tiny tim

Tiny Tim (musician)

Herbert Khaury (April 12 1932November 30 1996), better known by the stage name Tiny Tim, was an American singer, ukulele player, and musical archivist. He was most famous for his rendition of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" sung in a distinctive high falsetto / vibrato voice (his normal singing voice was baritone). He was generally thought of as a novelty act, though his records display a wide knowledge of American songs. He had no official middle name, though some web sites report that it was "Butros," his father's first name, but adopted Buckingham for no explained reason. Accordingly, his headstone reads "Khaury / Herbert B / Tiny Tim / 1932 1996".

Biography

Rise to stardom

Tiny Tim was born in New York City and grew up in an old apartment building in Washington Heights. He was the son of a Lebanese father (Butros) and a Polish Jewish mother (Tillie Staff) and was raised Catholic. When he was five years old his father brought home a wind up gramophone and a 78 rpm record that featured a 1905 recording of Henry Burr singing Beautiful Ohio. Young Herbert immersed himself in the music of the past. Khaury would spend hours in his room listening to artists like Rudy Vallee, Al Jolson, Henry Burr, Irving Kaufman, Billy Murray, Ada Jones, Byron G. Harlan, and Bing Crosby. Khaury began singing and playing the ukulele in his naturally tenor voice, but it wasn't until 1952 that anyone paid him any attention. In an interview on the Tonight Show in 1968, Khaury described the discovery of his high voice; "I was listening to the radio and singing along," he said, "as I was singing I said 'Gee, it's strange. I can go up high as well.'" From there Tim entered into a local talent show and sang You Are My Sunshine in his newly discovered voice; it brought the house down. From there Khaury began to experiment with different stage names like Darry Dover, Vernon Castle, Larry Love, and Judas K. Foxglove. He finally settled on Tiny Tim in 1962 when his manager at the time, George King, booked him at a club that favored midget acts.

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s Tiny Tim developed something of a cult following. In the 1960s he was seen regularly near the Harvard University campus as a street performer, singing old Tin Pan Alley tunes. His choice of repertoire and his encyclopedic knowledge of vintage popular music impressed many of the spectators. One admirer, Norman Kay, recalled that Tiny Tim's outrageous public persona was a false front belying a quiet, studious personality: "Herb Khaury was the greatest put-on artist in the world. Here he was with the long hair and the cheap suit and the high voice, but when you spoke to him he talked like a college professor. He knew everything about the old songs."

Tiny Tim appeared in Jack Smith's Normal Love, as well as the independent feature film You Are What You Eat. The latter performance led to a booking on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, an American television comedy-variety show. Dan Rowan announced that Laugh-In believed in showcasing new talent, and introduced Tiny Tim. The singer entered, blowing kisses, and sang "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" to Dick Martin. This was followed by several more appearances on Laugh-In and a recording contract with Reprise Records. He made a name for himself as a novelty performer, guesting with Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan, and Jackie Gleason.

"Tiptoe Through the Tulips" became Tiny Tim's signature song. He sang it in homage to its originator, singer-guitarist Nick Lucas; Khaury's tribute was heartfelt, and he invited Lucas to sing for his wedding in 1968.

In 1968, his first album, God Bless Tiny Tim, was released. It contained an orchestrated version of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips", which was a hit when released as a single. The other songs displayed his wide-ranging knowledge of the American songbook, and also allowed him to demonstrate his baritone voice, which was less often heard than his falsetto. On one track, a version of "I Got You Babe", he sang a duet with himself, taking one part in falsetto, and the other in the baritone range. "On the Old Front Porch" extends this to a trio, including a boy (Billy Murray), the girl he is courting (Ada Jones), and her father (probably Murray again). Another notable song was a cover of "Stay Down Here Where You Belong", written by Irving Berlin in 1914 to protest the Great War. It is written from the standpoint of Satan talking to his son, and is a powerful condemnation of those who foment war: “To please their kings, they've all gone out to war, and not a one of them knows what they're fighting for… Kings up there are bigger devils than your dad.” (The comedian Groucho Marx also used this song as part of his own act, at least in part to irk the patriotic Berlin, who in later years tried in vain to disown the song.)

Reprise followed up "Tulips" with another single, "Bring Back Those Rockabye Baby Days." Tiny Tim sang this "mammy song" in baritone in the fashion of Harry Richman, and lapsed into his higher register only for a few moments near the end of the tune. The record did receive some radio exposure in America but was not nearly as successful as the novelty falsetto of "Tulips." "Rockabye Baby Days" fared better in England, where music-hall songs were still remembered fondly.

At the end of the year, he appeared on the Beatles' 1968 Christmas record exclusively issued to their fan club, singing "Nowhere Man". George Harrison, in particular, appreciated Tiny Tim's camp appeal, calling him "a gas." (Harrison's musical interests included the ukulele.)

Tiny Tim recorded and released two more albums for Reprise, Tiny Tim's Second Album 1968, and For All My Little Friends, 1969, a collection of children's songs. A small record label got hold of some of his pre-fame recordings and overdubbed them with canned applause, creating a fictional "live concert" recording to cash in on Tiny Tim's popularity. The album was called Concert in Fairyland.

On 17 December 1969, he married Victoria Mae Budinger ("Miss Vicki") on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, a publicity stunt which attracted 40 million viewers. Tiny wrote his own marriage vows, including the promise to be “not puffed up”. Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki made more news a month later with the announcement that they were expecting a baby, with comedians at the time suggesting the name VicTim. The baby was miscarried, but a subsequent child was born healthy and survived.

In contrast to the romance oriented publicity of their wedding, Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki mostly lived apart, and divorced eight years later. Their daughter, Tulip Victoria, is now married and living in Pennsylvania with four children.

