And now, we reach the sudden, unexpected final chapter in the recorded legacy of the Glenn Miller civilian band. The first reason for this was an announcement in June 1942 by James C. Petrillo, the volatile head of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). Due to a dispute over recording fees for musicians between the record companies and the AFM, Petrillo decreed that union musicians must stop all recording engagements starting August 1, 1942. Even a plea from President Roosevelt, arguing that wartime was not the moment to stop producing morale-building music, couldn’t sway Petrillo.
The record companies began a non-stop session schedule to get as many tunes on wax from their artists before the deadline. Since no one knew how long the ban would continue, even songs from films and shows that would not open until 1943 were fed into the pipeline. As it played out, younger companies Decca and Capitol, who depended heavily on current pop songs, caved in October 1943. RCA Victor and Columbia held out until November 1944, denying posterity the opportunity to fully document the Swing Era at its final peak and the early experiments in be-bop.
The second reason for these sessions preserving the last studio sounds of the Miller band was Glenn’s decision to enlist in the Army. Since the war began, Glenn had wanted to do more for his country than just lead a dance orchestra. Intensely patriotic, he likely took note of Artie Shaw’s decision to disband and enlist in the Navy in April 1942. Glenn had big ideas for what he could do for music and entertainment in the Army and after tense and lengthy negotiations, made plans to enlist in September 1942.
Getting back to July – following some east coast dates, Miller set up shop in Chicago for a 10-day stay at the Hotel Sherman’s Panther Room, which was lushly upholstered in jungle décor and panther spots! This meant that Glenn would have to perform his last studio appearances at RCA’s Chicago studio. That was a slight disappointment, as the Chicago venue was notorious for its dry acoustics. After his recent recordings made in the sonorous Victor Hollywood and New York studios, these Chicago 78s sound dull by comparison.
Not that the performances were dull! Thirteen songs were recorded on three back-to-back afternoon sessions. Glenn covered all bases here – swing instrumentals, ballad instrumentals, current pop vocals and novelty songs. All the familiar Miller tropes were employed and not incidentally, several top hits and enduring standards happened to be waxed.
Sadly, one of the main Miller voices would not appear on these discs. Glenn fired Ray Eberle on July 9th, after the singer showed up late for a rehearsal. Apparently, this was the final straw in a relationship that had cooled considerably over the years. Glenn discovered and nurtured Ray back in 1938 and for awhile they had a warm, almost father-son rapport.
By 1942, Ray was increasingly dissatisfied with his role in the band and his compensation. When the other musicians were getting paid for their participation in Orchestra Wives, Ray was informed that since he was under personal contract to Glenn, he wouldn’t be getting any additional reimbursement. Riding high in the vocal popularity polls, Ray likely felt he was one of the band’s biggest draws and deserved to be recognized. Supposedly alcohol was another factor in Ray’s downfall. Whatever the final reason or reasons, Ray was out on July 9th.
Poor Ray – he could have no premonition of how fast and how far he would now fall. Without the Miller connection, he was not a hot commodity. He soon joined Gene Krupa’s band, becoming the fourth banana in a star-studded ensemble that featured the drummer-leader, singer Anita O’Day and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Next to these attention-grabbers, Ray went almost unnoticed. Even worse, the band broke up in early 1943, under a cloud of Krupa’s rumored drug conviction.
Ray formed his own orchestra and signed with Universal Pictures in 1943, making a slew of B-musicals and band shorts, none of which drew much attention. Drafted in 1944, Eberle got back into music in 1946 with a new orchestra and a smattering of recordings on the Apollo and Signature labels, but by then he was already a nostalgia act.