Lindley Armstrong "Spike" Jones (December 14, 1911 – May 1, 1965) was a popular musician and bandleader specializing in performing satirical arrangements of popular songs. Ballads and classical works receiving the Jones treatment would be punctuated with gunshots, whistles, cowbells, and ridiculous vocals. Through the 1940s and early 1950s, the band recorded as Spike Jones and his City Slickers and toured the USA and Canada under the title The Musical Depreciation Revue.
The City Slickers evolved out of the Feather Merchants, a band led by vocalist-clarinetist Del Porter, who took a back seat to Jones during the embryonic years of the group. They made experimental records for Cinematone Corp. and performed publicly in Los Angeles, gaining a small following. The original members of the band included vocalist-violinist Carl Grayson, banjoist Perry Botkin, trombonist King Jackson, and pianist Stan Wrightsman. The band signed a recording contract with RCA Victor in 1941 and recorded extensively for the company until 1955. They also starred in various radio programs (1945-1949) and television shows (1954-1961) on both NBC and CBS.
George Rock (trumpet and vocals from 1944 to 1960) was the backbone of the City Slickers, according to his contemporaries. Other prominent band members at various times during the 1940s included Mickey Katz (clarinet and vocals), Doodles Weaver (vocals), Red Ingle (sax and vocals), Carl Grayson (violin and vocals), Country Washburne (tuba), Earl Bennett (aka Sir Frederick Gas, vocals), Joe Siracusa (drums), Joe Colvin (trombone), Roger Donley (tuba), Dick Gardner (sax and violin), Paul Leu (piano), Jack Golly (trumpet and clarinet), John Stanley (trombone), Don Anderson (trumpet), Eddie Metcalfe (saxophone), Dick Morgan (banjo), George Lescher (piano), and Freddy Morgan (banjo and vocals). The liner notes for at least two RCA compilation albums claimed that the two Morgans were brothers (the 1949 radio shows actually billed them as "Dick and Freddy Morgan"), but this isn't true; Freddy's real name was Morgenstern. The band's 1950s personnel included Billy Barty (vocals), Gil Bernal (sax and vocals), Mousie Garner (vocals), Bernie Jones (sax and vocals), Phil Gray (trombone), Jad Paul (banjo), and Peter James (vocals). James (who was sometimes billed as Bobby Pinkus) and Garner were former members of Ted Healy's vaudeville act and had replaced Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard as Healy's "stooges" in the 1930s.
Spike Jones's second wife, singer Helen Grayco, performed in his stage and TV shows. Jones had four children: Linda (by his first wife, Patricia), Spike Jr., Leslie Ann, and Gina. Spike Jr. is a producer of live events and TV broadcasts. Leslie Ann is the Director of Music and Film Scoring at George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch in Marin County.
Recorded days before the record ban, Jones scored a huge broadcast hit late in '42 with "Der Fuehrer's Face", a humorous attack on Adolf Hitler that followed every use of the word "Heil" with a razzberry (as in the repeated phrase "Sieg Heil, (razzberry), Heil (razzberry), right in Der Fuehrer's face!").
The song was originally written for Walt Disney's 1943 propaganda cartoon, first titled Donald Duck in Nutzi Land according to The Disney Archives. The success of the record inspired Disney to retitle the cartoon after the song. The song eventually reached number three on the charts, and it is said that even Hitler heard it. In fact, in the satirical magazine Cracked, in an article satirizing the fascination with Nazis, Hitler was depicted swinging a sledgehammer at a jukebox, from which a voice emanates singing "I went 'F-z-z-z-t-t-t!' right in Der Fuehrer's Face!".
CHORUS: 'Cause all we hear is Ghost Riders sung by Vaughn MonroeThe original version, which was pressed for the European market in 1949, is a prized rarity. The concurrent American release used an alternate take, minus the dig at Monroe, because Monroe, an RCA recording artist and also a major RCA stockholder, demanded it.
DRUNK: I can do without his singing
FRIEND: But I wish I had his dough!
In December 1945 Spike released his version of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, arranged by Joe "Country" Washburne with lyrics by Foster Carling. An abridged version is also included in the aforementioned album, with a complete version available in Spiked: The Music of Spike Jones.
One of the announcers on Jones's CBS show was the young Mike Wallace. Writers included Eddie Maxwell, Eddie Brandt, and Jay Sommers. The show signed off for good in June 1949.
The one outstanding recording by the Other Orchestra is "Laura," which features a serious first half (played exquisitely by the serious group), and a manic second half (played hilariously by the City Slickers). Mickey Kaminsky sang with this group. Mickey was the father of pop singer Billy Joel.[NPR interview with Mickey Kaminsky, 1978].
In 1942 the Jones gang worked on numerous Soundies musical shorts seen on coin-operated projectors in arcades, malt shops, and bars. The band appeared on camera under their own name in four of the Soundies, and provided background music for at least 13 others, according to musicologist Mark Cantor.
As the band's notoriety grew, Hollywood producers hired the Slickers as a specialty act for feature films, including Thank Your Lucky Stars and Variety Girl. Jones was set to team with Abbott and Costello for a 1954 Universal Pictures comedy, but when Lou Costello withdrew for medical reasons, Universal replaced the comedy team with look-alikes Hugh O'Brian and Buddy Hackett, and promoted Jones to the leading role. The finished film, Fireman, Save My Child, is a juvenile comedy that turned out to be Spike Jones's only top-billed theatrical movie.
The rise of rock-'n'-roll and the decline of big bands hurt Spike Jones's repertoire. The new rock songs were already novelties, and Jones could not decimate them the way he had lampooned "Cocktails for Two" or "Laura." He played rock-'n'-roll for laughs when he presented "for the first time on television, the bottom half of Elvis Presley!" This was the cue for a pair of pants -- inhabited by midget Billy Barty -- to scamper across the stage.)
Jones was always prepared to adapt to changing tastes. In 1950, when America was nostalgically looking back at the 1920s, Jones recorded an album of Charleston arrangements. In 1953 he responded to the growing market for children's records, with tunes aimed directly at kids (like "Socko, the Smallest Snowball"). In 1956 Jones supervised an album of Christmas songs, many of which were performed seriously. In 1957 the maestro, noting the TV success of Lawrence Welk and his dance band, revamped his own act for television. Gone was the old City Slickers mayhem, replaced by a more straightforward big-band sound, with tongue-in-cheek comic moments. The new band was known as "Spike Jones and the Band that Plays for Fun." He also recorded a "cover" of "Dominique," a hit by The Singing Nun, in which he not only plays part of the melody on a banjo, but melds the melody successfully with "When the Saints Go Marching In!"
The last City Slickers record was the LP Dinner Music For People Who Aren't Very Hungry. The whole field of comedy records was changing from musical satires to spoken-word comedy (Tom Lehrer, Bob Newhart, Mort Sahl, Stan Freberg, etc.). Spike Jones adapted to this, too; most of his later albums are spoken-word comedy, including the horror-genre sendup Spike Jones in Stereo (1959). Jones remained topical to the last: his final group, Spike Jones's New Band, recorded four LPs of brassy renditions of pop-folk tunes of the 1960s (including "Washington Square" and "The Ballad of Jed Clampett").
Syndicated radio personality Dr. Demento regularly features Jones's music on his program of comedy and novelty tracks.