In August 1970 Tiny Tim performed at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 in front of a crowd of 600,000 people. His performance, which included English folk songs and rock and roll classics, was a huge hit with the multinational throng of hippies. At the climax of his set, he sang "There'll Always Be an England" through a megaphone which brought the huge crowd to its feet. This can be seen in the 1995 movie of the event, Message to Love.

Later career

After this career highlight, however, Tiny Tim's television appearances reduced, and his popularity began to wane. He continued to play around the United States and made several lucrative appearances in Las Vegas. In 1985, he hired a teenage disc jockey named Rick Hendrix from WHKY in North Carolina to manage his dates. Living out of the Olcott Hotel in New York city, the duo began to revive the once-famous icon. Tiny Tim released his cult hit, "Santa Claus Has Got the AIDS This Year" , and joined the Alan C. Hill circus. In 1986/87 he starred as a ukulele-playing psycho clown in the cult B-grade horror film Blood Harvest (1987), directed by Bill Rebane.

In 1988, Tiny Tim released a country single for the Nashville-based NLT records entitled "Leave Me Satisfied". He spent time promoting it to country radio and fans that year including making a visit to Nashville during Country Music Fan Fair, now called the CMA Music Festival.

In the 1990s, interest in Tiny Tim seemed to pick up a little. He began to release records again, including I Love Me (1995) and Girl (1996). He also recorded his last music video with NYC's punk rock band Ism (1996). It was a punk remake of “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” and was never officially released. He frequently appeared on The Howard Stern Radio Show and in Stern's movie, Private Parts (1997), as well as occasional appearances on other television programs. Tiny Tim also worked with a number of other artists, including Brave Combo (his backing band on Girl) as well as Sydney based rock band His Majesty with whom he recorded the albums Tiny Tim Rock and Tiny Tim's Christmas Album, both of which were produced by Sydney Artist and writer Martin Sharp. He was also championed by, and collaborated with, Current 93 and Nurse With Wound.

Final years

Toward the end of his life Tiny Tim became a fixture at "Spooky World," an annual Halloween-themed exposition in Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. He also appeared in tongue-in-cheek television commercials for area merchants.

He befriended a young musician and neighbor, Conductor Jack Norton, acted as his mentor, and taught Norton how to play the ukulele.

In September 1996, he suffered a heart attack just as he began singing at a ukulele festival at the Montague Grange Hall (often confused in accounts of the incident with the nearby Montague Bookmill, at which he had recorded a video interview earlier that same day) in Montague, Massachusetts. He was hospitalized at the Franklin County Medical Center in Greenfield, Massachusetts for approximately three weeks before being discharged with strong admonitions to no longer perform due to his state of health and the difficulty of proper dietary needs for his diabetic and heart conditions.

He continued to play concerts despite the warnings that, due to the fragile state of his heart, he could die at any moment. While playing "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" at a Gala Benefit at The Woman's Club of Minneapolis on 30 November of that year, he suffered another heart attack on stage. He was led out by his third wife, Susan Marie Gardner (whom he had married on 18 August 1995), who asked him if he was okay. Tim responded, "No, I'm not!", his final words. He collapsed shortly thereafter and was rushed to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he died after doctors tried to resuscitate him for an hour and fifteen minutes. He is interred in the mausoleum of Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.

In 2000, the Rhino Handmade label released the posthumous Tiny Tim Live at the Royal Albert Hall. This recording had been made in 1968 at the height of Tiny Tim's fame, but Reprise Records never released it. It sat on the shelf until its limited Internet release some 32 years later. The limited-numbered CD sold out and was reissued on Rhino's regular label. It is now available in record stores and through many online retailers.

Traditionalism

The marked distinctiveness of the Tiny Tim act notwithstanding, much of his work was simply reviving songs and artists of past generations, including early recording artists such as Billy Murray, Ada Jones, and Henry Burr. He had a comprehensive and deep love for, and knowledge of, pre-rock popular music, an aspect of his performance that was little understood when he was at the height of his popularity. In many ways, Tiny Tim was a classic vaudeville performer and entertainer very much in the style of Rudy Vallee, Ukulele Ike and George Formby.

Tiny Tim's flamboyant stage persona belied a conservative, traditional belief system about religion and marriage. Tim was born to a Polish-Jewish mother and a Lebanese, Maronite Christian father, but converted to Catholicism in the 1950s and, after attending a Jack Wyrtzen rally, became a devout Christian; on several of his records and interviews, he often proclaimed his devotion to Jesus. His first marriage (to Miss Vicki) ended in part due to problems arising from his conservative views, stemming from his interpretation of the Bible, on a woman's role in relationships. As she explained in interviews, their disparity in age and world view left her feeling stifled. His second marriage (on 26 June 1984, to Jan Alweiss, from whom he was divorced in 1995) took place in a Catholic Church.

Along those traditional lines, he was publicly respectful of his parents' generation of performers. In an appearance with Bing Crosby on The Hollywood Palace, he referred to the program's host several times as "Mr. Crosby." When Crosby asked him to call him Bing, he partially relented and called him "Mr. Bing."

When discussing old-time stars, in short commentaries between songs on his albums, he would mention their names formally: "Mr. Billy Murray" or "Miss Ada Jones," for example. When he appeared on the Howard Stern show, he addressed everyone as "Mr." or "Miss," including production staff, interns and others who were not entertainers.

His honoring of his elders extended to the cover of his second album, which featured him along with his parents, unusual for a recording artist to do when the parents are not performers themselves.

In an interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross he said he wore white makeup to feel pure in contrast to his feeling that he was unattractive.

In popular culture

Books

  • Tiny Tim, a biography by Harry Stein, was published in 1976 by Playboy Press.

Discography

Albums

External links

References

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