a solo singer (though she does well as a soloist on many Chesterfield broadcasts).

With the ASCAP radio band still operating, Glenn was likely annoyed that he couldn’t plug these two potential hits on radio, but at least they were getting onto store shelves and jukeboxes months ahead of the movie’s release in September.

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